The harmonies - a wall of Crosby, Still and Nash! The songs - Our House, Teach Your Children, Long Time Coming, Judy Blue Eyes! The band - top players all grafted into the CSN family! Front row centre seats - a Stills solo right above me! This was a night of my concert going life.
My hand of my expectations was not only seen but raised way beyond. To see Crosby, Stills and Nash was one of those bucket list gigs that it would be nice to see as part of rock history ticked off. I expected the songs and the harmonies but I did not expect the the conviction and the very much sense of the now. Yes, much of this set list was drawn from their early records which are now four decades old but this never felt like nostalgia. It felt like it was tonight, right now, for this time and even for this place.
Perhaps as we reflect so it should be. There are less drugs and alcohol running around the systems of these three men. They have played together (on and off!!!!) for almost fifty years. They know each other; they are three in the one. As artists they have an experience that adds to their genius. The band behind them is as good as they have ever had. And it is 2015 which make the sound technology and live environment so much better than it was in 1974 when they were a stadium band, the biggest live act on the planet.
Yet, had all the drugs and reckless lifestyle not taken its toll? The answer was no. The sense of urgency and utter deep seated joy in what they were doing was obvious. Don’t get me wrong, Stills’ voice was a little ragged in places, particularly at the end of the first half during Love The One You’re With, when he was battling his ear piece, very important to a man whose hearing is damaged, and his guitar pedals. It was obvious that Nash was the conductor and often seen chatting through the set to tell the others what songs Stills and Crosby were playing and singing on and not. Yet, for 98% of this show this was Crosby, Stills and Nash and indeed rock music of the very highest quality.
The first three songs, Carry On/Questions, Marrakesh Express and Long Time Gone left no doubt that these guys weren’t bluffing us for the money or resting on rock legend laurels. The harmonies were everything you ever dreamed of. A wall of the most gorgeous melodic sound washing over your ears with utter beauty. You couldn’t help imagine yourself in that house in Laurel Canyon, on that night in the late 60s when Nash asked them to sing You Don’t Have To Cry a few time before adding his harmony and discovering this utter genius of blended voices. The voices, even Stills, when the harmonies kicked in were faultless. David Crosby in harmony and on his own was particularly strong.
The other force that hit me afresh was Stephen Stills’ guitar playing. When Nash pointed at him and called him “one of the best guitar players on the planet" you could not argue on tonight’s performance. He was nailing it with a power. On his own Southern Cross and on Crosby’s I Almost Cut My Hair he was particularly attention seeking!
The set list did concentrate on the early albums but there were a few new songs. Nash claims to have written twenty new songs with guitarist Shane Fontaine for a new solo record and his homage to Levon Helm is as good a song as he has written in years. Stills did a powerful social commentary on life in this millennium called Virtual World that he described as dropping a cell phone into a pint of Guinness. I have to say that, though his voice is strong and I loved his recent record Cros, Crosby’s new song was not as strong as the other two.
It was not just Still’s Virtual World that was preaching into the contemporary. I was particularly drawn to Chicago/Change The World when Nash, at the piano sang: -
We can change the world -
Re-arrange the world
It's dying - to get better
Politicians sit yourself down,
There's nothing for you here.
Yes, we were in Dublin but it resonated with a peace activist like myself for our very current political impasse in Belfast. It energised my frustration and recent lethargy.
Crosby, Still & Nash have been a recent discovery of mine. I missed them for 40 years. The last three years has seen me pick up all the records and most of the solo ones and other combinations. I have read the biographies. I have become a fan BUT tonight was a revelation, an almost altar call to see the place that this band has in the history of rock and in my own particular favourites. Blown away!