Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young
When Crosby, Stills and Nash began their second set at the Louisville Palace last spring, Graham Nash remarked that there "once was a time" when the group would devote intermissions to tanking up on whatever chemical stimulant was at their disposal. Today, he said, the singers spend concert breaks texting their grandchildren.
Well, on a lavish new archival set called CSNY 1974, we are ushered back to "once was a time" — specifically, to when a summer tour by the trio augmented by sometime cohort Neil Young was the year's biggest concert attraction. Being a rock success story in the '70s meant a lifestyle beset with indulgence. Add the acrimony that seemed to flow in and out of the foursome at the time, and you had a party that was often on the verge of burning to the ground. A proposed studio album, rumored to be so complete that a cover shot had been taken, was scrapped and the copious amount of concert tapes that many fans had hoped would surface as a live album were indefinitely shelved.
Four decades to the month later, we have CSNY 1974, a fascinating and flawed chronicle of the lost summer when Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young let the biggest folk-rock franchise of its day go down in flames.
Nash oversaw the restoration, so from a sonic standpoint, the whole set — available as a single disc sampler and a comprehensive multi-disc CD/DVD/Blu Ray package — sounds like a dream, especially during the acoustic performances that make up the second disc of the larger edition. And frankly, from a performance standpoint, things sound remarkably more vital than history has led us to think. Stephen Stills, however, sounds pretty uncontained vocally throughout. He largely slurs, wails and moans his way through many tunes, especially the lovely Change Partners. Similarly, the group's usually stately harmonies often possess a ragged, barroom quality.
But there is a lot to relish here. David Crosby, for all of his fabled excesses, sings like a bird, with clear, effortless expression on the chestnuts Guinnevere and The Lee Shore, all the while conjuring the electric fire of the 1970 CSNY classic Déjà Vu.
To perhaps no one's surprise, though, the show stealer is Young. CSNY 1974 is loaded with seldom-performed gems, especially from his landmark album On the Beach, which would be released just after the tour ended. From the social rant of Revolution Blues ("I won't attack you but I won't back you") to the coarse childhood remembrance Don't De Denied (from 1973's criminally out-of-print Time Fades Away) to the comparatively gentle sway of the unreleased Hawaiian Sunrise (the rumored title tune to the aborted CSNY studio record), Young sounds frightful and exact as he kicks a hearty dose of sand into the face of the boozy summer joyride that is CSNY 1974.
Walter Tunis | Contributing Music Critic