I had the good fortune to see Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young on March 27, 2000, at the Boston Garden. It was the four of them, plus Duck Dunn on bass, and Jim Keltner on drums. When legends gather, indeed. (setlist)
There was a nice oriental carpet on stage, and lovely standing floor lamps to give a homey atmosphere.
I must say, it’s hard to put into words the gap between my expectations, and how unbelievably rockin’ the show turned out to be. I walked in there, expecting a reasonably pleasant experience, having no idea what I was in for.
It’s Neil Young’s fault. He goads them into it. There was a stretch in the ’90s where Neil Young went on tour every year, it seemed, and he made it a point to hire whoever was the loudest, nastiest, noisiest band of the moment as his opening band, and then he would come out and basically mop the floor with them. One year it was Sonic Youth. Another it was Atari Teenage Riot.
So, the opening song was “Carry On.” On record, it’s a nice, jaunty skip through the forest. Live, on this night, it was the second coming of ZZ Top.
“Almost Cut My Hair” was like molten lava pouring off the stage. Righteous indignation at an intensity level on a par with Rage Against The Machine, no shit. Even Crosby was moved to say, “we’re rocking so hard tonight, I think we’re going to do structural damage to the building.”
By the time we got to “Rockin’ in the Free World,” Stills had busted a string, Young had broken two, and was holding his guitar in one hand, shaking it at the amp, determined to squeeze out every last ounce of noise.
It must also be said that Stephen Stills is an unbelievable monster on guitar. Has to be one of the top 10 most underrated on the planet. A master shredder when he wants to be.
And of course, at the heart of CSNY is the harmony. The otherworldly, how do they do it, more than the sum of its parts, harmony. I can’t imagine what rehearsals must have been like. When I listen to the records, I find it impossible to reverse engineer who’s singing what in my head. It is a stained glass ceiling of sound.
This was also the night they played “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” live for the first time in 20 years. An incredibly special occasion, on a par with seeing Elton John the night John Lennon came on. It was a thing of transcendent, luminescent beauty, as if sound itself could be made into spun glass. Time stopped for a moment.
But most of all, as is the case with many of us, the “Deja Vu” album is one of those pillars of our lives, like Carole King’s “Tapestry.” It seems like it’s always been around, and always will be, just like the people who made it… well…
“Our House” is a song that’s wrapped itself like a warm blanket around my entire life. We played it while partying in high school, while raising a family in suburbia, while starting over in NYC.
It is also the original National Anthem of the Hippies, and rightly so, as it embodies their vision of what everyday home life should be, peaceful, contented, and warm. What we all want. What we wish everyone had.
It’s become an heirloom song, something cherished to be passed on to the next generation, simple, beautiful, and universal. It is the song to which my daughter and I danced when she was a baby, and at her wedding. So of course, I am deeply saddened at Crosby’s passing, and am feeling the weight of history.
Cynicism is cheap and easy. These songs are the new classics, and we are fortunate to be alive at a time when we can be witness to their creation. With the passing of their creators, the work changes, becomes fixed in stone. It’s sobering to note time passing. Brings me back to respect for the creative process. Too many people die with their music still inside them, so to speak.
I’d like to teach the world to sing, in perfect harmony.