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CSNY'S REUNION: A Show of Strength Author: Ben Fong-Torres Publication: Rolling Stone Date: August 15th, 1974
Minutes after Crosby, Stills and Nash and then Young, hit the stage in Seattle for the first concert of their reunion tour, it was clear that no other group ever had a chance of replacing them while they were apart - not America, not Bread, not Poco, not the Eagles, not Seals and Crofts or Loggins and Messina or Souther, Hillman and Furay. Not even Manassas or the reunion of the original Byrds.
It's been four years since the last tour, and each of the principals has gone through weighty changes. But onstage, you can hardly tell. The 1969 Woodstock language is still there; Crosby is still the group mouth; Nash the gentle presence; Stills and Young the fabled guitar stars. And although a couple of the voices have measurably changed, the meat of the group is still the high vocal harmonies.
But if any one action proved that the group hadn't changed since the old and golden days, it was their utter lack of foresight and discipline in planning, then executing, the first show. As Crosby, his voice wrecked, would say the next evening, just before the Vancouver concert, the group had mapped out forty-four songs for what they figured would be a three or three-and-a-half-hour stand. And when they found themselves with fully nine more numbers on their list at 12:35 A.M., three-and-a-half-hours after they had opened with "Love the One You're With," they decided to plunge ahead, what the hell, first show and all.
And it ruined them and their Vancouver show. Not that the audience noticed; in both Seattle and Vancouver, packed houses of 15,000 and 17,000 gave their heroes heroes' receptions and continuing waves of ovations. But the group, of course, knew, and they scuttled and shuffled songs around to accommodate Crosby's sinking voice.
Backstage in Vancouver, after the opening electric set, Nash, standing with promoter Bill Graham, was shaking his head, wondering out loud if the group could survive a tour of thirty shows in two months. Later, during the solo sets, Neil Young would enter the dressing room in a foul mood, saying the show, now trimmed by ten minutes, was still too long, that the concert - organized to begin electrically, break, and then build from acoustic (with the whole group, then solo sets) back to electric - should revert to the old CSNY formula - acoustic, electric, finish. Nash himself would report: "David is really bummed out."
After the concert, at a Denny's coffee shop, some fans gathered to complain about Crosby. "He's singing this song, 'For Free,' and he's trying to tell everybody to shut up so he could sing," said one young woman. "How can you tell 17,000 people to quiet down? Then he got pissed off because it wasn't quiet enough for him and stopped the song right in the middle."
Said Crosby: "I don't bum out on people onstage. There were too many people yelling, 'Sit down.' I asked them and asked them to be quiet. But it was very loud and I had great difficulty, and once I stopped, I didn't have enough emotional momentum to start that song over again, so I went right into 'Guinnevere' - and did a fucking good job on it!"
But Crosby was clearly unhappy. "During rehearsals [at Young's ranch in La Honda, south of San Francisco], we never had time to go all the way through the show, see how long forty-four songs would take," said Crosby. "It was an honest mistake. I gave too much and ended up cheating Vancouver. I felt bad. I'd let them down and I'd let the band down." But, as Nash and Stills and manager Elliott Roberts said, the group cannot contain itself, once onstage. Crosby agreed. "I get to a song like 'Ohio' [which closed the opening electric set] and you know me. To hold back on that ... Well I don't believe in controlled mediocrity."
Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young are uniquely attractive, for some obvious musical reasons and, not insignificantly, for some more mysterious personal ones. The fact that the group broke up at the height of success in 1970 was puzzling enough. That Graham Nash would later attribute the split to "stupid, infantile ego problems" made it only more interesting. Then came the annual announcements of impending reunions, followed by almost ritual withdrawals of those announcements. The most recent was last winter, when the four got together in Hawaii, sang together and even worked up some new material "We realized how good it could be," said Crosby. "But," and he slowed the next sentence down: "We-weren't- quite ready-to-do it. A couple of us weren't."
Elliot Roberts said, "It started to look like bullshit." Roberts, who manages Crosby, Nash and Young, finally went to each man, got summer cleared, and began mapping out the season's biggest rock & roll tour, some thirty dates, most of them much larger than the kickoffs in Seattle and Vancouver July 9 and 10. Two shows at the Oakland Coliseum July 13 and 14 drew a reported total 76,000; another outdoor shot - at the Ontario dance figures in Houston, Denver, St. Louis, Kansas City, Milwaukee and several other spots. Unofficial total gross estimates ranged from $6 million to $10 million, with between 800,000 and a million persons paying an average ticket price of $8.50.
Were CSNY back together only for the money? "Well," said Roberts, "it's not a benefit. But I'd have to say that money is not a factor." Crosby, while admitting that he has spent most of his money over the years, maintained that he does not need CSNY income in order to survive. The reason for the reunion, he said, should be clear: "It's the best goddamned music any of us has ever played - and we all know it."
In keeping with CSNY's nature, the schedule was not totally firm a week into the tour; a date had not yet been fixed for the closing show at Madison Square Garden, and whether a mid-September stop in London, at Wembley Pool, might extend to other parts of Europe, was still to be figured out. At the last minute, an invitation to Kenny Passarelli, who'd worked with Stills, to be the group's bassist was canceled, and the backup band consists of Tim Drummond, from Neil Young's tours and the Harvest and Time Fades Away albums, on bass; Joe Lala, from Manassas, on percussion, and Russ Kunkel, who backed Crosby and Nash on their tours and duet albums, on drums.
The first show was a show of strength and of health. Stills looking bright-eyed and snappy in one of his collection of football and hockey jerseys; Young, with his hair drastically trimmed and smiling out from reflective shades; and Nash and Crosby maintaining their respectively underfed and overnourished appearances. The four soul-slapped, back-patted and hand-shook their way through the first part of the show, shifting seats and instruments with ease through "Love the One You're With," "Wooden Ships," "Immigration Man," "Cowgirl in the Sand," "Change Partners," "Traces" (a new Young song), Nash's "Grave Concern," preceded by a group litany of Watergate gibberish ("I don't recall" . . . "I can't seem to remember" . . . "To the best of my recollection . . ."), "Black Queen," "Almost Cut My Hair" and "Ohio." Stills was giving Young plenty of room to roam on lead guitar, a comment for those who remember stories about Sunset Strip duels between the two major forces of Buffalo Springfield; Stills would later shine for himself on his banjo number, "Know You've Got to Run," and several Latin-beaten jams.
The hour-long electric set was followed by an acoustic session that first aroused the crowd with "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes," which suffered from a poor mix and a few offed keys, and "Helplessly Hoping." A beautiful "Blackbird," a group favorite since the earliest days in Laurel Canyon, was followed by a Young lament, "Human Highway," which he only recently discarded along with an entire album called Tonight's the Night, in favor of the just released On The Beach . The song showed off Young's new voice, the high end seemingly chopped off, the whine now more a moan. Nash sang "Prison Song" and a lovely new love song, reminiscent of "I Miss You" on Wild Tales, and Crosby began the solo spots with a new tune reflecting his own maturity - "Carry Me" - then a tribute to his "favorite song writer" with "For Free" by Joni Mitchell, and "Guinnevere," which had Nash sneaking up to weave in a perfect laser beam of harmony. Here, the audience was stilled, many on the main floor assuming Fifties civil-defense huddle positions, heads sunken between knees. Nash followed with "Sleep Song" and "Our House," which earned an ovation, and he gave way to Stills for "4 + 20" and the banjo workout.
Young then performed two more new compositions, both musically lighthearted: "Love Hard Blues" and "Long May You Run," which he wrote for his refurbished '48 Buick Roadmaster. When he finished "A Man Needs a Maid," it was 12:35, and people could be seen packing up and leaving. But the transition back to electric had just begun, with "Don't Be Denied," then several Stills numbers that extended into lengthy jams, along with "Deja Vu " and "Pre-Road Downs." "Long Time Gone" and "Carry On" closed the show and ignited a full ten-minute encore call that got the group back on for "Chicago."
At 1:37 in the Pacific Northwest, with the monorail long out of commission and several hundred people suddenly needing rides, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young wove together into a four-man hug. They had overdosed, and the next night would be a disaster. But they had proven that they were in it, more than anything else, for the music.
More on Stephen Stills, David Crosby, and Graham Nash. Also, see Wikipedia entry for Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young
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