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For Your Weekend Listening Pleasure: Neil Young at the Bronco Bowl (Half of It, Anyway)

Someone once asked: "Which Neil Young shows would you like to see officially released?" To which one of the answers was: Neil Young & The Restless at the Bronco Bowl on January 14, 1989 -- "My personal Neil holy grail." And without a doubt, this is among the most adored of the thousands of unofficial Young recordings out there; it ranks alongside the six-pack Road Of Plenty: The Unreleased Songs and Piano Songs 1970-1992 and Chrome Dreams.

No doubt, there's a good reason for this: It's mentioned in Jimmy McDonough's Shakey: Neil Young's Biography, the Bronco Bowl referred to as "an old relic of a place" almost brought crashing down by the thunderous second half of the set that featured Young backed by a band that included Crazy Horse guitarist Frank Sampedro, Rick "The Bass Player" Rosas, drummer Chad Cromwell and the late, great Ben Keith on pedal steel. Though an audience keepsake close to 23 years old now, said to be from the collection of Shawn McCorkle, that rumble remains evident.

This is not the whole set: The entire first half of the concert, an acoustic stroll through the oldies ("Heart Of Gold," "Sugar Mountain," "Comes a Time"), is out there but elusive (and described in Shakey as "lackluster"). What we have here is most of the second half of the set -- the electrifried quake of then-newcomes like "Eldorado" and the "On Broadway" cover rubbing against such standards as "Like A Hurricane," "Cinnamon Girl,"Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)" and "Mr. Soul," this version dedicated to none other than Q102's own Redbeard.

The brief Shakey excerpt concerning the concert follows, but before that, a ...

Bonus! I've been hanging on to this find for quite a while, a Buffalo Springfield collection known as The Missing Herd consisting of outtakes, live cuts and other nifties dating from Way Back When. For our purposes, look no further than Disc One and the six songs -- among them "For What It's Worth" and "Bluebird" recorded at Dallas Market Hall on April 20, 1968. The occasion: one of the opening slots on a Beach Boys bill that also included Strawberry Alarm Clock, Bobby Goldsboro and Soul Society.

Now, from Jimmy McDonough's Shakey: Neil Young's Biography:

In the winter of 1988, Young and the Restless hit the road, blasting through Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas and Louisiana, then up through the Northwest. I loaned fan Dave McFarlin a tape recorder to capture a couple of the shows, and he and a buddy drove around the clock to catch up with Young. They would be rewarded with one of the wildest gigs of Young's career, at the Bronco Bowl in Dallas, Texas.

The Bronco Bowl was an "old relic of a place", said McFarlin. "It was just a hole -- an actual bowling alley, with an archery range and a huge parking lot with grass growin' through the asphalt. Neil's name was lit up on a sign under a big bowling pin. I loved the place." Pro wrestling had been there the night before.

At first, McFarlin was disappointed by a lackluster acoustic set. "Young played all the slow, old songs -- mainly the hits, 'Sugar Mountain,' 'Heart Of Gold' -- he sounded like he was about to fall over. He looked like the oldest man in the world." But when Young came back out for the electric set, dressed in a JUST SAY NO T-shirt, he was "completely different. He looked twenty years younger."

The band change had been so hasty that McFarlin had been expecting the Bluenotes, and he was flabbergasted by the sonic abuse that ensued. "Young just thrashed around the stage, screamin' -- he was goin' like a nut." Young's mangling of "On Broadway" shook the building to the rafters. "He stood with his back to the amps, hit that low note, got that vibration going and let the feedback vibrate him. It was insane." Young got so carried away during one number that he "jumped up in the air and landed on his ass in a sitting position-Indian style, like a pretzel. I don't know how he didn't break his back."

It was total mayhem, and McFarlin was in heaven.


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