It’s been three years since Neil Young has taken part in extensive touring. Since COVID emerged, he’s made a few benefit and online appearances. All the money that fans would have ponied up to buy tickets to his shows simply transitioned to purchasing one or more of the nearly dozen releases of new and archival recordings that came out since March 2020, including the 10-CD box set Archives II.

The latest, a trio of solo acoustic performances from the early ‘70s represents more diamonds from Young’s voluminous tape vault. The recordings from his Official Bootleg Series include Royce Hall, 1971, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 1971 and the infamous 1974 unannounced set, Citizen Kane Jr. Blues (Live at The Bottom Line).

Longtime fans probably have one or more of these releases in some form. The draw here is that where analog tape exists, these concerts have been mixed properly, providing much higher quality output than have previously existed. The Los Angeles shows are from the original analog masters, while The Bottom Line restores and remasters the original boot (which already sounded pretty amazing for an audience tape). The original artwork has also been replicated wherever possible with the “Dorothy Chandler Pavilion” cover even having a worn and faded ring of an LP.

Royce Hall comes from a Jan. 30 set on the UCLA campus while “Dorothy Chandler Pavilion” takes place two days later as the last U.S. show of Young’s 1971 solo tour. The setlists are similar but with several changes in song placement as well as “Down By the River” only being played at the college. Both shows start with Buffalo Springfield’s “On the Way Home.” Minus the full arrangement of the original version, this emphasizes the growing pains in the lyrics and the 25-year-old artist singing them. While the song contains a sense of vulnerability, there’s nothing but an overabundance of confidence by the singer-songwriter who effortlessly moves from guitar to piano on “Tell Me Why,” “Journey Through the Past,” “Cowgirl in the Sand,” “Ohio” and “Dance Dance Dance.”

He also previews material that will go on his best-selling album Harvest including “Old Man,” “Heart of Gold,” “The Needle and the Damage Done” and “A Man Needs a Maid.”

Other than the joy of listening to these stripped-down performances, what’s most notable at these two concerts is Young’s playing. Rather than the primal rhythm guitarist and soloist listeners have been accustomed to hearing over the past several decades there are shades and nuances to his work onstage here that are infrequently repeated in subsequent shows. 

Several years later, with his relationship with actress Carrie Snodgress nearing its end and after the overdose deaths of two close associates, an emotionally-battered Young makes a surprise appearance after a Ry Cooder show May 16, 1974 at New York’s The Bottom Line. The audience is thrilled but they don’t realize that he’s making headway through what fans later dubbed his Ditch Trilogy of dark, gloomy releases — Time Fades Away, Tonight’s the Night and On the Beach. The title derives from his notes in the compilation album, Decade — “‘Heart of Gold’ put me in the middle of the road. Traveling there soon became a bore so I headed for the ditch.”

Due to the nearly 60 minutes of unreleased tracks he played then – the title “Citizen Kane Jr. Blues” comes from what Young called the opening number that night before its name change of “Pushed It Over the End” while “Greensleeves” is performed one of only two times total in his career – and a near-perfect audience recording the bootleg has been a fan favorite for years. Young sounds as if he’s about to be crushed by the weight of the material yet he remains compelled to push forward on songs such as “Ambulance Blues,” “Revolution Blues” and “On the Beach.” “Helpless” gains extra dramatic heft considering the fragile status of his bond with Snodgress at that time.  

Cognizant and appreciative of the clubgoers’ rapt attention towards these unfamiliar tunes, Young apologizes that his “songs are sad” and after the most difficult material is behind him, he loosens up a little, and performs what he describes as the novelty tune, “Roll Another Number (For the Road),” and ends with the upbeat country stomp of “Dance Dance Dance.”

Finished, his set finds him with the defiant confidence to move forward with these tunes and continue to follow his instincts despite any painful collateral damage it may cause to anyone personally and professionally. “Citizen Kane Jr. Blues” is the culmination of these three official bootleg releases where an artist solidifies a public persona where he will never play up to his fans but rather challenges them to follow along wherever his muse directs him.