Welcome To London, Ladies And Gentlemen
(Godfather Records GR 803/804)
Royal Festival Hall, London, England – November 10th, 1973
Disc 1 (45:32): Tonight’s The Night / Mellow My Mind / World On A String / Speakin’ Out / Albuquerque / New Mama / Roll Another Number / Tired Eyes / Tonight’s The Night
Disc 2 (79:07): I Am A Child / Flying On The Ground Is Wrong / Human Highway / Helpless / Cinnamon Girl / Southern Man / Tonight’s The Night. Bonus tracks, Rainbow Theatre, London, England – November 5th, 1973: Don’t Be Denied / Cowgirl In The Sand
For Neil Young 1973 was the busiest year of touring and playing live shows thus far in his career. Touring with The Stray Gators and, in the second half of the year The Santa Monica Flyers (i.e. Crazy Horse without Frank Sanpedro but with Ben Keith and Nils Lofgren), they took in ninety one shows in the US and England.
Unlike his previous visit to London in 1971, which was the bucolic and introspective Journey Through The Past era, this visit was during the tumultuous ditch era characterized by crazed performances and eccentric improvisations. Much of the material comes from the newly recorded but unreleased Tonight’s The Night album.
Welcome To London, Ladies And Gentlemen uses a fair to good audience tape of the November 10th show at the Royal Festival Hall in London, the final night in the UK. The music is clear enough but Young’s stage banter is distant and hard to understand. The audience are generally quiet, but there are some conversations scattered throughout the show and comments thrown towards the stage.
Previously three tracks, “Flying On The Ground Is Wrong,” “Human Highway” and “Helpless” appear on Ancient History Up Close (Scorpio NY 6594) and the whole show appears on the CDR Drunken Man’s Blues (Zooey Record ZR-030/031). Godfather is the first silver pressed release of this fascinating show.
Nothing could have possibly prepared the audience for the show they witnessed that night. Young’s latest release was the live LP Time Fades Away, released the previous month, but none of those songs made the setlist. And those expecting Harvest were sorely disappointed.
Instead, they get three versions of “Tonight’s The Night,” several more brand new songs, and a nostalgic acoustic set featuring several old Buffalo Springfield songs, “I Am A Child” and “Flying On The Ground Is Wrong” (and “Human Highway” a song that wouldn’t surface for another five years).
The three permutations of “Tonight’s The Night” differ from one another but all are vehicles for various “Bruce Berry was a working man” chants and feedback laden guitar solos. The first sets the pace for the show. The middle version, before the long acoustic set, is more mellow except for a nasty guitar break, which dissolves into a haze of noise.
After the acoustic set, which closes with a beautiful version of “Helpless,” Young presents a trophy to the audience for enduring the show. They follow with “Cinnamon Girl” played in 4/4 time and a harsh and discordant ten minute version of “Southern Man.”
A third version of “Tonight The Night” closes the show. Lasting over twelve minutes, it is slower than the other versions and resembles more a football chant than a rock song after the opening verses. While the audience claps and the band sing the “tonight’s the night’ refrain, Young raps about Bruce Berry and spits out more caustic notes from the guitar.
This is a magnificent show which deserves a much better recording than actually exists. But the tape is quite listenable and worth having.
Godfather include two songs from the November 5th show in the Rainbow Theatre. The sound quality is about the same as the Royal Festival Hall tape. The complete show was released in 2004 on Somewhere Under The Rainbow (Aurora Borealis) but only the final two numbers, “Don’t Be Denied” and “Cowgirl In The Sand” are included.
The first, “Don’t Be Denied,” is dedicated to the late Danny Whitten “who couldn’t be here tonight” and is played at a slightly slower tempo than the recording on Time Fades Away. “Cowgirl In The Sand” starts off normal but picks up pace about half way though, turning into another guitar epic battle.
Welcome To London, Ladies And Gentlemen is packaged in a tri-fold gatefold sleeve with several photos from the tour. Wearing sunglasses and looking even more disheveled than usual, the fashion underscores the chaotic nature of the performances and the unique brilliance of this period of Young’s career. This is another quality Neil Young title on Godfather worth having.