When Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young agreed to hit the road this year, Neil Young hadn’t yet recorded his politically charged new album, Living With War. “The plan was go to go out and do what we normally do,” Graham Nash says. “But Neil went from the initial concept of Living With War to handing the tape in to the record company in about fourteen days.” Adds Stephen Stills: “Yeah, he does that shit all the time. It’s devastatingly annoying. It’s like, who can do that?”
With the new album — and Young’s undisputed anchoring of the reunited group — it was clear the band would have to play more than the hits. And adding newer, rawer material to a repertoire of boomer favorites like “Teach Your Children” and “Our House” required trial and error. “We tried sprinkling my songs throughout the show, and that didn’t work because they disturbed everything,” Young says. “In the end, we put them all together and isolated the other ones. It took us two weeks to discover that was the way to do it.”
Towards the end of a stop in St. Paul, Minnesota, the band plays a somber, acoustic version of “Find the Cost of Freedom.” Images of dead soldiers appear beside a tally of U.S. casualties in Iraq. It is the quietest — and most powerful — moment of the show. When they follow with “Let’s Impeach the President,” the entire audience sings along (“We’re preaching to the choir,” Stephen Stills says). Next is a trio of Vietnam-era protest tunes — “For What It’s Worth,” “Chicago” and “Ohio” — and a Crazy Horse style “Rockin’ in the Free World,” during which former Buffalo Springfield guitarists Stills and Young competing to outdo each other. By the end, nearly every string from Young’s famous black Les Paul is torn.
As we approach the airport, Neil Young tells me he has no idea what the future holds. “Maybe at the end of the tour I’ll have some idea,” he says. “I really haven’t thought about it. I just wait for it to happen. I’ve been off the road for two years — the longest of my whole career. It pretty good to be back in the swing of things. We played a show last night, traveled, and I still have energy, so I’m grateful for that. I’m having great time doing this.”