CSNY delivers message

By Joan Anderman, Globe Staff | August 18, 2006

There isn't a candidate, political group, or grass-roots cause attached to the current Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young tour -- a reminder that once upon a time protest music didn't require an organizing principle. Songs like ``For What It's Worth" and ``Ohio" were mainstream radio fare. Topical tunes weren't career-threatening novelties.

While the set list was (benevolently) peppered with romantic respites -- ``Our House," ``Helplessly Hoping" -- Young's fresh, furious material combined with nearly every politically charged anthem from the supergroup's back catalog made the evening feel incredibly nostalgic and powerfully relevant all at once.

Pity the Republicans in this packed, peace-sign-waving crowd. The plain-spoken sentiments in Young's ``Let's Impeach the President" and ``Shock and Awe" left little room for debate or dissent. Sadly, the extraordinary idealism embodied in the older CSNY material felt still more provocative, and depressingly outdated. ``Love is coming to us all," they promised in ``Carry On." ``We can change the world/Rearrange the world" went the refrain on Nash's ``Chicago." It's been 35 years, and the dream seems more distant than ever.

Topicality aside, the foursome is a still-formidable musical front line, and the songs (with a few solo-repertoire exceptions) are simply stellar. And while their personal relationships have been famously combative, the four of them seemed to genuinely relish playing music together. Stills and Young, often face-to-face, goaded each other again and again to guitar-god greatness, most memorably on ``Deja Vu."

During the lower-key second half, members regrouped in smaller, unplugged configurations. Crosby and Nash gathered behind Young at the piano as he revisited his tender past in ``Only Love Can Break Your Heart," and pushed their signature sweet, close harmonies into fantastically complex shapes on ``Guinevere."

All four returned to lead a feel-good sing - along of ``Teach Your Children," a fiery take on ``Southern Cross," and an appropriately scorched read of ``Find the Cost of Freedom." And while such pedestrian concerns as pacing took a back seat to the moment's message, a late-show combo of ``Rockin' in the Free World" and ``Taps" hit just the right notes. What a rarity: a concert that sends you home thinking, feeling, and rocking.

Joan Anderman can be reached at anderman@globe.com.

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