Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black) / Crime in the City / Blowin' in the Wind / Welfare Mothers / Love to Burn / Cinnamon Girl / Mansion of the Hill / F*!#in' Up / Cortez the Killer / Powderfinger / Love and Only Love / Rockin' in the Free World / Like a Hurricane / Farmer John / Tonight's the Night / Roll Another Number
by Gary A. Lucero
"Sparks Be Flyin'"
Weld is one of those incredibly wonderful albums that comes along rarely. When it first came out, I happened upon it by chance. I didn't listen to the radio, I wasn't a member of the N.Y.A.S., and I didn't belong to Rust@Death, so the only way I was able to find out about new releases was from the CD store where I bought my music. The place I used to buy CDs, a big book store in Albuquerque, also sells books, software, newspapers, and other stuff. My wife worked there, and in the afternoon, when I would come to pick her up, I would rummage around in the music department. I would check out the Neil Young section every day, even though it almost never changed. I guess I hoped a new CD would be released, the Archives would ship, or something. Anyway, one day I walked into the store, wandered over to the music department, and checked out the Neil Young section. Arc-Weld was sitting there. I was blown away. I couldn't believe it, a new Neil Young CD. And actually not just one CD, but three...incredible! I could not believe it. I of course bought it immediately. I liked Arc-Weld right away. I thought Arc was a good CD, and I thought Weld was too, but I didn't like either of them then as much as I do now. "Hey, Hey, My, My (Into the Black)" opens, and Neil and Crazy Horse thunder into this staple. The crowd comes up, and then "Out of the Blue," the song, begins. It is performed with as much energy as in its original version or the Live Rust version, and its musical and vocal qualities seem clearer than in those versions. It's brighter, and Neil's voice seems more solid. It is an outstanding rendition of a great song, and a nice way to kick off the album.
One of the real highlights of Weld is "Crime In The City." The Freedom tour boasted the acoustic version of this incredibly moving song, and the Freedom album gave us a Bluenotes-influenced rendition. But Weld gives us a rock-and-roll version, complete with driving guitar work, clear drums, and screaming vocals. Crazy Horse proves to be an excellent band to back Neil on one of his most delicate and sincere songs. From there it moves to "Blowin' in the Wind," the Dylan classic. Sirens, machine gun fire, rockets flying by, explosions, and Neil's lone guitar begin the song. It is reminiscent of "Mother Nature (Natural Anthem)," except with special effects and Neil's feedback-drenched guitar looming overhead while he belts out the lyrics. The backing vocals work well to provide synergy, and to hone the otherwise unweilding song. The real standout for this reviewer is "Welfare Mothers." Never before had this song affected me so much. I've always loved Rust Never Sleeps, and enjoyed "Welfare Mothers," but I never understood it until Weld. The song begins simply enough, and isn't really any different than the original version for several minutes. It is not until it begins to wind down, and Billy Talbot and Neil Young begin their interchange of dialog, that the song takes on real new meaning. Neil sings "beautiful" at the end of every chorus, and his guitar screams out the lead. Then the song begins to slow up, and Neil says "take care." You hear "no more pain," and when Neil asks Billy, "Where's the check Billy?," the classic response is "The check's in the mail." The message conveyed is the cycle of starvation, child abuse, false love, and the false relief brought when the check comes. Chaos takes place, with the guitar and drums sounding wildly, and then it dies into the crowd. Before you know, it another song starts. "Love To Burn" is one of the most gorgeous songs from Ragged Glory. Neil does it justice here. The guitar soars, reminiscent of "Cortez The Killer" or "Dangerbird," but the lyrics are surreal and touching:
"Why'd you ruin my life? / Where you takin' my kids?"
The rest of the first disc, "Cinnamon Girl," "Mansion On The Hill," and "F*!#in' Up," are standard fare. They are good versions of good songs, but let's move on to disc two.
"Cortez the Killer" is slow and plodding, careful and meticulous, almost like a prayer or incantation. Each words carries forth the emotion of a man who seems in awe of the Aztecs and the Incas. Neil's guitar work is beautiful, and the drums and backup vocals are clear and concise. Neil Young and Crazy Horse provide us with one of their most moving versions of this song. When Neil sings "killer!" it just about rips out your heart. It is followed by "Powderfinger." This has never been one of my favorites, though the lyrics are entertaining and the song is a lot of fun to listen to. On Weld, it is sung well, and Neil and the band do an excellent job. "Love and Only Love," another of my favorites from "Ragged Glory," is also performed beautifully. Like all of the songs on Weld, it is sung with clarity and feeling. "Rockin' in the Free World," "Farmer John," and "Roll Another Number," the fourth, sixth and last song of disc two, are all performed well, but I want to discuss the remaining songs, "Like a Hurricane" and "Tonight's the Night." These songs are standards, and the versions presented here are exceptional. "Like a Hurricane" has some of the most outstanding guitar playing since the Berlin version. Neil squeezes sounds from Old Black that are incredible, and brings the song to an orgasmic level. After the first verse, the guitar is slow and careful, and then with each subsequent verse it becomes more chaotic and fierce. Chords and notes are sounded with feeling, and though they are familiar to anyone who has heard more than one version of this song, they are yet new and revealing. This is the best rocker on the album, and one that should be remembered for a long time to come. There is no way Neil Young can top the version(s) of "Tonight's the Night" that appear on the album of the same name, but on Weld he provides a good electric rendition. Whereas the original had Neil's great piano work, Nils Lofgren's solid guitar, a great bass line (which you hardly ever hear in Neil's music) by Billy Talbot, and wonderful harmonies coming from the group, on Weld it is quite different. The bass is distinguishable at the beginning, and the drums are clearer - you can hear the tom toms and the cymbals. Neil's guitar sort of wails, even as his voice does, and what starts out as a slow rocker soon becomes a scorcher. Again, the emotion in his voice is undeniable. He sings the song with feeling. When it takes off, after a couple of verses, Neil sings "oh Bruce" and launches into a frenzy of guitar solos. They start off slow, but soon, after a bit more vocals, some being improvisational, and some great bass playing by Billy Talbot, it really begins to fly. The drums are pounding, the guitar is screeching, and you can hear screaming in the background ("oh Bruce, oh Bruce, oh Bruce"). The song then dies out, and Neil gives his thanks with, "And a word of thanks for all of our families, and for the great crew that we got out here for the last fifty-four shows; the best; thank you." The show, and the album, finish with "Roll Another Number."
I have not compared Weld to bootlegs or concert tapes, but only to officially released albums and video tapes. You may know of unofficial concert recordings which have superior versions of many of these songs, but for the money there is no better live CD than Weld. I'm not saying there aren't better LPs, cassettes or DAT tapes, but on compact disc you will not find a better value. Weld is an incredible album, and if you can find Arc-Weld, buy that - it is even better.