It was, by all accounts, a damp and chilly London evening. In his recap of Neil Young’s concert that night at Finsbury Park, Max Bell of the Guardian newspaper noted widespread “teeth chattering” and went so far as to say that “blankets and hot coffee would have been a greater boon than a pea souper.” That’s evident, too, by the few fan-made videos that have surfaced of the night. Fans applaud in sympathy when Neil, seeking warmth, puts on his jacket prior to “Powderfinger.”
Neil’s backing band for that year’s summer jaunt, which encompassed Europe, the U.S. and Canada, was the legendary Booker T & the MGs (Booker T. Jones, Steve Cropper, Donald “Duck” Dunn and, sitting in for the deceased Al Jackson Jr., the always steady Jim Keltner), the one-time house band for Stax Records in Memphis. Neil had played with them at “Bobfest” the previous autumn and, liking what he heard, invited them to join him on tour. Also on stage: Astrid Young and Annie Stocking, who provide soulful supporting vocals.
Bell called the combination “bizarre.” Andy Gill of the Independent agreed: “On paper, it just doesn’t work: Neil Young, the most quixotically gifted singer-songwriter of his generation, given to wild mood swings between maudlin sentiment and raw, sculpted guitar feedback frenzy; and Booker T & the MGs, the tightest, crispest soul band of them all.” Bell called the result “solid and dependable,” however, while Gill found the pairing “a little one-sided,” saying that the MGs were “a tough, stable bedrock where Crazy Horse were once looser and wirier in the support.” Still, both enjoyed the show.
As tape-trading and/or bootleg-buying fans have long known, however, the MGs were more than just “solid and dependable.” They provided utterly brilliant support. For additional proof of that indisputable fact (says I, at any rate), give a listen to the streaming-only release of this concert, which was made available on the Neil Young Archives last September. While Crazy Horse engages in what I’ve come to call “brutal grace,” the MGs provide a sonic tonic of pure soul throughout. They add layers of depth to “Southern Man,” for example, and their support on “Helpless” and “Harvest Moon” lifts those heartfelt songs into the stratosphere. Likewise, “Like a Hurricane” and “Down by the River” soar. They also get down and dirty when need be, such as during the combustible “Live to Ride.”
In total, the night consisted of 17 songs, though the night’s last encore (which featured Pearl Jam joining in on “Rockin’ in the Free World”) was lost to time for reasons unknown. The set spans Neil’s career to date, from his Buffalo Springfield days to Harvest Moon, tosses in the unreleased ode to motorcycles, “Live to Ride,” and soulful “Separate Ways,” which wasn’t officially released until Homegrown in 2020, plus a way-cool cover of Otis Redding’s “(Sitting on) The Dock of the Bay,” which was co-written by Cropper. Here’s one fan’s shaky recording of it:
And here’s one fan’s less-than-stellar video of the show in full:
Neil and Booker T & the MGs would join forces again for Neil’s oft-overlooked 2002 album, the soulful Are You Passionate?, of course, and—with Frank “Poncho” Sampredo supplementing the sound—a handful of shows in Europe. There’s something magical and mystical about this concert, however. The sound quality is sublime throughout and the performance is topnotch; I highly recommend it. If you’re a Neil Young Archives member and have yet to do so, press play on it ASAP; and, if you’re not, what are you waiting for?
The set list:
Also, here are the aforementioned reviews of the concert in full: