When a song is titled "Out of Control," you expect to hear something as wild and wooly as Little Richard's "Tutti Frutti" or the Sex Pistols' "Anarchy in the U.K." But when Young sings "Out of Control" on his brilliant new DVD "Silver & Gold," the song loses discipline at the other end of the energy spectrum.
Sitting all alone on an Austin, Texas, stage, crouched over an upright piano topped by flickering candles, the aging hippie sings of a romance running out of gas. His voice cracks and he misses piano notes. The song, like the affair, is slipping out of control as it creates a vertigo not unlike that of the most frenzied rock & roll. Or at least it does on the DVD.
There's also a new Neil Young CD out called "Silver & Gold" that features different performances, taken from studio sessions with an all-star country-folk-rock band. "Out of Control" was recorded during those sessions, but it does not appear on the CD because Young gave it away to his bandmates for the new Crosby Stills Nash & Young album, Looking Forward. CSNY simply took the already recorded version and added its smooth harmonies. The result is pretty but doesn't have nearly the same impact.
Young is one of the few major artists who understands that live performances can be very different from studio versions and just as worthy of preservation.
More than any other major pop figure, Young has released long-form videos of live performances that are often unavailable on his CDs. Among other projects, he got Jim Jarmusch to direct 1997's "Year of the Horse" and Jonathan Demme to direct 1994's "The Complex Sessions." Now, L.A. Johnson has directed "Silver & Gold" for DVD, certainly the most important of the three related projects Young has released this year.
In 1998, Young called in steel guitarist Ben Keith, his collaborator on "Harvest" and "Harvest Moon," as co-producer and leader of a band featuring drummer Jim Keltner and Memphis soulmen Spooner Oldham and Donald "Duck" Dunn on, respectively, keyboards and bass. One of the songs recorded solo acoustic was "Silver & Gold," which Young had been playing live since the early '80s but had never released.
This version was created for the "Silver & Gold" album, which got sidetracked in 1999 when Young, David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash reconvened for their first quartet album since 1988 and only their second since 1971's "4 Way Street." The generous Young offered his old friends their choice of the songs he had already recorded for "S&G." They picked "Out of Control," "Slowpoke," "Queen of Them All" and the title track, "Looking Forward."
"Looking Forward" is a truly mediocre album that spends most of its time looking backward. Even the four Young compositions fail to make much of an impact. Fortunately, three of the four appear on the "Silver & Gold" DVD, where we can glimpse their true value.
The DVD contains three songs from "Looking Forward," seven of the 10 songs on the "Silver & Gold" CD and three older tunes ("Harvest Moon," "Long May You Run" and "Philadelphia" ). In every case save one (the title track is the same on the CD), the DVD versions are more primitive, more transparent, more fragile, more moving.
A song such as "Good to See You" seems almost like a children's song, and yet when Young sings it on the DVD, its infectious simplicity allows the singer to capture that leap of the heart one feels when returning home from a long trip.
The DVD's most powerful moment comes on "Daddy Went Walkin'." Tooting on his harmonica and strumming an acoustic guitar, Young relates ordinary events -- his father taking a walk through the weeds -- so dryly that we barely notice when he slips into a bridge about accepting our parents' inevitable deaths: "Old man crossin' the road/ you gotta let him go."
When these same songs are heard in their studio versions on the "Silver & Gold" CD, they lose their intimacy and their brinkmanship but gain something in rhythmic certainty and harmonic texture. The CD is a worthy complement to the DVD, but no one should make the mistake of assuming the two are the same.