There's no denying it, there's no hiding it: Neil Young is mad as hell. It has been almost 40 years since Woodstock and America seems more lost than ever. No more big marches, no big protests, nowadays things are different. Americans don't burn flags, they blog.
For Neil Young, it's not enough. It's not the way of the '60s. So rather than sitting around waiting for someone else to pick up the reins of the revolution, the grandfather of grunge decided to show post-9/11 America how it's done: first, record an album of protest songs. The resulting "Living With War" pulls no punches, berating the Bush administration like a Bill O'Reilly from the left.
The legendary Young then called upon his comrades David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash for a "Freedom of Speech Tour" to combine these new songs with older songs in one cohesive three-movement show: the way to do it, who we were when we did it, and why you should do it now.
The first movement was mainly a "Living With War" showcase with "Military Madness" and "Deja Vu" woven into the protestation. Altogether, this section clearly advocated the Howard Zinn maxim "Dissent is the highest form of patriotism." And dissent, Young did. From "Flags of Freedom" to "Families," he wielded his love of country like a sword, lashing out at government, consumerism and war.
The next movement shifted gears with a tide of harmonies beginning with "Helplessly Hoping" and ending with "Our House." Attention then turned to the individual, letting each member showcase himself through a song. After cycling through, the four returned to proffer some of the greatest wisdom ever committed to song: "Teach your parents well/ Their children's hell will slowly go by/ And feed them on your dreams/ The one they picked/ the one you'll know by." Or more simply, "Teach your children well."
Thereafter, no more beating around Bush. The final movement was a pure Bush bashing, "Let's impeach the president." The effect was meant to incite action, but again, CSNY contained the strike with a string of dreamy folk songs (the political variety of which they are champions), book-ended by a vicious combo of "Ohio" and "Rockin' in the Free World." The latter stretched its highest moment into an extended climax of distortion and feedback with Young bucking his guitar across the stage like a crazy horse, breaking most of his strings along the way.
It was a show with a message, one as implicit as "We can change the world/ Rearrange the world." The proof was in Joni Mitchell's remembrance of "Woodstock," the song's harmonies and hope drew thousands of hands into the air waving the "peace" sign.
It's been too long since the gesture has flown so freely, perhaps now, America can again fly it high. Peace may never go out of style, but let's hope it doesn't go out of practice.