Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Neil Young 51: CSNY 1974

In the summer of 1974, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young embarked on a massive tour that brought their particular brand of singer-songwriterness to stadiums packed to the gills with ticket-buyers. Since their previous tour (and album together), roughly 12 albums’ worth of material had been released between the four of them, in addition to all the stuff Neil still had on deck. Supported by the crack rhythm section of Tim Drummond on bass and Russ Kunkel on drums (with Stills buddy Joe Lala on congas and cowbell), each show lasted for three hours on average, all four anxious to get as many of their own songs in. (Cocaine’s a hell of a drug.)
In the decades since then, the tour has been remembered for its excess, both pharmaceutical and egotistical. Even the participants have expressed varying memories about the experience. Graham Nash, in his role as self-appointed archivist, took up the task of re-assessing the tour from the vantage point of the shows that were professionally recorded, and it only took him about five years to finish it.
In its triple-CD-plus-DVD package, CSNY 1974 offers 40 songs from 10 shows, culled from the 77 different songs played throughout the tour. The program is split into three sets, roughly corresponding to a typical show. (We wouldn’t put it past Rhino to issue a “complete” box of all ten shows start to finish, à la what they’ve been doing with the Grateful Dead lately.) The “First Set” is full band electric; the “Second Set” is mostly “wooden music”, acoustic and solo; the “Third Set” brings the rhythm section back in full.
Nash has admitted to tweaking the tapes here and there, fixing harmonies and notes, and flying in other parts of the same track to smooth over a rough patch, so we’ll leave it up to other scholars to identify what songs came from where. For all his work, Stills sounds pretty ragged, to the point where his singing is unintelligible. His attempts to sound “soulful” often come off garbled; even when he’s playing guitar, a certain amount of showboating takes over when finesse is preferred. In contrast, Crosby is spot on at all times, and Nash is just happy to be there. For all his contrariness, Neil’s quite the team player, happily contributing harmonies, lead guitar and/or piano on the others’ tunes.
The big excitement (for Neil fans, anyway) is the first official release of several songs yet to be otherwise collected. “Traces” is a highlight of the first disc, in all its brevity, as is “On The Beach”, the title track of his solo album just in stores. The second disc has the most surprises, with a early duet of “Long My You Run” with Stills preceding the one-off “Goodbye Dick”, itself a slight variation of “Mellow My Mind” on the banjo, which follows complete with CSN harmonies and an extra line. “Love Art Blues” and “Hawaiian Sunrise” are nice to have in some form, personal as they are. The third disc has a terrific “Don’t Be Denied” (making its digital debut in any legal form) with an extra verse from its Time Fades Away incarnation, an intense “Revolution Blues” and, best of all, the mesmerizing “Pushed It Over The End”, showcasing the band and singers deftly navigating all those shifts from 5/8 to 4/4 over eight minutes.
Along with a thick booklet crammed with photos, quotes and instrumental credits, CSNY 1974 does provide, literally, hours of entertainment. Whatever surgery was performed to make it sound good took; it probably helps that the recordings were made towards the end of the tour, when most of the kinks had been worked out, and for the most part, the band cooks. Hopefully this will fan the fire for Neil’s Archives Vol. 2, which should straddle and overlap this era, should it ever come out.

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young CSNY 1974 (2014)—

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