Neil Young continues to release treasures from his Archives with the latest being Way Down in the Rust Bucket, a beloved, much-bootlegged live document with Crazy Horse joining him on Nov. 13, 1990 at the 800-capacity Catalyst in Santa Cruz, California.
The vocals and instrumentation are as clear as one has come to expect from Young’s Archive releases but Rust Bucket also maintains the ambience of the room.
Running over three hours, the first of the night’s three sets begins with “Country Home,” one of eight numbers taken from Ragged Glory, which was recorded in the spring of 1990 and released in September. It’s apparent before the chorus kicks in that the quartet is locked in as one symbiotic musical entity. The song, like every other number here, stretches out musically into self-contained sonic journeys that lead to satisfying ends. The Catalyst show picks up where Glory left off with controlled ferocity propelled forward by the rhythmic crunch of prime thrash ‘n’ slash Horse. The studio release, this live show and the subsequent tour dates that followed cemented Young’s fitting moniker as the Godfather of Grunge. “Love to Burn,” “Fuckin Up” and “Over and Over” are prime examples of the blistering sculpted grooves that he creates best with guitarist Frank Sampedro, bassist Billy Talbot and drummer Ralph Molina. Another Ragged track, “Days That Used to Be,” rides the fine balance of wistful and defiant without falling into the abyss of mawkish hippie era nostalgia.
After a four-year break when Young played with other musicians, this reunion with CH finds the musicians re-energized and having a good time in these surroundings. That relaxed vibe is accentuated on second set opener “Bite the Bullet” and “Farmer John.” Sampedro and Talbot’s laughter follows the line “Upon the fields of green, where time was just a joke” during “Over and Over” until the chorus starts up again. “Don’t Cry No Tears” has a false ending due to Young’s sudden decision to repeat one of the verses because he’s in the mood to do it. The venue’s proximity to the weed growers in the Emerald Triangle understandably brings “Roll Another Number (For the Road)” in the setlist. Even in this woozy version, the live debut of “Dangerbird, 15 years after appearing on 1975’s “Zuma,” remains a thrill. “T-Bone” gains new life on this evening as the superfuzz groove burner it always wanted to be while “Surfer Joe and Moe the Sleaze” adds lyrics – “Midway Esther and her sister Camille used to fuck all day under the Ferris wheel” – and contains a minor miscue when Young chimes in with the final verse just as the band heads into the final chorus. But, such a thing makes the foursome more endearing as a live sensation that embraces the foibles of human interaction and blossoms because of it.
Every album, except “Life,” that featured the Horse on all the tracks is touched upon here including classics such as “Cinnamon Girl” (with its riff worthy of a hall of fame alongside “Smoke on the Water”), “Like a Hurricane” and an elegant “Cortez the Killer” to end the night.
“Way Down In The Rust Bucket” presents prime primal Young and Crazy Horse that acclimates perfectly to the band’s intimate surroundings. It’s music that’s worthy to be played loud and your neighbors should thank you for it. Legendary promoter Bill Graham dubbed their union as the 3rd Best Garage Band in the World. That night in Santa Cruz they ascended to the top spot.