Crosby Stills Nash Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion August 15, 2012
As a trio, duo, solo, in their previous bands, or with that Neil guy dropping in once in a while, there's no doubt that David Crosby, Stephen Stills, and Graham Nash have collectively baked a respectable slice of the Classic Rock Pie. And their current tour -- along with their just-released CSN 2012 DVD/CD -- prove that they still have plenty of bite left in them.
Casually dressed and ambling out onstage to no fanfare, the trio and band opened with a smoking "Carry On/Questions," the first of several numbers which featured Stills' sharp (albeit short and rehearsed) guitar solos.
Some of the show was workmanlike -- but CSN are excellent workers. I mean, how much genuine feeling and spontaneity can you put into songs that have been performed for more than four decades?
Still, the trio seemed to be in fit shape (Stills is literally half the man he used to be) and fine voice, backed by an able band which included guitarist James Raymond, Crosby's son given up for adoption with whom he reconnected decades later.
CSN also debuted several new numbers, including "Radio" (introduced as "about people trying to help each other") and two politically-charged efforts: The dirty groove of "Almost Gone (The Ballad of Bradley Manning)" -- about the Army WikiLeaks leaker -- and Crosby/Nash's a cappella sort-of finger-pointing song "What Are Their Names?" Introducing the latter, Crosby pondered what kind of country would give the "person with the biggest TV budget the keys to the kingdom."
Sadly, the lyrics to the new songs (and many older ones) often went unheard, as this show suffered from some pretty poor or sketchy sound quality, also an unsolicited opinion shared with this reviewer by a number of people. Bad for any concert, but egregious for an act whose strength is in vocal harmonies and guitar picking.
The current topic songs -- combined with catalogue protest chestnuts like "Chicago" and Nash's solo "Military Madness" and "In Your Name" (which he dedicated to victims of the recent Sikh temple shooting), showed that there was still some fight left in these old hippies. As Crosby (who turned 71 on Tuesday) noted, the trio "used to be a lot more political than we are now. It's because we can't remember what we were angry about."
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Nash, age 70, and Stills, 67, might agree.
Introducing "Déjà vu," Crosby also resurrected the previously-used (but still funny) punchline of "Stills...he writes the great rock songs. Nash...he writes the anthems that everyone likes to sing along with. Me...I write the weird shit!"
And speaking of weird shit, Nash must love the lush, gorgeous deep cut (and personal favorite of this reviewer) "Cathedral," because it's been played at most CSN shows I've seen since 1986 at Astroworld's Southern Star Amphitheater. Once again, his LSD trip-inspired epic did not disappoint. It also showed, as did many other numbers that the Crosby/Nash harmonies are admittedly different, but still potent. And -- in the case of "Guinnevere" -- still moving.
The show did have some clunkers, including the slowed-down tempos of "Marrakesh Express," "Long Time Gone," and sleepwalked versions of "Southern Cross" and "Love the One You're With."
Stills in particular seemed on autopilot much of the night and left the stage often. He did shine on a cover of Dylan's "Girl From the North Country," whose studio version was slated for CSN's since-dashed, Rick Rubin-produced covers album. Still, Stills' rough-hewn voice of longing gave a different sheen of regret to the tune which originally had Dylan's younger more "there's-still-romantic-hope" voice.
Those who appreciated the lighter side of CSN got the Holy Trinity of Graham Nash royalty-producing hits in "Just a Song Before I Go," "Our House" and encore "Teach Your Children." That the latter two included audience singalongs might sharpen the cynics' knives, but were nonetheless two of the most responded-to songs by the audience.
But least you think it got all patchouli-oil-and-granola, the end-of-show double dose of "Almost Cut My Hair" and "Wooden Ships" were out and out fiery rockers. And, despite the former boasting some of the most trite and twee hippie lyrics, goddamnit the Croz sells that song of follicle foibles. And CSN sold a tasty classic-rock pie, equal parts hard crust and warm gooey insides.
Personal Bias: I own the box set. I own bootlegs. I even own the execrable After the Storm. If I had two cats in the yard, I would name them "Graham" and "Joni."
The Crowd: Mostly fifty- and sixty-somethings who -- if not overly demonstrative -- were very appreciative, even during the "bathroom break/beer run" numbers.
Random Notebook Dump: With his strident strumming rhythm guitar, I Am the Walrus moustache, and long, grey locks flowing in the breeze of the onstage fan during "Long Time Gone," David Crosby looks like nothing if not a Rock and Roll Methuselah.
Overheard In the Crowd: "OK, help me out. Crosby is on the right and Stills is on the left?"
Carry On/Questions Chicago Long Time Gone Just a Song Before I Go Southern Cross Lay Me Down Radio Marrakesh Express Almost Gone (The Ballad of Bradley Manning) Bluebird Déjà vu Love the One You're With
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Helplessly Hoping In Your Name Girl From the North Country What Are Their Names? Guinnevere Daylight Again Cathedral Military Madness Our House Almost Cut My Hair Wooden Ships Teach Your Children (encore)