Archive for the ‘Da Boot’ Category

I’ve written before of Da Boot!, the fanzine I was involved with during the late 1990s, so I won’t go too deep into it here. Suffice it to say, however, that it was a good idea, but about a decade too late. If we’d launched it in, say, 1988, when the CD-bootleg boom was just beginning and the Internet had yet to become a threat to both newsprint and the music business, we would have had a nice decade-long run instead of two years. (My only complaint about it, now that my eyes are 20 years older, is the small type used to squish all the words onto the page. I find it hard to read.)

The issue, as the above cover shows, featured my freewheelin’ second interview with David Crosby, which occurred in his Atlantic City hotel suite when he, Stills and Nash were headlining one of the casinos. (The entire exchange can be found here.) The second story was related to the first, in a fashion: I turned a lengthy phone interview with guitarist Jeff Pevar (of Crosby’s other band at the time, CPR) into an “as-told-to” piece that charted his career. It meant not just transcribing our talk, but rearranging his remembrances so that everything flowed in chronological order, and then checking with him on the changes. (That article can be found here.) I was also proud of the accompanying graphic, which I created – I imposed a cut-out of the Peev over the artwork of the first CPR studio album.

I’m bypassing both of those interviews, however, and focusing on the reviews. So, without further adieu, here’s today’s Top 5: March-April 1999 (via Da Boot!):

1) Kelly Willis – “What I Deserve.” Diane tackles What I Deserve, the third long-player (and fourth overall release, as she’d also released an EP) from the Oklahoma-born, and North Carolina- and Virginia-raised country-flavored singer. “What Kelly Willis has long deserved is widespread recognition in the music world – and hopefully, the stripped-down production that allows you to hear Willis’ voice in all its glory combined with her usual excellent selection of songs will draw her closer to universal acclaim.”

If I recall correctly, we saw Kelly twice in the late ’90s – on a tour prior to What I Deserve, and then on the What I Deserve tour. And based on those shows, and this album, she definitely did deserve more…

2) Lone Justice – “Drugstore Cowboy.” I tackle a Maria McKee bootleg, Absolutely Barking, and the Lone Justice compilation This World Is Not My Home in a twin-spin of a review. Of the former, which featured a crystal-clear DAT recording of a London ’98 show, I wrote “Maria is in more than fine voice, she’s in total command. The as-yet-unreleased ‘Be My Joy’ is just one highlight. From the opening chant of ‘feed me, feed me, feed me, baby/need you, need you, need you, baby’ onward, you’re in the audience pushed to the edge of the stage and swaying side to side in time to the beat, experiencing sonic bliss.” Of the latter, after lavishing similar hyperbolic praise on the previously released Lone Justice songs, I wrote that “it’s the band’s previously unreleased demos that prove most earth-shattering. The Maria-penned “Drugstore Cowboy,” for example, is a shotgun blast of authentic cowpunk – and far, far more.” (If you squint real hard, you’ll see that I cribbed part of the review for use in my “Essentials” entry on the Lone Justice debut. I subscribe to recycling, don’tcha know.)

3) The Who – “Baba O’Riley.” Jim tackles the Who bootleg Always on Top by noting that it’s a copy of another bootleg, Who Put a Better Boot in 1976, and also listing where some of the content is legitimately available. He also notes that “[t]he performance is excellent throughout, with the usual over-the-top, maximum volume performance that the band was famous for. There are six songs from the rock opera Tommy included, as well as staples ‘Summertime Blues,’ ‘Baba O’Riley,’ and ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again.’ There is also some funny, between-song banter included as Keith Moon and Pete Townshend introduce the songs.”

4) Lucinda Williams – “Right in Time.” When Diane and I saw Lucinda in June ’98 at the TLA, she arrived late due to, I think, fog – her afternoon flight was waylaid to New York, forcing her to hop a train to Philly, and then pray the audience didn’t grow restless and leave. The opening act, Jim Lauderdale, went on a little after nine; and she didn’t hit the stage until a little after 10. But despite her travel nightmare, and the delayed start, she still clocked in a two-hour show that was everything Bruce describes in this write-up of Lucinda’s January 1999 concert at the John Harms Theater in North Jersey.

One difference: Bruce was “[e]quipped with a recordable Sony Mini Discman MRZ-50, 2 blank 74 minute discs and a AIWA microphone.” In today’s age, when many shows are lit up from a sea of cellphones (really, folks: dim your damn screens!), it may seem bizarre to young folks to learn this, but there was a time you could get tossed from a venue if you were caught recording. And you also had to make tough choices due to the technological limits of recording gear, as Bruce did this night when he chose not to capture opening act Patty Griffin’s “short and sparkling set.”  Which makes this all the more remarkable: “An incredible version of ‘Joy’ developed into a fifteen minute guitar interplay jam that ended the first set at the 74 minute mark of the first disc!”

But because I used “Joy” in that prior Da Boot! piece, here’s another song from the night…

5) Bob Dylan – “The Death of Emmett Till.” In his take on The Third One Now, a three-CD set of unreleased Dylan gems, Jim chimes in on the freedoms – or lack thereof – afforded to American citizens in the 1950s. “Of the first seven songs on disc one, six are from what is referred to as the ‘Smith Home Tapes’ in 1962, and one track (actually two songs) is from the Oscar Brand Folk Festival from WNYC in New York in 1961. The sound is extraordinary on all of these and the performances are that of a budding musical genius finding his foothold and his confidence. Historically significant to be sure, but the subject matter of songs like ‘Death of Emmett Till,’ which deals with racism, is still significant all these years later.” (And almost 20 years on, it still remains relevant.)

And one bonus…

6) Neil Young – “Give Me Strength” (1976). The Neil Young bootleg Rolling Zuma Revue made me livid – and the review, honestly, makes me laugh. I write that “Wild Wolf, the ‘label’ behind this two-CD set should be skinned for its fur, with its carcass left for the maggots to infest.” I go on, and on, and use some profane language, while explaining that they coupled two 1976 shows – Chicago and Osaka – and arranged the tracks so that the Chicago songs opened each disc while the Osaka songs closed them. I.e., they split the shows in half. “What is this?” I ask. “Ring around the f-ng rosy?” I then go on to answer myself, and fill in readers: “the Chicago set offers stellar sound but the Osaka section sucks.” Which meant that if a fan did his or her due diligence, and asked the store proprietor to play a song or two on the in-house stereo system (as was common), he or she might be fooled into buying it.

IMG_5395Da Boot! was an excellent idea: a fanzine devoted primarily to collector CDs, which were all the rage in the 1990s. Just as I reviewed bootleg CDs on my old website, we aimed to do the same in print, vowing to separate the wheat from the chaff. Myself and the two other principles, plus my wife Diane, leveraged my website, which attracted more than 100 eyeballs every day, and what might best be called pre-social media (i.e., mailing lists, for anyone who remembers them), and pushed our subscribers from none to 100 or so  – at $11.25 for six issues – within a few months. (Old copies sometimes appear, alone or in bunches, on Ebay, believe it or not. Here’s a recent example.)

IMG_5406Most folks likely signed on because of our initial inducement, which promised the first 60 subscribers true collector CDs – radio shows, such as King Biscuit Flower Hour or Reeiin’ in the Years. International CD, which was run by the CD-store barker I wrote about in Juliana Hatfield’s Bed, Unmade, provided the radio shows in exchange for a few full-page ads. It was a bargain, to say the least – for us, not him. He basically invested, in the abstract, $600. (Legitimate radio shows, back then, routinely sold for anywhere from $10 to $20 a disc, though he likely bought them for a few bucks a pop.)

What initially doomed the venture: the company we worked for was sold, depriving us of our printing press. I.e., we had no overhead beyond buying the CDs we reviewed because we used the company’s color printer and ink. What would have doomed us, anyway: the tectonic forces of CD burners and file-sharing sites, aka Napster and its clones, which reshaped the landscape of the music industry legitimate and illicit. Why buy a $30 bootleg when you can download the same for free? (And sound quality becomes a non-issue, then. If it sucks, so be it; it’s not like you lost money.) Or, better, join a mailing-list “tree” that cost you the price of a CDR and postage. You received a CDR in the mail, made a copy and sent it on to the next person on the list.

What would have doomed it, for me, in the long run: bootlegs were beginning to bore me. That’s grist for another post, though.

Anyway, today’s Top 5 is drawn from the January-February issue of Da Boot!. It sports a cover story on Bruce Springsteen; although we were a bootleg-centric ‘zine, our focus also included legitimate releases, concerts and books – anything collectors that were interested in, basically.


1) Bruce Springsteen – “Frankie.” Diane’s cover story on Bruce goes in-depth into Tracks, the then-recent Songs tome, upcoming reunion tour with the E Street Band, and his soon-to-be induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Diane writes: “Vis-a-vis the thorny issue of the Hall of Fame inducting only Bruce Springsteen sans the E Streeters, I am of a mixed mindset. On one hand, I don’t think the E Streeters would have been thought of as Hall of Famers sans Bruce. However, having sat through four tortuous shows during the Human Touch/Lucky Town tour, I realize how very badly Bruce needed them. Chills still run down my body, a body that becomes very clammy whenever I think of Crystal Taliaferro’s sax solos on ‘Born to Run.’ When Joseph Conrad writes ‘The horror, the horror,” I am sure he is referring to the Heart of Darkness that was that tour.”

IMG_54002) Lucinda Williams – “Joy.” My Album of the Year for 1998 was Lucinda’s Car Wheels on a Gravel Road. Small surprise, I suppose, but it also leads this article, which recaps the Top 5 Albums of 1998 as chosen by me and a few others. I wrote: “In years to come, folks will write about Car Wheels with the same reverence that they do for such genre-busting albums as the Byrds’ Sweetheart of the Rodeo or Steve Earle’s Copperhead Road—it’s that good, if not better. Delivering a platter of sensual confessions (“Right in Time”) and sinewy, guitar-driven jousts (“Joy”), Lucinda offers a stew of sublime, superb and incredible songs, tasty morsels all. This isn’t just the best album of the year—it’s one of the best albums of the decade, period.”

3) Emmylou Harris – “Prayer in Open D.” Emmy’s live Spyboy was a runner-up for Album of the Year honors, as the article above shows. I wrote: “Her voice shimmers across a foggy lake, a virtual beacon for lost souls to follow. Emmylou flies high on this deft collection of songs spanning her career, from ‘My Songbird’  to ‘Where Will I Be,” the keynote track off 1996’s atmospheric studio foray Wrecking Ball.” “Prayer in Open D” is one of my favorites by her. It hails from her overlooked 1993 Cowgirl’s Prayer album, but she played it with the Spyboy band, too, and it’s on the Spyboy album. It’s a classic.

IMG_54014) Maria McKee – “Breathe.” The Little Diva’s 1998 stop in Philly is one of the first concerts that comes to mind when I think back on the many shows I’ve attended. Diane and I were literally an arm’s length away from her; and it was, suffice it to say, an absolutely stunning show. Anyway, I reviewed it in this issue. “It’s music for the psyche that she’s after,” I wrote. “It’s music of and for the soul.” I’d quote from it a bit more, but I mined this review for a semi-recent Of Concerts Past post. This song, which she performed that night, dates to her solo debut in 1989 and the clip comes the same basic time frame, when she appeared on USA’s Night Flight show.

IMG_54055) Steve Earle – “Fort Worth Blues” & “I Feel Alright.” I reviewed two Steve Earle bootlegs: Come Back Woody Guthrie, on Copperhead Records, and Do Not Try This at Home!, on Doberman. Of the former, I wrote “[T]he guitars are mixed too low. Those thud-thick, Crazy Horse-like chords of ‘Taneytown,’ for instance, come off tinny and thin.’ Of the latter, I wrote: “Sourced from a crystal-clear audience tape, the guitars are blunt instruments bashing out ominous, yet addictive, chords.” Later, I spotlighted the set’s heart: “There’s perhaps not a more chilling moment on either boot—or on the tour, period—than the coupling of ‘Fort Worth Blues’ and ‘I Feel Alright.’ Written for the late Townes Van Zandt, ‘Fort Worth Blues’ chronicles the travails of a hardcore troubadour who comes across signs that remind him of a lost friend. And while Steve’s singing for Townes, he—you, me—knows the song could just as easily have been written for and about him. It’s no accident, then, that ‘I Feel Alright’ follows. There’s not a better, brasher declaration of survival: “I’ve been through hell but now I’m back again.”

And, one bonus…

IMG_54086) Bruce Springsteen – “The Promise.” Diane digs into the three-CD Deep Down in the Vaults bootleg. “When Jeff said that there were actually bootlegs created to accompany Tracks, I was somewhat skeptical. But having experienced Deep Down in the Vaults, I am a convinced woman.” She closes with: “[It] doesn’t have the omissions that critics bemoaned in Tracks. It includes ‘The Promise,’ and ‘Missing.’ Even so, I prefer Tracks, the ultimate non-bootleg boot.” (“The Promise” eventually surfaced on the one-CD 18 Tracks, released in 1999, and again on the 2010 Darkness on the Edge of Town companion album The Promise, which gathered alternate versions and unreleased songs from the Darkness sessions.)


This is something I wrote for Da Boot! for its Nov.-Dec. 1999 edition. The fanzine, much like my CSN/Y-oriented Old Grey Cat website, primarily focused on bootleg CDs, which were all the rage at the time – and in my life. I collected them; wrote about them for the site; edited oft-incoherent reviews submitted by fellow fans; and even received freebies from a Scotland-based label, which was actually just an indie record-store owner who’d invested in a pricey CD-burner. I’ve edited it ever-so-slightly.

The irony is, these days, I never listen to bootlegs.


neilbootaI’m generally hesitant to offer “best-of” lists of “collector CDs.” Why? Fact is, the haphazard bootleg industry ensures of some oversights. Labels open, labels close, only to open again under another name or in another country, maybe one in the Pacific Rim or—thanks to the advent of CDRs—even in someone’s basement. And the distribution of product accounts for other “misses.” No two stores stock all of the same titles; once a title is gone, chances are it’s gone for good. Great Dane’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Cowboy is a good example. If you find it these days, it will be in the used-CD bin or as a knock-off—or as a reconfigured, fan-distributed CDR with a disc or two of additional material added on for good measure.

neiltop10bootThe way we relate to Neil’s music ensures of more differences. The man responsible for the folk-flavored Harvest also delivered the electric tour de force re*ac*tor. “You were born to rock, you’ll never be an opera star,” Neil whines in the opening volley, a symphonic swell of harsh metallic guitars wailing in the background. That album’s finale, “Shots,” is a masterpiece on a par with Neil’s best—rock critic Johnny Rogan has written that the acoustic take (from the 1978 “World Tour” at the San Francisco Boarding House) is superior, but I say otherwise. THIS is the definitive version. It blows through the soul, and that’s no lie. To the point: With such a large and varied body of work to choose from, fans are bound to prefer certain albums and tours to others. For example, of late I’ve been entrenched in Broken Arrow—those thud-thick chords in “Big Time” reverberate through the soul long after the CD has been plucked from the player. Of course, some fans think this last go-round with Crazy Horse was one go-round too many…they’d scoff at one of my favorites, Phoenix Arcade, and its 18-minute, feedback-strewn version of “Like a Hurricane.” What can I say but this: It gets me off. (Chances are, they will you, too.)

Suffice it to say, this isn’t an “objective” best-of. Rather, these are 10 entertaining snapshots and/or overviews of Neil’s career, discs that I’ve turned to time and again. In my opinion, they’d make for excellent additions to any fan’s collection.

neilcow1) Rock ‘n’ Roll Cowboy – Until Neil releases the much-anticipated Archives set, this four-CD compilation of live rarities from the defunct Great Dane label will have to do. Spanning the years from 1967 to 1993, it collects a bevy of treats, including “Sweet Joni,” a delicate piano-based paean to Joni Mitchell performed in Bakersfield, CA, during 1973’s Time Fades Away tour. Other highlights include the unreleased “Traces” and “Love Art Blues,” both buttressed by CSN’s harmonies, as well as the song Mojo magazine named as Neil’s best unreleased song, the Blue Notes-backed “Ordinary People.” Add in the fierce SNL debut of “Rockin’ in the Free World,” “Stringman” from ’76 and…you name it, chances are a version of it is here.

neillegend2) Legend of a Loner – Also available (with a few alterations) as Jewel Box 6, this cop of the legitimate rarities promo CD Hard to Find is a perfect complement to Rock ‘n’ Roll Cowboy. From its first cut, an alternate take of Buffalo Springfield’s “Mr. Soul,” to its last, the funny “Don’t Spook the Horse,” there’s nary a low. Among the highlights: a Stray Gator-backed “Last Trip to Tulsa” that rips the original acoustic take to shreds. Yeah, it sounds somewhat like a Dylan song—but, then, it always did. Another cool find is “War Song,” the Young-Nash collaboration celebrating the 1972 presidential bid of George McGovern. Also included is “Pushed It Over the End,” recorded live with CSNY in 1974 and, buttressed with studio overdubs, released in the early ’80s as part of an Italian box set. Suffice it to say, CSN’s harmonies are heavenly, a perfect addition to one of Neil’s best songs. The pre-truncated studio version of “Campaigner” is included, as well.

neilcarn3) Carnegie Hall – Recorded in December 1970 by Reprise for a live album that never materialized, this acoustic set features a wealth of golden-hued nuggets. Take “Southern Man”: Yes, it’s minus the driving electric guitars. And, yes, it’s excellent. Dedicated to George Wallace, the anger and bitterness are supplanted with sadness and near-resignation. “Southern change is gonna come at last …” Unlike London ’71, “new” songs are few and far between—”Wondering,” “Old Man,” “Bad Fog on Loneliness” and “See the Sky About to Rain” are it. Don’t let that sway you, however. One truly stupendous highlight: the very first “dope/acid rock song” he ever wrote—”Flying on the Ground Is Wrong.” Accompanying himself at the piano, he launches into the audio equivalent of a honey-slide. It may be wrong, but you’ll be flying in your living room…

neillon4) London ’71 – Although recorded just two months after his Carnegie Hall concert, this February 1971 affair is as different from it as dusk is from dawn. Yeah, there are similarities, but this set is marked by the debuts of the songs that formed the heart of Harvest: “Old Man,” “Out on the Weekend,” “Heart of Gold,” “A Man Needs a Maid” and the title track, which Neil informs the audience was written the night before. Other highlights include a drop-dead, beautiful “Love in Mind.” Compare this set to, say, later solo Neil, and what comes across most is the slow dissolve of innocence and the dwelling on the down and dour; but, of course, that “dissolve” is the domain (primarily) of the young. Here, it’s captured by one of the best chroniclers of such stuff in the arts. The sound quality is stellar throughout, with a minimum of hiss and audience noise. Even a novice fan would/should enjoy it.

neilrrcd5) Rock ‘n’ Roll Can Never Die – Backed by the rag-tag Santa Monica Flyers, in the fall of ’73 Neil kicked off the Tonight’s the Night tour, confounding audiences and critics alike. Dressed like a sleazy barker, he’d step to the fore and greet the audience with a rousing, “Welcome to Miami Beach, ladies and gentlemen.” As represented by this Manchester gig from November, the shows were strange, incoherent affairs, with weird stage patter filling the gaps between songs. Oh, the songs. Check out this set: “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,” “Flying on the Ground Is Wrong,” “Human Highway,” “Helpless” and “Don’t Be Denied.” The first eight songs were new; and the audience had heard the ninth (the second “Tonight’s the Night”) only once before—at the beginning of the set! Of the remaining songs, “Human Highway” was also unreleased and “Don’t Be Denied,” a key track on the ragged glory that is the Time Fades Away LP, wasn’t well known. Only “Helpless” rated as familiar. Why, then, is this a necessity? In front of a faithful, if frustrated, audience, Neil eulogizes and exorcises fallen comrades Danny Whitten and Bruce Berry. Maybe that’s why “Don’t Be Denied” is so heart-palpitating—or is that chilling? Against a backdrop of death and broken dreams, Neil’s exhorting folks—and himself—to stay true to their dreams regardless of the consequences.

neilblue6) Blue Notes – “Live music is better.” It’s a refrain heard often on the Neil Young discussion group known as the Rust List. Why? Live, music makes an even greater visceral impact than a CD, LP or cassette—it’s an immediate connection. You feed off the performer, he feeds off you, and you’re there, wherever there is, not stoned but STONED, and not from drink or drugs but from the music itself. And guess what? In a live setting, few artists achieve what Neil achieves. The two-CD Blue Notes is proof. Consisting of a fairly typical set from his summer ’88 tour with the Blue Notes, Neil is in terrific form both vocally and on guitar, ripping out patented, emotion-filled solos seemingly without effort. Highlights abound, but due to space concerns I’ll only single out a few. At a sprawling 12 minutes, “Ordinary People” catalogues evil done in the name of, for and to everyday folk, and includes several pyrotechnic guitar solos. “Crime in the City” and its 17-minute parent, the acoustic “Sixty to Zero”—one of three bonus songs—are also striking. Like a Picasso painting, the images presented aren’t necessarily connected save for the fact that they share the same canvas. The end result, however, is one of pure artistry.

neilwarpath7) Warpath – Santa Cruz 11/13/90: It’s a show that’s been bootlegged to death, right? You’ve got Homegrown, Feedback Is Back and other two-disc sets battling for your bucks, all documenting the same “open rehearsal” for what became the Don’t Spook the Horse tour. Each possesses good to excellent sound. And all were worth the investment—until now. Unlike those abridged sets, Warpath presents the entire concert, from the opening “Country Home” to the closing “Cortez the Killer,” stretching three-songs deep onto a third CD. In between, you’ll find “Surfer Joe & Moe the Sleaze,” “Bite the Bullet,” “Dangerbird” and “Homegrown,” among other nuggets. It’s an electric, goofy set—what else can be said about a show that includes “T-Bone”? What pushes the four-CD Warpath into the “must” category, however, is what follows. Rather than fill the third disc with “bonus” cuts, the fine folks behind the Doberman label saw fit to include all of Minneapolis 1/22/91, the official kick-off to the tour proper. In the month between shows, the proverbial shit had hit the fan: the Persian Gulf War, to be exact. The bombs dropping on Baghdad are echoed in the music, November’s goofiness excised in favor of an intense, straight-ahead attack. A good barometer is “Fuckin’ Up.” In Santa Cruz, it comes across as almost joyous, the profane chorus a snickering declaration of purpose, as much as anything. By Minneapolis, however, it’s a menacing, sneering anthem. And while the Minneapolis set is similar to what’s found on the official Weld live set, there are a few minor variations, most notably the inclusion of “Campaigner.” In short, Warpath—which boasts great sound, as well—is more than a worthwhile addition to a fan’s collection. It’s a necessity.

neilfrisco8) Frisco – Clocking in at almost 50 minutes, this audience recording of Neil and Crazy Horse’s acoustic performance at the ’94 Bridge Benefit is a near-perfect extension to what is—arguably—Neil’s best album of the ’90s, Sleeps with Angels. Highlights include a near-19 minute version of “Change Your Mind.” If you don’t think it’s possible to wrench feedback from an acoustic guitar, think again; Neil does that and more. Other highlights include “Sleeps with Angels,” juxtaposed by “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black),” two songs forever linked thanks to Kurt Cobain. “It’s better to burn out than to fade away” takes on new meaning in this context, with “fade away” translating into what Cobain did the moment he pulled the trigger. Death is a one-way ticket, don’t you know.

neilphoenix9) Phoenix Arcade – “Feel.” I refer to it below, so I shan’t dwell too much on it here. But this one-disc, seven-song offering on Moonraker is “feel” personified. The first four songs come from the 1996 Phoenix Festival in England via a radio broadcast. In short, they sum up Neil & the Horse circa ’96 as well as the official Year of the Horse, if not more so. The loping “Big Time” kicks things off, with each chord a concentric circle in which one can easily get lost. “Sedan Delivery” provides an adrenaline rush; yeah, the tempo’s slowed from the days of yore, but…it’s there, in the grooves. The man, the band, refuse to fade away. Then, after a suitably hushed “Music Arcade,” Crazy Horse ignites an incendiary “Like a Hurricane.” Close your eyes and you’ll see candles positioned around the darkened stage while Neil weaves in and out of the spotlight while making magic with his guitar. For 18 glorious, cacophonous minutes, that is. Then a half-assed audience recording from Stockholm kicks in. The magic there comes late, with the CD’s closing track, “Cinnamon Girl,” stretching into a spacey, six-minute “Loose Change”-like jam.

neildance10) Dancin’ in the Sunset Hues – Like its other Neil releases, this three-CD offering from the European-based Doberman label is a prime example of what bootlegs can—and should—be when care is taken with the product. The first thing you’ll notice is the very cool artwork gracing the cover. And the music? Those “thud-thick” chords I mentioned earlier? They’re here in spades. The entire Hamilton, Ontario, ’96 show, it’s noteworthy primarily because of an atypical set (for the Broken Arrow tour, that is). For example, “Cowgirl in the Sand” surfaces after a lengthy absence. Another high arrives when Neil and the Horse glide through an electric “Natural Beauty.” It’s grace personified. Of note, too, are the bonus songs from other stops along the ’96 tour, including an electric “Needle & the Damage Done” and a passionate “Campaigner.” Granted, Dancin’ is an audience recording and, at times, has a bit of a distant sound. But, for me, it comes down to this: “Feel” outweighs sonics. And this one feels damn good.

Here’s something from the archives: one of my rambling cover stories from Da Boot, a short-lived, bootleg-centric—and very cool—fanzine that I was involved with in the late ‘90s…


It was a concert for the ages: A two-and-a-half-hour set that mixed a healthy dose of new songs with older numbers reshaped and refashioned for the occasion. The show resonated with a power palpable to all but the tone deaf.

No, I’m not talking Neil Young here.

I’m talking Steve Earle and the Del McCoury Band, who played the Theatre of the Living Arts in Philadelphia on March 15th, 1999, in support of Earle’s bluegrass album, The Mountain. About the only thing missing? Iris DeMent, whose duet with Steve on “I’m Still in Love with You” is—to my ears, at least—the album’s piece de resistance. Nevertheless, it was one of “those” shows. Weaving in and out from the stage’s lone microphone (essentially mixing themselves), the six-piece unit conjured a magical evening of grace and grit. One highlight: Earle’s solo rendition of the mournful ”Goodbye,” which left the audience stoned on its vibe. Another: the McCoury Band-backed “Copperhead Road.” Transformed from a “heavy-metal bluegrass” number into an out-and-out bluegrass romp, it was intoxicating: “My name’s John Lee Pettimore … same as my daddy and his daddy before …” I’m reminded of that night whenever I listen to The Mountain. There’s no drums, no electric guitar, no electric instruments at all. There’s no need. The juice is in the performances themselves.

Along those lines, the juice is in the music of Steve’s sister Stacey, too, who crafts heartfelt songs and sings ‘em as if her life depended upon it. Same goes for Jackson Browne and Bonnie Raitt, both of whom performed at a benefit May 2nd at the Tower Theatre in Upper Darby (a ‘burb outside of Philadelphia). As usual for a Philly crowd, the fans were boisterous, screaming out requests for old favorites between songs. At one point during Jackson’s set, for example, he approached the mike with his guitar in hand. “Late for the Sky” came a lone voice from the back row. The applause rolled through the room like a wave in from the ocean and splashed him in the face. What to do? Jackson smiled, set the guitar down and eased behind the electric piano, and then let loose an impassioned rendition of that classic. Giving the fans what they want? To an extent, yes. Still, he managed to include quite a few of his latter-day songs during his shortened set. As for Bonnie, her warmth shone from the stage whether alone, with bassist Hutch Hutchinson or when Jackson joined her for a duet of “Angel from Montgomery.” It was a fabulous, fun evening; you felt as if they’d invited you into their parlor.

Why mention all that in this, a review of Neil Young’s solo show at the same Tower Theater on April 24th? It’s important, on occasion, to step back and survey the larger music scene. Thanks to the Internet, these days it’s easy to zero in on one artist and essentially blank everyone else out. You know the deal: One trade leads to another which, in turn, leads to another. Soon enough you’re collecting every show you can get your hands on, whether it’s a crappy-sounding (but great!) set from the ’73 Tonight’s the Night tour or a great-sounding (but otherwise grueling) date from Neil & the Horse’s ’97 HORDE excursion. In there somewhere, maybe during an audience recording of that god-awful TTN set, you hear the reason why you do what you do: “Tonight’s the night… tonight’s the ni-hi-hight…” It’s nirvana. Right? Yeah, sure, you listen to other artists—in between listening to the latest additions to your Neil collection.

Do I sound peevish? Damn straight.

Yes, Neil laid down a very good, two-hour performance before a typical Philly crowd. “Shut up, you asshole,” he snapped to one overzealous fan who demanded he cut short a semi-humorous story in favor of a song. While I understood Neil’s outburst, I also understood the fan’s. To be blunt, the show wasn’t just overpriced—it was out-and-out highway robbery. Ticket prices ranged from $51 to $151; an uninformed (i.e., not on the ‘net) concert-goer may have feared that the more Neil talked, the less songs he’d play. I know, I know: No one forced that fan to buy his ticket. No one forced me, either, yet there I was, sitting 26 rows back and staring at slowpoke Neil, nodding my head and grinning at the start of “Tell Me Why” and tapping my feet to “War of Man,” then all-but-hypnotized by the stark “Out of Control,” which featured a melody reminiscent of his Trans-era tunes. The rest of the set seemed somewhat perfunctory, marred primarily by the throwaway placed at its end: the sleight “Daddy Went a-Walkin’.”

The second set was better, accented by the rambling, Dylanesque “Last Trip to Tulsa” and “Southern Pacific,” a gem from the overlooked re*ac*tor. “Long May You Run” continued the mood unabated: At the pump organ, Neil offered a mournful meditation on a car gone wrong. The rest of the set remained at that same stellar level, with a brilliant “After the Gold Rush” that found Neil starting the song at the piano before adjourning to the pump organ and bridging the transition with a brilliant harmonica solo. By the end of the night? I raved to Diane that the concert was hypnotic, mesmerizing, overpriced—and not the best solo Neil performance I’ve seen. That would have been in ’89. Back then, of course, he was a hungry, near-has-been seeking redemption from a decade-long slump. Stalking the stage with his acoustic guitar strapped to his stomach, he strummed killer chords to such then-unreleased songs as “Crime in the City,” “Rockin’ in the Free World” and “No More.” Here we have … “Daddy Went a-Walkin’”?!

Granted, that’s a cheap shot; as with “Out of Control,” the middle song of the first encore (“Railroad Song”?) was a potent promise of what next Neil may have in store for his fans, either on the CSNY reunion disc (now said to be scheduled for August) or on next year’s solo effort. But, then, Neil’s left himself open to such shots. This tour, he’s sold-out—literally and figuratively. Me, next time he comes to town charging those kind of prices—

I’ll be there, damning both him—and me. ‘Cause, baby, let me tell ya … there’s this tape of him and the Santa Monica Flyers from Chicago ’73 that features a 35-minute version of “Tonight’s the Night” that’s just plain, insanely great. Thirty-five minutes! Now where’d the hell I put it….

Ah, fuck it. The Mountain will do.

Steve Earle & The Del McCoury Band at the TLA, 3/16/99:

Steve & McCoury Band: Texas Eagle/Yours Forever Blue/My Old Friend the Blues/Graveyard Shift/Outlaw’s Honeymoon/Dixieland/Connemara Breakdown/Harlan Man/The Mountain/I Still Carry You Around//Del McCoury Band: Far Cry From Va./Don’t You Think It’s Time to Go/Red Eyes on a Mad Dog/I Feel the Blues Movin’ In/She’s Left Me Again/50-50 Chance/Backslidin’ Blues/Pike County Breakdown/Nashville Cats/Get Down on Your Knees and Pray/Love Is a Long Road//Steve Solo: No.29/Now She’s Gone/Angry Young Man/South Nashville Blues/Valentine’s Day/So Different Blues/Limo Blues/Goodbye/Ellis Unit One//Steve & McCoury Band: Mystery Train Pt.2/Leroy’s Dustbowl Blues/Ain’t No Liquor in This Town/Hometown Blues/Lonesome Highway Blues/I’m Looking Through You/Ben McCulloch/ Tom Ames’ Prayer/Carrie Brown/Copperhead Road//Lonesome Road/Hillbilly Highway/Down the Road

Neil Young at the Tower Theatre, 4/24/99:

Tell Me Why/Looking Forward/War of Man/Out of Control/Alberquerque/World on a String/ Don’t Let It Bring You Down/Philadelphia/Love Is a Rose/Daddy Went a Walkin’//Distant Camera/ Last Trip to Tulsa/Southern Pacific/Old Man/Long May You Run/Harvest Moon/Slowpoke/Needle & the Damage Done/After the Gold Rush//Good to See You/Railroad Town/Sugar Mountain///Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere