Crosby Stills Nash & Young’s second official live recording ever — and their first since 1970’s Four Way Street — is pretty much Neil Young’s deal. That much needs to be said upfront.
The songs, with few exceptions, are mostly Neil Young songs, taken from his blistering 2006 anti-Bush themed album Living With War. The album also serves as a soundtrack to the Neil Young directed (in his alter-ego as Bernard Shakey) film document of CSN&Y’s 2006 Freedom Of Speech tour, also in support of Young’s Living With War.
So this is really more of an extension of Living With War if you get right down to brass tacks — with the rest of the guys mainly along for the ride. Once that is established, and it is likewise understood that this isn’t going to be a nostalgic greatest hits sort of deal replete with “Suite Judy Blue Eyes,” or for that matter, “Ohio” and “Helpless,” only then can CSNY/Deja Vu Live really be taken in and appreciated for the really good, if not quite great, live album it is.
Speaking of the film, I haven’t seen it yet. But from what I’ve heard, one of the things it zeroes in on is the fact that some live audiences failed to grasp the very thing I just spent a couple of paragraphs trying to explain here. There are scenes of confused concertgoers complaining about being preached to, and how “we just wanna hear the music, man.” Shades of the Dixie Chicks, and the whole Shut Up And Sing thing, right?
Of course if these same fans knew anything about CSN&Y’s history, they’d know that this is a group of musicians who’ve never really shied away from expressing their political views in song, from the “tin soldiers and Nixon’s coming” of Young’s “Ohio” to Graham Nash’s plea to “please come to Chicago” where “we can change the world.”
To that end, it should be no surprise that the setlist found on CSNY/Deja Vu Live follows a very specific antiwar theme. Sandwiched in between the incendiary songs of Young’s Living With War such as “Looking For A Leader,” and of course “Lets Impeach The President,” you’ll also find songs like Graham Nash’s “Military Madness,” Crosby’s “Deja Vu,” and Stills great protest anthem “For What Its Worth,” which sounds just as fresh and relevant here as it did back then.
For it’s part, the band also sounds great here. Not surprisingly these are all pretty much Neil Young’s guys too, including regular collaborators like bassist Rick Rosas, drummer Chad Cromwell, keyboardist Spooner Oldham, and pedal steel player Ben Keith. In the live setting, the songs from Young’s Living With War sound much looser too.
The band locks into a particularly muscular sounding groove on “Shock And Awe,” allowing for Neil to really crank on the guitar solo. On “Wooden Ships” they even get into some of that tasty guitar interplay that so characterized the great jams found on Four Way Street, although they don’t take it to quite the same epic sort of levels found on that albums versions of “Carry On” or “Southern Man” for example. What is clear though, is that Stills and Young still maintain chemistry all these years later.
What is also clear is that these guys can still rock — especially when they are galvanized by a common cause. While no one is ever going to mistake songs like Young’s “Lets Impeach The President” or “Roger And Out” as classics on the order of say “Ohio” (although the new instrumental arrangement of the title track found here is really quite lovely sounding), they are still played here for all of the passion they are worth. Neil Young in particular just shreds on his guitar solos. There is never once the sense that any of these guys are simply phoning it in here.
Politics aside, and taken on purely musical terms, CSNY/Deja Vu Live is about as satisfying a live release as you good hope for from a band of old warhorses like these. The fact that even at this late stage of the game, they are still waving their collective freak flags for causes they passionately believe in just makes it that much more appealing.