Summary : As 'CSNY 1974' proves over and over, the concerts the "American Beatles" performed in the summer of 1974 were something special indeed.
The 1974 Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young tour was the musical event of the year, yet it is little more than a footnote in rock history today. This is mainly due to the fact that no official document of it has ever been released. With the new CSNY 1974 box set, we now have a chance to hear just how good the shows actually were. As it turns out, this tour represented a career-high point for all four artists.
Although drawn from different sources, the package is programmed to represent what fans would have experienced on a given night. The basic format was three sets: electric, acoustic, and electric. The 40 songs are a mix of solo and group compositions, 10 of which were unreleased at the time. In his liner notes, Pete Long observes that nearly every concert began with the same 1-2-3 punch of “Love the One You’re With,” followed by “Wooden Ships,” then “Immigration Man.” From there on it was “anything goes.” Some other highlights from the first set include Neil Young’s “Helpless,“ Graham Nash’s “Traces,“ and David Crosby’s “Almost Cut My Hair.”
As good as those songs are though, the highlight of the first disc has to be the first official live version of Young‘s “On the Beach.” The mostly acoustic On the Beach album was the only “new product” on the market at the time, although Atlantic issued the CSN&Y compilation So Far also. This electric version of “On the Beach” is a revelation. The song, and the album as a whole have long been revered by fans, and this version adds a whole new dimension to the original.
The acoustic second set lends credence to the fanatical depiction of CSN&Y as “The American Beatles.“ The foursome acquit themselves very well throughout these 19 songs. Young‘s “Only Love Can Break Your Heart,” and “Old Man” get a big response, as do group efforts such as “Guinevere,” “Teach Your Children,” and “Our House.” The funniest moment of the night comes with Young’s “tribute” to Richard Nixon, “Goodbye Dick.” Tricky Dick resigned on August 9, and apparently the one and only time the song was played was on August 14, at the Nassau Coliseum.
The electric guitars return for the third set, although they were never completely absent earlier. “Déjà Vu” opens this final 10-song stretch, but it is with Young’s “Revolution Blues” that the tone is really set. This being the peak of the whole Watergate and anti-Nixon era, CSN&Y close with their most political material. “Military Madness,” “Long Time Gone,” “Pushed It Over the End,” “Chicago,” lead up to the final “Ohio.”
It is pointless to look back at lines like “We can change the world” from “Chicago” as naïve, but it was a very different period. CSN&Y delivered music their predominantly 20-something baby boomer audience wanted to hear, and the songs still resonate. There must have been a temptation to shy away from some of these topical songs when compiling the set, and I applaud them for preserving the context.
The DVD is a curiosity. There are a total of eight songs, four from Landover, MI and four from Wembley in London. The Landover material is primitive, recorded from an in-house simulcast and never intended for release. The Wembley video was professionally recorded, with an eye to the possibility of being shown on television at some future date. Obviously this never occurred, but the quality is high. As for the Landover songs, I think fans will just be grateful that footage exists at all.
The DVD also allows us to see the three-man rhythm section in action. The support slots were filled by Russell Kunkel (drums), Tim Drummond (bass), and Joe Lala (percussion) throughout the tour. In all, CSN&Y played 31 concerts in 24 cities from July 9 to September 14. They opened in Seattle, WA, and their final stop was the only one performed outside of the U.S., at Wembley.
CSNY 1974 is available in six formats, the most common of which is the three-CD and bonus DVD edition that I am reviewing. Special mention should be made to the accompanying 188-page book with loads of pictures and information regarding the tour. The Deluxe Limited Edition Boxed Set sounds incredible, as it is a hand-numbered 1,000 edition run in a custom wood box featuring six LPs, all 40 tracks on a Pure Audio Blu-ray disc, a DVD, digital download, and a coffee-table sized edition of the book. I imagine those sold out instantly though.
Despite Young’s later dismissal of the tour as “a mess of drugs and ego,” CSNY 1974 reveals a band in top form, onstage at least. Special praise goes to Graham Nash and Joel Bernstein for wading through all of the material and selecting these 40 tracks. In his essay, Long calls CSNY 1974 “an idealized, extended representation of a typical CSNY 1974 performance.” I say “Thank you” to all involved for finally making this available to the world some 40 years after the fact. As CSNY 1974 proves over and over, these concerts were something special. They may not have been the “American Beatles,” but these performances represent the closest anyone would come to that impossible dream.
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