On the tour in 1973 around the time Tonights the Night was recorded Neil Young would walk to the standing lamp on stage pull the switch and mumble the line “welcome to Miami beach ladies and gentlemen…” He would repeat this occasionally throughout gigs. Towards the end of the gig he would mumble and now to play you something familiar, as the band launched into Tonight’s the Night which had opened the gig, prior to this the audience had been inundated with the unfamiliar and the gut wrenching songs.
The set list from Manchester was:
1. Tonight’s the Night 2. Mellow My Mind 3. World On a String 4. Speakin’ Out 5. Albuquerque 6. New Mama 7. Roll Another Number (For the Road) 8. Tired Eyes 9. Tonight’s the Night 10. Flying On the Ground Is Wrong 11. Human Highway 12. Helpless 13. Don’t Be Denied.
You can download it here: Neil Young and the Santa Monica Flyers, Manchester 1973
At the wonderful Aquarium Drunkard website.
Tonight’s the Night is an album I read about in the Cameron Crowe Rolling Stone interview before I had ever heard it. The idea that during a listening party for Homegrown, Young played Tonight’s the Night and decided to release the rougher of the two appealed to me then and still does. Perhaps we will get Homegrown as part of the archives.
“But by listening to those two albums back to back at the party, I started to see the weaknesses in Homegrown. I took Tonight’s the Night because of its overall strength in performance and feeling. The theme may be a little depressing, but the general feeling is much more elevating than Homegrown.”
He has called Tonight’s the Night an O.D. letter without the suicide. It seems more a group of friends grieving, as he says “playing Bruce and Danny on their way.” If Time Fades Away is Young laying in the ditch watching the world go by, Tonights the Night is him crawling his way out of the ditch to stand at the side of the road again. It’s not pretty crawling through the rotting vegetation and shit to get out of the ditch, but sometimes you have to get in there to get somewhere else.
Songs of dissipation, drugs, junkies, booze and comfortingly enough becoming a new mother. The album’s songs are sandwiched between two versions of Tonight’s the Night, maybe the ultimate drunk jam. It all just kind of shuffles along aimlessly in a bumbling good natured way like the mumbling drunk you meet walking down the edge of the ditch. Some of the stories may be harrowing but they are related to each other like the fragments of conversation with that drunk skipping form tale to tale as the neurons short circuit in his brain. Images from the edge of your eye as you nod off in the corner before raising the bottle again. It’s all very familiar to someone who has ever got themselves in too deep at any time, lost on the highway trying to get home.
I remember getting the album after reading that interview. I thought this was going to be some almost revelatory spiritual experience. The album had become something bigger than it really was, a legendary thing. When I finally sat down to listen I realized that while it was a tough listen what made it difficult was that there was so much emotion in every track and for most of us that loss and loneliness is at times very familiar. It was the first time I had really listened to anything were everything was just put out there. It’s a brave album, a scary album and somehow familiar.
The unnerving thing about Tonights the Night is not so much that it documents Young’s grief it is that it somehow documents all our grief. Even if we are not that millionaire rock star from Topanga Canyon we all know loss and fear and guilt. We just usually don’t get to sit down with our pals and document it, maybe if we did then shit wouldn’t hang around the way it tends to.
Let’s face it while it’s a harrowing ride, the band don’t look to bummed out.