Footage: The Best of Neil Young’s “Down By The River”

by Peter Wendel
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NeilYoungOldBlackFeaturedIf you had to pick one song that best showcases Neil Young’s monstrous talent, “Down By The River” would have to be a top contender. It embodies the snarling-and-expansive improvisational jams that define the career of a man called the Godfather of Grunge.

Despite the dark controversial lyrics, “Down By The River” is a churning, whirling jam more than anything else. Live performances have produced some of Young’s most ferocious guitar work on record – shred-fests that test the bounds of pure improvisation.

Here’s a look at how live performances of the song evolved over the years – starting in 1970 and running through 2010.

NEIL YOUNG WITH CROSBY, STILLS & NASH
1970 – TV Show Appearance

Although the quartet’s legendary harmonies are bright and buttery, it’s the red-hot jamming that makes this performance so special. It’s a hollow-body guitar barrage with Young and Stills trading ferocious licks. Huge improvisational energy. Compare this setting to the outdoor gig below.

NEIL YOUNG WITH CROSBY, STILLS & NASH
1970 – Big Sur Outdoor Concert

WOW!! This is a smoking performance with an otherworldly, flashback feel to it. The band burns away and the gyrating, face-painted crowd loves every second. The chemistry between Stills and Young is undeniable.

NEIL YOUNG
1971 – American Shakespeare Theatre

An intimate acoustic performance powered by Neil’s stark (almost chilling) vocal delivery. His voice is a national treasure.

NEIL YOUNG & CRAZY HORSE
1994 – Farm Aid

Neil and longtime backing band Crazy Horse get deep in the groove. Offers a good look at Neil’s manic, convulsing guitar play as he bobs and weaves like a man possessed. Blast off is at 7:59. Industrial strength Neil Young.

NEIL YOUNG WITH PHISH
1998 – Farm Aid

This is MUST-SEE footage – a staggering display of improv guitar play. Neil and Trey get down in the dirt, delivering one of the wildest, filthiest jams you’ll ever witness. Don’t miss the mind-blowing frenzy at 7:51.

NEIL YOUNG
2010 – Farm Aid 25

Unique solo electric performance with his trusty guitar “Old Black.” He’s such a huge talent.

Peter Wendel is a journalist and PR consultant. He's attended hundreds of concerts and festivals, including the Peach, Mountain Jam, the All Good and Lockn'. He's ridden legendary Grateful Dead runs from Ventura County Fairgrounds to Irvine Meadows (CA) from the Nassau Coliseum (NY) to the Boston Garden (MA). Peter is a former U.S. Marine who – after running into trouble with every last one of his commanding officers – received an honorable discharge and a direct order never to return. Born in California and raised in New Jersey, Peter lived in Boston and Joshua Tree (CA) before settling in the nation's capital. Find him on tour at PWendel@SongMango.com.

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