Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Red Rocks, Morrison, CO- 7/17
Well, I said to myself that I would pass on CSNY because of the ultra-lame ticket prices. However, having been a longtime fan of CSNY, particularly Neil Young and David Crosbyokay, I admit it! I gave in and found a nice ticket at a slightly reduced cost just a couple of hours before show time, and off I trekked to Red Rocks to catch the first night of a scheduled three-show run. I was also looking forward to hearing the songs from Neil Young’s new brave & bold album, Living With War.
The drive down to Red Rocks via route 93 revealed a healthy lightning show. Thus, when I arrived, I brought in a spare raincoat and prepared for rain. Fortunately, there were only mere sprinkles during the electric portion of the lengthy second set, and plenty of distant lightning away from The Rocks. Due to the gusty weather, the start to the show was slightly delayed, with swirling winds dominating nearly half the first set, but the sound was reasonable from my 22nd row seat, and very solid the rest of the way.
I totally enjoyed the 80-minute first set; very hefty and plenty of inspired performances, including two "tour bustouts" via Stephen Stills’ classic "Carry On" and David Crosby’s freak anthem "Almost Cut My Hair”; both of which have remained in the set lists since. The first goose bump moment of the evening was a blissful "Wooden Ships", with the first lines now sung by Crosby, and the second by Nash: However, it was a scintillating guitar duel between Young and Stills that made this special. Young was in total feedback mode during Nash's "Military Madness", a song like the Grateful Dead’s “Throwing Stones” which always finds a way to remain relevant; Neil’s chaotic solos giving a contrast in edge that I heartily laughed and cheered! On this particular evening, Graham Nash sang superbly all night, whether on an engaging lead or an endearing harmony. Thus, songs like “Immigration Man” contained extra vile. The interplay between Stills and Neil also became an asset during a direct reading of “D Vu.”
So, how were the Living With War tunes? They were all superb, particularly the angry and intense "Restless Consumer" where Young’s vicious delivery made many audience members chant “WE DON’T NEED” while he declared “no more lies.” The show opening “Flags Of Freedom” was quite spirited, with its sly musical references to Bob Dylan’s timeless “Chimes Of Freedom” making Neil’s tune literally a sequel (and the second song he has written directly referencing Bob Dylan). As for the album’s title track, when the foursome sang “I’m living with war in my heart,” they were clearly grieving of the events that have occurred in Iraq the past few years. After the biting “Shock and Awe”, Nash thanked the audience for our patience. However, this music lover’s patience was never tested, because those new songs kicked live, especially with Crosby & Nash’s patented vocal harmonies; many of those sentiments shared by myself and the bulk of the Red Rocks audience. It was also inspiring to see many around me absorbing and enjoying the new material. Backed by the band who recorded Living With War — Rick Rosas on bass, Chad Cromwell on drums, Tommy Bray on Trumpet along with studio legend Spooner Oldham on organ and keyboards, there was clearly a rawer edge to the music in comparison to the past two tours, but containing plenty of passion and the right touch of polish.
After a 30 minute break came the acoustic portion. A nice & understated "Helplessly Hoping" saw Stills on electric guitar, and was close to the outtake arrangement from the CSN box set. After Nash’s typically delicate take of "Our House," Neil took his turn at the piano with Crosby & Nash standing behind him for a luscious take of the timeless "Only Love Can Break Your Heart." Crosby and Nash collaborated on a typically beautiful rendition of my very favorite of Crosby ballads, "Guinnevere.”
However, the three treats of the acoustic segment to these ears was a spirited "Treetop Flyer" with just Stills & Young trading the theme and playing beautifully off each other. The other was a very rich "Southbound Train", with Nash's full vocals augmented tastefully by Crosby. The third was a surprise to me, Stills' "Ole Man Trouble" (written by Booker T. Jones), because of his passionate performance. It appears he has learned how to work with his faded vocal cords, as his baritone was significantly smoother than in recent years, mostly coming up with his gruff sounds when it was clearly intentional; and his piano playing made the song sound like a sequel to "49 Bye Byes/America's Children" from Four Way Street.
Even a warhorse like "Teach Your Children" was given new life, and placed as another song instead of an encore; with Ben Keith's pedal steel sweet and tasty. That led to another highlight: A gorgeous, elongated rendition of "Find the Cost of Freedom" where the verses were intentionally repeated twice. Stills and Young soloed off each other while a video screen showed and counted all the US casualties of the Iraq War thus far in a very chilling and poignant scene.
Instead of the "seventh inning stretch" a la the past two tours, a recording of Jimi Hendrix' infamous Woodstock rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner" was played, with footage of the Iraq War shown off the main video screen.
The electric portion of the second set was kick started with the bitchin’ "Let’s Impeach the President." This song worked beautifully because it is artfully written, with its anger and venom lying in the lyrics; which were listed on the Red Rocks screen to the right of the stage. The following three warhorses achieved critical mass, with Young’s accents on "For What It’s Worth" adding that genuine Buffalo Springfield feeling, Nash driving "Chicago" with its message "We can change the world" and Crosby’s vocal reprises giving a rousing version of "Ohio" extra verve. If anything, “Ohio” served as a bookend to the Living With War material, since those songs were recorded and rushed to the public in a similar and angry fashion.
However, it was an a capella number that brought another chilling moment, a stripped-down "What Are Their Names" from Crosby’s great 1971 album, If I Can Only Remember My Name; causing the same chilling effect as "Find the Cost of Freedom." “I wonder who they are, the men who really run this land.” Indeed!
Of course, it was Neil Young who took this all home with a typically blistering "Rockin' in the Free World", also giving room to Stills to add a few solos to Young’s madness. Of course, the ending itself took three minutes, with plenty of Crazy Horse-style feedback — with pounding drums from Chad Cromwell and rock-solid bass from Rick Rosas — to close in triumph. One of those “!@#!!ING NEIL” moments, if you will! A straightforward crunchy "Woodstock" served well as the encore, with Young going nuts at the end and breaking several strings on his Old Black guitar.
Overall, I'm very glad I went. Back on March 26, 2000 at the Fleet Center in Boston, CSNY played one of my all-time favorite concerts — definitely in my top 20 since 1978 — which featured two tour bustouts and an unforgettable 18-minute "Down By The River." This Red Rocks show was just one "Down by the River" shy of matching that, and was a performance generous in both
quality and quantity. I also preferred this gig over the 2002 show I caught at the Fleet Center, which certainly had its share of moments, but felt more nostalgic whereas last night was clearly present. What really marked this show (and many others this tour) was how Neil’s Living With War songs — as well as Stills' "Wounded War" and Nash's "Milky Way Tonight" — blended seamlessly with the tried-and-true classics and chestnuts.
If you can find a cheap ticket, it's definitely worth catching a show on this tour, even if you have to give “blood money” to Live Nation. Be sure to have listened to Living With War several times to let it resonate. Live, those tunes just rocked, reiterating that both “The Restless Consumer" and "Let's Impeach the President" were simply awesome in their sheer power, in terms of both song and performance. Whether you agree with CSNY’s politics or not is beside the point: Over a span exceeding three hours, the Rock & Roll Hall of Famers were boldly practicing one of the United States’ oldest and most vital rights: Freedom of Speech!