Sunday, July 13, 2014

CSNY 1974 Box Set- 'Don't Forget to Hide the Roaches' (2014)

 
Finally. Officially released after years of rumor, conjecture and speculation the new forty track Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young document from the famed 'doom' tour of 1974 has hit the shelves of your local record shops. Compiled and developed by self proclaimed group archivist Graham Nash and famed rock photographer and Neil Young archive keeper Joel Bernstein the box set is a true labor of love for an era of the band which has been misrepresented by the passing of time, flapping of lips and rumination by the media.

The 1974 CSNY tour was a massive stadium tour brimming with all of the usual rock excesses, unfortunately magnified to extravagant and unbelievable levels due to the size of the undertaking. Drugs, attitude, money, mental derangement unbelievable talent and extravagant actions all combined to cover this concert tour with an air of mystery, dread and 'rumored' sub par performances. While all of this and more may be true, this era was also a time of four individuals reaching summits of their respective careers. Neil Young in particular was composing songs of stunning power and was wading through the most prolific time of his storied career. Stills was playing unbelievably well during this time and Crosby and Nash both has a sheath of new songs of grace and beauty. True, the harmonies suffered due to the imposing stadium venues and the ongoing volume competition on stage between Stills and Young, but there were plenty of moments containing that spellbinding magic.The massive venues while a sonic struggle, also allowed for a certain poignancy to be touched upon during the concerts, due to entire crowds becoming silenced through unique musical moments as well as by experiencing the kinetic energy exchange between crowd and performer.

Nash and Bernstein painstakingly waded through the existing tapes from ten concerts hailing from Landover, MD, Chicago, IL ,Hempstead, NY, Wembley Stadium and a Crosby/Nash concert from December to develop the ideal representation of the concert experience developed over the course of 31 dates. While  musty and aged treasures still remain to be found among the numerous field recordings of these concerts, Nash and Bernstein have finally compiled a definitive statement on the tour containing pristine sound quality, rare cuts and true representations of what happened musically on this legendary excursion. Yes, there are songs missing that I wish were included, "Southbound Train', Pardon My Heart', 'First Things First' and an extended rendition of 'Carry On', but as Nash as stated, sometimes versions of tracks were not sonically up to par, or the performances suffered. What has resulted from the producers choices is a true representation of the tour that puts the band in the best light possible. The hourglass of time has revealed this tour to be clouded by the principals views, we must be ecstatic that it has finally gone under the microscope and is receiving a proper examination.

The collection begins excitedly with the usual opener for the tour, an undulating 'Love the One You're With', the song augmented by the legendary rhythm section of Russell Kunkel, Tim Drummond and former 'Manassas' percussion master extraordinaire Joe Lala into a swirling rhythmic stew.

For too long now the only official live representation of CSNY has been Four Way Street,  a proper collection yes, but too narrow a view for the fan peaking through the keyhole. After hearing the first track of the set, even the layman can realize this is an entirely different glimpse of the group. The simulated first set moves along expectedly through well played renditions of  buoyant 'Wooden Ships' and serious 'Immigration Man' before settling in on the first major highlight of the recording, a full band rendition of one of  David Crosby's finest compositions, the yet to be released, 'Carry Me'. The normally placid song settles in with a slight funk and is delicately interpreted by Crosby with both Young and Nash contributing on creaky backing vocals. Immediately the marvelous sound quality is noticeable and welcomed, each instrument in perfect balance, each individual harmonious voice retrievable in the sonic pallet.
A series of special takes on unique tracks follows with an intricate country oasis version of Manassas's 'Johnny's Garden', as well as Young's unreleased song outline 'Traces' and Nash's underrated LP track 'Grave Concern'. 'Grave Concern' is the epitome of the term 'lost classic'. First appearing on 1973's Wild Tales its luminescent and catchy melody covers the slightly dark lyrical content in a peaceful haze. Young is featured on this track playing a solo in his very recognizable and quirky piano style.

Perhaps the peak of the entire first disc and possibly the collection is the version of 'On the Beach' from Young's self titled release that follows the performance of 'Grave Concern'. A dark and brooding late night stroll occurs. Stills punctuates Young's shore lapping vocals with moaning and bubbling statements. Stills and Young eventually embrace for a shady duel guitar captured in a call and response sequence. Separated by an explosive series of dynamic verses, Stills and Young undertake another sonic rendezvous, this time intertwining for a classic 'Buffalo Springfield' guitar interaction and conclusion.

'A distorted and spiteful 'Black Queen' follows with Stills examining his blues chops through an impressively loud and extended series of Wah-Wah'd melodic statements. The disc then close out the first set with 'Almost Cut My Hair', a version also featured on the accompanying DVD that contains selected tracks from the Landover, MD and Wembley Stadium performances. This particular performance hails from Landover and is highlighted by aggressive Stills/Young soloing, though the version suffers from David's voice sounding slightly tour weary. A proper tune for the closing of the first disc in extravagant style.

The hypothetical concert construct now moves on to disc two represents which the acoustic set. A big and beautiful strummy version of 'Change Partners' starts things off with the band sounding giddy, with an added and extra emphasis on the vocals from all of the members. This is an all time performance. Illustrated here, Nash and Bernstein made the important decision to leave much of the important dialog surrounding the tracks to more successfully allow the listener to attend the performance in their own head.
"Lee Shore', 'Only Love Can Break Your Heart', and 'Our House' follow and all contain masterful performances. 'Lee Shore is started with Crosby instructing the overzealous percussion to play 'nice and light' which results in a version that slowly gains momentum waves as it moves forward.
The 'rare' solo piano version (Crosby helps at the end) of Graham Nash's 'Fieldworker' is  a welcome addition as is the concert staple 'Guinevere' which is always magical. But the real jewel here is the crystalline version of  Crosby's 'Time After Time', breathtaking in its intimacy and vocal touch, thankfully immortalized on this collection. Of note is Stills and Nash offering spine tingling vocal assistance.

Nash's 'Prison Song' comes next with Young pitching in creaky back porch vocals and acoustic guitar before being spotlighted for a definitive version of 'Long May You Run'. Performed as a duo with Stills, their acoustic guitars play as one, their vocals a full bottle of wine passed around a late night fire. Neil's harp a lonesome moonlight train whistle moaning in the distance. A multitude of emotions are disseminated from this pull you close and whisper in the ear version.

The one time performance of Neil's ditty, 'Goodbye Dick' performed on solo banjo is a one minute rarity, historic and humorous, just the sort of impromptu song choice the later shows in the tour were accustomed to. A neat addition to the song list of the collection. 'Mellow My Mind' one of Young's most beloved songs follows and is another banjo rendition, this time Crosby and Nash drape their vocals over the verses, singing every line with Young, making this track a disc two highlight.

A Stills guitar clinic is illustrated next with a solo acoustic 'Word Game' that never fails to thrill in live performance. Not a wasted note or lick, Stills is in his best gruff throat for this legendary talking blues. Stills 'cuts heads' with this dusty Southern commentary, sketched with some of the quickest chicken picking you will ever here.

Stills sits at the piano next for a personal favorite of this reviewer, 'Myth of Sisyphus', a highlight of many 1974 performances, a commentary on the absurd as well as man's psychological struggles, this sparse piano ballad soaks up the silenced crowd and digs it fingers into the musical cliff it hangs precariously from. Stills ringing piano hits in addition to his sweet reaching falsetto reach deep into his own pain for such a heartfelt performance.

A 'CSN' staple, the version of 'Blackbird' found here proves the straight up assertion by David Crosby that 'CSN' sing it better than the Beatles ever could.

Neil Young's next feature moment in this longer than usual concert representation comes in the form of two legendary unreleased tracks that are seeing their premier on this set. 'Love Art Blues' is a lazy saloon door swinging from a bent hinge and features a full band performance. The song illustrates the internal struggle between creation and relation in a slow country sway. Following 'Love/Art Blues' is the floral island aroma of the unreleased 'Hawaiian Sunrise', a song in the running for the proposed 1974 LP, 'Human Highway' is featured here with Young on beach acoustic and Stills on woody stand up bass. Crosby and Nash wipe off their sandy feet before loaning morning bird vocal support.

The acoustic set concludes with crowd pleasing renditions of a full band singalong 'Teach Your Children' marked by Stills twangy Chet Atkins guitar filigrees, as well as  a golden and sparkling 'Suite Judy Blue Eyes', one of the finest performances of the song captured for posterity. The trio of 'CSN' move their way through a patient version that gazes out of the windows longingly, each harmony a line of thick sweet honey coating each chosen word.

Disc three represents the second electric segment that bookends the juicy acoustic center of the show. The concluding segments of the 1974 shows often featured extended readings and jammed out tracks. Opening with an extended and starry night 'Deja Vu', the band takes the title track from the 1970 album and stretch it out while investigating its cobwebbed nooks and crannies. A thorough reading of a strange song that continues to be a hallmark of 'CSN' sets to this day. Worthy of attention is Stills hearty SG work and Young's plunky piano additions.

'My Angel', a track of Stills yet to be released 1975 LP Stills is premiered on this collection in a live version the balances on the edge of funky world music disco. Stills plays piano and Young a slick Hammond B3 while Crosby and the rhythm section excitedly percolate underneath. The sexy silhouette of the song shadows the stage when Stills takes a exclusive and spongy clavinet solo.

The electric set continues with 'Graham Nash's 'Pre Road Downs', a track from 'CSN's' debut album coming dressed as another definitive version. The song hugs the corners in a precarious tour bus, smoke pouring  from the windows, women's garments hanging from windows and antennas. Stills smokes his solo down to the butt, its smouldering remnants left laying on the highway.

A flag flying 'Don't Be Denied' is represented in its 'CSNY' format, the song having been performed with David and Graham on Young's 1973 Time Fades Away tour. This version similar to those performances, its strength in the songs enduring melody not any unique instrumental approaches.

What follows 'Don't Be Denied' happens to be a very unique performance as well as a highlight of the collection. Young's incendiary 'Revolution Blues' bounds over fences and under barricades under the clandestine cover of dusk. Stills and Young both take aggressive and knifing solo guitar spots, Stills sharp and snaky, Young's blue and shaky. What is interesting is that a few members of the band showed their displeasure at the lyrical content of the song from Young's 1974 On the Beach, so on stage performances of the track are a definite anomaly for the band.
The illustrated set list of the collection now builds to the hypothetical conclusion of the show. 'Military Madness', 'Long Time Gone', 'Chicago' and 'Ohio' all express the political undercurrent and unabashed commentary the band is famous for. The crowd is stirred into a frothing boil of emotion through the fiery renditions of the bands activist sensibilities. 'Military Madness' becomes a joyous sing a long with the crowd lending their voices to the 'No more war' mantra sung by the band. "Long Time Gone' has already gained its status as one of the finest 'political' musical statements from the 1960's and here is given a uptempo and chunky reading.

Placed in the middle of the aforementioned four tracks is one of the most legendary and sought after 'missing pieces' from Neil Young's massive discography. 'Pushed It Over the End' is a shifty off tempo musical movement that somehow escaped official public release. It did appear as a 'B' side on an overseas single for a brief time, but otherwise has been left languishing in the vaults for 40 years. In this live set the song is finally given a proper introduction to the record buying public in this power position in the second electric set. The song begins a haunted waltz and dances through feedback drenched pauses, inspired melodic changes, accented rhythmic ideas and four part harmonies. Arguably one of Young's greatest compositions, the song, similarly to Dylan's tune left  unreleased 'Blind Willie McTell' was destined to be forgotten and left to collect dust until the time was right. Young coaxes grey cloudy notes from his famed 'White Falcon' as the band swindles up a chunky slab of musical meat. A definite anticipated highlight of this amazing collection.

 'Chicago' and 'Ohio' are given towering and ragged portrayals, the groups excitement unable to be contained on the recording, the music bursting from the seams and leaking from the lids. I am going to assume that these songs originally resided at the end of the respective concerts they were pulled from as the voices are frayed and the instrumentation is rough and ready. Stills stands tall on both of these numbers blowing out distorted guitar lines like a highway tire on a runaway tractor trailer truck.
The collection fittingly concludes with 'Ohio', probably the best example of the 'CSNY' collaborative strength and attitude. The song that illustrated to the band exactly what their music could accomplish given the proper time and attention. A big song for a big concert conclusion.

As previously mentioned, in addition to the three discs of music a bonus DVD is included in the package, lending a visual document to accompany the journey through the 1974 tour. Four songs exist in color pro shot format from the August 20, 1974 Landover, MD show, never before seen and exclusive to the collection, in addition to four songs from the famed Wembley Arena show in England which has circulated in 'bootleg' form for some time now. While the completest would like it all, Nash and Bernstein have distilled the existing videos down to what the regard as an appropriate representation of the band. Separating the 'wheat from the chaff' so to say. The Wembley performance has often been ruminated on because of the questionable condition of its participants, captured here, only the best tracks are disseminated.
It is often said, 'The best things come to those who wait' and that cannot be more relevant than when applied to this lovingly crafted box set. The CSNY 'doom' tour has become the stuff of legend, sometimes not always true, sometimes maybe too true! Regardless, what cannot be denied is what occurs when the four members put aside their egos and attitudes to create music. In deference to outside forces and factors, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young are magical minstrels whose powers increase when placed together. This new anthology disregards the fluff and focuses on the songs,  a simple idea that sometimes even the musicians can forget. It took forty years to happen, but finally as fans we can look back and enjoy at a time we may have lived through, or we may have missed. But one thing we can now know for sure, at this particular time,'CSNY' were the best rock and roll band on the planet.

Love the One Your With-1974

Deja Vu-1974

Pushed It Over the End-Wembley 1974

Helpless-1974

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