CSNY 74: Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young's Epic Tour Revisited
: Tim Wilson
: CSNY 74: Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young's Epic Tour Revisited
Meet CSNY 74, wherein Messrs. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young make a definitive 3-hour, 3-set, 40 song, 8 video clip – supported by 188 pages of written and photographic evidence – case for being one of the world's very biggest and best rock and roll bands, working at the very top of their game.|
The CSNY 74 box set is taken from 31 shows in 24 days, on an unprecedented scale: the first stadium and arena-only tour ever mounted. An average audience of nearly 50,000 saw each show, approaching a million and a half people over the length of the tour. Nine of the shows were recorded to 16-track tape, and these jaw-droppingly clear recordings are the revelatory results. These shows were powerful statements that at their best, these four men were phenomenal together, and they spent an awful lot of the summer of 1974 at their best. This is, very simply, the live release that CSNY fans have been hoping for – for over 40 years.
David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash and Neil Young had all grown as writers, performers, and bandleaders in their own right since their first albums together, 1969's Crosby, Stills & Nash, and 1970's Déjà Vu. They were playing and singing better than ever. They'd also spent the intervening years guesting on each other's albums and concerts, deepening relationships that were actually quite new.
It's easy now to forget that their first coming together lasted just 14 months in the public eye, only part of which included Young. The release of Crosby, Stills & Nash, the addition of Young for Déjà Vu, and the tour to support it, all happened between May 1969 and July 1970. Yet in the midst of the well-documented chaos of their recording sessions and personal lives, they still somehow managed to perform 60 shows together.
The live recordings that surfaced at the time weren't especially satisfying, though. Their 1971 concert album 4 Way Street, earned some positive reviews, including Rolling Stone declaring it their finest release. It also reached the top of the Billboard album chart, and was one of the year's bestselling albums, on its way to selling over 4 million copies to date. But it was also criticized as sloppy by many, including the principals, who quickly distanced themselves from it.
Stephen Stills, Graham Nash, David Crosby, and Neil Young, Houston, TX, July 28.
In his memoir, Wild Tales: A Rock & Roll Life, Nash handily summarized the conflict that every artist producing a live album faces. (Italics his.)
None of us was happy with the way it sounded: spontaneous and authentic, which meant occasionally out of tune. Stephen had pressed us to fix the mistakes, arguing that the album would still be live as long as it maintained the live feel. But Croz and Neil argued for a warts-and-all approach. It had to be pure. And they won.
This was at the front of their minds as they thought about recording the 1974 tour. In fact, they started by planning not to record any of it. They liked what they were hearing, though, and it was no accident that most of these shows were so strong. For nearly the first time in their association, they rehearsed. A lot. They had built a full-sized stage on Young's ranch, and played together five or six hours a day for most of a month. They'd worked as a group on 4 Way Street, but on CSNY 74, they sound like a band.
One of the many rehearsal sessions at Young's Broken Arrow ranch near Woodside, CA, in June.
Just past the tour's midpoint, they brought in producer Elliot Mazer, who'd been working with Young the past few years. He watched the band in Uniondale, NY so that he'd be ready for anything and everything by the time they arrived at the Capitol Center in Landover, MD: 36 onstage mics and 2 in the audience, running through a Neve console onto two 16-track tape machines.
Nash's goal in putting the package together was to create an experience that was both authentic and polished. With photographer/archivist/longtime CSNY friend and associate Joel Bernstein, he sorted through a mountain of material for the project. After finding (and sometimes fixing, sometimes editing together) the best performances from among nearly 80 different songs from those 9 dates, he got signoffs from each of his partners as he went along, their agreement that he had indeed come up with the best-sounding versions of these songs possible.
DAVID CROSBY and GRAHAM NASH. Uniondale, NY, Aug. 15
The structure of CSNY 74 follows an idealized version of a typical show: two 10-song electric sets, with a 20-song acoustic set between them. (CSNY were in fact the first artists to work in a format like this.) It also features a fluid mix of performances by the quartet, the solo artists, and various combinations of them – some of which might change during the course of a single song, as one or more of them might spontaneously step up to an extra mic to add support. Alchemy isn't too strong a word for the experience, and it took an alchemist's meticulousness to capture its complexity.
Anyone looking for wart-rich recordings can find them on any number of bootlegs from this tour, including a complete video of the show at Wembley. By the band's own admission, though, Wembley wasn't one of their best. Seeing the bootlegged video for themselves made them all the more certain that they didn't want THAT to be the last word on what they'd proven themselves capable of that summer.
The CSNY 74 box was first announced in 2010 as intended for 2011 release, but with Nash having locked up approval for a third of the tracks, another challenge arose: audio technology had significantly improved during the time they'd been working on this, and Young insisted that they go back to the beginning and work at the new, higher resolutions now possible.
(The 192kHz/24-bit Pure Audio Blu-Ray version of CSNY 74 with an accompanying video DVD is the best place to hear this. Some audiophiles might prefer the 12 180-gram LPs housed in a custom laser-etched wood box, available from CSNY.com. A 3 CD/DVD version is also available, as are MP3s.)
The clarity of these recordings is astounding, but they by no means have all the edges sanded off. No matter what kind of editing or pitch-shifting occurred along the way, the finished tracks are both elegant and alive. The word that comes to mind in the end is "care." They cared about performances at the time, they care about the presentation now, and they took great care in the journey to get from one to the other.
STEPHEN STILLS and NEIL YOUNG. Landover, MD, Aug. 19.
Due to limitations of the times, the DVD video clips aren't of quite comparable quality. Four of the 8 come from the Capital Center in Landover, which featured one of the country's first closed circuit video projection systems. The cameras were out of color balance, and the 1-inch tape masters were also a little bit of a mess, but the results are a lot of fun. They're also seen here for the very first time.
The four from Wembley had been taped for broadcast, and look much better in comparison. (They also look dramatically better than the bootlegged versions that have circulated over the years.) The band may have had their issues with the show as a whole, but there was some real magic there. The clip of Crosby's "Almost Cut My Hair" is the best example. Stills and Young have always played well off each other, if not always so nicely with each other, but this time, they're in total sync. What may not have been obvious to the ear on Déjà Vu is easy to see with the eye: this is one of the strongest guitar workouts that Young recorded, even including his work with Crazy Horse. Crosby sings with more than conviction. Authority. Nash on organ, and backing band Tim Drummond on bass, Russ Kunkel on drums and Joe Lala on percussion all lend weight to a truly epic performance that looks as intense as it sounds.
ALMOST CUT MY HAIR: Neil Young, David Crosby, Stephen Stills, and Tim Drummond.
At the same time, clips for gentler songs like Young's "Only Love Can Break Your Heart" and CSNY's "Our House," are reminders of the band's power to hold a huge crowd with little more than their voices.
They also scratch the surface of how much better so many of these songs became as true group numbers. It's true for the songs recorded on solo albums of course, but CSNY's Déjà Vu was itself something of a collection of solo recordings. The four of them only played together on five tracks. The non-album single "Woodstock" and its b-side "Find The Cost of Freedom" bring the total number of studio tracks by the four of them to that point to seven.
Just using those couple of acoustic clips from the DVD as an example, Young hadn't originally sung on "Our House," and none of the other three had sung on "Only Love Can Break Your Heart." The examples become richer and more complex as the arrangements of the song do, but even here, these simplest songs aren't just different. They're better. The fact is that these four men have never had more musically compatible partners than each other.
The nature of Déjà Vu as largely an album of mostly solo tracks highlighted one reason they couldn't stay together long: they all had far more songs in them than the couple they'd be limited to on a group album. The world may have wanted more CSNY, but they also clearly wanted them individually. After the band went their separate ways in the summer of 1970, their solo careers exploded.
Still's first solo album went gold in 1970, as did his second in 1971. Young's multi-Platinum After The Gold Rush became the 20th best-selling album of 1971, just ahead of The Rolling Stones' Sticky Fingers.
With Nash and Crosby also releasing Gold solo albums in 1971, all four of the bandmates had albums in Billboard Magazine's top 15 that year.
1972 saw Young's Harvest become the year's most popular album. The duo album Graham Nash David Crosby peaked at #4. And while not as widely known today, Stills' double album Manassas peaked at #3.
In fact, for a six-week period in May and June of 1972, After The Gold Rush, Graham Nash David Crosby, and Manassas were in the top 10 of the Billboard album chart at the same time. For two of those weeks, May 27 and June 3, the albums were in spots 3, 4 and 5, respectively. Nobody had done that before, and nobody has done it since.
The solo projects actually had a way of burnishing the group's gleam. The members popped up on each other's albums, and they sometimes appeared unannounced on stage at each other's concerts. All of them were touring relentlessly, and new albums kept coming.
To borrow a phrase, "How many more?"
Here's how many: a total of 16 albums from some combination of them in just five years, 14 of which went Gold or Platinum, and only two of which contained any previously released material.
Radio airplay fills in the rest of the story. Even today, it's impossible listen to even a couple of hours of radio without hearing at least one from Column A (CSN: "Suite Judy Blue Eyes," "Wooden Ships," "Long Time Gone," "Marrakesh Express," "Guinevere"), one from Column B (CSNY: "Woodstock," "Teach Your Children," "Our House," "Carry On," "Helpless," "Ohio"), and two or three from Column C (Solo: "Love The One You're With," "Old Man," "Heart of Gold," "Immigration Man," "Carry Me," "Change Partners," "Cinnamon Girl," "Southern Man" and more). In the early 70s, tracks from each new album as it emerged made the list even longer.
The word "supergroup" had been around for years, describing bands composed of individuals who were already well-known on their own, but this was a supergroup. The supergroup. Put the pieces together, and it's hard to overstate just how big Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young had become by 1974.
Hard, but possible. The Beatles were still The Beatles, after all. The same 1969-1974 span from Crosby, Stills & Nash to Young's On The Beach also stretches from Abbey Road to McCartney's Band On The Run. The Beatles scored 16 Gold or Platinum albums during that time. That's two more than CSNY – but The Beatles took six more albums to do it.
The sales totals for the two groups are also remarkably close. Comparing the two group LPs from 1970 for example, Déjà Vu far outsold Let It Be, now with totals of 7 million and 4 million copies respectively. The lowest-charting album from a CSNY member in 1969-74 (Nash's Wild Tales) still peaked at #34, while a couple of Beatles solo albums in that period failed to hit the top 40, and three more failed to even reach the top 100.
That's the scale we're talking about. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young weren't bigger than The Beatles, but they were bumping right up against them, with nobody else much in the vicinity.
That wouldn't be true forever, of course. Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and The Rolling Stones soared through the rest of the decade and beyond. By the end of the century, Fleetwood Mac, Chicago and The Beach Boys (who opened for CSNY on several of the 1974 shows) were indisputable giants on the other side of the Atlantic.
But when it came time for Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young to hit the road in the summer of 1974, it was no wonder that they undertook one of the most ambitious concert tours ever staged. The only band bigger was The Beatles, so why would they have considered anything less?
Buffalo, NY, Aug. 11.
By any reasonable standard, four of five-year old songs are hardly "oldies," but that's how CSNY treated them. Their pool of 14 new albums in 5 years wasn't even the whole story. They'd done songs together in 1973 for an abandoned album called Human Highway, but they also had dozens of their own new songs ready (20 of them from Young alone) that would wind up on albums in the next couple of years. They were even writing songs during the tour that found their way onto the stage.
Not every setlist survives, but of the nearly 80 different songs we know they played, only 14 came from the first group efforts. Around a quarter of these songs had not yet been released. Five of them (all by Young) have remained unreleased until now: "Hawaiian Sunrise," "Love Art Blues," "Traces," a jingle on the occasion of Richard Nixon's resignation called "Goodbye Dick," and one of the package's highlights, "Pushed It Over The End."
NEIL YOUNG. Uniondale, NY, Aug. 14
(If you're the kind of person who needs to know exactly which songs were played at each show, in which order, with the total number of times each appeared, you're in luck.)
The combination of unreleased songs with deep tracks from recent albums kept the setlists fresh. There was simply no way that anyone in the audience had heard all of the songs that might be played in a given night before. More than that, though, nobody had heard more than a handful of these songs this way: with the band, together.
That magic of these reconfigured songs is clear from the show opener, when the four of them join to remake "Love The One You're With" from a song built around keyboards and acoustic guitar to a firm-footed, electrified rocker. It's followed by "Wooden Ships," originally recorded before Young joined the group, but which now becomes impossible to imagine without him. For every night on the tour but one, those two songs were followed by "Immigration Man," from the album Graham Nash David Crosby. Stills and Young's guitars and voices add both muscle and grace to a song that was already a highlight of the quartet's discography.
This seems a good time to mention that the group's politics are well on display. I bring it up having recently witnessed Graham Nash heckled at a solo show by someone shouting, "I didn't come here for the politics!" After a dumbstruck pause, Nash replied, "Have you heard any of my songs?"
Far from dated, the political songs here are distressingly relevant. Nash's "Immigration Man" is one of two songs on the topic, along with "Fieldworker." "Prison Song" protests harsh sentencing for mild crimes like marijuana possession that uniquely targeted poorer defendants, and "Grave Concern" is a powerfully eerie meditation on corruption. Stills' "Word Game" is a jeremiad tackling race, class, urban decay, hollow piety, apartheid, government propaganda, and more, in one of the box's highlights.
Another highlight, Young's "Revolution Blues" (from On The Beach, released during the tour, and which Crosby and Nash had sung on in the studio) decries stockpiled guns in his take on mass murder.
Crosby's "Long Time Gone" and "Almost Cut My Hair" have their fingers on the pulse of the era's unrest, and there are anti-war songs aplenty, including a muscular reading of Nash's "Chicago" (Stills and Young's electric guitars at it again) and an apocalyptic "Ohio" to close the show.
DAVID CROSBY. Houston, TX, July 28.
CHICAGO with GRAHAM NASH.
The Crosby-penned and sung "Déjà Vu" nods to the sad predictability of it, with its haunting chorus of "We have all been here before." It's also the track that comes closest to being a jam, with extended vocal and guitar interludes that double the original's length to 8 minutes – but it's a tight 8 minutes. The song feels nimble, and stays sharp and engaging.
Once again, Stills and Young (who didn't play on the studio version) share some sparkling guitar interplay before Young switches to grand piano for the last half of the song, where he plays with an unexpectedly swinging finesse before crescendoing into the song's climax.
That's one of the startling revelations of CSNY 74. Young is a famously strong-willed bandleader whose relationship to the others is, let's say, complicated, but he's an amazing sideman here. He switches smoothly between electric and acoustic guitars, piano and organ for other people's songs, plugging himself in wherever he was needed. His background vocals also make a tremendous difference, especially sweetly on the opening song in the acoustic set, Stills' "Change Partners." ("This is something we've been doing for years," says Nash to introduce it. "Changing partners.")
CHANGE PARTNERS: Stephen Stills, David Crosby, Graham Nash and Neil Young.
That song is also another terrific rearrangement, stripping down to three acoustic guitars and four voices that somehow make the song both lighter and more substantial. While he doesn't sing on "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes," Young's acoustic guitar adds depth, and you can hear him beaming when he announces at the end, "Steve Stills wrote that!"
And yes, it's the whole song this time, rather than the mere :33 seconds of "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes" on 4 Way Street. The perfect way to close the acoustic set.
The fact is that we learn plenty about all four of these fellas on CSNY 74. Stills' charisma has always been one of the band's core dynamics, but he stands out as a criminally underrated singer and multi-instrumentalist. "Word Game" is just Stills and acoustic guitar, followed by Stills and solo piano for "Myth of Sisyphus" – at a combined 11 minutes, the longest stretch of anyone's, and it's spellbinding.
BLACK QUEEN with STEPHEN STILLS at Buffalo, NY, Aug. 11
Crosby is known as one the best harmonizers in rock history, but his lead vocals might be the most consistently compelling here. Numbers like "Déjà Vu" and "Almost Cut My Hair," show off his power, while "The Lee Shore" is sweet and beguiling.
Nash is the least-represented member, not out of humility, he says, but because as CSNY 74's curator, taking out even one of Neil's songs was inconceivable to him. He wrote and sang some of the group's gentlest songs – his "Our House" and "Teach Your Children" are both handled nicely here – but his six political songs are the most of anyone, and they hit hard.
THE LIGHTNING ROUND
- The 188 page booklet that comes with CSNY 74 is a welcome addition. It features an insightful essay from long-time chronicler Pete Long (notably, in his indispensible book Ghosts on the Road: Neil Young In Concert), extensive song credits, and around 100 photos from Joel Bernstein, most of which appear here for the first time. (You can see a few of them in this article.) It's all very nicely put together, and surely already shortlisted for next year's Grammy for Best Recording Package.
It still could have used a few more details. For example, Elliot Mazer reports that 35 of the 40 songs come from Landover, Chicago and London. Which are which? That may sound a bit trainspottery, but the rest of the credits are very much at that level of detail. For example, they note the make and model of every guitar on every song.
I would also have loved to see noted which studio albums the songs came from. Not a problem that Google doesn't solve, but I do think that one of the most remarkable aspects of the tour's setlists was the number of albums they pulled from: easily two dozen in all.
- Crosby's nickname for this at the time as "The Doom Tour" was primarily a reference to life backstage, where drugs, opulence, stacks of cash and general chaos abounded. Even his recent suggestion of "What Could Possibly Go Wrong?" as the title for the box doesn't at all reflect what the band did on stage – but those memories are part of the reason why none of them were in a particular hurry to revisit this material. Lucky for all of us that they did.
- Your guess is as good as mine why Young hasn't released "Push It Over The Edge" before now. It's not just a highlight of the box. For most artists, it would be the highlight of their careers. It's a stunning mid-tempo stomper that still swings (yes, I've now used the word "swing" to describe Neil Young twice) with a soaring chorus that could have easily fit on any of the "Ditch Trilogy" albums (Time Fades Away, On the Beach, and Tonight's The Night).
It sounds so overwhelming with the four of them together that I can see why he might have waited until they could record it as a group – but by the time they actually reconvened in 1988, he probably had another 250 songs they could have recorded instead. Whatever the reason we didn't have it earlier, this version is worth the wait.
- Speaking of Young's, Time Fades Away, it's a real pleasure to hear what Crosby, Stills and Nash add to "Don't Be Denied" from that album.
- The song that most immediately jumped out to me even more as missing is "Woodstock." They didn't perform it at all on this tour.
- Nash said at the time that he wanted to open the shows with "When You Dance, I Can Really Love" from Young's After the Goldrush. It also wound up not appearing on the tour, and I actually find myself thinking about the absence of that one more than "Woodstock."
The cover of CSNY 74, featuring a Joel Bernstein photo from the Oakland, CA, July 13 performance, hand tinted by Brian Porizek.
Not that there's much that can be described as missing here. Everything about this package -- the performances, the recordings, the documentation, and the packaging itself -- is world-class, as grand as the tour deserves. You deserve this too.
If you've given up buying albums, or feel that the current parade of reissues and box sets is nothing more than a play to make you pay for music you already own, or cluttered with extras you don't really need, forget it. As noted (at length), the setlist alone doesn't begin to cover just how much of this is entirely new. It certainly doesn't hint at either the power of the performances or the punch of these recordings.
For a fan of any one of, or any combination of, David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash, and/or Neil Young, this is an absolutely essential purchase. Fans of the era in general, or of live albums in general, should also consider this a must-have.
So then, audio nerds: meet your new live-album reference disks. Everyone else: meet the group you only thought you knew, at the height of their powers and their appeal.
All photos are © 1974 Joel Bernstein
© 2014 CSNY Recordings, LLC. Under exclusive license to Rhino Entertainment Company, a Warner Music Group Company. All rights reserved.
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