Sunday, November 29, 2009

Long may they run (and they did run long)

This was so long ago that it was described as the band's (first) Reunion Tour. The members had surprisingly broken up in 1970 and gone their separate ways in what turned out was only their initial wave of separation. Who figured any band from this era would last long enough to be reunited more than once?

Here's how Ben Fong-Torres of Rolling Stone magazine set up that first reunion concert in 1974:

Minutes after Crosby, Stills and Nash and then Young, hit the stage in Seattle for the first concert of their reunion tour, it was clear that no other group ever had a chance of replacing them while they were apart - not America, not Bread, not Poco, not the Eagles, not Seals and Crofts or Loggins and Messina or Souther, Hillman and Furay. Not even Manassas or the reunion of the original Byrds.

It's been four years since the last tour, and each of the principals has gone through weighty changes. But onstage, you can hardly tell. The 1969 Woodstock language is still there; Crosby is still the group mouth; Nash the gentle presence; Stills and Young the fabled guitar stars. And although a couple of the voices have measurably changed, the meat of the group is still the high vocal harmonies.

Asked if the band reunited for the money that would flow in for this ambitious summer tour (30 concerts in 40 days), David Crosby -- who probably needed cash the most -- provided the best answer: "It's the best goddamned music any of us has ever played - and we all know it."

Sometime during that summer of '74 we caught a show. My buddy Doc Holliday and I, and a couple of girlfriends, drove down to Milwaukee for the band's stop at County Stadium. This would prove to be the biggest reunion staged at the ballpark until the following spring, when a former Brave by the name of Henry Aaron returned to close out his Hall of Fame career as a Milwaukee Brewer.

Details are sketchy. It was a warm summer afternoon/evening -- as good as you could ask for in this part of the country. No freezing temps, no burning tires, no godawful muck like Charles Walston detailed in his recent '69 Stones concert flashback. Just a lot of peaceful smoke drifting through the stadium. (There were plenty of uniformed police patroling the stadium, but no vigilantes. Nobody seemed worried about these fans getting out of hand.)

There was a mad rush for the ground seats in front of the stage once the gates opened, and it was then that I tripped over something that would serve us that day, and become a memorable artifact of my fleeting youth: A hand-carved wooden hash pipe with a twisting stem and an ample bowl (with wire mesh) that appeared to be just broken in. Someone in that crowd of 50,000 fans must have been at least momentarily bumbed.

Now C, S, N & Y certainly didn't need a supporting cast for this now-legendary tour, but it is not a shitty memory at all to report that preceding them on the stage were the Beach Boys. This was the closest many of us would get to the beach that summer, so we rocked along with the first wave. There also was a brief appearance by Jesse Colin Young, who if memory serves launched a couple songs from his "Songbird" album before its 1975 release. He provided the perfect buzz for the other Young, who ultimately would steal the evening.

I love(d) the group and its songs and vocal harmonies, but when it came time to get down and dirty it wasn't going to be "Guinnevere'' or something from the Deja Vu album. It was going to be Neil Young launching into "Ohio" or another of his gritty rock-outs.

Here is the set list, which I took off Young's website:

Love The One You're With
Wooden Ships
Immigration Man
Cowgirl In The Sand
Black Queen
On The Way Home
Suite: Judy Blue Eyes
Helplessly Hoping
Only Love Can Break Your Heart
The Lee Shore
Simple Man
Prison Song
Long May You Run
The Needle And The Damage Done
Change Partners
You Can't Catch Me
Word Game
Don't Be Denied
First Things First
Deja Vu
My Angel
Pre Road Downs
Long Time Gone
Military Madness
Revolution Blues
Pushed It Over The End
Carry On
Walk On

Thirty-three songs, are you shitting me? After two other acts had preceded them? No wonder I don't remember much. C, S, N &Y reportedly "loosely" worked on 44 songs at Young's ranch in California before launching the tour, and the debut show Fong-Torres chronicled lasted 3 1/2 hours. So they had trimmed it down somewhat by the time they reached Milwaukee in late July.

Years later, during yet another C, S, N & Y reunion tour (must have been 2000 -- the year, not the reunion number) I took a young niece to the Times Forum in Tampa to see them. My niece wasn't too familiar with the band or its individual parts, so I did what I could by playing most of my Neil Young CDs for her in advance of the show.

We came out of the Forum that night after a great show, and my niece turned to me and said: "Uncle Jim, the guy you like really took over the show didn't he?"

Yes he did. It was Deja Vu all over again.

1 comment:

  1. Stills was a Tampa boy. He learned some guitar from Fred Neil who lived in St. Pete and was a regular on the Ernie Lee morning show, before he got famous in Greenwich Village.