Monday, 21 July 2014

Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young "CSNY 74"

Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young "CSNY 74" 

(Recorded June-August 1974, Released July 2014)

First Set: Love The One You're With/Wooden Ships/Immigration Man/Helpless/Carry Me/Johnny's Garden/Traces/Grave Concern/On The Beach/Black Queen/Almost Cut My Hair

Second Set: Change Partners/The Lee Shore/Only Love Can Break Your Heart/Our House/Fieldworker/Guinevere/Time After Time/Prison Song/Long May You Run/Goodbye Dick!/Mellow My Mind/Old Man/ Word Game/Myth Of Sisyphus/Blackbird/Love Art Blues/ Hawaiian Sunrise/Teach Your Children/Suite: Judy Blue Eyes

Third Set: Deja Vu/My Angel/Pre-Road Downs/Don't Be Denied/Revolution Blues/Military Madness/Long Time Gone/Pushed It Over The End/Chicago/Ohio

DVD: Only Love Can Break Your Heart/Almost Cut My Hair/Grave Concern/Old Man/Johnny's Garden/Our House/Deja Vu/Pushed It Over The End

"We have all been here before...because the past is just a 'goodbye'"

What were you doing 40 years ago this Summer? Given the amount of people played to on the ten-date CSNY reunion tour of 1974 chances are statistically high that one of you reading this attended one of the shows. After all if you were a music fan in the early 1970s this was one show you just had to attend: after three long years of maybes, nearlies and last minute cancellations the only group who could ever truly claim to be bigger than the Beatles (literally: the closing show in Wembley Stadium finally beat the record for the most fans gathered together for a rock concert set by the fab four at Shea Stadium in 1965) were finally back together. CSNY didn't split the same way most bands did - they always claimed that they would get back 'to the mother ship' eventually, but few people ever believed them. After all, bands simply didn't get back together back then (this was in the days before lucrative reunion tours, but don't worry I'm not going to pin the blame on Take That's wretched get-together on CSNY just yet). However if CSNY didn't split like most bands then they certainly didn't reunite like most bands and they went all-out in their attempt to prise the crown away from rock music with the biggest, longest, most expensively priced concert tour ever undertaken at the time. Those who were lucky enough to attend one of the 23 shows spread across America, Canada and England still speak of them as CSNY's peak; those of us lucky enough to have heard some of the ten shows that were recorded in some capacity tend to agree - while Stills might have joked about doing the first tour 'for the music' the second 'for the chicks' and the third 'for the money', there's a case to be made that this is the one tour CSNY did for all three and are much tighter here than before or since - particularly since in 1970 the live show (and Neil Young) were only added to tour the first album; here in 1974, with all four men having 'proved' themselves as solo acts, they are all roughly equals. And unlike some later tours, when CSNY came back together in 1974 it wasn't just the sound of old friends getting back together to reminisce about olden timesbut a band still at the cutting edge, dropping new songs into setlists that changed every show and giving their all night after night, taking back control of a world that had grown more militant, more troubled and less filled with hope than when they'd left it in 1970. The mission to change the world was still incomplete and for a time there - with all four men seemingly best friends again and talking up a studio album that sadly never came - it seemed like it wasn't yet mission impossible. 

Now finally, after forty long years of maybes, nearlies and last minute cancellations (this sort of thing becomes a habit with CSNY!) a four-disc (three CD one DVD) set of one of the biggest tours ever undertaken is out in the shops and catered for every taste, from a special vinyl version to a frills-free download. Frankly I'm surprised it isn't out on Neil's new music service 'Pono' (though not without trying by the sound of it - Nash has already admitted that Neil's demand to improve the sound set the box back a good year, 'bless his little cotton socks'). To be honest, that's a little frightening: what used to be one of rock's best kept secrets, passed along only in muffled brilliance by awed fans to one another who understood the significance of - say - four previously unreleased Neil Young songs never played again on any other tour or the debut of songs from one of the better Crosby-Nash records and one of Stills' masterpieces a full year early, we now get to hear the CSNY 74 tour on the same sonic level as the studio albums (better in the cases of the ones that haven't been re-mastered since the 1990s). While fans like me have asking for something along these lines (preferably with the bits and pieces recorded after the tour for an album, titled 'Human Highway', that was never finished after weeks of nearlies, maybes and last minute cancellations - oh well, maybe in another 40 years?!), now that it's here  I wonder what non-fans will make of it, shod of the context of the times where this and Nixon's ousting after Watergate made it the last possible moment when anyone could truly believe in the American Dream.

While all of CSNY's music is timeless, they always held a mirror up to their times more than perhaps any other band except The Beatles and did so more in 1974 than perhaps any other year. The fact that Nixon resigned from the White House mid-tour (August 8th, the night of a show at Roosevelt Stadium, New York about a month into the three month batch of shows) somehow seems like more than a co-incidence. CSNY could have got back together before - they almost did in 1973 after a one-off reunion at a Manassas gig at the Winterland, San Francisco that's almost as remarkable as this set and would make a fine follow-up - but they chose the year that Nixon looked dodgy and ready to fall. For five years by this point CSNY have, separately and together, been warning an increasingly concerned public not to trust the people in command to have their best interests at heart. That seems an obvious point to make now, after various scandals, Iraq Afghanistan and The Falklands and demoted world leaders, but in 1974 it was still a brave soul indeed who spoke up against an authoritarian who still had most of the Western world on their side. Vietnam and the Nixon-ordered massacre of a student protest at Kent State University (turned into a rallying cry on CSNY's most magical moment 'Ohio') swung the pendulum amongst free-minded radicals, but 1970 and 1971 were darker years when the establishment seemed to have won. Nixon's very public unravelling may have been of his own doing, but CSNY were the first of many bands provided the soundtrack to it - without them and bands like them Nixon might have been able to pretend that 'all is well' a lot longer. Neil's off-the cuff 'Goodbye Dick!' may be the only moment on the set that mentions this magic moment in history (it's a shame more wasn't used from the Roosevelt gig, one where the band are so giddy the band keep making wise-cracks between songs and the audience are too excited to stay quiet through the acoustic set), but the feeling hangs heavy over several over performances too: in Crosby's joking denial at the start of the DVD version of Nash's 'Grave Concern', lifting Nixon's 'denial' lines from the Watergate public enquiry, in Neil's anguished 'On The Beach' (the title track of an album loosely based on Nixon and the death of the 'hippie dream'), in the defiance of 'Almost Cut My Hair', the outrage of racist-baiting 'Word Game' and Nash's two sides of immigration-hassling 'Immigration Man' and 'Fieldworker'. Sadly half of the 'grand finale' played at every gig is missing, but the fact that the band chose to end each gig with the twin blasts of 'Carry On' and 'Ohio' didn't just give the audience a groove to leave the stadium humming: they promised a better tomorrow before one last reminder of why we were so right to fight back. Never before has the message 'carry on, love is coming to us all' sounded more hopeful, exuberant or just plain possible.

CSNY then are heroes, albeit temporarily (things didn't get that much better under Gerry Ford, despite Stills' in particular heavy support at the time as quoted in the booklet), so why did this most famous of tours go down in history as 'the doom tour'? In practically every interview mentioning it since 1976 (and another painful CSNY break-up) Crosby and Nash have talked about the stupidity of trying to play intimate songs to braying crowds in stadiums, while Neil said he was 'disappointed' with the tapes, reckoning the band were 'too high'. Nash, reportedly, was so angry with the band's out-of-tune playing at Wembley that he demanded the tapes be locked away forever (and if not quite forever, 40 years is a long time to come around). So are these gigs really that bad? Well, yes and no: even compared to the famously ragged 1971 album 'Four Way Street' and even with a bit of mixing, re-editing and pruning CSNY still often sound hoarse or out of tune. If you're new to the whole CSNY experience than 'CSNY 74' might not grab your attention in the same way that, heck, any of the amazing run of studio albums together and apart up until at least 1977 will or that the clever sieving of the 1991 box set will. Even as a live document, ultimately 'CSNY 74' comes out second to 'Four Way Street' and possibly some of CSN's tighter 1990 acoustic tour as well. Fan who don't know any of the live material will find more than anything that this box set comes as a shock and while Nash and Bernstein have done wonders to keep the rawness of the performances whilst taking the worst mistakes out, there's still plenty here that your usual slick pop loving fan won't enjoy too much.

Frankly, though, it's their loss: somehow CSNY always sounded better making imperfect music on their usual theme of an increasingly imperfect world and one thing this set does have is heart and lots of it. That's pretty amazing, really, given that this was a tour that was every embodiment of the word 'excess'. The band travelled by jet (separately, where possible), stayed in luxurious hotels with groupies and drugs on offer at all times of day and night as part of a 'room service' deal (there's no mention of that in the CD booklet now the quartet are all happily married!) and the group even hired the services of Nash's ex Joni Mitchell to sketch a drawing that appeared on everything: silk pillows, silk bed-spreads, posters, badges, T-shirts: while there had certainly been rock merchandise before 1974 CSNY's tour is when it got BIG, with a capital everything. The one thing there wasn't a lot of was rehearsal (the complete Wembley show out on bootleg alone features inordinate amounts of turning up and Nash's quip that this 'as you can see this is our usual slick show'). The quartet were so big that the likes of The Band, The Beach Boys, Santana, Jesse Collin Young and Joni Mitchell (not all at every show but most of them a t a majority of them) were hired simply as their support act (all in all making each show last a full 12 hours if you stayed from the first note to the last; it makes One Direction look a bit pathetic really doesn't it?!) That sort of excess seems unimaginable today now that Spinal Tap and Michael Jackson have ruined the idea between them and to be honest most people watching the DVD back and the shots of the sea of faces in the crowd will find it preposterous that that many people got together to see one band-plus-warm-up-acts (certainly post Oasis at Knebworth in 1995). Crosby and Nash particularly hated touring stadiums (where their more acoustic sound suffered more than on Stills' and Young's songs). At least CSNY don't bring on the 'dancing girls', as Crosby mocks as the most preposterous notion for music under the sun during the Wembley gig - a staple of live music today that was rightly laughed off stage in 1974. This is music left to stand on its own two feet - and which due to excess, lack of rehearsal, nerves and no doubt drugs, often topples over.

All that said, as a fan I love the fact that this set is out at last and shows just once and for all what a powerful draw CSNY used to be - and deserve to be still today. The quartet aren't perfect by any means and they might well make more mistakes than usual but that's because they're playing to fill the stadium and give their all across the ten shows that have survived (at least judging by what's come out on bootleg). They know that their audience has paid the 1970s equivalent of an arm and a leg to come here (or at least that's what we've always been told, but the price £3.50 for the Wembley gig, as seen in a poster in the set booklet, is only worth £35 today - a bargain and actually cheaper than the CD set!) - but in return they generally offered four whole hours of unbroken music per gig! A cleverly constructed setlist enabled the band to start and end with fire-power but simmer down in the middle, giving each member a solo or duo turn in the spotlight (and enabling the others to rest - not that they often did, with Stills especially far too excited to actually make it all the way backstage before gleefully turning to the audience again!) Nash and his regular CSNY archivist colleague Joel Bernstein have spent an absolute age trying to 're-create' this format in the box set and by and large it works well (although it still gives me a jolt hearing 'Black Queen' in the first third rather than the last, as per most of the bootlegs). The pair have said in interviews that they've gone through each and every surviving audio clip of each and every show and picked out the best performances of each song: an incredible task that they've by and large followed really well (even if I'm disappointed that the truly jaw-dropping Stills-whacking-his-guitar-version of 'Suite: Judy Blue Eyes' from 'Wembley' didn't make the cut). 

There are even some fantastic recordings here that I have never ever heard on bootleg: a spooky 'On The Beach' is extraordinary, a Nixon-baiting 'Grave Concern' (complete with Watergate style 'denial' monologue from Crosby) is great fun and a long forgotten made-up-on-the-spot song about President Richard leaving the White House for good ('Goodbye Dick!') is a lovely fragment to restore to us at last, with the '74' set at its best working as a time capsule of the days when bands were street preachers that told the truth and politicised their audiences, broadening minds as well as setting feet a-tapping (huh, fat chance of that happening now! The last band to ever do something like that was...err...CSNY in 2006!) Rhino have also done their typical sterling job with the packaging, filling the set out with glorious photo after photo (about half unseen I'd say) and best of all it fits onto the shelf snugly next to the other three sterling re-issues based around the work of 'Crosby' 'Stills' and 'Nash' (Young's box set is, typically, bigger, wackier and altogether different to his colleagues'). What's more, the songs all segue into each other nicely, despite their different sources, recording equipment and audience noise.

However, inevitably after a wait so long there's something slightly disappointing about this set (CSNY fans who attended these tours were hopeful for a live album and half-promised a studio album several times on tour - in the end all they got at the time was the compilation album 'So Far' with the same Joni Mitchell logo, rather pointless really considering the band had only made two albums by that point). That's not because this set is bad, far from it, simply that after such a long wait the biggest tour on the planet at that point should be bigger still than even three CDs and the booklet bolder than a collection of photographs. Usually I love music journalist Pete Long's work (especially his Neil Young setlists) and most of his new article (his first on CSNY, I believe, rather than just Y) is as excellent and detailed as ever, but there's a telling point in his essay on pages 88/89 that shows how much better this set might have been. In total CSNY played nearly 80 songs across this tour, 20 of them unreleased (at the time). Long laughs at the idea of releasing 'everything' by saying 'the purist would ask for more; the pragmatist will appreciate that the restrictions imposed by finance and time dictate otherwise'. Rubbish! Your average music fan isn't going to buy a box set by a band who last released a song anyone could name back in 1982 anyway - the world just doesn't work like that anymore and a three CD/DVD box set is well outside their curiosity price range anyhow. Fans, however can and will buy anything - add a couple of extra discs and increase the price a bit, we don't mind (well, within reason) if we're getting something 'complete' - to be honest a set of 80 live CSNY songs without repeats would have been 'release of the decade' not just year, as Rolling Stone currently have this set and worth every penny. 

A quick look through my bootlegs alone (in pretty good sound I might add, so not muchy cleaning up needed) reveal how great this set could have been had it been 'complete': Crosby's missing songs include the wondrous 'What Are Their Names?' and a cover of Joni Mitchell's 'For Free'. Stills' include his cover of 'You Can't Catch Me' (usually medleyed into 'Word Game' - Nash and Bernstein seem to have chosen the only 'sole' version of this song from the tour), 'First Things First' (then a brand new song destined to appear on 1975's brilliant solo album 'Stills'), the lovely '4+20', first album classic 'Helplessly Hoping', acoustic epic 'Know You Got To Run'. Nash's missing masterpieces include the lovely 'It's Alright' (five years before its appearance on 'Earth and Sky'), the gorgeous 'Another Sleep Song' (fresh from 'Wild Tales') and the poignant 'Southbound Train' ('Graham Nash, David Crosby'). Young's absentees include 'Cowgirl On The Sand' 'Losin' End' and 'Down By The River' (the three epics from his second album 'Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere'), 'Human Highway' (the song already being put aside for recording on the quartet's next album), the scary 'Ambulance Blues', the charming 'Sugar Mountain', the awkward 'Roll Another Number' (a full year before its appearance on 'Tonight's The Night'), the unreleased 'Homefires' and the Buffalo Springfield's 'On The Way Home'. Most of all, where oh where is 'Carry On', Stills' epic often stretched out to 20 minutes or more (the Wembley version alone is one of the single best performances of this song CSNY ever gave). The result for the listener who knows about these things is like going home in the interval, or falling asleep during the encore! Yes some of these songs were included on 'Four Way Street' but a lot of them weren't: could the compilers really not stretch to at least one extra disc? As for lack of time, well! The band have had 40 years of these tapes sitting in their loft and after all the 'nearly' releases the past 12 months a little bit of sifting extra couldn't have hurt. Even the songs that are intact from bootlegs we fans have known and loved for years sadly have a lot of the fun dialogue cut out - and as all CSNY fans know, the dialogue is often the best bit. Another small gripe is that the compilers have gone to a lot of trouble to list who plays what on each song (which is almost the same anyway, give or take a piano or organ part) but omit telling us which gig each of these songs come from, which would have been very useful!

One good wrong that's been righted is that now all four men are represented more or less equally. Back in the day the less prolific Crosby got very short shrift (his two lines on 'Wooden Ships' apart it took eight songs for him to have a vocal at the Wembley show); now Crosby gets seven lead vocals (eight with 'Ships') compared to Stills' eight and Nash's eight. That's excellent news, given that Crosby is the one of the four most in need of money at the time of writing and if any new fans are tempted into buying this set then, well, hopefully Crosby's records will be flying off the shelves in response (he deserves nothing less - how Crosby , or for that matter Stills or Nash, ended up becoming less respected than Young I'll never know and I say that as Neil Young fan who owns every album. Well probably. There might be another one out since I looked last week). However there's no two ways around it: this set, like everything else CSNY have made since 1970, is dominated by Neil Young, with 17 songs to his name - which is a shame because actually, on the original tour, it was Stills who got the most songs and lead vocals and after his years with Manassas had arguably sold slightly more records. While always the most prolific of the four, Neil was far from the best of the bunch then or in any other year: in fact strange as it may seem, back in 1974 reviewers often singled Neil out as the weakest of the bunch. Two albums into his 'doom trilogy' and Neil's stock was never lower, with his last two records outsold by all his colleagues - so it's actually quite generous of them to give him so much 'stage time' in 1974 (Stills, sensing that his old friend is having a hard time, pledges to record a 'Neil' song on every solo record he makes and does in fact record three of them to keep Young in the public eye - you sense that Young would never be quite so generous in return). Inevitably, though, 'CSNY 74' has to cope with 'CSNY fans 14', most of whom seem to follow Neil through thick and thin over recent years (mainly thin).

To be fair, Neil has the only otherwise unreleased songs on this set and therefore the most interesting tracks from a collector's point of view (a sadly cut vocal diatribe from the tour featured Crosby moaning during a solo handover 'I can't stand it, he writes such a lot. I write about one song every three months and he writes about one three every week. It just drives me nuts!') In turn, the much bootlegged 'Traces' is a fascinating (if short) song that lurches from 'light' to 'heavy' in the space of a few lines and sounds like it was written on either end of the 'Doom' period. 'Goodbye Dick!' is a cute throwaway that taunts Nixon in the same way that Neil's later 'Campaigner' empathises with him and makes for an interesting comparison. 'Love Art Blues' - written in part for Neil's dog Art who often rushed on stage whole the band were playing - is a leftover from Neil's breakup with Susan and as painful as all the other post-Goldrush songs. 'Hawaiian Sunrise' is a bit of fluff written on holiday that maybe should have stayed there. However the set is worth the price alone for the long awaited appearance of feminist debate 'Pushed It Over The End'. Rightly recognised as one of Neil's key songs of the period, it's been released only via an Italian bootleg (deleted after a court case)- and then in a different version. While some of the lyrics are suspect or at least 'of their time' ('Good looking Millie's got a gun in her hand - but she doesn't know how to use it!'), the music is powerful, wrenching the quartet's heads downward as they navigate the tricky riff 'Falling Down'. By the end it's as if even CSNY with all their dazzling hope, brilliance and genius can't solve all the world's problems and it speaks volumes that even though the setlists changed virtually every night on the tour this song always came here, right before the two rousing finales ('Carry On' and 'Ohio'). The song would have made an even more brilliant album of 'Tonight's The Night' or added a touch more angst to the light-on-its-feet 'Zuma' and I'm oh so thrilled to be able to talk about this song openly at last, as part of the canon, instead of hidden away in articles about 'fab bootlegs' and 'shows you should have been to'. Even by Neil Young standards the fact that he can keep a song this good 'hidden' for this many years shows what a ridiculously rich canon Neil's is.

 That list certainly makes Neil look like the lynchpin of the group, but it's worth remembering that at the time Crosby also performed three unreleased songs ('The Lee Shore', abandoned until the 1991 CSN box set, 'Carry Me', the opening track from 1975's Crosby-Nash set 'Wind On The Water' and 'Time After Time' from 1976's follow-up 'Whistling Down The Wire), Stills previews two songs ('Myth Of Sisyphus' and 'My Angel') from his great 1975 album 'Stills') and Nash provides a first airing of his song 'Fieldworker' (also from 'Wind On The Water'). Neil may be getting all the attention and the lion's share of the space, but back in 1974 all four members of CSNY were in the middle of a glorious run of form that ran back for each of them back to at least 1967. Sadly the rest of the 1970s aren't as kind to them as they are to Neil, who ends the decade as Rolling Stone Magazine's 'artist of the decade' (a fact unthinkable to anyone who attended one of these shows, when Neil was 'the one with all the weird songs'). Notably the two CSNY releases of 1975 (mainly made up of leftovers that should have been on the next CSNY record in 1974) are two of the very best in the band's canon: that and the togetherness on this set makes you wonder how big the next CSNY tour might have been and how high a peak the most potentially great band of all time might yet have reached. A quick word too about the rhythm section: already over-laden with four guitar players, CSNY sensibly decided to go more percussion-heavy and bring in both Russell Kunkel  (from Crosby-Nash's session players) and Joe Lala (a member of Stills' band Manassas and Crosby-Nash's), as well as using bassist Tim Drummond (a friend of both Stills and Young). While not quite as sparky as either of the two ill-fated line ups on the 1970 tour (Kunkel is great but still no match for Dallas Taylor) and less able to cook up a storm on the longer, improvised songs, all three are on the money for most of the set.

One other big talking point of this set is the DVD. Granted, it's incredible: the clips of Stills and Young staring eyeball to eyeball and duelling across 'Almost Cut My Hair' performed at Landover might well be the single greatest moment of the entire set - and most amazingly of all has never been bootlegged (at least, no one ever gave me a copy!) Chances to see CSNY at Wembley playing intimate songs like 'Johnny's Garden' and unreleased epics like 'Pushed It Over The End' are a welcome second. However I own the entire 200-minute 'Wembley' show as part of the prosaically named DVD 'A Long Time Ago' (admittedly without as clear a picture) and frankly it's all fabulous. The show that CSNY filmed properly, in the hope of turning into a TV concert some day but abandoned in horror when they saw the rushes back shortly afterwards is one of the single greatest things I own. Yes some of the tuning is a bit rough, and of course not every harmony is pristine, while sound problems with Stills' guitar rather kybosh 'Black Queen' and 'Carry On'.  However it's all good: to have that much charisma on stage for a full four hours is a tremendous experience and one every CSNY should have undiluted: we know you and love you well enough by now guys to forgive the odd mistake and mixing issue. Anyway even though CSNY on record were all about perfection  they were always more about warts and all honesty live from the very beginning (the same is true of their 'original' bands The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield and Hollies, all of whom were terrific on record and occasionally ropey live). 
For fans like me this makes the entire show even more thrilling, like a three hour juggling act where half the fun is when the performers stop being geniuses and drop the odd ball instead. None of it reflects badly on CSNY at all (let me stress, while its not sonically perfect none of it is bad per se), so why on earth isn't there more of it here than four paltry songs (with four others from that Landover gig which on this evidence might be even better?) Given the sonic bareness Neil's put us though on some of his most recent records the Wembley show sounds warm and full and pulsating with life. Please put this show out officially, so that the earliest existing footage of CSN/Y (bar the Woodstock film and Altamont) can be properly seen at last; good as the shows from 1977, 1982, 1990 and 2006 are I'd still take CSNY mark 1974 over them any time. The tracks from both shows also seem to be chosen at random, all  bar 'Cut My Hair' far from the best performances of the night, with the songs (if not the recordings) replicated on the CDs anyway: frankly denying us the Wembley 'Change Partners' (with Stills grinning his head off),  'Suite: Judy Blue Eyes' (where Stills whallops his guitar for a full minute as an intro) and 'Time After Time' (when Stills bounces back on stage cradling his baby Christopher in his arms - now a 40-something singer-songwriter in his own right) - is almost as criminal as what Nixon got up to in Watergate.

Well, nearly. You see, it's all too easy to get carried away by CSNY at their most fervent and together and while this isn't quite CSNY at their most outrageous, right-on and untied, it's close. The booklet for the set makes much use of quotes from the time that keep quoting band members declaring that they're older now, wiser now, that the ego trips are behind them and they all get along fine. Even after a gruelling tour (Wembley was the last date) the band are all good friends, making each other laugh off-mike and offering genuinely warm introductions for each other's 'solo' spotlights. It's as if they've waited for another band to come along after their split in 1970, to take up their reigns and take it to the enemies who still needed a good thrashing (Nixon being the chief of many) - but found there wasn't one (glam, the 'next big thing' post CSNY and singer-songwriters, hardly counted and punk was another two years away just yet). What this box proves more than anything else is that the world needed CSNY in 1974, when Watergate had proved that the public were right to challenge their leaders' motives and actions, when ecologists were becoming more outspoken about the mess mankind was making of his planet and when racism, sexism and bullying still took place openly, without any 'cool kids' available to speak on the behalf of the down-trodden and hopeful. Time and time again 'CSNY 74' reveals some nugget of brilliance, some devastating arrangement of a song that was never hard that particular way again or simply a brilliant solo, channelling blood and guts and suffering in a way that no other band, however 'on it', ever quite matched again. I only hope that this box also partly proves why a similarly fractious and unstable world still desperately needs CSNY in 2014 - and if it can't have it in the form of a new album (the last CSN 'covers' project got called off in 2012 and the trio have said that they will never attempt another one, although we've heard that one before a few dozen times...) then this archive one is the next best thing. I just wish that it was slightly longer (perhaps with a single disc 'highlights' set for casual fans) and had come out a lot earlier - like, 1974 - when CSNY really would have become the biggest band on the planet and the true heirs to The Beatles' throne, with harmonies straight from heaven and rock credentials straight from hell.

Given the sheer amount of songs on this set we won't give you a lengthy breakdown of each one as per normal (we've covered every single song except 'Goodbye Dick!' somewhere on this site anyway across various album and box sets reviews and unreleased tracks!) Set One starts with a nicely funky version of Stills' biggest solo hit 'Love The One You're With' ('Stephen Stills' 1970), although sadly the extended percussion opening seems to have been cut here compared to most versions (or maybe CSNY simply didn't play it as long at whichever gig this is?!)

'Wooden Ships' ('Crosby, Stills and Nash', 1969) has now been re-vitalised since a rather sketchy 1970 arrangement and various Crosby-Nash and Stills variations and now sounds like the power-horse it will become at pretty much every performance since. The longer instrumental section, with Stills and Young trading solos, works very well although to my ears the Wembley version is better all round than whatever gig this comes from.

'Immigration Man' ('Graham Nash, David Crosby' 1971) sounds much tighter here than any of my bootlegs (where Nash's piano tended to make the whole band go slightly out of tune) and while Nash is hoarse and croaky the rawer backing suits this song every bit as well as the polished pop original.

'Helpless' (CSNY 'Deja Vu' 1970) was never my favourite CSNY song but sounds good here played slightly quicker and with slightly tighter harmonies than elsewhere on this set. From the sound of it this performance comes from CSNY's one and only Canadian concert near the end of the tour, which is very apt given that this is one of Neil's few songs to talk about his homeland.

'Carry Me' (C-N 'Wind On The Water' 1975) is the first of the then-unreleased songs and a marvellous Crosby song about, in turn, the death of his girlfriend Christine and his mum and the importance to keep believing. The song is clearly new and wasn't often played on the tour, perhaps because the band so clearly struggle with it here, but even in hybrid form is already a great song - and one senses would have been a shoe-in for 'Human Highway' had that record ever been made.

'Johnny's Garden' ('Stephen Stills/Manassas' 1972) is a Stills song about the house and garden he bought from Ringo during his 'England' phase. Johnny was the gardener, who'd stayed with the mansion for decades while the owners came and went and is a lovely song of quiet and tranquillity typical of Stills in this period. CSNY can't match Manassas' live versions but Neil especially is on the ball with his tasteful guitar solo.
'Traces' is the first totally unreleased song and as we've already seen is nice, but short. This version sounds rather different to the two I've known on bootleg for years and actually not as good - the others have more harmonies and are taken a bit slower. Still, nice to have after all these years.

'Grave Concern' (Nash's 'Wild Tales' 1973) sadly has the fun monologues the band always used to have cut. Nash also sounds very hoarse on this one which is one of the less successful moments on the CDs - the DVD version, from Landover, is much better all round.

'On The Beach' ('Young's 'On The Beach', released midway through the tour) is one of the highlights though. I never really 'got' this record as finished - it's glum self-pity isn't as the other two parts of the 'doom' trilogy', the feisty 'Time Fades Away' and the moving 'Tonight's The Night'. Perhaps Neil should have recorded it all with CSN as their bleak, shadowy performance is superb, especially Stills who returns the compliment of 'Johnny's Garden' by playing an exquisite solo in the middle of this song - one of the few times you can hear the famous 'Stills-Young' duels going head-to-head.

'Black Queen' ('Stephen Stills' 1970) is a very angular and heavy-rock reading of the blues classics from Stills' first solo album. I'm still not quite sure what I make of this version - if anything, Stills sound drunker than when he sang the original - but at least Stills' guitar and vocal are properly miked, unlike at Wembley.

'Almost Cut My Hair' (CSNY 'Deja Vu' 1970) is a great version, though, slowed down a to a grungy blues and with Stills and Young again attacking each other, while Crosby's mesmerising vocal is one of his best.

Onto the second, acoustic set and 'Change Partners' ('Stephen Stills II' 1971) is fun to hear with CSN harmonies. The band introduced the song many times as their 'theme song' after years working in different pairs, so its performance here is rather apt even if Stills actually wrote this charming song about his shy childhood attending balls and plucking up his courage to ask girls to dance.

'The Lee Shore' (Recorded for the first album, unreleased till 'Four Way Street' 1971 or the CSN box set 1991) is a nautical but nice Crosby song that's particularly beautiful in this version with some nicely rattled percussion, a fuller sound than the Crosby-Nash version on 'Four Way Street' and a longer, more flowing introduction than the studio version.

'Only Love Can Break Your Heart' (Young's 'After The Goldrush' 1970) is apt, in that its a Neil song about Graham's break-up with Joni Mitchell and benefits from their harmonies. However for me this song has always sounded like one of its composers most stilted and wooden and is simply too slow and awkward to compete with the other songs on this set.

'Our House' (CSNY's 'Deja Vu' 1970) is one of the best known songs here (the band didn't play 'Marrakesh Express' on this tour), all about Graham's life with Joni Mitchell (who even gets to sings harmonies on it on the Wembley version). It features Nash on piano with the others hunched round a single microphone. Sadly you can't hear them too well in this version, which is one of the roughest here, although at least Graham seems to have got his pristine voice back, suggesting this performance comes from early in the tour!

'Fieldworker' (Crosby-Nash's 'Wind On The Water' 1975) was another new song at the time, introduced at the Maryland gig on August 20th, and to the best of my knowledge hasn't been bootlegged in any performance unlike most of these songs. It sounds magnificent here treated as a solo piano track, with Nash's indignation at the treatment of lowly paid immigrant workers reaching a peak of indignation in the last verse which features a returning Crosby coming to his aid.

'Guinevere' ('Crosby, Stills and Nash' 1969) isn't often heard in this period either and is a typically mesmerising performance from Crosby and Nash together on a song that manages to work as both a tribute to the days of Camelot and three (yes, three!) women Crosby was going out with at the time. There are better versions around from later years though - check out the spine-tingling 'Acoustic' one from 1990!

'Time After Time' (Crosby-Nash's 'Whistling Down The Wire' 1976) is the highlight of C-N's third LP, so it was a surprise to me on first discovering the 1974 tour that the song dated back that far (it seems odd that the duo passed over a song this good for 'Wind On The Water'). Slow, quiet and fragile, this version might even have the edge over the more produced album version.

Nash's 'Prison Song' ('Wild Tales' 1973) is a highly personal song about Graham's dad being sent to prison for 'protecting the name of a friend' who sold him stolen goods that he didn't often sing in any band. This acoustic reading is even more poignant than the 'Wild Tales' version, interestingly with the middle eight ('Kids in Texas smoking grass') heard first, with some terrifically tight CSNY harmonies.

'Long May You Run' ('Stills-Young Band' 1976) is another new song that Neil won't release for a whole three records yet, despite being one of his best known songs. It's far from his best, though, even with CSN harmonies helping out - and goodness knows what opening act The Beach Boys thought about Neil's catty verse on standing still ('Maybe the Beach Boys have got you know, in their masts singing Caroline, No')

'Goodbye Dick' (a song exclusive to this set) is a small chuckle from a sombre period, Neil giggling that he can't believe that a modern day figure of hate is actually gone for good ('but I you walk across the White House lawn!') The 'Rose Mary' referred to in the song is Nixon's secretary Rose Mary Woods, often seen talking on television in 1974. Sadly Neil never did get to finish the song, which cuts off abruptly with a self-conscious laugh.

'Mellow My Mind' (Young's 'Tonight's The Night' 1975) was another new song for audiences at the time, although Neil had already recorded the version out on the 'Tonight's album the year before. with Crazy Horse. This slightly sad and befuddled song doesn't really suit the CSN vibe and sounds almost unnervingly jaunty here, instead of the eulogy for lost friends heard on the 'finished' product.

'Old Man' (Young's 'Harvest' 1972), however, sounds terrific, with one of Neil's best songs enhanced by glorious CSN harmonies - even if you do miss dear old Ben Keith's pedal steel. A kind of sister song to 'Johnny Garden', Neil wrote it not about his dad, the famous writer Scott Young as so many assume, but about Louis Avila, the 'caretaker' of the 'Broken Arrow' ranch Neil had recently bought and still owns to this day.

'Word Game' ('Stephen Stills II' 1971) is a deeply disappointing version of one of the true greats of the CSN canon. Stills' quick-firing angry tirade sounds rather un-rehearsed and placid here, which is a great shame, as is the decision to use a 'full' version of the song on this set rather than one in medley with 'You Can't Catch Me'.

'Myth Of Sisyphus' ('Stills' 1975) is another slightly ropey version of a standout song, back when it was brand new. The last sorrowful song in the Stills canon for a while (thanks to his ultimately short-lived marriage to singer Veronique Sanson) this song about a man doomed to make the same mistakes over and over, just like the doomed rock-budging man of legend, should be the most moving moment here - instead Stills busks a tune he hasn't quite finalised yet and badly misses the (non-CSN) harmonies of the finished record that help keep the song moving forward in quiet desperation.

The old war horse 'Blackbird' (often played by the band in concert but on record only a 1969 recording released on the CSN box in 1991) sounds much like it always does, Stills taking charge on a song that the trio learnt mainly to 'butter up' Lennon and McCartney in the hope of signing to the Beatles' 'Apple' label. Macca revealed years later that he wrote it about the civil rights movement and as such it's a natural choice for CSN, although like all the other many, many versions of it down the years it's a tad too slow.

'Love Art Blues' is a fine otherwise unreleased Neil Young song that has a neat country lilt and a great frilly Stills piano part and some typically self-effacing lyrics ('My songs are all so sad and my songs are all so long...') The title makes more sense when you realise that the narrator is back home along with his dog again (Neil's was called 'Art') rather than a treatise about songwriting or art in general.

'Hawaiian Sunrise' is a less impressive unreleased Neil Young song, sadly without the shenanigans CSNY always used to play before singing it (getting the audience to sound like a 'big wave' or 'some seagulls'). Sillier than most Neil Young songs, this is a track busked idly on holiday (CSNY first got together again in 1973 after meeting in Hawaii) that's pleasant but inconsequential compared to most other songs here.

'Teach Your Children' (CSNY 'Deja Vu' 1970) is another famous Nash song and a little wobbly in this incarnation, despite some nice Stills country-steel guitar depping for the part Jerry Garcia played on the original. 

An epic version of 'Suite: Judy Blue Eyes' ('Crosby, Stills and Nash' 1969) then rounds out the acoustic set. Again this is a case of right song, wrong version - I've heard versions of this track from the 1974 tour that would knock your CSN-logo socks off, but this isn't one of them. Stills is losing his voice, Crosby and Nash struggle to be heard over the guitar and the song lurches from one section to another instead of flowing neatly as per the song at its best.

Onto set three and 'Deja Vu' (which, guess what, is from 'Deja Vu' 1970) is a neat interpretation of the weirdest song in the 1974 setlist. Crosby's tale of reincarnation sounds nicely spooky, with a 'jabbering' electric guitar accompaniment quite different to the largely acoustic studio version and opens up to some great Stills-Young duelling in the second half.

'My Angel' ('Stills' 1975) is another song from the tour that apparently has never been bootlegged. The dating is curious: the sleevenotes for that album said it was cut late at night when Stills wrote a set of words to a drum lick by right hand man Dallas Taylor. However the Buffalo Springfield set of 2001 revealed that the first draft of the song dated back to 1968 and was a slow, mournful ballad. Now we have this 1974 stepping stone between the two but closer to the finished version, with an upbeat bossa nova shuffle and some squally feedbacking guitar. The CSN harmonies work well and the song is another good 'un, like most from that great album Stills is in the middle of writing, but you can tell this song is still so new no one quite knows what they're doing yet, with one of the scrappiest performances of the set.

'Pre-Road Downs' ('Crosby, Stills and Nash' 1969) is one of the few CSN songs that always sounded better in concert than on record and is nicely tough here, with Nash's increasingly hoarse voice perfect for a gruff song about the pitfalls of being on the road. Stills turns in another amazing solo, although the rest of the band isn't as together as the superior live version on 'Four Way Street'.

'Don't Be Denied' (Young's 'Time Fades Away' 1973) is another set highlight, a jaw-droppingly honest and revealing song from the usually private Young that speaks about his long painful journey to date (taking in divorce, loneliness, band splits and the fact that fame isn't what the teenage him hoped it would be). The song's clever melody sounds like its shrugging its shoulders throughout, with a winning mix of vulnerability and steel that sounds great in any version. Crosby and Nash would have know this song from helping out on Neil's doomed 'Fade Away' tour (hurt by the deaths of Crazy Horse's Danny Whitten and a mid-tour  'mutiny' from the friends/musicians who demanded more money) and so indeed sing on the original, but this full CSNY recording is only a tiny fraction less intense and brilliant.

'Revolution Blues' (Young's 'On The Beach' 1974) was a surprise to many - both as a song on the original album and as a choice to sing on this tour. The most blatantly anti-hippie song CSNY ever sang, it loosely tells the story of the Charles Manson killings and how that much of a grudge against the well-off is the nasty underbelly of the free sixties movement. Stills sounds at home here, even whooping some dogs noises, while Neil is intense even for him; Crosby and Nash sound like they'd rather be elsewhere.

'Military Madness' (Nash's 'Songs For Beginners' 1971) is another fan favourite that's been reinvented and reinterpreted many times (most notably to condemn the Iraq and Afghanistan wars in 2006). Nash is at his happiest here on an autobiographical tale of being born in Blackpool while his father if off fighting a war he doesn't believe in and wondering how many more there'll be. CSNY are quite ragged here compared to the more polished performances they'll give later, but that only adds to this versions' charm with a furious Young guitar solo the highlight.

'Long Time Gone' ('Crosby, Stills and Nash' 1969) is one of Crosby's greatest songs and like most live versions is slowed down to a crawl to sound even more threatening. Sadly this version is one of the big disappointments of the set, nowhere near as intense as the one on 'Four Way Street', a performance that virtually makes Crosby lose his voice, or as tight as the one played at Wembley, and ambles where it should attack.

The long awaited appearance of Neil 'Pushed It Over The End' makes up for it though. Loosely intended for 'Human Highway' (but left un-recorded), then intended for the CSN box set but vetoed by Neil and finally released on bootleg, this is an extraordinary and gripping song. Like many a song in this third set of the show it's an unhappy song but unlike the others longing for change it hopes it never comes - worrying that the feminist movement might tip society over the edge (presumably the reason why the slightly more pro-women's lib Neil post his 1976 marriage to Pegi has never sanctioned its release before). Forget the lyrics though, it's the music for this song that's remarkable, building to such crescendos of tension and pitching downwards with an endless riff on the words 'falling down' that by the end have the band somewhere through the floor and into the basement. Alas, great as this slower performance is, there are better ones around - the one released in Italy 'by mistake' for instance or the version played at Wembley. If nothing else, though, this song shows how major an album 'Human Highway' would have been with all these unreleased songs on the running order).

'Chicago' ('Songs For Beginners' 1971) calms things down somewhat and it's nice to hear Nash's song as a full CSNY performance (the only other live versions are solo or by Crosby-Nash). This version also includes the ad lib 'Don't ask Dick to help you', suggesting it dates from the 'Goodbye Nixon' night at Roosevelt Stadium. Stills turns in a fiery solo but sadly the harmonies are rather shot after three odd hours on stage by this time.

The set then ends the only way it can, with 'Ohio'. As Charles-Shaar Murray's contemporary reviews, quoted within the booklet, puts it this is CSNY at their strongest, with all of their weaknesses removed and the sheer firepower of this song alone makes it special even without the context of making sure those protesting the Vietnam War at an Ohio University didn't die in vain. Alas, while CSNY have never yet done a bad version of this song, this is the weakest yet - slower than usual and not a patch on either the 'Wembley' or 'Four Way Street' versions. Still, it's a great way for any album to end with Crosby, now unbelievably hoarse, yelling 'Four! How many?! How many more?! I said 'why'? Why?!!! You tell me why! Why! I want to know why' as if trying to raise the fallen back from the dead. It's an extraordinary moment on an extraordinary moment on an extraordinary tour.


Overall, then, 'CSNY 74' doesn't quite live up to the billing that surrounded it at the time as the greatest tour ever. That's not necessarily because this wasn't the greatest tour ever either: I defy anyone to feel that this wasn't a key 'event' after watching the Wembley gig all the way through. From what I've read too this set doesn't quite match up with people's memories of how powerful that tour really was - inevitable, really, given how much the world has moved on since 1974, with a few lies about secret taping the least of our worries concerning people in power. However this box set is still an excellent purchase, spelling out just why CSNY were the most powerful band on the planet that year and why it was doubly sad that they split up, record-less, yet again at the peak of their powers. There's certainly enough here to keep old fans quiet and there's lots here for fans who've kept the faith all these years to point at and go 'see?!' whenever someone comes out with the old line about only Neil actually being important and music never had any chance of changing the world, so why bother, yah boo sucks! This set undoubtedly puts CSNY back amongst their peers and for the unreleased songs alone is as important a release as any CSNY have given us since at least their 'Freedom Of Speech' tour in 2006. Whether that's enough to convince anyone who wasn't there, or haven't got the CSNY bug from the records as big as I have, might take more convincing that this was the tour that came close to changing the world. But I'll tell you one thing - today's music won't have anything like this set's warmth, poignancy and spirit when its dug up in 40 years. Even with a few questionable decisions and the fact that it could have been better still, 'CSNY 74' is still a remarkable, important release that anyone with an interest in 1970s politics never mind music needs to own. I still feel deeply privileged to own this set at long last after so many years of talking about it and, yes, given the importance of it at the time feel like I owe it to someone to go out and buy it. CSNY, long may you run. 

Other CSNY reviews on this site you might be interested in reading:


'Thoroughfare Gap' (Stills) (1978) http://www.alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2014/04/stephen-stills-thoroughfare-gap-1978.html

'Daylight Again' (CSN) (1982) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2012/01/news-views-and-music-issue-131-crosby.html
'American Dream' (CSNY) (1988) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2013/08/crosby-stills-nash-and-young-american.html

'Live It Up!' (CSN)  (1989) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2011/07/news-viedws-and-music-issue-104-crosby.html

'Crosby*Nash' (2005) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2010/02/news-views-and-music-issue-21-crosby.html

'Deja Vu Live' (CD) (2008) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/08/news-views-and-music-issue-1-crosby.html

'Deja Vu Live' (DVD) (2008) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008_09_21_archive.html

'Reflections' (Graham Nash Box Set) (2009) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2009/02/news-views-and-music-issue-22-graham.html

'Demos' (CSN) (2009) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2009/08/news-views-and-music-issue-41-crosby.html

'Manassas: Pieces' (2010) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2010/01/news-views-and-music-issue-52-manassas.html

‘Carry On’ (Stephen Stills Box Set) (2013) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2013/04/stephen-stills-carry-on-box-set-2013.html

'Croz' (Crosby) (2014) http://www.alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2014/03/david-crosby-croz-2014album-review.html

'CSNY 74' (Recorded 1974 Released 2014) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2014/07/crosby-stills-nash-and-young-csny-74.html






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