For fans of live recordings, or bootlegs as they’re known on the black market, there’s nothing like scoring a quality show recorded near where you grew up.
One of my all-time favorites is an excellent soundboard recording I received from a friend a few years ago, documenting a Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young performance at Roosevelt Raceway in Westbury, New York, my old stomping grounds as a kid. The date was September 8, 1974, and this show was the final stop on this particular tour. CSNY was enjoying a robust performance year—significant in the group having to play stadiums instead of amphitheaters for the first time in their career, due to overwhelming ticket demands—albeit one that was fueled by nervous energy and abundant use of cocaine. Their lengthy sets consisted not only of a bunch of their own cherished anthems, but also several tracks from Young’s own newly released, soon-to-be-classic album On The Beach. Listening to that boot and hearing Young run through songs off my favorite album of his, like “Revolution Blues” and “Ambulance Blues”, as the rain poured down on the crowd in the same place my grandfather used to take me to see the horse races when I was a kid, made the hearing experience even more special to me on a personal level. Any fan of either Young or CSNY would be wise to hunt this pup down online, as it is most certainly floating out there in Blogspotland somewhere.
What this particular live recording also made clear on a more aesthetic level, however, was the realization of how much Neil Young leads CSNY whenever they get together. While David Crosby, Graham Nash, and Stephen Stills all have significantly classic solo albums under their hats, their material never seems to be as highlighted in a CSNY set quite like Young’s songs, which generally account for a good third or more of a typical CSNY concert.
The recently released live document of CSNY’s controversial 2006 Freedom of Speech tour, called Déjà Vu Live, testifies to this. For this tour, the group relied heavily on the fiery, anti-Bush material of Young’s hastily recorded Living With War, which, for all intents and purposes, ranks up there with Everybody’s Rockin’ and Broken Arrow as one of his worst albums to date. Sure, the crux of the record is admirable, a ripped-from-the-headlines spin on the shit-storm of socio-political upheaval created by the Bush Administration these last eight years, but it’s performed in a really annoying campfire-cum-protest rally way that makes the overall result near-impossible to sit through more than once. Especially for all those hippie-turned-neocon baby boomers, many of whom were said to have walked out on various shows across the country thinking they were gonna get a nostalgia trip but wound up getting a big-ass Indian burn of anti-Republican sentiments.
As bad as the album may be (which, of course, is a matter of opinion), Living With War nevertheless provided the centerpiece for CSNY’s Freedom of Speech tour, so therefore it’s dutifully showcased on both the Déjà Vu Live album and the cinematic feature of the same name, released for posterity on DVD. So, depending on whether or not you hold such songs as “Lookin’ for a Leader”, “Families”, and “Shock and Awe” in as high regard as you do “Tonight’s The Night”, “Like A Hurricane” and “Down By The River”, go out and pick up this CD. It will certainly be worth your while, and you’ll even be surprised to see it includes rousing renditions of the old group standards (like “Wooden Ships”, “Teach Your Children”, and the Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth”) which the quartet threw in as reward bones for sitting through all that new material.
However, if you didn’t like Living With War, don’t even bother with this release. Chances are you’ll even be a little disgruntled that Déjà Vu Live wasn’t released as a double-live album, given the group also managed to include such indelible warhorses as “Almost Cut My Hair”, “Ohio”, and Young’s own Bush 39 protest rocker “Rockin’ In The Free World” through the course of their nearly three-hour show. Your best bet would be to find a soundboard from this tour online, or just stick to the new documentary on DVD. Or, if you’re more like me, stick to 1970’s masterful live album Four Way Street or your favorite old bootleg from yesteryear, like that Roosevelt Raceway show I mentioned earlier, and fondly recall the days before “Shock and Awe” on your own terms.