Sunday, August 12, 2018

Certain Songs #1290: Neil Young & Crazy Horse – “Barstool Blues (Santa Cruz 05-09-1996)” | Medialoper

Album: Year of the Horse
Year: 1997

Recorded at the Catalyst, Santa Cruz on May 9, 1996

One of the fun things about Year of the Horse, the live album that Neil Young culled from the nearly year-long tour he undertook with Crazy Horse, was that it contained not one, but two songs originally on Zuma, neither of which was “Cortez The Killer.”

One of those songs was an utterly epic take on the long-lost “Danger Bird,” and other was a great, jammy version of “Barstool Blues,” which was definitely not a blues, but felt like it was written at last call.

If I could hold on
to just one thought
For long enough to know
Why my mind is moving so fast
And the conversation is slow
Burn off all the fog
And let the sun
through to the snow
Let me see your face again
Before I have to go

On Zuma, “Barstool Blues” is anchored by a big jangly guitar hook and an almost country bassline, while Neil sings at the very top of his register, bouncing his cracked voice off against that top over and over again.

I have seen you in the movies
And in those magazines at night
I saw you on the barstool when
You held that glass so tight
And I saw you in my nightmares
But I’ll see you in my dreams
And I might live a thousand years
Before I know what that means

But twenty years later, Neil dropped the key into something easier for him to sing in a live context, downplayed the guitar hook and let Crazy Horse drive it forward. And while it might not quite have the pathos of the original version, it definitely had more drive.

Once there was a friend of mine
Who died a thousand deaths
His life was filled with parasites
And countless idle threats
He trusted in a woman
And on her he made his bets
Once there was a friend of mine
Who died a thousand deaths

In fact, it’s that drive that makes me love this version: after a reprise of the first verse, Ralph Molina switches up the beat, doubling up on his snare, and “Barstool Blues” goes into orbit for the next five minutes or so, Neil adjusting the direction with little fireblasts of guitar here and there, until they find a clear path.

Then he takes off this his guitar, shooting off shimmering electric notes against what counts as a rave-up for Crazy Horse, as they get more and more and more intense, until all four of them are bashing crashing smashing against each other in unison; Neil occasionally jotting out ahead for a quick solo, but always coming back to the fold, until finally, they just end it.

“Barstool Blues (Santa Cruz 05-09-1996)”

“Barstool Blues” from Zuma

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