One of the things that strikes you when you look at Neil Young’s extensive discography is just how many live albums he has put out over the years. No matter how much his muse has waxed and waned over the last thirty years, Young has always remained a brilliant live performer and his live albums are usually met with approval by his fan base, if not all corners of the media. Of all his live albums though, it is 1979’s Live Rust that remains the best, a live best-of which captures Young and Crazy Horse at a live performance peak as a loud and roaring rock and roll band.
Live Rust is not crunchy rock all the way though, indeed its first five numbers are performed by Young alone either on acoustic guitar or piano, and sound gloriously disheveled and raw. Young’s harmonica playing in particular sounds like it’s being played by a man the age he is now and lends this first section of the album a genuinely rustic quality that Young only occasionally achieved in the studio.
After a stark rendition of “My My, Hey Hey (Out Of The Blue)”, Crazy Horse rumble on to the stage and remind us exactly why they have always been Neil Young’s most enduring backing band by upping the volume and rocking out with “When You Dance I Can Really Love” and “The Loner”, a song which has never sounded better than here on Live Rust. Whoever came up with the idea to drop the pace by adding a couple of acoustic numbers after these roaring juggernauts should have been awarded a chocolate biscuit for good thinking, as the sonic contrast created by the two opposing styles captures the appeal of Neil Young in a few short songs.
After a pretty version of “Lotta Love”, the amps are cranked up again and it’s a hard-rocking guitar masterclass for the rest of the album. Okay, so some of the songs on Live Rust are stretched to uncomfortable lengths, but the soloing isn’t as gratuitous as it is on Young’s studio albums, which means that these live versions are often considerably more listenable than the studio versions.
Yes, there are lapses in taste, such as the cod West-Indian accent during “Cortez The Killer”, but on the whole Live Rust is a lesson what a live album should be. There is however a catch. Advances in technology means that Live Rust is an album that is being left on the shelf a lot more than in previous years, with the full concert being available in superior digital sound on the DVD release of Rust Never Sleeps, copies of which are available cheaply if you shop around, it means that poor Live Rust has been outclassed by it’s visual partner. Nevermind, it still sounds awesome through a pair of Grado headphones.