Neil Young – Werchter Festival (Crystal Cat CC-524/525)

Werchter Festival (Crystal Cat CC-524/525)

Werchter Festival, Belgium – July 7th, 1996

Disc 1 (75:36):  Intro, Hey Hey My My, Down By The River, Powderfinger, Big Time, Slip Away, The Needle And The Damage Done, Sugar Mountain, Cinnamon Girl, Fuckin’ Up, Cortez The Killer, Music Arcade

Disc 2 (73:29):  Intro, Like A Hurricane, Sedan Delivery, Rockin’ In The Free World.  Bonus tracks, Vienne, France – July 16th, 1996:  Pocahontas, Stupid Girl, Heart Of Gold, The Loner, Mother Earth, Danger Bird.  Tourhout, Belgium – July 6th, 1996:  Tonight’s The Night, Drive Back

The Werchter Festival in Belgium is one of the longest continuing festivals.  Beginning in 1974, it has been held each year since.  In 1996 it became a two day event and is now stretched to four days.  Up until 1999 it was a double festival with another site in Tourhout.  This is also among the most prestigious festivals, being named the world’s best festival by International Live Music Conference four consecutive years.  In 1996 David Bowie was the headliner the first and Neil Young And Crazy Horse on the second, where he also played with the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Rage Against The Machine, Sepultura, Alanis Morisette,  Afghan Whigs, House Of Pain, Presidents Of The USA and Metal Molly.

Werchter Festival on Crystal Cat was released in 2000 and is sourced from a complete, amazing quality professionally recorded tape.  The audience reactions sounds a bit far away but the balance between the instruments and vocals is really impressive.  The label didn’t attempt to improve the tape either with excessive mastering so it sounds very natural too.

The tape begins with a minute of tuning up before the first song of the set “Hey Hey, My My.”  What is very apparent is the dominance of songs from the seventies in the set list, almost as if Young were playing it safe.  A ten minute rendition of “Down By The River” follows with a long, atmospheric echo on the guitar during the violent solo in the middle.  “Powderfinger” serves somewhat as an anthem for Young, the story being an aborted coming-of-age tale between a twenty-two year old boy and his gun.  

His latest album Broken Arrow was released five days before the show and he follows with the only new material.  “Big Time” is a long but catchy tune and afterwards, before playing “Slip Away,” he jokes, “that was close.  I was almost out of tune on that” before fixing the guitar.  This is the second very long excursion taken in the set with the track being stretched out to eleven and a half minutes long.  The slow pace comes dangerously close to holding the show at a standstill, but the subtle and intricate guitar work are endlessly fascinating to hear in a live setting.  A two song acoustic set follows with “Needle And The Damage Done” and “Sugar Mountain.”  The former appropriately follows “Slip Away” since the Broken Arrow track serves as a sequel to the former.

The second disc begins with a minute of tuning up before a massive, fifteen minute version of “Like A Hurricane” where Young leads the band into a thick cloud of distortion and feedback.  It is the compelling epic sweep of the piece that transforms the show into the sublime.  The catchy “Sedan Delivery” serves as the first encore and the expected political-social rant “Rockin’ In The Free World,” which effectively sealed his comeback seven years earlier, closes the show. 

Crystal Cat include six songs from the July 16th show at the Vienne Antique, Vienne, France which includes several rarities for the tour.  The tape source is an excellent stereo audience recording.  “Pocohantas” is played in its electric, hard rock arrangement instead of the acoustic from twenty years before.  “Stupid Girl” from Zuma was only performed four times, “Danger Bird” six and “Mother Earth” only once.  The final two bonus tracks from Young’s set in Tourhout the day before Werchter, sourced from a very good soundboard recording.  Both songs are relative rarities for the European tour with “Tonight’s The Night” being performed twice and “Drive Back” only eight times.  This title comes packaged in a double slimline jewel case with thick inserts and is an excellent Neil Young release from the Broken Arrow tour.

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