It’s easy to dismiss Crosby, Stills and Nash in the 21st century as the product of a bygone pop era – a trio of 70-something, Woodstock-born journeymen still singing idealist protest songs in a way that makes its members seem forever long in the tooth.
Such a notion even seemed welcome last night during the nearly three-hour, sold out performance CSN staged at the Louisville Palace. The second song out of the gate (following Stephen Stills’ solemn, aptly themed Carry On) was Graham Nash’s Chicago, a diatribe rooted in the 1968 Democratic National Convention with its battle cry chorus of “we can change the world.”
A never-say-die reflection of political revolution? Perhaps. But while the bulk of CSN’s performance was devoted to late ‘60s and ‘70s songs (Stills’ Southern Cross was the only tune representing the ‘80s and ‘90s), what was revealed was a broader time capsule repertoire where the most evocative moments addressed the cultural climate of its day as much or more than the era’s political unrest.
A beautiful case in point was another Nash composition, the classic Our House, a 1970 love song that again unfolded with such wide-eyed innocence that it triggered the evening’s most hearty sing-a-long and ovation. Ditto for David Crosby’s Guinevere, a more fanciful romantic remembrance from CSN’s 1969 debut album where the two part harmonies between the songwriter and Nash (which fueled much of the evening’s vocal charm) sounded suitably golden.
Sure, there were instances where CSN turned pointedly political, such as the “thank you in advance” Stills offered the audience in hopes of ousting Mitch McConnell in this fall’s senatorial election or the far sterner sentiments Crosby and Nash summoned during a brief a capella reading of What Are Their Names?, a would-be encounter with the powers-that-be. Pulled from Crosby’s 1971 debut album If I Could Only Remember My Name, the tune was the evening’s biggest surprise entry.
While such a repertoire suggested a folkie agenda, CSN remained very much an electric outfit last night with a five member band built around the keyboard orchestration of James Raymond (Crosby’s son) as a backdrop and Stills’ immensely resourceful guitarwork, alternating with colors and leads from co-guitarist Shane Fontayne, leading the charge. Of particular interest were a pair of relaxed, fluid solos Stills provided his Buffalo Springfield classic Bluebird and Crosby’s Deja Vu that possessed an almost jazz-like feel.
The program wasn’t wholly rooted in the past, either. Two songs from Crosby’s fine new Croz album – Radio and What’s Broken – echoed varying senses of salvation within melodies that were simultaneously assured and restless. Stills reprised the similarly haunting Don’t Want Lies from last year’s sessions with The Rides while Nash beat everyone in terms of turnaround with a piano-based love song, Here For You, that was composed as recently as last week.
But the encore of Suite: Judy Blue Eyes, the Woodstock anthem that had the coarse throated Stills still hitting the high notes, proved clearly where allegiances within the audience stood. While the new music was consistently engaging, it was through a past where the sightseeing wasn’t always warm and fuzzy that crowd felt most at home. To that end, CSN proved an especially accommodating tour guide.