It's never been particularly difficult to ignore much of Neil Young's 1980s output. His albums from that era that get the most attention are 1982's Trans, a synth- and vocoder-heavy collection that's met with scorn by all but the most loyal Neil apologists, and 1983's Everybody's Rockin', which is an immediately forgettable rockabilly affair that feels more dialed in than anything else in his long career.
And then in 1985 came a pleasant if also somewhat underwhelming country album called Old Ways, a different, reportedly more raw and intense version of which was submitted to and rejected by Geffen Records, the label that, famously, would later sue Young for making music that was "musically uncharacteristic" of his earlier material.
Even though Old Ways wasn't a huge success, either commercially or artistically, the shows Neil Young played in support of it have long been known as some of his best. A Treasure is the ninth installment of the reliably excellent Archives Performance series, and it's an 11-song collection recorded during two tours in ‘85. He was backed by the International Harvesters, a band consisting of Ben Keith, Spooner Oldham and Tim Drummond, who'd collaborated with him previously. In this setting, though, they cut loose in a way they never had before, breathing much needed life into tracks like "Get Back to the Country" from Old Ways , and a new type of life into older tracks like Buffalo Springfield's "Flying on the Ground is Wrong" and "Are You Ready for the Country" from Harvest. There's also a version of "Southern Pacific," fast-paced and high-energy, featuring some remarkably impressive instrumental passages.
Among the five previously unreleased songs on A Treasure, the highs are just barely outweighed by the lows. "Amber Jean" is a should-be classic, one of those Neil Young songs that could stand up to almost any arrangement or any stylistic whim, while the bluesy "Soul of a Woman" is bordering on cringeworthy. On the whole, though, this is a welcome addition to Young's catalog, and one that helps shed some light on one of the more confusing periods of on of rock and roll's most important figures.