Music News & Reviews

Critic's pick: CSNY


Déjà Vu Live

CSNY is the newly adopted initialization of David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash and Neil Young, the Woodstock-era rock alliance that briefly spit sparks when the social idealism of the '60s gave way to the bleak reality and quagmire of the Vietnam War. Déjà Vu was their one and only studio album of the period — a 1970 record of jagged electric fire, lost American dreams and hippie hope.

All of which might suggest, Déjà Vu Live is an in-performance re-creation of the original, which it is, but only in part. Only two songs from the original Déjà Vu surface; the rest were recorded during a concert tour in 2006. The bulk of the repertoire and entire impetus for the tour (as well as its resulting documentary film and this live album) is Young's Living With War.

Recorded and released quickly in spring 2006, the record was Young's manifesto on the current political war climate. It was perhaps stronger in theory than in execution. But given the topical fervency that surrounded the release of the original Déjà Vu, it proved a logical step to reunite CSNY — a group that, 31/2 decades ago, couldn't stay together long enough to release a second studio album and whose subsequent 1980s and '90s records were flimsy at best — to perform Young's new music.

Déjà Vu Live begins not with Living With War material but with Crosby's What Are Their Names? In its 1971 studio version, the tune was a Grateful Dead-inspired psychedelic meditation that, engaging as it was, seemed more paranoid than political. On Déjà Vu Live, it is redone as a straight-up protest recitation fueled only by ragged harmonies, hand claps, a bit of gospel fervency and rabid audience participation. It is among the most stirring moments on the new record.

Nash sounds remarkably strong on Military Madness, another 1971 chronicle from another war era, while Stills' For What It's Worth, a true warhorse anthem cut with Young in the Buffalo Springfield four decades ago, plows along with an aged, blues-savvy snarl and some rather weathered singing. But it remains a stark account not only of war but of the strong generational division that existed in the late '60s.

Young's Living With War tunes — all seven of them — are products of a war now divided more along party lines. The music is less cunning and, in many instances, less clever and insightful. But much of it is so wildly blunt that you can't help but smile — depending where your political allegiances extend, of course — at how a 60-something hippie who was once an avid Reagan supporter can summon sentiments so vehemently pro and con from an audience.

Let's Impeach the President, in fact, borders on the comical. It's a sing-along-style pop reverie that had to earn as much crowd ire as it did vocal support.

Nash's Teach Your Children, from the original Déjà Vu, closes things out with a countryesque vision of hope. The voices sound a little scorched, but the vision of one generation learning from the previous one's mistakes remains bold. But then again, had the lessons of war been better addressed in recent years, maybe this weatherbeaten but solemn protest record could exist today as a more purposely retro exercise.

As it is, Déjà Vu Live is long in the tooth, indeed. But its topical bite is sharp, exact and real.