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Michael Kelsey's Review
(more reviews coming)
The show details.
A Philly Daily News pre-show story.
First, a few generalities. This was not a "Neil Young featuring CSN" show. This was CSNY, a band that draws on the talents of all four to create a single sound. Also, despite playing more or less the same songs at every stop, the performances are fresh and spontaneous. Lastly, compared to previous tours, last night's show was the best I've ever heard my favorite band.
Why? Straight and sober performers. Already tuned guitars ready for each song. Great sound. And a commitment by the artists to provide a band show, not a combination group and can-you-top- this solo competition.
From the opening Carry On it was clear that the band had come together since their somewhat shakey VH1 opening night promotion piece. This was especially true of Stills, whose gravely voice nevertheless hit all of the notes, speading over more than the one octive range he's demonstrated in recent years. In fact, this was probably the biggest surprise of the evening -- where on virtually all of his lead vocals Stephen was right on.
Another highlight of the first set was 49 Bye Byes, where besides solid Stills vocals the band showed great tempo variation -- all held together by killer Neil lead licks throughout. Of course, the real showstopper of the first set was Almost Cut My Hair, the only song of the night that featured a solo vocal performance throughout, sung by Crosby with passion and conviction. Trading lead riffs, Young and Stills seemed to be warming up for more extended jams down the road.
Much has been said in public reviews about the poor quality of the new material, several songs of which were played in the first set. I disagree totally with this assessment. Stand and Be Counted had an anthem-like quality, and Nash's Heartland came through much better than its recorded version -- featuring a terrific Nash/Stills duet on one verse. Nothing wrong with Slowpoke either, nor Stills' Faith in Me, which harkens back to Manassas. If Looking Forward had not been released before the tour, would we instead be thinking of these new songs the same way Pushed It Over the End, Love Art Blues, Carry Me and other unreleased songs sounded in 1974?
Throughout the set, and the entire show in fact, CSNY's harmonies were loud and clear. This is what makes them unique.....the ability to blend 2, 3 or 4 voices into a single sound, all the while retaining the individual parts that make up the whole. I'd argue that as their voices have matured, so has the quality of the blending. This is especially evident in Stills' case, where his baritone has in many parts taken on more of a bass sound.
Unlike other shows reviewed, there were no clunkers last night. Nash hit all of his parts (sometimes in unison with Young to add strength to the upper register) and Crosby glued it all together with perfect harmony in the middle.
Which leads to the acoustic set... In past CSNY tours, this part of the show would feature maybe a handful of group songs, with the bulk being solo spots. Perhaps knowing that, in 2000, Young fans would cry foul if their hero had to share equal time with the others, we get no solo performances at all. Instead, the acoustic set becomes an opportunity to show off the CSNY vocal magic, whether it is on old favorites like Nash's Our House or Teach Your Children, or new ones like Looking Forward or Dream For Him (maybe the best song of the set, perhaps the night).
Equal to the vocal strength was the intrumental work of Stills and Young, where be it on acoustic or electric guitar, perfect riffs are added to top the performance. Evident here was sharing of the spotlight, where Stills and Young would be featured in each other's songs. Seen Enough was the best example of this, as Neil's slide lead added a perfect sloppy blues feeling to the rollicking song.
After about 2 hours of music we got the 7th inning stretch... And then the jamming began. Stills let it all out on Woodstock, reaching for and hitting the high notes almost perfectly. 8 Miles High followed, and then Ohio and Love the One You're With. The now almost obligatory Down By The River jam came next, with all of the dueling leads, tempo changes and climaxes I'd read about in other reviews. This performance reminded me of the Bolero, where the music builds and builds over an extended period into a tremendous blast, which in CSNY's case was their vocal magic once again.
It was fascinating watching Crosby and Nash jam with the guitar men, even though not one note was coming from their intruments. They rocked as if their contributions were spiritual, felt by the players but unheard by us. When River ended I thought we'd get another tune and call it a night. Wrong.
Almost immediately the shuffle of For What It's Worth started up, made perfect by Young's sinister spare guitar riffs that made the original recording such a killer. Those of you who've heard recent CSN versions of this song may agree that Neil's contributions take it to new heights -- sort of adding the original feel to the funked up approach CSN gave it. Done then? Nope. Rockin' In the Free World came up next, with all the fire and anger of 1989, but 2 great guitars instead of one, all bonded together by Crosby and Nash's vocal additions. As it ended Dunn and Keltner joined CSNY in front of the stage and I thought the show was over.
But wait... I see the roadies bringing 2 Gretches on stage as the band leaves, making me realize that we'll get another and that it will probably be Long May You Run. After a few minutes they returned, Stills jumping across the stage swinging his fists like a prize fighter. They lined up and played that perfect tribute to friendship and survival, which after all is said and done is what this show was all about for me.
I went to the show with my long time friend who first played that CSN album for me in 1969, hooking me then on their sound. As the last chorus ended and the band left the stage arm in arm while the credits began on the monitors, I knew that even after all these years the I music I loved 31 years ago still had that magic for me.
Down points? Not many. The ride to the show was through a driving rainstorm on I95 -- can't blame that on CSNY though. (In 1974 I saw them IN a rainstorm at the Atlantic City raceway!) Fans? Some jerks ran on stage during DBTR and FWIW, quickly escorted off by the crew (maybe the ones who promtped the "shut up asshole" comment last year at the Tower theater) and a few couldn't keep their howls to themselves during Guenivere.
But the guy next to me offered us some of his nachos (in the past other communial offerings might have been made other than food) and generally the crowd was well behaved and into the show.
As for the performance, my only change would have been to cut out the Neil feedback routine after each of his songs and use that time for another complete song... I've seen the feedback thing before and, to be honest, unless it evolves into something musical (like the prog jam off of Hippie Dream in some of the HORDE performances) to me it is just feedback.
But these are minor complaints indeed.
So there it is: CSNY 2000. I went into the show thinking this would be the swan song for this reunion, that Neil would move on to something new or old after it's over, and that CSN would cash in their paychecks and settle back into a comfortable semi-retirement. Now I'm not so sure. What I heard last night was a band full of energy, friendship and, as Crosby kept reminding us, songs.
Is Europe next? If so, my guess is that we'll see some more US dates when they return, maybe with some new material for us. If not, let's trade and play those shows until they do it again.
(more reviews coming soon... --RE*AC*TOR)