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SXSW 2009: Neil Young's archives, finally here and absolutely amazing

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For devoted followers of Neil Young--and, really, what rock fan with a modicum of taste isn't?--the long-rumored, long, long-anticipated first installment of the singer and songwriter's massive box-set career overview has been something of a Holy Grail--and quite possibly just as mythical.

But it's here. It exists. (I've seen and touched it!) It's a got a firm, no-kidding release date (June 2). And not only is it absolutely amazing, it quite possibly is a model for the only kind of recorded product that independent and chain stores alike will still be selling in the post-CD future.

For as long as I've been coming to SXSW, I've never seen a panel devoted to discussing a single new release. But then "Neil Young Archives, Vol. 1: 1963-1972" isn't just any piece of product, and Saturday's session and demonstration was more than just hype.

Quite simply, "Archives" is Young's life in a box, with not only every studio album and every important concert he played during the first decade of his career (so long as they were captured in quality recordings), but every song he wrote and recorded, lavishly augmented with extensive histories, rare photos, the original hand-written lyrics, live concert, interview and behind-the-scenes video footage, recording notes, diary entries, postcards to his mom and just about anything and everything else he ever collected during his storied career.

Though the 10-disc box will be available as conventional CDs and DVDs, the ideal format is Blu-Ray, and panelists Elliott Roberts, Young's legendary manager, and Larry Johnson, director of his Shakey Films company, said that, in addition to the artist's infamous obsession with hi-fidelity, development of the Blu-Ray technology is what has delayed the release for so long. Young wanted a format that would not only allow his fans to simultaneously listen to the music while scanning all of the archival material from the relevant era--the high-tech version of lovingly lingering over a 12-inch album cover while listening to the tunes--but to connect via the Internet to receive even more material (newly unearthed photos or concert recordings, for example) as it comes to light in the future, with the result being a collection that is constantly updated shortly after the musician adds something to his own personal stash.

The Blu-Ray price tag is steep at $299, but it literally is complete-at least for the relevant time period. (And Roberts said he envisions 50 discs by the end of the project, 10 per decade for four more boxes, released every two or three years from this point forward.)

To encourage sales at old-fashioned, God bless 'em mom-and-pop record stores, Young's team is providing retailers with posters and other incentives to drive walk-in traffic. And the model is one that could ensure that record stores still have something worthwhile to sell (in addition to newly resurgent vinyl pressings) even after CDs become extinct within the next five years, as almost every speaker at the conference has predicted.

After the session, Roberts noted that the technology the team has developed to make this kind of set possible is going to be made available to other artists, and the mind reels at the possibilities of similar all-encompassing collections from other giants who'd be worthy of the treatment--say, Lou Reed, Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin or Brian Eno.

In short, this may be the biggest reason music obsessives could imagine for the economy to rebound as quickly as possible. Though truth be told, collections this great might even be worth forgoing inessential niceties such as food, clothing and the rent.

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12 Comments

This is almost too good to believe. I can't wait.

Jim,
Thanks for the report.

A question/comment for you: according to what you saw and wrote, the "Archives" is Young's life in a box, with not only every studio album and every important concert he played during the first decade of his career (so long as they were captured in quality recordings), but every song he wrote and recorded..."
For some reason this isn't reflected in the tracklisting on the pre-order website.
http://neilyoungarchives.warnerreprise.com/shop/vol1/
Some songs from albums released during this period are missing.

Did you actually observe that all songs - released and unreleased - from this period are included? I just want to know for sure what I am getting before I plunk down all that money for the Blu-ray version.

Thanks.

Jim,

Thanks for the reply. Actually, I was more curious about the official releases: "Neil Young," "Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere," and "After The Gold Rush". At least one song from each of those seems to be missing from the track list on the pre-order page.
Were you under the impression that all songs from those albums were included in the Archives Vol. 1?

Sorry to be a pest, just wanted to clarify my question. Thanks again.

Hi Jim:

Thanks for the exciting news above as well as for a great deal of fine work over the years.

With regard to the official album cuts, there are are some definite omissions-for example, no "The Losing End (When You're On)" to keep the "Everybody Knows..." LP from being presented in its entirety. And that's actually a track that even the non-sick-crazy-Neil fans should care about. "Losing End" is an essential reference point for 1990's Alt. Country and to get it, folks will have to go grab the new, long-overdue, remastered "Everybody Knows..." rumored to be somewhere in the pipeline for near-term release. There are also a number of big gaps on the live side, where CSN&Y is lightly represented, and I suspect that there was some more Crazy Horse pre-"Gold Rush" material that could have been added.

But there's some tantalizing stuff for sure and it's tempting to do this in Blu-Ray, even in these lean times. But I have two questions: for my $300 ($600 after I've bought the Sony PS3 that is needed to access web features) am I also buying a key for getting this music into iTunes and onto my iPod? In short, can I take "The Archives" with me when I go? Also, if I hold off on Blu-Ray this time out, will I be able to load the "Neil's big funky filebox" when Vol. 2 arrives? Will the subsequent editions be able to serve as the master platform?

I mean, not to sound like a sourpuss or anything, but Vol. 2 (and Vol. 4, I would argue) is where the real action is gonna be...

Again, Jim-thanks.

Hi Jim.

Thanks for the excellent report. Do you recall what some of the more visually oriented content demo'ed was? Any video or songs NOT listed on the published track listing? The officially published "specs" for this set are a lot more sparse than what you normally would see for a dvd or blu-ray.

Thanks again!

Jim,

Great review! Alas, due to our soon to be growing family, I'll only be able to spring for the DVD version. Quick question about the downloads. Do you know if they will be compressed audio files or lossless downloads?

Thanks!

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This page contains a single entry by Jim DeRogatis published on March 21, 2009 4:21 PM.

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