David Crosby seemed to take delight last night at the Norton Center for the Arts in Danville at the notion high ranking politicos might be rankled by his 45 year old song “What Are Their Names,” a tune that lambasted corporate driven wars and the body counts they trigger.
“I’d like to think they don’t like me singing it,” he remarked before the work swelled into an incantation that had all the earmarks of a vintage protest tune. Here’s the thing, though. This actually proved to be a fish-out-of-water moment for a singer whose career began during the Vietnam era. The rest of the program centered far more on the contemplative music from Crosby’s just released “Lighthouse” album.
Aided by Snarky Puppy bandleader, bassist and guitarist Michael League, who co-wrote much of the new material and produced all of “Lighthouse,” Crosby performed seven of the record’s nine songs. Thematically, those works reached from the flight of global refugees (“Look in Their Eyes”) to more internalized meditations (“By the Light of Common Day”). Musically, their outlines were light in structure and folkish in design. But they were also poetically jazzy in execution, especially when you factored in contributions by keyboardist Michelle Willis and guitarist Becca Stevens, both accomplished songwriters whose primary function last night was to recreate the vocal stacks Crosby and League created for “Lighthouse” onstage. The resulting music was attractive enough though somewhat tentative sounding in spots (this was just the second performance of this quartet’s young existence) with little variance in tone and temperament from song to song, save for the more percussive syncopation of the New York ode “The City.”
There were also nods to the past, of course. “Laughing” and “Orleans” were resurrected from Crosby’s 1971 debut album “If I Could Only Remember My Name” with League summoning pedal steel-like ambience from electric guitar on the former. “Carry Me,” a 1975 work originally cut with Graham Nash, nicely retained its steadfast sense of hope in this drummer-less setting. Taking the most fluid advantage of the ensemble’s vocal possibilities, though, were “Déjà Vu” and “Guinnevere,” the latter of which gave Stevens and Willis the job of delivering the high harmonies supplied most often through the years by Nash.
Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock,” slowed with summery, pastoral grace, was saved for an encore, capping off a performance that made all the requisite stops in the past but was obviously built for maximum performance in the here and now.