Music DVD Review: CSNY / Déjà Vu Live

By Glen Boyd 2008-10-26 04:35:11
The first thing you need to know about CSNY / Déjà vu Live is that this is not a concert film. At least, not in the traditional sense.

In fact, throughout its 96 minutes, you will not see one single song performed in its entirety by Crosby Stills Nash & Young. For that, we would point you towards the soundtrack album available on CD.

Rather, this is a documentary about CSNY’s 2006 Freedom Of Speech tour, where the band took up both arms and amplifiers in support of Neil Young’s self-described antiwar “folk-metal-protest” album Living With War, and against both the Iraq war and the foreign policy of President Bush which led us there.

As you might expect, the tour sparked controversy as it headed out across a still deeply divided America, and this film does not shy away at all from documenting it. In fact, probably the biggest surprise about CSNY / Déjà vu Live is how even-handed – actually make that “fair and balanced” -- it is in telling the story.

The film pulls no punches in presenting its subject matter from all sides. As the tour rolls from coast to coast, the concert reviews – especially early on – are not always kind. Even so, they are all presented here, both good and bad. The band itself sounds pretty ragged in the early going, and even seems to admit as much in some telling behind the scenes footage. However, as the tour progresses, the shows also get consistently better along the way.

They also all look very, very old – especially Stephen Stills, who with his Hawaiian shirts, bloated ruddy complexion, and pot belly comes off looking kind of like your aging alcoholic grandfather. To his credit though, he still plays his ass off, as do the rest of the guys. By the end of the tour, the aging hippie band are all rocking like it’s Woodstock all over again.

However, because of the unabashedly anti-war and anti-Bush message, the crowds are not always appreciative. At a show in the southern red state of Georgia for example, there are as many boos and extended middle fingers as there are cheers. Again, to this film’s ultimate credit, both sides are given equal play.

In the end, two things become abundantly clear. One, is that despite the CSNY billing, its quite clear that this is Neil Young’s show. And two, that it’s equally obvious that his bandmates not only share his views, but that the Freedom Of Speech tour was in fact a modern-day continuation of the political activism which has marked this band since the sixties.

In between the main story of the CSNY tour, the film also follows several sub-plots about Iraq veterans and their families, many of which are in fact very moving. The DVD also features all of the videos from Young’s Living With War CD.

CSNY / Déjà vu Live represents a very good documentary of these old warhorses reuniting for one last hurrah behind a favored cause, even if it’s not exactly a traditional concert film.

For that experience -- at least the audio part of it -- seek out the soundtrack.
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