The Passion of the Weiss

Sometimes I rhyme slow, sometimes I rhyme quick. But most of the time, I don't rhyme.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Beards, Blazers and Bald Spots: CSNY

Fine. I'll be the first one to admit it. These guys are not in their prime. In fact, I'm not sure if Graham Nash ever even had a prime. Either way I don't care. In spite of the fact that Stephen Stills wears more Hawaiian shirts than a fat insurance salesman from Iowa taking his first vacation to the big island. In spite of the fact that David Crosby looks identical to the walrus from Alice in Wonderland. In spite of the fact that some of Neil Young's lyrics from Living With War might be some of the most simplistic and hastily cranked out anti-war lyrics ever written. All that matters to me is that even in their 60s Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young live can still blow 99 percent of bands today out of the water. End of story.

I'd never been to a CSNY concert before, but I knew what I was getting myself into. A greatest hits show interspersed with tracks from Young's new disc, Living With War, and a crowd predominantly filled with aging hippies. I think there were more bald spots per capita at this show than any other that I've been to in my life. Needless to say, there's nothing more sad than people about to become eligible for social security, getting wrecked and dancing in the aisles to "Our House." Furthermore, no amount of drugs can sedate you to the sight of said hippies, turned yuppies in designer clothing and the latest electronic gadets on their hip, chanting "fuck Bush," while sipping on a $100 bottle of wine from Patina. Rock N' Roll man!!
That's like 2 Large Pizzas, maaann.....whoah...I'm like totally baked.

My point is, as much as I lament the predominantly hipstery crowds that tend to frequent the concerts I attend, I'll take a bearded and bespectacled Art Brut fan any day over this rat-pack of "Moms With Low Self Esteem" and "Dads Gone Corny."

Trivial mockery aside, nothing else matters much when Neil Young is on-stage, the essential "Y" part of the CSNY equation. As far as I'm concerned, people have two choices for the greatest living songwriter. Neil Young or Bob Dylan. (and I'm not the only one). Say what you want about Bruce Springsteen, he can't touch the other two. It's not a knock against Bruce, that's just the way it is. Then again, I've never been a Springsteen guy, so I'm biased.

Despite the fact that I own roughly 20 Neil Young albums, I'd never seen him perform live other than a cover of "In My Room," that he did at a Brian Wilson tribute a few years ago. (which made up for the fact that he followed the Backstreet Boys...I kid you not).

So what I saw last Monday at the Hollywood Bowl was nothing short of revelation. Even at his advanced age, Neil Young might remain the greatest guitarist on the planet, as he delivered a wild riot of thrashing raw guitar licks traded off effortlessly with partner Stephen Stills.
Rumor Has It These Guys Like the Hippy Grass

I'll say one thing about a CSNY concert. They might be wildly overpriced at $65 with Ticketmaster extortion costs for the cheapest seats, but you definitely leave feeling like you got your money's worth. Running three hours, not including an intermission, the only dull points of the set were when Crosby, Stills and Young felt bad for sad-sack Graham Nash and let him perform his own songs. The only positive point about watching Graham Nash play his corny and saccarine garble was getting to see aging hippies dance rhythmlessly. Seriously, watching them dance looked like a propaganda film trying to sway white people to never dance again.

Everyone knows the reason why Nash got in the band: he and Crosby do harmony well. Real well if you ask Crosby. And he's probably right as this talent was on display on Monday. Shockingly, the voices of the bandmates have held up well over the years. Despite the fact that David Crosby has done more drugs than any other living person on the planet (Keith Richards excluded.)

Graham Nash and David Crosby Singing "Almost Cut My Hair"
As the picture above shows, Crosby's high point of the show came on "Almost Cut My Hair," which managed to not sound ridiculous despite the fact that Crosby is very very bald. Follicular difficulties aside, the man can still sing and Neil Young's presence seemed to really energize his performance.

Stephen Stills also seemed to benefit a great deal from old Shakey's wild and frenetic demeanor, as the Hawaiian shirt-wearing former Buffalo Springfielder delivered a rousing rendition of "For What It's Worth," among other tracks. Stills' performance definitely displayed his place as one of the more underrated guitarists of all-time.

In a way, seeing CSNY reminded me a bit of seeing The Raconteurs a few months back. I have nothing against Brandon Benson, and I think David Crosby and Stephen Stills are first-ballot HOF'ers in my book, but when you're in the presence of a genius like Neil Young or a Jack White, that person should be front and center for the majority of the show. Clearly, CSN realize this, as the concert seemed to be a centerpiece for Neil Young's new artistic work and searing guitar pyrotechnics.

The Man, The Myth, The Ugly Jacket

The band played most of Living With War (see the setlist here), which as I mentioned held up well live. Young's latest work might be a tad undercooked, but there's no mistaking his heartfelt sincerity and raw intelligence. He's no died-in-the-wool-progressive, after all, the man was a big fan of Reagan, so his clear-cut evolution of thought carries a great deal of meaning in my book.

Not many artists get a critical free pass, but Neil is one of them. And while, I tend to find a lot of Living With War strident and clearly rushed, live there was no mistaking Neil's heartfelt emotion towards ending the war and for the soldiers in Iraq. Indeed, the war and the political turmoil in the Middle East hung heavily over the proceedings. The tour itself was calling the Freedom of Speech '06 Tour. Outside the venue, progressive organizations tried to mobilize the concert-goers into spending more of their money. And inside, the "Freedom of Speech" channel ran in the background during the Living With War material, listing death tolls from the war.

As one might expect, the high points of the show came from Young. From his fiery rendition of anti-war classic "Ohio," to his cover of Hendrix's "Star Spangled Banner," to the concluding song, "Rockin' in the Free World," Neil Young displayed that even at 61 years old he still may be the best performer in rock music. Where Bob Dylan's voice has been ravaged over the years, Neil's frail slightly off-beat falsetto still rang clear and crisp up into the starless Hollywood sky and for a moment every withered hippie in the bowl believed that it was 1969 all over again. But in spite of the tragic similarities of the two eras, a war with no end, an incompetent president and a youth becoming more alienated and cynical by the day, there was at least one good similarity between the two. Neil Young and the rest of CSNY. Past their prime or not, their message and music still resonates and you'd be hard-pressed to find a better live act today.


At 1:24 PM, Blogger Duke said...

nice review. you definitely should see Neil do one of his solo acoustic shows. i paid the most i've ever paid to see that (twice). you can see part of one of the shows i was at on that "silver and gold" dvd. i didn't really appreciate the new neil album either until i saw "heart of gold." his introductions and heartfelt performance put the songs into perspective. RIP arthur lee.

At 3:12 PM, Blogger Nate said...

LMAO at the Walrus reference.

I’m totally envious of you for getting to see this show. I saw a dope Neil Young cover band a couple of months ago and it made start listening to the Harvest Album obsessively for a month or so.

Great Review...

At 6:32 PM, Blogger Ian said...

So have you heard Time Fades Away? If not, would you like to? (actually, if not, you need to - and if you'd like, I'll send it over)

Just please don't compare Jack White to Neil Young again. It pains me.

At 6:37 PM, Blogger Passion of the Weiss said...

Time Fades Away is a great one definitely. I don't have it CD or digital just the vinyl. I didn't know it was available otherwise. So if you wanna' sendspace that, I would of course love to have it since I mostly listen to them on my computer these days.

Don't be too hard on Jack White. He's gonna' have a long career. He might not be Neil Young, but then again who is. Though I'll give you that the comparison is clearly a bit premature

At 7:58 PM, Blogger amphimacer said...

I'm with you in being a not-Springsteen guy, but I believe the songwriter in Neil Young has more competition than you suggest, though it's not with Bob Dylan, who frankly stands so far above the field that he's in a separate and unique class. Young competes with two other Canadian natives (all three live in the U.S.): Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen. Cohen has written the best songs, as good as Dylan, I'd say, but his output has been too small to get him to the top. Mitchell's output has been variable in quality, like Young's, but at her best, like him, she reaches excruciating heights, stuff that can make the hair on your neck stand up (which is, in case anybody wanted to know, how Emily Dickinson defined great poetry). The only other songwriters in my collection who even rate consideration are (in alphabetical order) Randy Newman, Tom Paxton, and Paul Simon. You'll know the first and the third. If you want to hear some great songs, find Tom Paxton's first ten or twelve albums (his most recent stuff has been less than inspiring), where he does every kind of song -- political protest, love, lost love, futile love, personal story, straight humour, plea for assisted suicide, addled drug ramble, children's songs -- everything. And just a quick note about Graham Nash, who was one of the main folks in the Hollies, part of the British invasion of the early sixties. They are still some people's favourite sixties group. Nash is listed as co-writer of such classic numbers as "Stop, Stop, Stop" and "On a Carousel," among others. When the group formed, he was better known than Crosby, even though the Byrds had been bigger than the Hollies, because Crosby was really just a harmony-singing cog in the Byrds. And of course, you and your contemporaries won't remember, because you weren't born yet, but in an interview when asked why they had invited Neil Young to join Crosby, Stills and Nash, which had already been massively successful (they played Woodstock, and had scored a huge hit with "Suite Judy Blue Eyes"), Crosby explained, "We needed someone who could really play the guitar." So there wasn't ever any question about who was the biggest individual star, even though Stills did have a big hit with "Love the One You're with"; the other two released solo albums, but scored no hits of any consequence. I have Graham Nash's first solo album, and as I recall it kind of stinks. I haven't played it since about 1978.

At 8:20 PM, Blogger Douglas Reinhardt said...

I wish I would've gone to their show at Irvine Meadows or at least drove across the street and listened to it for free.

I think Springstein is a regional thing; if one's roots are deeply rooted in Jersey, then Bruce is your dude.

At 8:43 PM, Blogger Passion of the Weiss said...

Yeah...the only way most people connect with Springsteen is if they emotionally related. I just don't I guess. Sorta' boring to me.

Amphimacer, interesting you mention all those songwriters, they're all ones whose talent I acknowledge but I've never been into. There's something about Paul Simon and Randy Newman that's always been off-putting to me. I've had enough arguments with people about the merits of Graceland that I know I'm in the minority to me. As for Leonard Cohen, he's a great writer but I just can't past the voice. I've tried a lot too, but every know and then he'll write a song so good that I have to appreciate it. I'm definitely partial to "Everybody Knows."

Joni Mitchell I can appreciate more, but for some reason I never listen to her. And I've never heard Paxton. Sounds like he's worth checking out.

At 10:48 PM, Blogger CrimeNotes said...

When Neil makes his next tour with Crazy Horse, that's the show to see. Your review (positive though it was) somewhat confirms my reluctance to see him with CSN. I'd tear my hair out listening to Graham Nash -- who, though aging and not particularly talented, is reported to be a massive asshole and egomaniac. I'm happiest with Neil in all of his ragged glory.

I didn't know your views on "Living With War" were so mixed.

At 8:16 PM, Blogger Passion of the Weiss said...

It's not that their so mixed, I'm just saying in the context of his career it's a triumphant album, the music is great and I respect the fact that he had the balls to do it. But if that were Bright Eyes writing those same lyrics, I'd have written 10 blogs attacking him. Neil can do whatever he wants. But he didn't put much thought into those words. On some songs a whole lot of stuff doesn't even bother to rhyme.

At 2:45 AM, Anonymous Diamond Dave said...

Weiss, just did a little reading up on the blog. You are putting out great stuff lately. A few comments....I totally agree with you about Rick Ross and the fact that 99% of the people I grew up with love him is based entirely on the way he raps like a 2nd grade drop out. I do like Neil Young but the antiwar album was a little much for me. As for your Colber Report clip, it is brilliant. I actually saw that original interview and was proud that Wexler was a representative from the state of Florida. The today show bashing makes me sick to my stomach. It really highlighted the irony that the most sophisticated news coverage in our country is on a station called "comedy central". go figure.

At 12:55 PM, Blogger CrimeNotes said...

Anyone who grants himself the moniker "Bright Eyes" deserves to be attacked for any reason, including finding a cure for cancer. He'd be more palateable if his stage name were based on a combination of first and last names and he called himself "Cob." Or maybe "Cob Eyes."

At 7:18 PM, Anonymous DudeAsInCool said...

I would put Tom Petty in the same class as Bob Dylan and Neil Young... Excellent review - I love your sense of humor.

At 3:41 AM, Anonymous DudeAsInCool said...

PS If you like CSN & Y, you should check out The Byrd's Notorious Byrd Brothers (McGuinn, Hillman & Crosby)--some of the cuts appeared on Easy Rider, and its considered by some to rank with The Beatle's Revolver as a breakthru album at the time. It's experimentation reminds me of Califone.


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