By Barry Gilbert
St. Louis Post-Dispatch


September 9, 2006

"Speak out, you got to speak out against/The madness, you got to speak your mind,/If you dare."

Almost 40 years have passed since David Crosby first sang those lines in "Long Time Gone," written after the Robert F. Kennedy assassination. Alas, they still resonate in this era of "swift boating," as Crosby changed "the madness" to "this madness" during Crosby Stills, Nash and Young's three-hour concert at UMB Bank Pavilion on Thursday night.

Fighting wars may be a young man's game, but this veteran band has taken up the protest banner -- again -- and it is Neil Young's recent "Living With War" CD that makes CSNY's Freedom of Speech 2006 tour more than a nostalgia trip by some well-heeled and well-meaning old hippies.

The new songs -- six appeared during a 14-song first set, eight in all -- are unsparing in their criticism of President George W. Bush and the Iraq war, and concern for the environment and the economy.

"Thank God there's no draft," Young. But there were no political speeches from the musicians, who let the music, backdrops and occasional videos speak for them.

CSNY and their band kicked off with Young's new "Flags of Freedom," with its images of small towns and young men marching off to war.

Young, dressed in an Army fatigue shirt and perpetually bobbing and weaving under a battered cowboy hat, seemed to be trying to will some energy into the early part of the show, marred by muddy vocals and rusty voices on a string of classics including "Carry On," "Wooden Ships" and "Military Madness."

By midset and four more new Young tunes, the group's trademark harmonies began to lock in, and Graham Nash's new "Wounded World" and Crosby's chestnut "Almost Cut My Hair" proved that those two have lost little of their vocal power and finesse.

Stephen Stills and Young, as they did throughout the night, delighted on guitar, with the fluid Stills and the grungy Young trading licks face-to-face over the solid rhythm of drummer Chad Cromwell and bassist Rick Rosas (a St. Louisan).

Young dedicated his new "Families" to veterans and their families as the faux-news video showed images of soldiers returning home from war -- as well as flag-draped caskets. The irony of "Deja Vu" closed the first set.

After the break, it was CSNY unplugged on lovely classics and newer tunes including "Helplessly Hoping," "Our House," "Guinevere" and "Teach Your Children."

Stills, whose voice has lost some of its power but remains intense and bluesy, scored with his "Treetop Flyer," about a pilot in Vietnam who comes home and puts his training to use smuggling drugs.

The home stretch kicked off with "Find the Cost" (of freedom) while the video screens flashed a montage of faces representing our dead servicemen and women.

Jimi Hendrix's full and still-astounding guitar solo of the national anthem at Woodstock led into Young's "Let's Impeach the President," which produced more than a few boos. Some of those folks walked out; what show did they think they had bought tickets for?

Stills' Buffalo Springfield hit "For What It's Worth," Nash's "Chicago," Young's "Ohio" (still a gut punch for those old enough to remember the students killed by the National Guard at Kent State), Crosby's "What Are Their Names?" and Young's hair-raising "Rockin' in the Free World" ended the show on an emotional high.

"We can change the world," Nash sang. "Rearrange the world. It's dying ... to get better." For a night, at least, it was believable.