Neil Young’s Archive Performance Series is a strange beast, collecting his past live performances into chronologically numbered releases based on recording time, with eight volumes released so far. Bluenote Café is the latest to come out, containing recordings from live performances throughout his 1987-88 tour promoting This Note’s for You. Whether you’re a Young fan looking to experience the past for yourself or a long-time fan looking to indulge in the nostalgia it brings, Bluenote Café is something you’ll want to hear; it’s a true testament to Young’s live talents.
The collection features recordings from ten different shows which span over two discs, including songs from both This Note’s for You and records past, among some unreleased tracks and ones that wouldn’t see their release for years after this tour; Ordinary People wasn’t released until 2007, despite being performed during these shows. The order of the tracks on the album is one of its strongest suits; the seven minute jam of Welcome To The Big Room serves the collection well as its introductory track, and sets the tone of the album well considering most of the performed material is on the funky side.
Despite the number of shows featured, the tracks all blend together nicely, as if they’d come from one long live recording. While it’s possible to tell where it swaps to a different venue, removing some of the feel of a proper live album, the consistent performances giving the collection this seamless feel just acts as a testament to the many talents of Young. Being from the funky period of his career, that’s mostly what’s featured; a number of funky rock numbers, jazzy tracks and some mid-tempos and ballads thrown in to fill it out, all featuring an abundance of horn instruments as their accompaniment. However, the abundance of funky rock tracks means the outliers stand out in a positive sense; the mid-tempo rock of Ordinary People, in its thirteen minutes of glory, stands out as the album’s second longest track while remaining listenable and mixing with the sombre jazz of One Thing and the jazz rock of Twilight amazingly well, despite coming from a different recording session.
In truth, the only time the collection hits a fumbling point is on its final track; it closes with a nineteen minute jam session rendition of Tonight’s the Night, an originally much shorter song, which acts as a major draw to the collection. In truth, it highlights just how focused this album’s trajectory is, appealing to the real Young fans that want to experience his archive of live material, and may have been waiting for it for years. These longer tracks, especially Tonight’s the Night, may not draw in most potential new listeners and drag them through their entire length; but in truth, and as previously said, they’re not really who Bluenote Café is for.
There’s no denying, however, that Young knows how to put on a show: This is a staggeringly strong collection of tracks, two hours’ worth of live material that Young fans are sure to enjoy for any number of reasons from the funkiest period of his career. Whether it’s for nostalgic purposes and reliving the thrill, or simply experiencing more of Young’s back catalogue, Bluenote Café is well worth checking out.