“Don’t let it bring you down / It’s only castles burning” Stunning solo acoustic version of “Don’t Let It Bring You Down”, Neil Young, Toronto’s Massey Hall, January 19, 1971.
This is a lot more than just “unplugged”. This is skin peeled back to the bone, heart bared, trial by fire for the fate of your eternal soul.
It’s also just a gorgeous performance of a song from the album that would wind up as the 8th best-selling album of 1971 in the US, After The Gold Rush. You probably know the song, and you may even know this version from the terrific Live At Massey Hall LP, but you ain’t heard nothin’ until you’ve seen this too.
This is from Elton’s own tumblr (you know that Elton John is on tumblr, right?), and when he says “stripped down”, he’s hardly doing it justice.
Yes, this August 14, 1971 performance for BBC’s Sounds for Saturday is “just” the classic trio (Elton, plus Dee Murray on bass and Nigel Olsson on drums), and yes, it’s minus Paul Buckmaster’s staggering string arrangement (one of the most powerful musical forces of the entire rock era), but OH EM GEE, this is ANYTHING but minimal.
First, Elton pounds the SHIT outta these keys, and takes off in some unexpected directions. His first solo, from 2:00-4:00, takes off like a jazz rocket, then spins down to delicate landing as he heads back into the verse. His second solo excursion slams harder into straight rock and roll at 6 minutes in, and as he brings it in just under the 11 minute mark (!!!), you realize that you barely missed the mighty strings of the album version because Elton IS the orchestra here.
Not that Dee and Nigel aren’t magnificent too, but more than anything else, this particular take on “Madman” reminds me of another epic 1971 jam, Traffic’s “The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys”, but heavier, harder, and with Elton carrying the load that Traffic needed four guys to carry.
Even more mind-boggling than the fact that this happened at all is that it happened on prime time TV in 1971. Imagine the family sitting around the telly with plates of bangers and mash balanced on their knees, while Elton, Nigel, and Dee simultaneously bang and mash on one of 1971′s musical treasures.