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Crosby, Stills and Nash, The Olympia, Paris, July 12th 2010

July 17, 2010

You’ll probably know by now that I love the music of Neil Young – the loud, the soft, the tender and the fierce – so it’s no surprise that I like the music of Crosby, Stills and Nash, who have been Neil’s musical collaborators on and off for more than forty years. But I have a problem with them: I don’t think they’ve written a really good song for more than thirty years and I suspect I’m not the only fan who feels this way. And that means that their concerts tend towards the greatest hits package shows that concentrate on their ‘golden years’ of roughly 1968-74. That’s fine if you’ve never seen an artist before, but it begs the question why you’d go more than once, to put it bluntly. After seeing CSN last summer at the Royal Albert Hall, thanks to my friend Nice One blagging a very plush box there, I asked myself that question when they announced Albert Hall dates again this summer.

I trumped the question by deciding to go to Paris to see them at the historic Olympia music hall there, while the rest of the family were camping in windy Kent. I wasn’t expecting a very different show, but the change of scenery would be good and I’d like a couple of days to see something of Paris.

After checking into my cheap but cheerful hotel just north of the Tuileries, I headed off for a bit of gallery-strolling and a few beers before meeting up with MoMo and the other French CSN-loving internauts before the show. First beer stop was Au Trappiste near Châtelet, where I met JJ for a couple of Leffe Blondes and a delicious gueuze. Then we headed to the Brasserie Capucine, right opposite the venue, to meet up with MoMo, The Suit, N and all the other Gens Ordinaires. The place was a wee bit smart for my liking but, hey, they serve beer and it was but a short stagger to the Olympia.

JJ had scored us wonderful seats right in the middle of the third row, so we grabbed more beer and sat down expectantly. The trio strolled onstage to huge applause and, backed by their band which included veteran drummer Joe Vitale and Crosby’s son James Raymond, they launched into Woodstock.

Hmmm, here comes my first mini-moan – why start with a cover version? OK, it was played and sung very well, it’s the song of a generation, yadda yadda, but it’s not their song. Isn’t there something of their own material that would suffice – particularly as I knew that their set (like last year) was to be punctuated by a variety of cover versions? Oh well…* Next was a rocking Military Madness, one of my favourite Nash songs. I’m not quite sure why, as some of the lyrics are a bit poky, but the riff is good and the sentiment fine, which will do.

The rest of the electric set was skilfully served up by the band, with Stephen taking solos at the front of the stage while David and Graham were content to see mainly to their vocal duties. Bluebird, Marrakesh Express, Southern Cross and Neil’s Long May You Run were all toe-tappingly fine, but eclipsed by an excellent twosome to close the electric set – Déjà Vu and Wooden Ships, possibly my favourite two CSN(Y) songs. I was actually enjoying it more than I thought I might, and a couple of interval beers helped the mood too as the trio came out for the acoustic second set.

First off was a perfectly executed Helplessly Hoping, which was great, but then coveritis took hold again – Norwegian Wood (with an unfortunate, utterly off-key solo from Stephen), Girl From The North Country and Ruby Tuesday all followed. Now they’re all fine songs in their own right but, again, aren’t there enough C, S and N songs to fill a show? The answer, it seems, is that CSN have been ensconced in the studio with producer-magician Rick Rubin and are recording or have recorded an album of cover versions (and there are surely better songs by The Who than Behind Blue Eyes, which they likewise covered later in the set).

There are two cynical conclusions to draw from that: first, that Rubin heard what original material they had written and told them bluntly that it wasn’t up to scratch; or secondly, they really need one more big-bucks mainstream AOR album out there before they retire (if indeed the rock ‘n’ roll generation can or will retire), and a craftily selected range of covers will keep many more baby boomers vaguely happy than keep a small group of people extremely happy that CSN have recorded their own stuff. As I said, that could just be the cynic in me.

There was plenty on the second set to admire, though. Guinnevere was beautifully sung by Graham and David, as always, and Cathedral is another song by Graham that I really admire. There’s something naive about the straightforwardness and candour of his lyrics, but the sentiment is spot on:

I’m flying in Winchester Cathedral.
All religion has to have its day,
Expressions on the face of the Saviour
Made me say
I can’t stay.
Open up the gates of the church and let me out of here!
Too many people have lied in the name of Christ
For anyone to heed the call.
So many people have died in the name of Christ
That I can’t believe it all.

I’m no fan of Graham’s more popular numbers, however – Our House is just far too sugary for my palate and final encore Teach Your Children likewise rubs me up the wrong way. Before that, though, we had a good Rock ‘N’ Roll Woman from Stephen, the usual meandering Almost Cut My Hair from Croz and a fine Love The One You’re With as the first encore. The crowd was very enthusiastic and I enjoyed it overall, but there are just too many quibbles, niggles and cavils for me to want to see them again, unless they have something new, strange or different to offer. There you go, I’ve said it. CSN, you’ve been great and thank you for some unforgettable music.

* – Nerdy Rusties** will point out that I didn’t complain when Neil started one of his gigs I saw (in Berlin last summer) with two cover versions – All Along The Watchtower and A Day In The Life. My response? Yeah, well, that’s Neil. He’s a thrillingly unpredictable old bugger – sometimes he’ll turn up and play six or seven new songs, sometimes he’ll start with a safe hit or two, and sometimes he’ll play an entire set of new and difficult material. CSN, on the other hand, are a show band… Hey, and anyway, ‘A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds,’ as Ralph Waldo Emerson once so rightly said.

** – obsessive Neil Young fans, of which I’m one.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. G2CU permalink
    July 17, 2010 5:43 pm

    I love this man. I’m almost positive that by the end of the show, if he had the templete amount of beer that a man of his stature is allowed in the 3rd row center, he was nodding out during TYC. I have had the opportunity to witness this feat with BNG during more up tempo songs, so TYC is a given. Deja Vu……..
    Or perhaps he recognized that the end was near and headed to the merch table to be first in line for the CSN rolling papers or TYC condom.
    One thing I must remind BNG is that CSN was the first group that sang a song penned by another song writer and make it “their” own. Allthough I’m sure he would be up for a debate
    on this claim.
    CSN Woodstock is a classic, Joni is the footnote. But thank you Joni for passing it on.
    A wise decision……….
    Thank you Guy for the report. I passed on this years show in Seattle for those very reasons you discribe. How many times do I need to see the same thing over and over? I think it was 8 or so before i hit Deja Vu.
    Think of the set list that CSN could put together from their vast catolog of music.
    But that might take some thought and beyond that rehearsal.

    • brandnewguy permalink*
      July 18, 2010 9:30 am

      Thanks, G2CU. Yeah, the beer helped a lot 🙂 I know what you mean about “Woodstock”, but interestingly in Britain it was the version by Matthews Southern Comfort that hit the charts. In fact, I think it reached No. 1.

      And as for CSN condoms, surely they’re branded “Love The One You’re With”? 😉

  2. July 18, 2010 2:00 am

    I liked where you *’d your own **.

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