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There’s nothing quite like experiencing Neil Young live. The energy, the passion, the unpredictability – a feeling that can’t be replicated on a studio album. Fortunately, his extensive collection of live recordings allows us to relive those great live albums and discover new ones.

This article celebrates 10 of his best live albums, each capturing his performances’ unique atmosphere and emotional intensity. From intimate acoustic sets as a solo artist to explosive electric jams with his backup band Crazy Horse, these live albums offer a front-row seat to the legendary shows that have solidified Neil Young’s status as a rock and roll legend.

See below our selection of the top 10 Neil Young’s best live albums (ranked!)

10. Unplugged (1993)

Let’s take it easy: “Uncle” Neil’s already had 30 years of career in 1993. The “Unplugged” performance, filmed on February 7, aired on MTV a month later and was simultaneously released on home video and audio CD.

The 14-song setlist, seemingly random on the album, gains coherence in the video format. It begins with early solo pieces on guitar and harmonica, then transitions to keyboards, gradually incorporating other musicians.

The songs, mostly mellow and reflective, explore themes of fame, love, and the passage of time. Some are well-known, like “Mr. Soul” and “Like a Hurricane,” presented with fresh arrangements. Others are lesser-known or previously unreleased, like “Stringman.” Regardless, all are melodic and engaging, particularly the selections from “Harvest Moon,” including its title track featuring a broom as a makeshift percussion instrument.

Overall, “Unplugged” showcases a subdued Neil Young, highlighting the consistency of his work and recurring themes in his music. While avoiding some of his biggest hits, it offers a few fan favorites and revives forgotten gems. It’s a performance that underscores Neil Young’s enduring appeal and musical depth.


9. Tuscaloosa (1973/ 2019)

Neil Young’s archival releases are a treat for any music fan. Even decades after it was recorded, rediscovering quality music is a special experience. “Tuscaloosa” is a prime example, capturing a pivotal moment in Young’s career. This 1973 concert took place between the release of “Harvest” and the upcoming “On The Beach” and “Tonight’s The Night,” a time marked by personal and professional turmoil.

Young was grieving the loss of bandmate Danny Whitten and facing tensions with his backing band, the Stray Gators. This emotional weight is evident in the album’s raw, turbulent sound, echoing Neil Young’s reflections on the tour and the subsequent “Time Fades Away.”

Beyond the “Harvest” classics, “Tuscaloosa” offers solo renditions of “Here We Are In The Years” and “After The Gold Rush,” along with previews of the unreleased “Tonight’s The Night” with “New Mama” and “Lookout Joe.” It also includes “Don’t Be Denied” from the live album “Time Fades Away.”


8. Sugar Mountain: Live at Canterbury House (1968/ 2008)

1968: Neil Young, just 23 years old, takes the stage at Canterbury House for his first solo acoustic concert, mere weeks before his debut album release, “Neil Young.” Young’s voice quivers with youthful nerves and self-deprecation, a stark contrast to the seasoned artist he’d soon become. He fills gaps with candid banter, sharing endearing stories from his life.

The setlist includes unreleased solo material and Buffalo Springfield classics, including “Sugar Mountain,” “On the Way Home,” “The Loner,” and “If I Could Have Her Tonight.” The Performance is delivered with fragility and vulnerability, his voice cracking with emotion. As the set progresses, his confidence grows, culminating in a forceful rendition of “The Old Laughing Lady.”

While not his most polished live album, “Sugar Mountain” offers a rare glimpse of Neil Young as a young, unproven artist, his raw talent and earnestness shining through.


7. Roxy: Tonight’s The Night Live (1973/ 2018 )

In September 1973, Neil Young, haunted by the death of guitarist Danny Whitten, opened the legendary L.A. nightclub, the Roxy, with a raw and powerful performance. Backed by the Santa Monica Flyers, a band of incredible talent, Neil Young delivered a setlist filled with songs from the then-unreleased “Tonight’s the Night.”

The album’s darkness is palpable. Songs like “Tonight’s the Night” and “Tired Eyes” are haunting elegies to lost friends. From the tortured high notes of “Mellow My Mind” to the wobbly harmonies of “Albuquerque,” the performance is a testament to the power of music to channel pain.


6. Live at Massey Hall (1971/ 2007)

Performing solo with just his voice, guitar, and piano, Neil Young captivates the audience with a setlist filled with songs that would soon become beloved classics. Early versions of “Old Man,” “Heart of Gold,” “The Needle and the Damage Done,” and “Helpless” highlight the raw power of his songwriting, even before they achieved widespread popularity.

Live at Massey Hall sound is remarkably clear, capturing the subtle nuances of Neil Young’s voice and the intricate details of his guitar playing. After the success of his collaboration with Crosby, Stills, and Nash and the platinum-selling album “After The Goldrush,” this performance feels like a triumphant return to his roots. The audience’s excitement for the local boy’s homecoming is evident, even when Neil Young reveals that his set will consist mostly of new material. And what remarkable new material it is.


5.  Live at the Cellar Door (1970/ 2013)

In late 1970, fresh off a whirlwind tour with the immensely popular Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and the release of his third solo album, “After the Goldrush,” Neil Young performed six intimate shows in Washington, D.C. These shows, recorded in November and December, are now combined in the crisp and captivating “Live at the Cellar Door” album.

This solo acoustic performance showcases Neil Young in a new light, with surprises like the first-ever piano rendition of “Cinnamon Girl.” Engaging and personable, Young shares stories and delivers favorites such as “Only Love Can Break Your Heart,” “After the Gold Rush,” and “Down by the River” with stunning precision.

As a bonus, the album features several Buffalo Springfield songs and the long-lost “Bad Fog of Loneliness,” previously unheard for over 35 years.


4. Time Fades Away (1973)

In 1973, “Time Fades Away” marked a stark departure from Neil Young’s previous commercial successes. Recorded live during his tumultuous tour of the same name, the album is raw, unpolished, and emotionally charged. Critics and fans initially met it with mixed reactions, expecting a continuation of the mellow sound found on “Harvest.” However, “Time Fades Away” reveals a different side of Young – vulnerable, gritty, and wrestling with personal demons.

The album opens with the title track, a country-tinged rocker filled with regret and reflection. Songs like “Journey Through the Past” and “Don’t Be Denied” show us Neil Young’s introspective songwriting, while the raucous “L.A.” and “Love In Mind” capture the raw energy of the live performances. While the sound quality is rough around the edges, it perfectly complements the album’s emotional intensity.

“Time Fades Away” marks the beginning of Neil Young’s “Ditch Trilogy,” a trio of albums released after the immense success of “Harvest.” This period saw Neil Young grappling with the overwhelming nature of his fame and acclaim, leading to a disconnect from his music and career.


3. Weld/ Way Down in the Rust Bucket (1991/ 2021)

And we’ve reached the top 3, where the heavy cavalry comes in! Neil Young is in hard rock mode with Crazy Horse, which is the peak of his live discography. Get ready for powerful riffs and pure energy!

Neil Young attributes the start of his hearing loss to the “Weld” album. The live album from 1991 has the newer tracks from “Ragged Glory” and “Freedom” albums. “Love To Burn” and “Love and Only Love” are prime examples of this sonic assault, with the latter being a guitar lover’s dream and the former a groovy explosion of sound.

“Fuckin’ Up” is a pure adrenaline rush featuring the godfather of grunge at his most visceral. The album also boasts amped-up versions of classic anthems like “Welfare Mothers,” “Powderfinger,” and “Like A Hurricane,” as well as a hauntingly slowed-down rendition of “Cortez The Killer.” The newly minted anthem “Rockin’ In the Free World” solidifies its place among these legendary tracks.

We can’t discuss this album without mentioning its underrated companion, “Way Down in the Rust Bucket.” Captured on November 13, 1990, at The Catalyst in Santa Cruz, California, “Way Down in the Rust Bucket” documents Neil Young & Crazy Horse warming up for their imminent Ragged Glory tour. The electrifying performance spanned three sets and an encore, showcasing most of the recently released “Ragged Glory” alongside beloved fan favorites and deeper cuts. Guitarist Poncho Sampedro fondly recalls the show in a March 2021 interview with Rolling Stone:

Let me go on record as saying that I think this Way Down in the Rust Bucket is the best Crazy Horse record we ever recorded. I love it! I love this record. Neil plays great, unbelievably great. He’s just electrified.” 


2. Live Rust (1979)

“Live Rust” was the soundtrack to Neil Young’s “Rust Never Sleeps” concert film. It is an excellent Neil Young live album and career summary, starting with the early song “Sugar Mountain” and running through then-new songs like “My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)” and “Powderfinger.”

Neil Young effectively combines his acoustic folksinger and hard-rocking Crazy Horse bandleader modes. “Like A Hurricane” and “Cortez, the Killer” are both epic, and “The Loner” and “Cinnamon Girl” gain new power when played live.


1. Live at The Fillmore East (1971/ 2006)

The first release in the Neil Young Archives Series is a live album featuring Crazy Horse, recorded in March 1970 at a famous New York club. This tour came just after the release of “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere.”

The bill featured Neil Young and Crazy Horse as the headliners, with featured acts The Miles Davis Quintet and The Steve Miller Blues Band. Insane!

This live album offers six of the best performances from Neil Young’s two electrifying shows at the Fillmore East on March 6th and 7th. It features epic jams on “Down by the River” (12 minutes) and “Cowgirl in the Sand” (16 minutes), along with other classics like “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere,” “Winterlong,” and “Wonderin’.”

The guitar interplay between Neil Young and the late Danny Whitten, the original Crazy Horse guitarist, is incredibly sharp and showcases a unique style that Young hasn’t been able to replicate with any other guitarist since Whitten died in 1972.


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AlexandreG.
Is just a guy who got tired of bothering his friends talking about music, and decided to create a blog to write about what he loves the most.
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