By 1977, the year when this album was released, the hippie dream had become just that; a dream. Punk was in full swing, ABBA was on the verge of superstardom, and Fleetwood Mac was dominating the charts in a way not seen since the Beatles. So when Crosby-Nash Live came out I’m sure that many people must have wondered why bother. But I’m glad they did, because it meant in 2000 the album was re-released not only in remastered form but also included those all important bonus tracks, a strategy which record companies have perfected over the years as a means of enticing you to re-purchase the same CD every few years, resulting in the listener winding up with no less than four or five copies gathering dust on their shelf (Dark Side of the Moon is but one example).
Now there can be no doubt that both Graham Nash and David Crosby had made a considerable contribution to popular music from the mid 1960’s to the early ‘70s. And as quaint and anachronistic as much of their music must have seemed when this LP came out, let’s not forget that they were once upon a time at the forefront of the counter-culture, a movement that burned brightly while it did then died out in the embers of decadence and hard drugs.
So what’s so good about this record? First, the backing musicians presented here are first class. Calling themselves The Mighty Jitters, the band consisted of musician wiz David Lindley (slide guitar, violin), Danny Kortchmar (lead guitar), Craig Doerge (piano, synthesizer), plus Tim Drummond and Russell Kunkel (bass and drums respectively).
First up is “Immigration Man”, Nash’s own little stab at the establishment, albeit sung in an extremely polite English manner, to the extent that it hardly sounds like a political song at all. Nevertheless it makes for an enjoyable and energetic opener.
Crosby’s drug intake throughout the ‘70s was legendary, even by Keith Richards’ standards, which meant that his voice was not quite what it was several years earlier. However on “The Lee Shore”, a song which first made its official debut on CSNY’s 1971 4 Way Street album, in acoustic form, is here given the full band treatment. The performance begins softly, before slowly building toward an electrifying climax after the last verse. “I Used To Be A King”, from Nash’s Songs for Beginners LP is one of the record’s highlights, where the style and quality of musicianship reminds me slightly of The Band. Nash also seems to be putting his all into this one, with a vocal performance that is as emotional as it is also uplifting.
The previously unreleased “King of the Mountain” begins with a wonderful piano prelude by Doerge, followed by some of Crosby’s most passionate vocals ever, well at least since 1970. One gets the feeling throughout that the audience was his psychologist, upon whom David was expressing all his deepest fears and angers. “Page 43” is another Crosby composition, and a fairly forgettable one at that. If you’re going to sing a confessional piece, it’s not a good idea to send the listener to sleep while you’re singing it.
Nash and Co. perform a strikingly urgent rendition of “Fieldworker”, followed by the intimate “Simple Man”. Nash’s acoustic guitar and Lindley’s violin complement each other beautifully, while the harmonica provides a Neil Young vibe. Crosby’s “Foolish Man” is all late night jazz piano, accentuated by subtle blues guitar. At certain moments Crosby’s voice appears to be on the verge of failing him, though considering the autobiographical subject matter Crosby is expressing, such abject frailty merely adds to the overall effect.
“Bittersweet” is a bonus track to the album, where Crosby and Nash do what they do best, sing soaring vocals together as if they were reaching up to heaven while reaching back to the Renaissance, like a couple of monks in search of the perfect harmony beneath some ancient cathedral. “Mama Lion”, originally issued on “Wind on the Water”, is dusted off and affords the Jitters a chance to give the amps a bit of a workout.
Of course we can’t end proceedings without reminding the listener of the brilliance of David Crosby’s glory days, with an almost ten minute version of “Déjà Vu”. But this is not the version most people will be familiar with. The beginning is a bit like folk-rock meets jazz-fusion, something any traditional fan of CSN may have found somewhat challenging, or at the very least unexpected. Yet it works. Everyone is in fine form on this one, even Crosby, who manages to roar it out just like he used to, which is not surprising considering that it was one of signature songs after all. It’s certainly a journey I must say, and one which belies its length, if for the very fact that there’s so much happening, one hardly notices until the song is nearly over.
This is one of those records that will appeal mostly to those who believe that everything Crosby and Nash recorded and played was pure gold – which may be true, depending on how fanatical the listener is. And while many a hippie had left the dream behind, through no fault of their own, you could always bet that Crosby and Nash would maintain their beliefs to the bitter end. An admirable quality I must say. And one which they pertain to, to this very day.