Neil Young premieres previously unreleased live performance from 1971

Neil Young has revisited the past, releasing a never-before-seen stripped back version of him performing Cowgirl in the Sand live in the early days of 1971.

Released on the Neil Young Archives (NYA) webpage, the track is accompanied by a low-lit video of Neil performing solo on an acoustic guitar in the iconic Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford, Connecticut.

“This is a song I wrote about a dream I had,” Neil Young opens up before playing. “It was snowing outside. It was the kind of snow that sticks on your nose.”

The Stratford gig was shot on January 21st, 1971, at the beginning of Neil Young’s solo career, about a year after Cowgirl in the Sand was released on the Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere record. It is the earliest-known Neil Young concert on film while the footage was shot by Dutch photographer, Wim van der Linden, just three days after the famous Massey Hall concert.

“At that time, Massey Hall was for me my best early acoustic performance to date. A triumph! A celebration! That’s how I felt at the time.”

Unfortunately, Massey Hall was never captured on film so images from the Stratford show were re-synced to the audio from Massey Hall, “to help bring a visual element” to the magnificent performance. Prior to 2020, these were the only released versions of the surreal Shakespeare concert which maintained preservation in the archive for nearly five decades.

“In fact, today as we listen and compare, John Hanlon and I both feel ‘Shakespeare’ is superior to our beloved ‘Massey Hall’. A more calm performance, without the celebratory atmosphere of Massey Hall, captured live on 16mm film, ‘Young Shakespeare’ is a very special event,” Neil re-evaluates on an NYA forum. “To my fans, I say this is the best ever.”

The Canadian singer-songwriter is still tossing up with how and when to release the Young Shakespeare acoustic performance in its entirety. Neil Young plans to either pair it with the 50th Anniversary release of his third solo album, After the Gold Rush, at the end of this year or distribute it separately at a similar time.

It seems today, Neil Young is using the Neil Young Archives (NYA) as a nostalgic platform to reinvigorate his extensive collection of works. In light of the coronavirus outbreak, he has performed a series of streamed Fireside Sessions, available for playback on the page. Neil Young is currently offering the subscription for free in tough times, accessible worldwide on the NYA website or as a downloadable app. Be sure to check it out!

Watch the video here.