had the unexpected pleasure of taking in the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young show at the ACC the other night. i'd initially passed on the top ticket price of $250.00 for what I thought would be a sad reminder of glory days gone past. as things often happen someone else's good fortune became mine. a pair of tickets in the $100.00 range became free due to an upgrade to a private box. they were the best cheap seats available, on the rail of the first balcony with a terrific, unobstructed, site line to the stage.
the evening starts with a yuppie dinner menu in a funky basement restaurant called C'est What? just steps from the venue. anytime wild animals, some possible extinct, outnumber farm animals on the menu, you know you're not in Kansas anymore, or at least not at Arthur J Bryant's. great ambiance in this little place. it's a mini-brewery as well so I had the opportunity, not being a beer drinker at all, to sample two rather peculiar brands; a pint of Saint Andre's, an award winning concoction from the Brampton Brewerey,Cool Beer it's kind of like Rickards Red, maybe thicker and not as red. this i followed with an ill-advised choice, though it may suit some tastes, a house specialty, some kind of Coffee Beer. peculiar beyond enjoyable. guess i'll stick to coffee crisps and coffee colored cadillacs.
Cece and I are joined tonight by friends Martin and Beth, who we'll be seeing for dinner in Moncton NB next week! it is a small world. everyone's hungry and steak fajita's, veggie burgers and dijon chicken are flying about between bits of conversation. Beth gives us some tourism tips for our Fundy Coast vacation coming up and Martin informs us he's looking to retire into a government job. it's a beautiful life we live.
sooner, rather than later, we find ourselves in our balcony seats, directly beside the stage, wondering how long we'd have to wait for the show. the 7:30 time on the ticket is only a rumour as the huge arena is about 20% filled. we got an old crowd tonight, a little slow getting in. i might have brought the mean age down. 'course the last concert they went to was back in 1978 when it was de rigeur for the bands to be an hour late. things are much more efficient nowadays. still, or still movin', they shuffle into their seats quickly, canes set aside, wheelchairs taken by the ushers, earplugs in place... and by 7:50 it's let's rock time!!
never saw these guys play during their peak years (or was that peak year?). not much of a fan of the limp, AOR-before-its-time music that came out of the drug haze that was Laurel Canyon back in the '60's/'70's. the radio hits were cool enough pop songs, from the likes of Fleetwood Mac, Jackson Browne and the Eagles, but overall they were, how can i say this...a little self-indulgent, bordering on boring (and don't think I don't know what i'm talking about here).
there were some incomparable freaks there, Zappa key among them, but for the most part they were glorified buskers mistaking themselves for the artiste type of artist. that's got nothing to do with rock n roll music. at least that's what it became after the cocaine blues set in. early on, it must have been an exciting place to be.
especially on that night that Mama Cass Elliot picked up Graham Nash (who was in the area touring with the Hollies) and brought him over to meet Stephen Stills and David Crosby, one of who was looking for some help with harmonies and the other who was looking for a lesbian recepticle for his baby-juice and a new liver if you got one to spare. Graham was able to help one, Mama Cass said she'd give the other some thought, she might have a spare something hanging around.
it wasn't long before this meeting grew into the super-group CS&N. and within the blink of an eye the upstart Canadian was added to the mix and a Laurel Canyon contemporary was poking fun at them in song. (remember the Mothers' Do You Like My New Car? "three unreleased recordings of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young fighting in the dressing-room of the Fillmore East!")
some of the music doesn't age so well, though the band has done a great job breathing life into new versions of old songs. other songs could have been written yesterday, so little has changed on the political landscape since "This Time Four, Next Time More" was a popular bumper sticker. this is no nostalgia show. Neil's in charge, his new record is up front and center (well, ok, it's left of center) comprising the bulk of the show. hits are spare in the first segment before intermission but it's a marathon, not a sprint, and it takes almost 3 hours to send the message. in the end, they deliver.
Neil Young can't be 60, can he? great energy, whether slashing at his guitar, bouncing across the stage to duel/duet with Stephen Stills or blowin' harp. he opens the show with a strong version of Flags of Freedom, his homage to Bob Dylan's Chimes of Freedom. the song is chock full of Dylan references; from the repeated 'blowin' in the wind', to the 'church bell' imagery, the chorus itself and a name check for Bob. the song is reminiscent of Dylan's "John Brown", but as seen from the departure platform, not the arrival platform.
during the song the backdrop to the stage is being changed from flag to flag. the Canadian, the American, the British and the Iraqi flag are alternately raised and lowered. a bizarre moment occurs as Neil leans forward to sing the opening line of the final verse, "today's the day our younger son/ is going off to war...". the crowd roars in what might seem joyous approval of this sad, recurring fact of life in this time of Nation States. at least that what it seems like on the audio recording. in fact, the Canadian flag was just unfurled on stage causing a knee-jerk, patriotic reaction more associated with our neighbours to the south.
f*cking morons, obviously they were only hearing, not listening.
Stephen Stills is up front with a blast back to the CS&N set at Woodstock (the First), Wooden Ships. i don't get it. something about berries, horrible deaths and the universality of the smile. i think David ate the berries. a missed opportunity in the time of Columbus or the sad by-product of two worlds colliding? i don't know but don't bogart that joint. Neil and Stephen engage in a blistering guitar duet leading to the outro refrain, bringing into 2006, a slightly dated song.
Crosby belly's up to the mic for Long Time Gone and it occurs to me this is pretty heavy sh*t for a little pop-concert. the song turns on what is quick becoming the theme of the evening, "speak out against the madness", and you can't help but think we, the Great White Empire, are stuck in the mud of time crawling forward.
nice stage set up. the flags at the back cover the entire stage. the floor mat is made up of a parchment colored rug. displayed on it, to great visual effect, is the Constitution of the United States of America.
next up Graham Nash makes it apparent the message is out: DO NOT DEVIATE! his version of Military Madness keeps us on topic. Stills follows with a non-political number, one of those "father & son" type songs about the wild world...this one's a Wounded World. Stills' voice is a welcome breather from the melodic perfection of Nash and Crosby and the persistent whine of Neil's voice. edgier, bordering on hard-core bluesy.
the stage is turned over to Neil for a four song assault on our entitlement problems. After the Garden, a song this band could have done 35 years ago. perfect sound for them and a nod back to Joni Mitchell's Woodstock on the closing couplet. brings a naturalist argument against the powers-that-be. an ecology song with a slight orwellian twinge.
you want orwell, check out Living With War. they got us right where they want us as Neil struggles against the history of how the west was won and the folly of thinking the rest of the world is available at the end of a Winchester.
the Restless Consumer left me a little restless. uneasy. it's like a mirror. i mean i get the general theme of the evening...slam Bush, slam power, and toss in a little rock n roll and even less mindless pop. one the one hand. on the other hand we all paid an average of $175 a ticket to have the priveledge of thumbing our noses at the "others" who drive this greed machine. there is no man righteous and sometimes being indignant doesn't work. there's a reason the world is f*cked beyond belief. those that rule understand the importances of affordable oil. what they do, while it may line their pockets beyond our ability to comprehend, makes our standard of living what it is and it is done in our name. which is where the shame is supposed to kick in, but it doesn't.
enough with the introspective analysis. we all know half of analysis is anal anyway. let's take another shot at that pinata known as George Bush. Crosby has already thrown out some Dubya insults. calling Bush a chimpanzee for one then he suggests(nay,threatens) he may move to Canada because he has some misguided notion we're smarter than the Americans who bi-elected George. obviously he hasn't met Stephen Harper. Shock and Awe laments the lost opportunity to avoid the current quagmire in Iraq. it hints at the hubris that is the gift Bush gives his country.
on a slightly lighter note, but no less indignant, is Crosby's shot at the corpocracy that rules our world and the symbol of that monster: Enron. They Want It All, says it all in the title.
and answers the question posed by the next song, why can't we Feed the People, a utopian dream for this distopian world.
lighter fare closes the first set with Nash and Crobsy on Immigration Man. Neil makes a little joke about understanding the humility of being at the mercy of the man at the customs booth. must be a few decades since that's been a problem though. Neil's Families sends us into intermission.
wow, almost half-way through and the family sitting next to me is looking real bored. Dad spent most of the pre-show time talking up the band, the '60's, 'free love' and all those great signposts of the past. the teenage kids are sitting slack-jawed, trying to figure out what they just saw had to do with 'flower children'. the guy behind me, who started the evening saying he didn't mind acoustic Neil but couldn't take that Crazy Horse stuff, was checking his ticket to make sure he was in the right show.
the second set opens with a series of acoustic songs that threatened to put me to sleep and rob the evening of it's power. all the songs weren't bad but the weight of them (not to be confused with the aggregate weight of the band) just slowed the pace too much. Helplessly Hoping from Stills, who's voice kept you connected, even when the lyrics didn't, was followed by a tepid Our House. don't know if it's the sentiment or the performance, but it missed the interest-boat. the drudgery is broken by the biggest 'goose bump' moment of the night, Neil at the piano singing Only Love Can Break Your Heart. worth the price of admission. a decent Milky Way Tonight, with a botched intro, something wrong with the time it was in, apparently, is followed by Guinnevere and Carry Me before Still's TreeTop Flyer shakes us from our slumber.
Roger and Out from Neil, a tune about the 'hippy highway' and signing up leads us into Southbound Train, Old Man Trouble, Teach Your Children, Southern Cross and Find the Cost of Freedom. a long stretch without Neil in the center, except when he's lending guitar support. once again Stills carries the day with strong renditions of his song. both Nash and Crosby find their moments but they are not as consistenly enthralling in their segments. perhaps if we were in a concert hall instead of a barn.
the second set ends with Hendrix' Star-Spangled Banner from Woodstock (do you see the pattern developing) screaming through the amps. speaking of patterns lots of use was made of the backdrop. images of soldiers helmuts, a running count of the dead in Iraq, clips of Dubya putting his foot in his mouth or insulting all intelligent life on earth with his spin, and the ever-present flags. the most unsettling one though was the use they made of the "peace" sign. it followed the flags early in the show, crisp, white, the single most recognizable symbol of the '60's counter-culture. then the picture is less clear, the bright white circle and lines are smudged, like they've been damaged in a fire. then the symbol breaks up slightly as it tilts to the left and comes out resembling...a plane! a subtle little trick that sent a chill down my spine.
we're into the closing stretch and by my count the 'greatest hits' crowd is losing to the 'fuck you, we're artists' sentiment by a score of 20-6, and that's being generous on the definition of 'hit'. gotta respect that in a band. they could have taken the easy way out.
Neil's back onstage screaming at us about Dubya in the most vitriolic of his new songs. pulling no punches he implores we impeach his President for lying. this song will not age well but it's fun to say out loud. it tries too hard...with the 'what if Al-Queda blew up the levees' and 'steroids/baseball team' stuff. except for the constitutional requirement that this mo-fo gets his cumupance this song serves little more purpose that taping a picture of the Pres on the floor and pissing on it. you look up 'diatribe' in the dictionary and the lyrics to this song will be found. (right under Bob Dylan's Hiding Too Long).
Stills delivers a slightly flawed but well intentioned For What It's Worth. now here's a topical song that has aged well. it's more a chant than a song and i'm sure most people mindlessly mumble the lyrics until they get to the chorus. (which is kind of ironic because that means they are NOT clear on what is happening.) 'battle lines being drawn' was the warning we didn't heed. in fact, Reagan adopted it as a progressive domestic policy option. Rove perfected it.
staying with the '60's we get Graham Nash's Chicago and Neil's Ohio. a little map music and an intersting juxtaposition of songs. Chicago is an anachronism, expressing a sentiment long ago slain by the politics of division. it's doubly ironic in that the call-out was in response to an event that coalesced the Nixon vote in the south, giving the Republicans those states for the first time since Lincoln freed the slaves. when they showed those pictures of the Chicago riots in the south you could bet your ass they were done with those Democrats.
Ohio, on the other hand, is still a poignant plea to stop the insanity. it occurs to me we can belittle the 'hippy mentality', or the 'anti-war' sentiment that gushes out of this show but there's a reason Neil is back where he is. there's a reason the other members have taken on this music with passion. they've been there. you worry about a government that wants to sniff your email for traces of fertilizer, these guys remember when the National Guard shot students for protesting a war everyone (in power)soon came to see as folly.
Crosby is back with What Are Their Names?, a kind of 'sister song' to They All Want It, a song about those that rob you with fountain pens.
i have 10 minutes and 17 seconds on the disc when the final song starts. Neil is into a crashing version of Keep On Rockin' in the Free World and neither he, nor Stills, will let it end. the song comes in at around 10 minutes even.
forutnately there's 20 minutes left on the first disc so when the band comes back for another call out to Joni Mitchell (why didn't she just show up and play?)i'm not left short of space. we get a rock hard Woodstock to send us into the streets, or adjacent parking lot, depending on how you got here.
excellent show, great performances, real live music, it can't be beat.
songs we missed by their abscence: Suite Judy Blue Eyes, Marrakesh Express, Deja Vu, Helpless, Almost Cut My Hair (i mean ALL those flags and we don't get the freak flag?), Southern Man and Just A Song Before I Go. there wasn't much room for the non-politcal tonight, though one or two of those could have fit the bill.
there should be a torrent running here