in performance: graham nash

graham nash.

In prefacing a version of perhaps his most famously trippy song “Cathedral” last night at the Opera House, Graham Nash detailed a journey to Stonehenge during the early 1970s unapologetically fueled by the intake of LSD. The crowd, abundantly populated by patrons of a likewise vintage, laughed along as if the veteran songsmith was telling a joke. He wasn’t.

“Hey, I’m not advocating anything,” Nash said of the recreational indulgences of his youth. Such was the degree of nostalgia behind this two hour program. The feel was underscored further when Nash delivered the tune with an earthy, full blown drama constructed around only the slide guitar accompaniment and harmony vocals of Shane Fontayne, his own piano stride and a vocal lead that soared with the kind of high tenor detail one might not readily expect out of a 75 year old rock/folk journeyman.

But vitality was prevalent throughout the concert. Granted, the show-opening “Bus Stop,” the evening’s only nod to Nash’s mid ‘60s Brit pop tenure with The Hollies, may have sounded a touch light and tentative. But a sense of tenacity soon revealed itself in both the narrative vigor within such reflective new songs as “Myself at Last,” (a gentle but affirming ballad with Nash and Fontayne on acoustic guitars) as well as in the ageless vehemence of “Immigration Man,” a 1972 favorite written in the aftermath of Nash’s long ago tribulations at the Canadian border that still sound uncomfortably current.

The repertoire ran the course of favorites and obscurities from every permutation of the famed CSNY quartet that helped define Nash’s popularity over four decades ago. There were tunes from early solo albums (1971’s “I Used to Be a King,” dubbed as the evening’s “first breakup song”); duo records with David Crosby (the completely unexpected excavation of 1976’s plaintive “Taken at All”); the early Crosby, (Stephen) Stills and Nash era (light, summery readings of “Marrakesh Express” and “Lady of the Island”); and the full embattled collective of Crosby, Stills, Nash & (Neil) Young (the still emotive sing-a-long of domestic bliss, “Our House”).

Fontayne proved a very resourceful foil for the journey, adding a keen electric jolt to the best of the newer works from Nash’s 2016 album “This Path Tonight” (in particular, the Levon Helm tribute “Back Home”), building an airy but resilient acoustic foundation under Nash’s high end harmonies during a cover of the Beatles classic “Blackbird” and designing a suitably country-esque guitar dressing for the finale of “Teach Your Children” that respectfully mimicked the pedal steel lead Jerry Garcia designed on the song’s original 1970 version.

Age-defying vocals? Songs new and old that still serve as testaments to a rock giant’s continued artistic worth? A mix of performance ease and artistic urgency? Now there’s a mix worth advocating.

 



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