Music Review: Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – ‘CSNY 1974’
But several reports from the road at the time were an equally mixed bag. After a very promising start in Seattle – described by most who were there (including this 18 year old at- the-time observer), as an epic four-hour blowout – many later accounts from the tour focused as much on the clashing egos and all-around backstage excess, as they did on the music itself.
By the time of the final shows, much of this had spilled over to the performances themselves.
Besides those four famously harmonizing voices starting to show certain signs of road-wear, the tension between them – by this time, Neil Young was traveling separately from the others – began to manifest itself onstage as well. Some shows, despite production values (particularly in sound and lighting) which were state-of-the-art at the time, were also reportedly just plain sloppy.
Which coming 40 years after the fact, makes CSNY 1974 a particularly remarkable achievement.
Like the “Doom Tour’ itself, a lot of what you get on this 3-CD boxed set (which also includes a bonus DVD featuring eight of the performances) is hit-and-miss to be sure. The harmonies are not always as perfectly in synch as you’d like, and occasionally the music meanders a bit too (“Wooden Ships”).
But for the most part, this boxed set manages to bottle the magic, both of the time and of CSNY themselves, pretty well. The audio quality, overseen by Graham Nash and Joel Bernstein, is mostly immaculate, particularly considering both the vintage of these recordings, and the size of the venues they were sourced from.
The oft-reported onstage bickering from the tour, is replaced here with a sense of warm – albeit possibly manufactured – camaraderie between the four men. While there may be a legitimate suspicion of some revisionist history in the editing room going on here (they did have 40 years to work on this, after all), there is also no question that for purposes serving this project, it works, and in that sense, that it’s also appropriate.
The really good news here though, is that some of these performances are also positively stunning. With each of these four individuals bringing fresh, new solo material to the table, CSNY had a wealth of great new material to choose from for their 1974 reunion tour. The Neil Young songs represented here sound particularly good, including rarities like “Pushed It Over The End” and “Love Art Blues.”
But on the title track of his then current solo album On The Beach, Neil turns in the single greatest performance of the entire boxed set. He really leans into the vocal here, bringing a rare intensity and stretching his range far beyond what you hear on the studio version. He even improvs a few new lines, such as “that may mean nothing to you, but I was alone at the microphone.” There is also a fiery, if regrettably brief, exchange of guitar fireworks between Young and Stephen Stills near the end.
If there is any legitimate complaint to be made here, it’s that you don’t hear more of that on CSNY 1974.
In addition to “On The Beach,” you do get a few more tastes of those storied guitar shoot-outs on Young’s “Revolution Blues” and “Ohio”; Stills’ “Black Queen”; and Crosby’s “Almost Cut My Hair.” Curiously, although you can find several lengthy jams from CSNY’s 1974 tour simply by searching them out on YouTube, you’ll find nothing here that matches the epic versions of “Carry On” and “Southern Man” heard on CSNY’s first official live album, 1970’s 4-Way Street.
As a pristine sounding, if likely somewhat sanitized document of the historic “Doom Tour” though, CSNY 1974 works much better than it has any right to. It also makes you wonder what might have been, if they’d only put the egos and the substances aside, and made that third studio album back then.
Sadly, we’ll never know.
*Article first published at Blogcritics.