PUBLICATIONS > Articles > 1970s > Crosby, Stills, Nash Young and a stadium fulla people
Crosby, Stills, Nash Young and a stadium fulla people and Neil Young’s do and no fist fights
August 3, 1974
TIME DOES indeed fade away. Four years and lots of solo albums later 52,000 fans are sitting in the Milwaukee baseball stadium on a Sunday afternoon, the sun playing hide and seek and the dark clouds ominously threatening rain. The Beach Boys are finishing up their all-American set as the crowd gives half an ear to the californian sounds, nervously awaiting THE comeback tour of the year. In just a few minutes Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young will be onstage answering the musical question of 1974. ‘Can they still rock ‘n roll?
Backstage the boys in the band look more like expectant fathers nervously pacing the waiting room than rock musicians — as if any minute the nurse will tap one of them on the shoulder and say. “Mr. Stills? You’re the proud father of a baby boy.’ Yes kids, even superstars get n-n-nervous. “Round about now I start getting butterflies,” Stephen admits, looking healthy in the ever-present football jersey, smoking Marlboros and drinking beer.
Graham Nash, looking dangerously thin, quietly paces the backstage area. “This is no good he says to one of the aides. “We can’t get to the gigs two hours before we go on. I can’t take all this hanging out; it makes me crazy. I want to come to the gig and play.”
California Marijuana Institute says David Crosby’s white T-shirt, his floppy moustache forming a lopsided grin as he sits in a caravan busily tuning acoustic guitars to “Deja Vu”. Outside the caravan, looking uncannily like those pictures on the Buffalo Springfield covers, a short-haired Neil Young cruises round the campground in a nifty dune-buggy, passing time.
So where’s, all the signs of personal squabbles? Fans cross their fingers in hopes that our temperamental’ warriors will emerge unscarred from this reunion tour. Yet the backstage atmosphere is calm and friendly if a trifle apprehensive. The rhythm section looks ready to boogie: bassist Tim Drummond beating out rhythms on the caravan door and drummer Russ Kunkel hitting table tops, while a familiar-looking gent stands to his right wearing a T-shirt that proclaims ‘I’m the conga player’. “Hell,” says Stills, pointing to Manassas-crony Joe Lala, “I couldn’t leave the Sicilian at home.” When asked how the CSN & Y tour was going, the Atlantic Records man laughed and said, “Just great. David talks less, Stephen lays back more and Neil’s outfront.” So c’mon Stephen, when do the fist-fights start? When do the rumours begin?
“Listen,” Stills says emphatically, “we’re having a great time. A Great Time. And all of us are handling it as best we can.” A huge grin breaks across his face. “It’s hard but we’re all OK. Really. The biggest problems, in fact, have been technical— getting the stages built.”
So is this reunion permanent or just a quick jaunt around the country to pick up on extra bucks?
“Don’t hold your breath,” Stills says — only to add “I really think everybody’s grown past all that. We haven’t had a serious disagreement. Besides it’s too much fun not to make it work. We’ve all grown up. We’re all better players now.
We got back together,” he pauses. “Well, it was financially worthwhile — and we were enjoying everybody’s company too much not to do it.” What about these huge outdoor arenas destroying any chances for intimacy? “Well it’s a flash when you drive off the freeway round the corner and see an entire baseball stadium jam-packed full of people and you know they’re all waiting to see you. The newness of this situation is beginning to wear off and, we’re learning how to reach all these people.
“Before the tour we rehearsed every day for a solid month. It was great fun, cause we’d get up every day about 11 and go swimming. Neil built a soundstage outdoors so we just rehearsed going back and forth between the tunes we wanted to do and the songs the audience would want to hear and trying to balance the two out. I mean the first show was four hours,” he cracks a toothy grin, “so that’s what happened. We just ran out of room to do all the songs. But everyone is very realistic about the songs we do, whatever we play best together.”
AS STILLS talks, threatening winds send paper cups and cigarette packs flying, while out front 52,000 fans grow over anxious. “Please dear God,” he implores, excusing himself to get ready for the show, “don’t let it rain.” Back to the waiting room atmosphere where tour co-ordinators finally signal time. The crowd goes crazy as the band kick off with “Love The One You’re With” — Neil on organ, CS&N on guitars, the rhythm section pumping everything outwards. The booming PA reaches a perfect balance as cheers greet the gruff Stills vocal.
It’s the first of 31 songs they do in little over three hours, outdoing even past CSN&Y performances. Time between has greatly increased the in-concert capabilities of the band. What were once chaotic, muddled jams, are now perfectly audible, shit-kicking guitar duels.
“Hello Milwaukee,” Crosby bellows to the enthusiastic crowd as they launch into ‘Wooden Ships’, Stephen and David playing right to each other, contorting their faces as Crosby supplies the vocal passion and Stills the guitar licks. At the instrumental break CS&N form a circle, Crosby and Nash furiously supplying rhythm guitar, Stills playing those delicate leads straight off the first album. The rhythm section adds a new fullness to the sound and it’s just about the best thing anyone’s heard in ages. Stills supplies a football finish with a victorious leap in the air.
Without hesitation it’s “Immigration Man”, Neil switching from organ to full-bodied electric guitar, earning cheers from the crowd. Someone throws Stills a football jersey. A slowed down, funked-up “Cowgirl In The Sand” impresses everyone as Young tosses in immaculate lead guitar work. Stills follows with a steaming solo, and these guys haven’t traded punches with anyone this good since the last time they played together. Carrie Snodgrass’ parents, up from a Chicago suburb, watch the show glued to Neil’s side of the stage, sipping beers and grinning proud in-law grins.
A hard edged “Black Queen” convinces everyone that this reunion is a much improved CSN&Y. Crosby’s amp busts, leaving Stills and Young to battle it out, while every so often Nash strums his guitar looking like he’s having difficulty with the chord changes (was that an E?).
The first electric set ends with a hellfire-and-damnation version of “Ohio”. The crowd-pleasing acoustic set follows as a store full of acoustic guitars encase the players, sitting on those familiar wooden stools. And throughout the concert a strong sense of deja vu permeates the songs. “On The Way Home” kicks the set off, then it’s straight into the stone-cold classic “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” earning huge cheers when Stills hits the high vibrato. It’s a bit rough but the audience loves its clapping in unison to the finale do-do-do’s. In a stunning rendition of “Helplessly Hoping”, Crosby’ Stills, Nash and Young sing “they are one person, they are two alone, they are three together, they are for each other”. “It’s great to see you back together” fans yell as their heroes grin sighs of relief.
Young’s “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” is especially good. Stills contributes delicate piano fills-while Neil gives off a strong vocal, coming together with Crosby and Nash for an acapella finish.
Crosby starts up “Guinnevere” while an airplane circles overhead carrying a banner that reads ‘Stay High and Have a Good Time’, driving Crosby and Nash into hysterics. “Prison Song” is the obvious follow-up. “Did you see that sign,” David says backstage, busy looking for some smoke, as if it’s an OK from God.
Young says, “I’d like to do a song I wrote about my car. It’s for all the cars in the parking lot today.” “Long May You Run” follows, then CS&N leave Young alone to do “Damage Done”. “I sing the new songs better than the old,” Neil tells us and then sings in another newie “I’m not the same, man I used to be”. During “Change Partners” the sun comes out and everyone cheers. This song, like Nash’s “Military Madness” and Young’s “Don’t Be Denied”, is made better with help from their friends. Stills’ moment of truth comes with “Word Games”. Crosby and Nash stand to the side of the stage screaming words of encouragement like “Go get ‘em Stephen.” Crosby is elated that the acoustic set has reached a stadium full of people. “Did you see that man,” he’s saying to Elliot Roberts, it worked! They’ll calm down if you play acoustic long enough.” Meanwhile Stills is having an easy time of it, fingers flying over newly discovered notes while Neil backstage is the picture of a domestic family man, playing with son Zeke.
THE LAST third of the marathon show is again electric, featuring some new compositions by Stills and Young. A revamped “Deja Vu” earns all the applause as it starts slowly, building towards a spellbinding finish. Stephen lays down a melodic solo; although his personality is more laid back his musical presence is even more prominent. Young’s piano break is followed by a jazzy 3/4 tempo change.
A new Stills number “My New Angel” follows, constructed around an archetypal Manassas rhythm. With Neil Young on organ and Stills on electric piano, the two have an incredible keyboard duel while Graham and David play electric guitars and bop around the stage.
Old standards like “Long Time Gone” keep the electricity buzzing. Crosby and Nash get all passionate singing “Long Time Gone” while Stills contributes some funky wah-wah piano. “Pre-Road Downs” finds the four of them standing in a circle playing hell out of their guitars. “One of the things we play best,” Stills said later, “is the new arrangement of ‘Pre-Road Downs’. It’s like a different song — so hot, it never fails.”
“Revolution Blues” from Young’s new album is infinitely better than the recorded version ‘while “Carry On” closes the show, bringing everyone to a wild frenzy. The applause is, how you say, deafening. “Chicago’ is the encore but the boys are called back again. By now they’ve been going strong for some three and a half hours and they finally end with Neil’s new “Walk On”.
When it’s’ over, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young — the guys who aren’t supposed to get along — stand stage centre arms around each other like days of old, grinning broadly. There were no onstage fist fights, no backstage brawls. All four individuals haven’t looked so happy onstage in years — but more importantly, haven’t played so, well in too long a time.
The magic is still in the music and it’s never sounded better.
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