Here’s how much I had back-burnered my interest in Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young since those early days of teen fandom: I forgot that this record even existed. Surely, I saw it dozens of times in my record-buying days, in various states of repair, but even though I had seen CSN live, nothing about it clicked “gotta have it” in my brain way back when. And when I was collecting their catalog, I never got this on CD. As I’ve said, after we moved here and got more into playing vinyl on the regular, I also got more into playing CSNY and Manassas on the regular.
I was wandering through the local Punk Rock Flea Market — it’s a monthly event, and despite the name, it’s not solely or even primarily punk, and while it usually goes way beyond vinyl, it’s always been a good place to pick up the odd and interesting. A local performer/dj who is a friend of friends (most people are in this town) had a table set up, thinning out his collection by probably only the slightest amount, and in his bins I found a German pressing of “4 Way Street,” the double live album. For $6. I do think I tried to convince him to take more, because the records looked to be in fantastic condition, but he wouldn’t hear of it. I don’t often feel like I’ve taken advantage of someone, but wow is this a great record in great shape, and worth so much more than $6.
There is something peculiar with some German record covers I own — they seem to have been early adopters of a plastic varnish, cellophane wrap or some other kind of protective coating that didn’t age well, so it cracks and peels but then just leaves the original record cover in fine shape, so it just looks a little ugly.
Then, for last year’s Record Store Day, I found out there was an expanded version of “4 Way Street” (the extra tracks had already appeared on a CD version). Two more sides, including “King Midas in Reverse” and “Black Queen,” and a medley of Young’s “The Loner/Cinnamon Girl/Down By The River” that covers an entire album side. Crap. Had to have. For reasons I can’t even remember, I couldn’t make it for the morning RSD events (not that I’m much of a line-waiter anyway), but at the end of the day we strolled down to Deep Groove and were pleased to find that there was still a copy there. So, I’ve gone from barely remembering that “4 Way Street” existed to having two (somewhat different) copies. (Oh, and the RSD version cost way more than $6.)
Anyway, got my mind blown by this one. You can call their live performances uneven (read Peter Daggett’s book, CSNY, and you’ll hear them called a lot worse than that; listening to various bootlegs that are out there support that), but this is a pretty solid collection of songs and the group sounds good, and on some songs they sound amazing.
Having now experienced the sensation of performing on stage and not being able to hear quite what the audience is hearing, I marvel that live music sounded any kind of good at all before in-ear monitors became a thing. Singers, in particular, need to be able to hear the music to stay in tune, and if the stage monitors aren’t set right, they won’t be able to hear the part of the music they need to hear, or themselves. There are some spots on here where the group sounds a little rough, and I just think they probably couldn’t hear the music.
This album, to me, is pretty much what the ’70s sounded like – a little aggressive, a little rough, with a lot of heart and concern about where society was going. The jams on “Southern Man” and “Carry On” are great, and leave me wishing they’d indulged themselves more on a few other songs. Stills’s preachy interlude on “49 Bye-Byes/America’s Children” sometimes comes across as a bit much, although it’s arguably less annoying than some other iterations he performed on the tour (there’s lots of CSNY bootleg material out there), and he brings it home solidly. But of course, CSN were known for the harmonies, not their instrumental cred, so it makes sense that they mostly kept the songs short, and generally that lends some power to them.