Even now, 40 years on, the scale of Crosby Stills Nash & Young’s 1974 reunion tour still seems jaw-dropping. Taking in 31 dates in 24 cities, at the time it was the largest stadium tour ever mounted, with the quartet playing to almost 50,000 fans a night, and more than a million-and-a-half in total.
Set against the backdrop of Vietnam, the Cold War and the Watergate scandal, the material in this lavish box – curated by Nash and taken from recordings made at nine shows – is, at the very least, a fascinating freeze-frame of both America and the band at a turning point. Nixon resigned mid-tour – celebrated in Young’s caustic, minute-long banjo ditty Goodbye Dick; the quartet wouldn’t share a stage again until Live Aid 11 years later.
But, crucially, does it stand the test of time? Both Young and Crosby have been highly critical of the whole venture (the latter famously referred to it as “the Doom Tour”), while the combination of bacchanalian backstage excess (a drug-addled Crosby travelled with two girlfriends), monstrous egos and the sound limitations involved in playing such huge venues ensures that the performances feel more solid than celestial.
That said, there is still plenty here to make even hardened fans’ ears prick up. Nash told reporters at the time that trying out new songs in front of such huge crowds was an attempt to “turn ourselves on”, and prototype versions of Crosby’s Time After Time and Nash’s Fieldworker are both slinky and disciplined. Versions of Young’s glut of new songs, notably On The Beach and Revolution Blues, also crackle with energy, Young and Stills excelling on sizzling, seat-of-the-pants guitar duels. The songs from the abandoned Human Highway sessions in Hawaii are equally fascinating, especially Young’s Traces and a tightrope-taut, eight minute Pushed It Over End.
Elsewhere there are disappointments (an oddly flat Ohio) and the occasional bum note – Stills’s vocals, in particular, are ragged throughout. But you’re left with a sense that it’s only this mercurial quartet’s perfectionism which has seen this project left on the shelf for so long. The live DVD’s previously unseen footage from the final date at Wembley fizzes with the energy of a group at their peak. Forty years on, these are still songs and performances few have equalled, let alone bettered.