Under the rainbow is all we can go. Neil Young knows that, although it is likely not him behind the name for this live recording, presumably discovered in the attic of a maniac or hoarder. Ripped from the heart of London are fourteen tracks of Young classics. Tonight’s the Night, album opener and owner of ghostly, chilling piano notes, isolated from the rest of the occasion beyond a mellow guitar and warmup percussion tap suitable to films which open on drunkards in Las Vegas, make for a disturbed opening, in the best way possible. Bootleg croaking, unable to strip the record for its parts and work it over properly, but still, here it is. Somewhere Under the Rainbow is drizzled with shame and plays it up well.
For doubters, the cool renditions, the out-of-sight terror in the voice of Young on Speakin’ Out and the electricity coming off of a beat-up bootleg recording is the charm here. No bootleg should sound crisp and fresh unless the masters are found in neat and pristine, filed condition, as they always are for Bob Dylan. Young’s effectiveness comes from the seedy appropriation of the venue, from hearing the reverb and the spotty moments where guitar notes are missed, where there are mismatches. It is all part of the charm and allure of the bootleg quality, and Somewhere Under the Rainbow has that in spadefuls. Take the tenderness of New Mama, the ripples of static and the applause that rushes through. Art is captured in the moment, not lost as Stewart Lee rightly believes stage action should be.
Existing as memory is the best way an artist can survive in any form of word-of-mouth recommendation. For some that would mean isolating and subsequently extraditing audio and video equipment. No dice for some, and although there is an argument to be made for the refusal of recording live shows, it is to the benefit of those not there that Somewhere Under the Sun, for instance, is recorded. Had it not been for some plucky chancer with a hefty collection of unused tape, listeners would not hear the muffled charms of Roll Another Number (For the Road). Even then, recording qualities and the collector-minded, dedicated core of music aficionados would not know nor clamour for what they missed without the knowledge of Somewhere Under the Rainbow existing.
Somewhere Under the Rainbow immediately strikes as a record needed on vinyl and does not shake that feeling. Something about the echoes, the recording quality and everything about the sleeve slots this Young release, right from the heart of the 1970s but never properly, commercially offered up until now, a chance to breathe. It would fit right in among the Crosby, Stills and Nash compilations of the mid-1980s, resting where it would never stick out of place. Look at the grain of the cover, the history in an uncontrollable swing as it is yanked out of the sleeve and thrown onto the turntable. Albums like this are made for nostalgic listening experiences. But bereft of the ability to pay for this when money is in short supply as pre-orders of LCD Soundsystem singles are due, Somewhere Under the Rainbow will do best with noise-cancelling headphones, lounging around and feeling there. Only the best bootlegs can do that, only the best live albums. Young does so here, despite the abyss of quality sometimes felt in the latter stages.