Monday, February 12, 2018

4-Way Street - CSN&Y

CSN&Y performed together for only the 2nd time at Woodstock, and after the concert they headed into the studio to record Déjà Vu. Each track was recorded individually, "Woodstock" the sole exception, with only the principle writer and musicians in the studio; the background vocals and harmonies added later, much in the same way that The Beatles laid down the tracks for The White Album. And yet it was a collaborative effort in terms of the production mix, the harmonies and the insistence on perfection; indeed, David Crosby spent nearly 100 hours on the recording of the title track, and, like The Beach Boys' "Good Vibrations" before it, it shows. The song starts out with a rollicking rhythm guitar in an odd time signature with scat accompaniment then to a halt, gets set up with a countdown and continues at the same rollicking speed to accompany the lyrics of the first verse: "If I had ever been here before I would probably know just what to do/ Hey, don't you? /If I had ever been here before on another time around the wheel I would pro'bly know just how to deal/ With all of you." Six months in the studio, though, was just enough for the band to be able to perform the track live when the Déjà Vu tour began in August 1969 with two dates at Chicago's Auditorium Theater and seven dates at The Greek Theater in L.A. (Déjà Vu, though, would not be included on the upcoming live LP). Two TV shows (The Music Scene and This Is Tom Jones, both recorded at ABC Studios) led to two weeks in the studio before two performances at The Esalin Institute in Big Sur. The foursome would continue to record between live gigs, with a total of six months' studio time put into the project.

The tour would continue through mid-January 1970, with the new year spent mostly on the European continent. Neil Young would return to California for a solo gig on KQED radio in San Francisco on February 19 and then embark on a tour with Crazy Horse on February 25.

The sets of the '69 tour  from New York's Fillmore, The Fabulous Forum in Inglewood, California and a return to the Auditorium Theater would serve as the smash live LP 4-Way Street, released April 7, 1971.

I am only beginning to truly appreciate live LPs. The nuances of a live show when one is there bring the music alive for me, but a studio album is sacrosanct and I've never really appreciated the miscues, hoots and hollers from the audience, and the less than perfect harmonies apparent in a live LP, and despite my more recent appreciation, 4-Way Street indeed has some ragged edges. Stephen's "For What It's Worth" rewrite at the end of "49 Bye Byes" is embarrassingly bad, and Neil's contributions seem dated somehow in retrospect. Yet somehow, the live set contains sublime, real, moments from the '70 tour: David's haunting solo "Triad" and the almost surreal harmonies on "Lee Shore" and "Laughing;" the vital electric jams on "Southern Man" and "Carry On;" Neil's gorgeous acoustic takes of "Cowgirl in the Sand" and "On The Way Home;" Stephen's "Find The Cost of Freedom" and a passionate reading of "Black Queen" in which he withers a couple of giggling fools in the audience with the great line: "One thing the blues ain't, is FUNNY." Graham Nash pulls together the harmony and adds a sweetness to the mix that without his input would sound muddled and flat. What live LPs do, is to bring a moment in time alive, and this is why for so many, 4-Way Street is the definitive CSN&Y LP.

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