As more and more of the Neil Young archives spills out of the cabinets for the rest of us to hear, saturation seems like a probable outcome. So far, though, these releases have been well worth the time, offering not simply bonus sounds for hardcore fans but a steady drip of quality music. The new release Way Down in the Rust Bucket continues that string with an entertaining show. Fans, of course, will appreciate getting a proper release of this 1990 event. Aficionados will enjoy the academic quality of slotting into several decades’ worth of tour shows, figuring out just where Young and Crazy Horse were at this point. Even casual listeners, though, can embrace the record and its nearly three hours of exciting music.
The album, for the most part, doesn’t break incredibly new ground. The group played a couple of shows in late 1990 to prepare for their upcoming tour (which itself would be captured for live album Weld and, sort of, Arc). This show, played on 13 November at the Catalyst in Santa Cruz, shows the band in loose form, both musically and personally. Young had just released Ragged Glory, and this set highlights that album and a band that sounds enthused to have some fun on the road. The versions recorded here don’t substantially rework Young’s music, but Crazy Horse’s typically high energy comes through on both the concert staples and the surprising choices.
Among those surprising cuts, about half the album features songs making their first live appearances. Some of these songs, of course, simply promote Ragged Glory. Others, like “Danger Bird” from 1975’s Zuma, make you wonder why they hadn’t been regulars to start with. That cut also highlights the band’s pleasure in extended tracks. A number of these songs stay on the attack for ten minutes or more (and “Cowgirl in the Sand” only makes it to DVD, not the double-CD set, which is a shame).
If the band isn’t the tightest they ever were, they manage to make each moment on the long tracks matter. That looseness carries throughout the show, and songs like “Homegrown” (the title track for the album that finally saw release just last year, despite its mid-’70s recording), “Farmer John”, and “Roll Another Number (For the Road)” keep things fun. The band isn’t out for a joke, though, finding aggression and catharsis through the set. “Cortez the Killer” makes a fitting finale, letting the guitars stretch as Young and Crazy Horse flow to a finish.
The album, of course, doesn’t simply rely on novelty or extended jamming. Young delivers on a string of more straightforward numbers, too. “Cinnamon Girl” might be the only standard here, but about halfway through, the band remembers how enjoyable this one can be. “Fuckin’ Up” provides as much muscle in its earworm as ever. And if the following cut, “T-Bone”, is rather weird, then that’s just more of the joy of Young and Crazy Horse at the start of the 1990s. Aside from a few unusual performances, Way Down in the Rust Bucket might not tell us anything we didn’t know, but it provides plenty of excellent music from the right band at the right time.