Monday, October 1, 2012

Crosby, Stills & Nash Still Reaching Eloquent Heights

In the summer of 1968, I was a skinny seven-year-old who had just begun to learn how to play the drums. I hadn't even picked up a guitar yet, but I was awakening to the magic and majesty of music. When my older brother turned me on to an album by a new group called Crosby, Stills & Nash, I was immediately captured by the band's unique sound. The self-titled album, which was equal parts acoustic and electric, poetically melded rock, folk, jazz, country and blues. It was a huge hit in the Reno house -- and the rest of the world. Crosby, Stills & Nash quickly became superstars, and that first record remains one of the most beloved and influential rock records of all time.

This seminal supergroup, which brought together David Crosby from the Byrds, Stephen Stills from Buffalo Springfield, and Graham Nash from the Hollies, served up three-part harmonies that were simultaneously ethereal and powerful. 
The songs rocked, hard, but the music was so hauntingly beautiful it was almost supernatural. I was an instant fan, and have been ever since.

And the miracle is, 44 years after that record took the turbulent late 60s by storm, this band still delivers. On Saturday night, CSN, as they're known to their legion of loyal fans, performed the first of two sold-out shows before a devoted and electrified crowd at Humphrey's Concerts by the Bay in San Diego. 

The three music legends, who made their performance debut as a trio at the legendary Woodstock festival, and their stellar backing band, which includes Crosby's son James Raymond, had the audience under their spell from the moment they walked on stage to the moment Nash wished everyone a good night and declared, "Peace!"

Accompanied on this tour by Todd Caldwell (organ), Shane Fontayne (guitar), Steve DiStanislao (drums), Kevin McCormick (bass) and Raymond (keyboards), the guys opened with one of my personal favorites, "Carry On," which was written by Stills.

The significance of the song's title and lyrics weren't lost on the crowd. This band has indeed carried on, though infighting and unthinkable adversity. As most everyone knows, Crosby's done time in prison, had a liver transplant, had all kinds of drug problems, and has had notorious battles with Stills over the years. 

But Crosby and Stills have clearly gotten past all that; they're at peace with each other. And while Crosby still has the sardonic wit, he's shed much of his youthful arrogance and anger. He just seems so happy to have been given a second chance at life.

And his harmonies with Nash still reach eloquent heights that few artists attain. The two of them are so connected musically it's almost scary.  

As you can see from the photo above, which was taken by Eleanor Stills, these three men aren't spring chickens. Unbelievably, Nash is 70 years old. But they've all aged well. Stills' voice is a little huskier than it was back in the day, but it still works.

Of course everyone showed up Saturday night to hear the classics, which for so many of the boomers in the audience were a soundtrack of their lives in the late 60s and early 70s when the Vietnam War and protests were raging.

The band played "Long Time Gone," "Almost Cut My Hair," "Our House," Teach Your Children," "Deja Vu," "Southern Cross," "Chicago," "Just a Song Before I Go," and "Helplessly Hoping," among others from its library. I wish they would have played "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes" and "Woodstock." But I'm not complaining.

There were some nice surprises, too, including a stunning take on Bob Dylan's "Girl of the North Country." 

The concert was filled with great moments, but there were two that really stood out for me: an impeccably lovely rendition by Crosby and Nash of Crosby's "Guinnivere," and an extended and absolutely face-melting version of "Wooden Ships," during which Stills just plain kicked ass on guitar.

Rightly, much of CSN's legacy is the folk-based, acoustic ballads. And their long, mostly-unplugged set Saturday night was joyous and riveting. But make no mistake: this is a rock and roll band. Always has been, always will be. These guys are old enough for the rocking chair, but they'd rather keep rocking upright, thank you very much. 

And they still don't mince words regarding their liberal political views; they still let their freak flags fly.

In a couple of weeks, CSN will wrap this 80-concert world trek, which incredibly is the longest CSN tour ever, with a gala performance of the debut album I loved as a little kid. it will be performed in its entirety at the Beacon Theatre in New York City. And yes, they will be including "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes," which is the first song on that first album. Should be some enchanted evening. 

Carry on, CSN. Love is coming. Love is coming to us all.


  1. I am flicking my lighter while reading this! Superb Harmonies ... CSN, WE LOVE YOU!!

  2. It was a huge hit in the Reno house and the rest of the world. I was an instant fan, and have been ever since. Those guys one of my personal favorites. This is a rock and roll band.