Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young Still Railing Against the Establishment

Jul 07 2006

by Chuck Darrow

They say you grow more conservative as you get older. If that is so, no one bothered to tell David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash and Neil Young. Almost 37 years after the iconic quartet made its debut at the Woodstock Music & Arts Festival, its members continue to sing out passionately against war and those who wage it.

Opening their latest tour Thursday night at Camden’s Tweeter Center, CSN&Y made it clear that the passage of time has dulled not at all their sense of outrage over those who would stifle dissent and send young men to die in what they obviously believe is an unjustified and immoral military operation.

Even before the 35-song marathon began, concert-goers could peruse material at tables manned by such groups as Iraq Veterans Against the War, and Vietnam Veterans Against the War. And once the show commenced, the four musicians’ political philosophies were usually front and center.

The turn was chock-full of the stars’ most emphatic--and familiar--protest songs, from the turn of the '70s broadsides inspired by the “Chicago 7” trial (“Chicago”) and the murder by National Guardsmen of four Kent State University students during an anti-Vietnam War protest (“Ohio”), to pieces from Young’s recently released CD, Living with War, which skewers President George Bush and his minions in no uncertain terms.

But these weren’t simply aging hippies raging against the dying of the light while trying to relive their salad days. Led by Young, who always seems to energize and challenge his three on-again, off-again partners, the group came off as completely relevant, thanks to current global and domestic states of affairs. Even ostensibly subject-specific songs like “Chicago” and “Ohio,” both of which address government’s attempts to quash protest, seemed ripped from today’s headlines.

But righteous indignation alone wouldn‘t have cut it had the foursome not provided the musical muscle to back up their messages. While rarely spectacular, CSN&Y were seldom less than solid.

If Thursday’s gig is any indication, this road trip will be less of a “Neil Young and Friends” affair than the reunion tours of 2000 and 2002. Sure, Young yet again came off as first among equals, getting ample time to perform mostly recent material. But everyone had the opportunity to strut his stuff and pull from a collective songbook that stands as one of rock’s most significant.

Among the highlights were the shimmering rendition of “Guinnevere” by Crosby and Nash; Young’s aching “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” (featuring perfect backup vocals from Crosby and Nash); Stills’ bluesy “Old Man Trouble;” a wonderfully crisp “Southern Cross;” “Long Time Gone” (sparked by the riff-trading of lead guitarists Stills and Young); and the 40-year-old “For What It’s Worth” by Buffalo Springfield, the first band in which Stills and Young teamed.

The most glaring misstep was “Helplessly Hoping,” from Crosby, Stills & Nash’s self-titled watershed LP, released in 1969. Stills simply couldn’t handle the high lead vocals. The result was almost painful.

But that was a mere drop of rain in an ocean of music that was at once nostalgic and contemporary.

Reach Chuck Darrow at (856) 486-2442, or darrow@courierpostonline.com.