Monday, August 6, 2012

Crosby, Stills & Nash - Live 2012.07.28 Carson Four Rivers Center, Paducah, Kentucky

Ever since I became a fan of Neil Young and CSNY in college, I've been plagued by tours of Neil and/or the other three that were far too expensive for me to attend. I was even supposed to see Neil Young in high school – until I had to have an appendectomy the day before the show. I've still never seen him live, but when I heard about the other three doing a new tour, it was hard not to be tempted. Of course, the Saint Louis tickets were exorbitantly priced, but some enterprising sisters-in-arms discovered that CSN were scheduled to play in the rather small town of Paducah, KY, a mere three hours' drive away, for almost half the price. The apparent rationale was that the touring band's guitarist hails from Paducah! [Edit 2012.12.04: Never mind, apparently this a running joke with CSN, first used back in 1969.]

Artist: Crosby, Stills & Nash
Venue: Carson Four Rivers Center
Location: Paducah, Kentucky
Date: 28 July 2012

First set:
01. Carry On/Questions (originally performed by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young)
02. Chicago (originally performed by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young)
03. Long Time Gone
04. Just a Song Before I Go
05. Southern Cross
06. Lay Me Down (originally performed by Crosby & Nash)
07. Radio
08. Marrakesh Express
09. Almost Gone (The Ballad of Bradley Manning)
10. Bluebird (originally performed by Buffalo Springfield)
11. Déjà Vu (originally performed by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young)
12. Love the One You're With (originally performed by Stephen Stills)

Second set:
13. Helplessly Hoping
14. In Your Name (originally performed by Graham Nash)
15. Girl from the North Country (Bob Dylan cover)
16. Guinnevere
17. Cathedral
18. Military Madness (originally performed by Graham Nash)
19. Our House (originally performed by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young)
20. Almost Cut My Hair (originally performed by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young)
21. Wooden Ships

22. Teach Your Children (originally performed by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young)
23. Suite: Judy Blue Eyes

It's hard to know what to expect from a band as big and as old as Crosby, Stills, and Nash. The three of them are all about age 70 as of writing, each of them either balding or sporting wild gray hair. (It appears that David Crosby hasn't even come close to almost cutting his hair!) The three of them were joined on stage for most of the show by an organist, a drummer, a bassist, a guitarist, and a keyboardist (who just so happened to be James Raymond, Crosby's son). I was surprised by how little Crosby and Nash played instruments, but I was not surprised that Nash spent the night barefoot.

Opening the show with "Carry On" was also no surprise at all, but the performance rocked. What once was often a set closer extended with a lengthy jam was here kept to a more conventional length. Stills already proved himself to be the keynote musician, providing smooth and elegant guitar lines between the fantastic vocal harmonies. This trend only continued as the night wore on. Nash and Crosby dominated the melodious higher harmonies, while Stills played almost every guitar solo of the night. Although the songwriting and lead vocals were shared fairly equally, there is a separate concept of the division of labor. Nash and Crosby only occasionally played rhythm guitar or keyboards, leaving Stills and the backing band to do everything but the vocal parts.

I suppose it's always been this way, but I was surprised to see that Stills was the main musician of the night. His songs tended to have the most guitar noodling, but he paraded his guitar about more often than not. It's hard to complain, because he generally does an excellent job of providing the exact amount of guitar virtuosity to fit in these songs between the nominal focus of the band, the vocals. I was most surprised to see Nash or Crosby sing lead on some songs without even playing an instrument, but Crosby still played his wonderful part for "Guinnevere" note-for-note, and Nash hammered out "Our House" almost as if he'd been playing the part for 40 years. Anyway, I can't begrudge them; if I had a golden voice, why would I worry about playing the instrumental parts I wrote? Why not hire my son to do it for me?

Most of the highest-praised classics came in the second half of the show. Other than an odd Bob Dylan cover (and "Lay Me Down", written by Raymond), the band stuck to their own songs, using their standard mix of solo and shared songs. Ultimately, they played most of their first two original albums, a wide mix of career-spanning hits, and a few recent compositions. Nash's new songs shone the brightest: "In Your Name" was a beautiful and poignant condemnation of the misuse of religious judgment, and "Almost Gone" spoke out against the prison treatment of Bradley Manning, the soldier that leaked countless documents to WikiLeaks. I'm always happy to see that an old band can still write meaningful music, even if most of the audience still just wants to hear the hits.

Crosby finished off the main set with two strong rockers, "Almost Cut My Hair" and "Wooden Ships". Both provided more showboat opportunities for Stills' guitarwork and Crosby's ever-powerful voice. During the encore break, my companions noted the two biggest omissions from the setlist up to that point and thus correctly predicted the encore selections. Both were again near-perfect performances, with "Teach Your Children" not having aged a day and "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes" still serving as a dynamic song with countless excuses for guitar showmanship from Stills.

If there is a weakness to be found, it is merely that Stills' voice is a bit rougher than it once was. Although all three had moments of vocal inaccuracy, their harmonies still sounded better than some of the bootlegs I've heard from the 70s. Furthermore, this just tells me that they are (literally) too good for autotuning. I don't expect a note-perfect rendition of studio material when I see a band like this live, and that's not what I'd want, anyway. I'm happy to see that all three are as jovial as ever, still capable of laughing, joking, and connecting with an audience. I'm glad Crosby hasn't cut his hair, that Nash still prefers shoelessness, and that Stills can still rock hard. It's hard not to be impressed by the fact they can still put on a show this good at the ages they're at.

Score: A-

P.S. I saw the new Neil Young documentary, Journeys, the day after the concert. It turns out that Neil has probably aged worse than the other three, although he's probably always rocked even harder, and he has an even better reputation for being uncompromising.