One of the rock ’n’ roll’s first supergroups was Crosby, Stills & Nash. David Crosby attained stardom with the Byrds, Stephen Stills found fame with Buffalo Springfield, while Graham Nash was part of the British Invasion with the Hollies. Whether they played hard rock or soft ballads the common denominator was their three-part harmony which helped define popular music in the late 1960s and the early 1970s. Now in their seventies, when Crosby, Stills & Nash get together their harmonies are as powerful as ever as was demonstrated when they performed before a sold out audience at Boston’s Wang Theatre last week.
Of course, this trio is equally well known as a quartet when Neil Young, Stills’ fellow bandmate from Buffalo Springfield is thrown into the mix. But there would be no Neil Young on this night. Or perhaps any other night. If Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young are known for their harmonies they are equally known for their discord. Crosby and Young had a falling out last September after Young left Pegi Young, his wife of 36 years in 2014 for actress Daryl Hannah and Crosby accused Hannah of being a “purely poisonous predator.” This angered Young so much that he wouldn’t mention Crosby by name during an interview with Howard Stern. As usual, it was left to Nash to play diplomat. Crosby apologized to Hannah through (who else?) Howard Stern the day before the Boston concert. Whether this will repair things remains to be seen. I have a feeling Nash a lot more work to do. But the show must go on.
This is not the first time I’ve seen Crosby, Stills & Nash in concert. I saw them play previously in July 2001 at Boston’s Fleet Pavilion (now known as the Blue Hills Bank Pavilion). It was an outdoor show and I managed to get a seat in the fifth row and got a very good look at them. This time around I was in the Uecker seats. But I heard them just the same.
The show opened with “Carry On/Questions,” which also opens the landmark CSNY album Déjà Vu. It took a few minutes for CSN to get their harmonies in sync, but got whatever bugs that were in their systems out by the time they reached the “Questions” portion of the song. When I first heard this song when I was 8-years old I preferred the “Carry On” section, but when I finally heard the original Buffalo Springfield rendition of “Questions” I learned to appreciate both halves in equal measure.
As when I saw them nearly 14 years ago, it was Nash, now 73, who did most of the talking and acted as MC in keeping with his amiable, genial personality. Before singing “Marrakesh Express,” he made a point of complimenting the Wang Theatre stating, “We’ve performed in thousands of venues, but this one has a really spectacular view.”
This would be followed by “Long Time Gone.” I am sure that many people would have thought that Crosby would have been long time gone by 2015. But clean and sober for nearly three decades now, Crosby has an incredible voice for a man who will turn 74 in August. The voices of many of his contemporaries are a shadow of their former selves (i.e. John Sebastian, Gordon Lightfoot). It isn’t to say their music has diminished, but their voices do not convey the strength they once had. Crosby not only sounds 30 years younger, he can probably sing better now than he could 30 years ago.
Crosby also retains a wicked sense of humor. He said of Nash, “Graham writes all the anthems while I write all the weird s#*t.” After Nash played “Just a Song Before I Go,” Crosby quipped, “Well, that’s it for the hits.” On meeting Jackson Browne, Crosby said he “looked better than God on a good day.” But he also thanked Browne for giving him the motivation when he wasn’t in the best of health to finish writing “Delta” by driving him down to Warren Zevon’s house to use his piano. His only complaint was that Browne wouldn’t let him go to the bathroom until he finished the song.
I should note that the audience was very lively. At the mention of Zevon’s name, the audience shouted in unison, “Yahoo! Werewolves of London!” Of the three band members, it must be said that their strongest responses were to songs written by Stills, who turned 70 in January. Although he is the most taciturn of the three, his music speaks volumes. Stills’ guitar work remains second to none. “Southern Cross” was the first song to get the crowd to its feet and we were equally responsive to the Buffalo Springfield classic “For What It’s Worth” as well as his biggest solo hit “Love the One You’re With.” I’m not sure what it is about “Love The One You’re With,” but it is just one of those songs that gets people dancing even those who were born decades after it was written. The audience also enjoyed Stills’ take on the Bob Dylan classic “Girl From the North Country”.
Nash told the audience the story of how an LSD trip to Stonehenge and Winchester Cathedral where he saw the grave of a soldier who died on his birthday inspired the song “Cathedral,” all the while cautioning, “I don’t suggest you do that by the way.” But Nash would deliver the best news of the night when he said, “Joni Mitchell will be released from the hospital in a week.” He then played “Our House,” which he wrote while living with Mitchell in Laurel Canyon. The spirit of Joni Mitchell was even more evident when he accompanied Crosby on “Guinevere,” which Crosby wrote about Mitchell. Both men were involved with her and it is clear that both of them still love her after all these years.
Now let me get to the elephant in the room. Or in this case the donkey. All three men have been long time supporters of the Democratic Party and various left-wing causes, as is the case with many of the musicians and entertainers of their era (and, for that matter, our current one). It has nearly been a decade since CSNY’s “Freedom of Speech” tour which featured protest songs and photos featuring pictures of U.S. soldiers who died in Iraq.
During the 2012 campaign, Crosby & Nash made their disdain for Mitt Romney clear. In an interview with CBS News, Crosby claimed that a Romney presidency would be a “disaster” while Nash stated, “We cannot let Mitt Romney be President of the United States at all.” When asked to elaborate, he claimed Romney was “against women,” stood for the “imbalances of the haves and have nots” and “knows nothing about foreign policy.” Given Romney’s prescience on Russia, let’s just say that political analysis isn’t one of Nash’s strong suits.
It is probably just as well because politics was kept to a minimum on this evening with only Crosby bringing it up. In an allusion to the Citizens United decision, Crosby said, “The guy with the biggest TV budget shouldn’t get the keys to the White House.” I seem to recall that it was Barack Obama who rejected public financing during the 2008 campaign and liberals didn’t care a whiff. Crosby did add, “I don’t know how to fix it, but that ain’t it.” Well, I don’t see how infringing upon the First Amendment resolves matters.
Before Crosby & Nash sang “What Are Their Names?” a cappella, Crosby said, “The people in power don’t like this song, but we’re gonna f*#kin’ play it anyway.” It’s a great applause line, but last I checked Obama is still President of the United States. So if he wasn’t referring to the President, then who was he talking about? Most likely the so-called 1%. After all, they did perform this song at Occupy Wall Street. In that case, there’s also a very good chance that those “people in power” were probably singing this song when they went to college in the early ’70’s. When Crosby and Nash sang, “What are their names/And on what streets do they live/I’d like to ride right over/This afternoon and give/Them a piece of my mind/About peace for mankind/Peace is not an awful lot to ask,” I thought to myself, “This song might be better directed at ISIS or the Iranian mullahs.” But why go after ISIS or the Iranian Mullahs when you can go after someone who doesn’t fight back? To be fair, Crosby does part company with his comrades where it concerns guns. Crosby has owned a gun since the Manson murders in 1969. In a recent interview with MOJO Magazine, he said, “I don’t think the problem is in the gun, it’s in the people.” A card-carrying NRA member couldn’t have said it better. Once the song had been sung, Crosby did revert to levity when he said, “O.K., back to the love songs.” More on this at the conclusion.
The trio also performed some of their recent solo work. This makes a certain amount of sense as all three of them will be embarking upon solo tours this summer before getting back together in early September when they will sail to Britain on the Queen Mary 2 and perform a month-long European tour. Crosby’s “What Makes It So” was very well received, although I quite liked Nash’s “Myself At Last” which he co-wrote with guitarist Shane Fontayne, who Nash noted has worked with the likes of Sting and Bruce Springsteen.
As with the best performers, Crosby, Stills & Nash saved their best of this three-hour show for last with Stills’ “Love the One You’re With” and “Almost Cut My Hair.” Their encore consisted first of “Teach Your Children.” It didn’t do much for Walter Mondale in 1984, but it is a great song to sing along with at a concert. The evening came to an end with Stills’ homage to Judy Collins, “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes.” This supergroup put on one super show.
OK, back to the politics. One might ask why I would pay attention to a musical group like Crosby, Stills & Nash whose politics are so antithetical to my own. The simple explanation is that I will listen to a musician or a group of musicians and keep on listening to them if their songs touch something in my soul and leaves an imprint. The politics of the musician or musicians in question simply do not enter the equation. I might be more inclined to vote the same way Ted Nugent than David Crosby, but apart from “Journey to the Center of the Mind” his music has little resonance with me. I firmly believe that man cannot live on politics alone and if we only associate with those whom we agreed then life would be very, very dull and stagnate. I can absolutely enjoy the music of Crosby, Stills & Nash without buying into their politics. This is how I carry on.
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