For the last decade or so, as Baby Boomer acts have been slouching toward their eventual demise, many of them have been engaging in the act of going out on tour and performing their classic albums from start to finish. The fans want to hear the cozy, familiar hits of their distant youth, and the artists want to earn tour revenue. Win-win!
One of the first artists to do this was Neil Young. In 1973, a year after his beloved Harvest album, he went on tour and performed his Tonight’s the Night album in its entirety for concert audiences. There was only one problem – the album didn’t actually come out for another two years, so people who had paid to hear carbon-copied live readings of “Heart of Gold” were instead treated to a full hour of stuff they had never heard before. Bummer.
Roxy – Tonight’s the Night Live is a document of Young performing this service for an audience at Los Angeles’ Roxy nightclub. He played the freshly recorded album in sequence, pausing only to welcome the audience to Miami Beach, for reasons best known to him.
It’s a great performance, and listening to it at home decades after the fact is very satisfying. Still, it’s valid to wonder how the audience felt about it while it was happening. The most likely answer is that they probably felt ripped off. Any concert-goer would.
That aside, on its own merits, Roxy – Tonight’s the Night Live is a pretty impressive document. Every performance is excellent, and Young’s backing band fires on all cylinders, pedal steel guitarist Ben Keith in particular. It may not replace Tonight’s the Night on anyone’s shelf, but it’s a perfect companion piece if nothing else.
While this document is both vital and immediate, calling it “energetic” is a stretch. This is particularly true as the concert progresses, and the audience response becomes less enthusiastic as they slowly realize they’re not going to hear any songs they know.
When the songs that comprise the Tonight’s the Night album have all been performed, Young, seemingly aware that the audience might want to hear something familiar, announces, “We’re going to do an old tune for you now,” a statement greeted by thunderous applause. Then the band performs “Walk On,” the opening track to On the Beach, another album that had not yet been released, and which the audience had never heard before. With that, the set ends and Roxy – Tonight’s the Night Live comes to a close.
It’s hard to know what the audience that saw this performance thought of it, but 45 years removed from it, it’s possible to enjoy it on the merits and not get bogged down in the history. And that’s a good thing – as Young continues to open up his vaults and release material that’s been languishing for years, it gets easier to hear the music stand on its own. As an individual release, Roxy – Tonight’s the Night Live very much deserves to have the spotlight all to itself.