The show called “An Evening with Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young,” Freedom Of Speech ’06 was one of three sold-out events at the Denver Red Rocks open-air amphitheatre. Their first tour since 2002 started in July in Philadelphia. Their 2000 reunion tour was their first since 1974.
Living With War, Neil Young’s new, highly political and stridently anti-Bush album was featured prominently (and seemingly entirely) during the first part of the show, including a 3-letter LWW logo over film clips from Iraq that was intended to look like the CNN logo. Some were tributes to veterans but others called for the impeachment of the President, which encouraged the inebriated behind me to chime in on the chant. Initially, it seemed that the set was an indulgence to Young, but there’s more to it. Most of the big hits got pushed to the end of the second set of the show and past the 11 pm bedtime of not a few attendees who left early. Young’s new album was a late addition to the show, as the concert had long been planned before the release of his new work. Graham Nash is quoted as saying,
“We wanted to provide a balance, too. We didn’t wanna just be there as four raving madmen against this administration,” he says. “People come to see us because they fell in love to CSNY music. We didn’t want to make it just about how (screwed up) things appear to be in certain respects.”
In this respect, they failed. Those who came to listen to classic CSN&Y were hijacked with a “solo” album they hadn’t come to hear.
The new Young songs were written about current events that were clearly topical, including Living With War and Families. “Strange weather we’re having,” Young observed after noting how the band’s tour buses ran on bio-diesel. He didn’t mention that these were half a dozen luxury buses parked down the mountain with pop-outs like fifth-wheelers, including one tricked out with chopped classic 40s cars as their skylights.
Let’s look at the concert chronologically. The walk up to the venue was greeted, in an unusual way for Red Rocks, by numerous booths, including environmental and political issues like Progressive Democrats for America (and the other Democrats are…?)
The show started late due to heavy winds. A significant thunderstorm was passing over the Denver area, though Red Rocks was spared the heavy rain and hail during the event. However, the dark grey glowering sky with repeated lightning over Denver was far more impressive than the feeble on-stage light show.
The first thing you were struck with was how old the band looked. Steven Crosby, the first spotlighted looked like a long-haired version of the actor Wilford Brimley. This is a band that has been performing publicly since Woodstock, though one wondered how many in the audience knew that. One particular hyper-active 20-something in front of me shared with her neighbors that her mother had seen them at Woodstock in 1969.
Almost immediately the air smelled of dope… and onions from the bratwurst. It was a veritable reefer-o-rama, I had not smelled that much burning herb since I saw the Grateful Dead in Oakland in the late ’70s.
Their early song, “Carry On” was marred by bad microphone work that left out the melody track. A real shame. This was followed by “Wooden Ships” and “(It Appears To Be) A Long Time.”
This was followed by “Military Madness Is Killing My Country (No More War)” and “After the War Is Done.” This was not just the recycling of old Vietnam anti-war protest songs, though they were mining the same vein. Nevertheless, the “Power to the People” flame did not ignite.
Did I mention they looked old? They’re all in their early to mid-60s. Neil Young wore a hat for the show, and the Jumbotron showed a face that made the Rolling Stones look young. By the time that Young got to “Living With War In My heart” you felt that there were too many Neil Young songs during the evening. The song “The Restless Consumer” with its repeated rant of “Don’t Need No More Lies” made it seem like a Country Joe and the Fish political pep rally in Berkeley.
The “We the People” preamble to the Constitution was visible on the stage, which was flanked by a curtain of horizontal red and white stripes. Just so you know, this was tour is called the “Freedom of Speech” tour. Young called out to the crowd “Muchas gracias” as they went into the song “Immigration Man.”
Crosby, Stills and Nash, formerly with The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield and the Hollies remind one of fabulous harmonies. And while they didn’t measure up to studio perfection, they showed that they could still do it. In a flood of Baby Boomer revival tours, there are so many who can’t. Paul Simon is reaching for the high notes, the group Chicago just can’t do it any longer.
They took a break at 8:40 to return “with some of our acoustic stuff” but the break lasted over 35 minutes as the stage crew fumbled with faulty sets. Nevertheless, the second half was rewarding. They started with “Helplessly Hoping” as they sang
…they are one person, they are two alone, they are three together, they are four each other…
proving that they could do the great harmonizing that still works.
Graham Nash took to the keyboard for “Our House” that caused most of the crowd to sing along. This is my favorite song of theirs and took me back to a college day sitting in the courtyard of my university residence hall on a sunny Sunday afternoon at Berkeley and looking out over the San Francisco Bay.
But it was Neil Young’s keyboard and lead for “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” that got the rest of the audience on their feet.
Nash then introduced the next song by saying
“You people in Boulder and Red Rocks have it over everyone else. You’re closer to the Milky Way than anyone!”
…which led into them singing “The Milky Way Tonight.” Stephen Stills and Neil Young then played “Treetop Flyer,” a favorite with this crowd.
By 11 pm, they still hadn’t played their favorites though. They’d overstayed their welcome with some concertgoers who were beginning to leave before they played “Teach Your Children” following the shout from the stage “Teachers should be paid three times what they’re paid now.” Next was “Southern Cross” nicely done, followed by a Jimi Hendrix-style “Star Spangled Banner” which could only introduce “Woodstock”.
I can only assume they saved “Love The One You’re With” for the encore. But I didn’t wait for it.
Photos of this concert can be found on their website here.
Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood culture vulture