Saturday, August 19, 2006

CSN&Y: Protest Songs Relevant Again

SARATOGA SPRINGS - We have all been here before.
We have all been here before.
We have all been here before.

What began as a show of hands topped by two fingers raised in the classic peace salute, ended more than three hours later in carnage of white noise with fists of defiance thrusting into the air.

The combined frustrations of an unpopular war, dissatisfaction with the government and solemn outrage at the parade of young bodies being shipped home in flag-draped coffins, turned the anticipation of a hippie carnival into an indictment of current affairs for many of the 15,000 who attended the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young concert Saturday night at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center.

CSN&Y have all been here before as well, and in a variety of combinations. The power of the foursome together however, joined with the performance of new material made for a spirited evening.

David Crosby was best on the songs "Almost Cut My Hair" and "Guinnevere," although his sarcastic commentary "Oh s---, here comes Crosby with another ballad," wasn't too far off the mark.
Crosby's silver-haired comrade Graham Nash, performed admirably on the new tune "Milky Way Tonight," then pleased the crowd with classics "Our House," "Immigration Man," and an especially spirited piano-pounding version of "Chicago."

Backed by a group of musicians that included long-time pedal steel accomplice Ben Keith and Saratoga Springs born and raised bassist Rick Rosas, Stephen Stills displayed his gritty vocals on "Old Man Trouble," and dusted off the anti-war tune from his Buffalo Springfield days "For What It's Worth."

While the night was not without lapses into hokey hippie-isms, these were minimal, offset by the dynamic that Neil Young brings to the quartet.

In recent years at SPAC, CSN concerts took on the feeling of a comfortable backyard barbecue, happy being little more than a revival show of what once was. Alternately, Young - who was last in town in the summer of 2003 with his as of then-unreleased stage show "Greendale" - can bring too much of a new thing to the big stage. As a quartet on their summer long "Freedom of Speech Tour," the foursome balance each other out nicely, with a string of new material and contemporary themes that seem to inspire each other.

Much of the new material came from Young's recently issued album "Living with War." In addition to performing a crowd-pleasing "Only Love Can Break Your Heart," there were eight songs from Young's newest work, most notably the tunes "Shock and Awe," "Restless Consumer," and "Let's Impeach the President."

Even the old seemed new again.

"Here's an idea," announced Crosby before launching into "Teach Your Children," - "let's pay the teachers three times more that what they're getting," much to the applause of the crowd.
Any complacency invoked by a happy hippie vibe that ran through the evening was off-set by stark, intense moments. At one point, the video screen played the faces of the young fatalities in Iraq while the band performed "Find the Cost of Freedom."

It was followed by the sonic wail of Jimi Hendrix' rendition of the national anthem as the stage became consumed in white smoke, eventually exploding into the anthem like "Keep on Rockin' in the Free World," with Young wringing passion from his guitar's neck, the throttle resulting in a caterwaul of noise squealing throughout the park.

The evening's irony was best captured during a raucous version of "Ohio." Performed with every bit the bitter bite in which it was conceived a generation ago, the haunting, repetitive chorus "Four dead in O-hi-o" was sung in front of a large screen depicting a graduation gown torn by bullet holes. As Crosby stood at the microphone and bellowed "How many more?" you knew it wasn't the Kent State campus of 1970 he was asking about.

by Thomas Dimopoulos
he Saratogian, Aug. 22, 2006