Back to the Garden

Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young

United Center - Chicago, IL

April 14, 2000

First Appeared in The Music Box, June 2000, Volume 7, #6

Written by John Metzger


For thirty years, the public has feasted on the short-lived phenomenon known as Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young. While itís true that their debut album Deja Vu ó the quartetís only release until 1988 ó now sounds somewhat dated (with all itís references to long-haired hippies, freak flags, Woodstock, Kent State, peace, and love), itís also true that the album remains a timeless classic ó a masterpiece to which all else that the foursome conspire will be compared forever. After its release, CSNY self-destructed under the weight of individual egos, and yet the group still managed to survive as its legend grew stronger even while the distance between its members grew wider.

Over the years, the quartet has had both its share of cross-collaborations as well as its share of arguments and public feuds, and a half-hearted reunion for the dismal 1988 release American Dream proved largely ineffectual. Itís enough to leave one wondering just how David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash, and Neil Young managed to overcome all that and release not only a excellent new album, but also embark a lengthy and widely heralded tour. While the obvious financial incentives very well might have been the root cause for the reunion, CSNY are clearly taking their new endeavor quite seriously.

Year after year, it seems that groups whose glory days have passed have found that burying the hatchet and hitting the road was in their best interests. These events, however, have yielded an endless parade of bland summer concerts with sky-high ticket prices. Yet, there is the occasional reunion that actually works, mainly because itís much more than just a monetary proposition. For all the cash raked in by Bruce Springsteen last year, his concert was unarguably the event of the year ó if not the decade, and CSNY thankfully have chosen to follow this same path. Make no mistake ó a good portion of CSNYís show still paled in comparison to Springsteenís blockbuster performance, but the quartet proved that this was much more than just a simple waltz through the past.

Despite nearing the end of their tour, CSNY stepped into Chicagoís United Center for a two night stand on April 14 and 15 with all the energy one might expect on opening night. The group injected Carry On with an extra bite, Southern Man was rejuvenated as an adrenaline-soaked rocker, and Marrakesh Express drifted along its bouncy rhythm with unbridled glee. In addition, Almost Cut My Hair found Crosby, Stills, and Young standing back-to-back-to-back in a triangle formation slashing through the anthem with an unyielding triple guitar attack.

Yes, the band played a majority of the songs one might expect, but they also managed to squeeze in a sizable chunk of new material, too. Since its release, CSNYís latest album Looking Forward has taken an unwarranted beating from fans and critics alike. However, while the disc does find the group exploring some new musical directions, many of the lyrical themes and ideas are mere extensions of those originally probed on Deja Vu, and therefore, the group most definitely was determined to prove their appraisers wrong.

For the most part, they succeeded. Crosbyís Stand and Be Counted was a raging protest anthem that fit right along side the groupís earliest works, and his Dream for Him soared through a mesmerizing swirl of airy Latin rhythms. Stills drove the band through the joyous Bob Marley-meets-Jimmy Buffet groove of Faith in Me, and Young provided a softer undercurrent with Slowpokeís yearning for simplicity and the hopeful Looking Forward.

Unfortunately, the bunching of acoustic selections into the beginning of set two might not have been such a wise idea in a venue as large as the United Center. Much of the subtlety of these songs was lost in the vast, sonically-deficient arena, causing normally exquisite selections like Helplessly Hoping, Old Man, and Our House to fall a bit flat. On the other hand, Crosby and Nash teamed up beautifully for a duet on Guinevere that magically transcended it all, and they, along with Stills, tore through a rousing rendition of Suite: Judy Blue Eyes.

Nevertheless, the group saved the best for last, and indeed the final third of the concert made the price of admission more than worthwhile. Ohio railed against the government with such conviction that itís hard to believe that the song was written thirty years ago. However, the highlights unquestionably were Eight Miles High and Rockiní in the Free World. The former was tackled with the heavy turbulence of psychedelic delirium amidst a sea of swirling lights and blazing guitars. The latter featured Young in all his glory, and as the band laid down a crunchy groove, his kinder, gentler machine-gun hand sprayed notes like a thousand points of Technicolor, acid-drenched light that burned with vein-popping intensity.

CSNY are back. That is for certain. One can only hope they remain intact, continuing to collaborate on new material and embarking upon future tours. Yet even if they donít, the message is clear: The garden is open. Weíre all welcome because, together, we can change the world.

Looking Forward is available
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Silver and Gold is available from Barnes & Noble.
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Copyright © 2000 The Music Box