Tim Buckley - "What Do You Do (He Never Saw You)" (Live at the Folklore Center, NYC: March 6th, 1967)
For Tim Buckley fans, the tapes that finally have been released on Live at the Folklore Center are something of a holy grail. In March of 1967, just a few months after the release of his debut album and a few months prior to recording Goodbye And Hello – which many people consider his masterpiece – a 20-year-old Buckley played for an audience of just 35 people at Izzy Young’s Folklore Center on Sixth Avenue in Greenwich Village. The proprietor recorded the show with a simple Nagra reel-to-reel machine, aired it on his Pacifica Radio show, and then put it on a shelf for nearly three decades. Eventually, a rather poor quality bootleg made its way onto the internet, and now Tompkins Square and Tim Buckley’s estate have released this beautifully master and restored version.
There have been other Buckley live albums before this one, but none have captured him in such an intimate setting, or so early in his career. More importantly, this is the first live Buckley album with no accompaniment whatsoever from any other musicians. All you hear on the CD is Tim’s acoustic guitar and his unmistakable, awe-inspiring voice. There is such a simple, unadorned beauty and immediacy to these performances that when I went back and listened to Buckley’s first two LPs I felt like most of the studio recordings were a let-down, over-produced and over-arranged. In the brief interview published in the liner notes, Buckey complains that the public wants to hear too many instruments on albums, and that "people...can’t find beauty in simple things." In context, it’s clearly not meant as a criticism of his own recordings, but hearing the songs from those first two albums, without the Jack Neitszche string arrangements, the Jerry Yester production, et cetera, makes all those extra little flourishes seem unnecessary, even distracting. Hearing incredible songs like "Aren’t You The Girl," "I Never Asked To Be Your Mountain," "Carnival Song," "Song For Jainie," and "Phantasmagoria In Two" in this new context is a totally different experience, and it brings Buckley’s skill as a songwriter even more clearly into focus.
I’m not typically a big fan of live albums but there are a few, such as Bob Dylan’s Royal Albert Hall and Rolling Thunder Revue discs, and Neil Young at Massey Hall, that I come back to all the time, and I have a feeling that Live at the Folklore Center is going to be another one of those. The only thing that might make it a little better is a live version of "Once I Was," but I guess you can’t have everything. For those of us who weren’t fortunate enough to have been in attendance at that or any other early Buckley performance, being able to share the experience of the 35 people who were in the room that night is an utter joy.