CSNY/Déjà Vu isn’t a straightforward concert documentary, so if you’re looking for Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young performances in their entirety, look elsewhere. In fact, if you’re looking for CSN&Y playing many of their best-known songs, look elsewhere. This film documents their 2006 U.S. tour, during which Neil Young enlisted his old supergroup in support of his solo LP Living With War, an intensely personal response to the Iraq war and its effects on the men and women fighting it, the invaded nation enduring it, and our own national psyche.
The film begins in a visual style reminiscent of today’s fast-paced cable news outlets (ABC reporter Mike Cerre is the film’s narrator and interviewer). Quickly edited clips of archival, rehearsal, and performance footage from the band (only a couple of songs are heard in their entirety), audience commentary and reactions, quotes from reviewers, and contemporary news footage fly by at such a pace that, at first, it’s hard to get at the emotional center of the film’s subject – Young and band intend to push audiences to react to the plight of the current war, and call for change, with the same fervor of their Vietnam-era audience. The band does get strong reaction, positive and negative – many concert-goers are incensed at the message of the songs being performed in place of the quartet’s well-known classics (an Atlanta audience’s fiery reaction to “Let’s Impeach the President” gives new meaning to the term “protest movement”).
Once the film hits the halfway mark, it starts to slow its pace. Concentrating on stories of war veterans connecting to the band politically (Stephen Stills offers campaign support to Iraq vets running for Congress), musically (an Iraq vet whose song becomes a sensation on Young’s website gets to jam with Neil), and spiritually (Vietnam vets – now offering counsel to Iraq vets – share hugs with the band), the film packs its emotional wallop. The film’s final performance is heart-wrenching.
In addition to the documentary, the DVD includes videos for every song on Living With War in their entirety. Though I’m a hardcore Neil Young fan, I hadn’t fully appreciated that album until viewing this powerful film. It’s refreshing to see artists that would rather challenge their audience than play to their expectations – if yours are to watch this film to see the band playing their hits in concert... look elsewhere.