Tag Archives: Crosby Stills and Nash
November 22, 2011
Some songs, some artists, never go away. That’s not always a good thing. Times change, everyone ages, life gets tougher or better, and we go on. Since I was probably all of 8 the first time I heard “For What It’s Worth”, I was too young to really understand it, but still old enough to feel something. I knew the world was pissed off and somehow I grasped that music was more than a soundtrack to the events around me.
At a recent stop on Stephen Stills’ Fall tour, the 60-something Hall of Famer (twice, on the same night) introduced “For What It’s Worth” as for the “99s”. It’s 2011, the world is still angry and artists from Tom Morello to Crosby and Nash have taken up musical arms with OWS. Some songs age well, even if the audience and performers don’t. Some find new life in new times.
I wore the grooves down on every CSN/Y platter in all their permutations. The harmonies were the hook, but Stills’ fret mastery reeled me in and I’ve been an admirer of his playing and songwriting ever since. His wah-wah laced exchanges with Clapton on “Go Back Home” and dark blues encrusted wailing on “Black Queen” (from his eponymous debut) are still chill inducing, and I’ve no argument with his ranking at 47 among Rolling Stone’s top 100 guitarists. Sure, CSN had me (and the rest of humanity) at “Suite Judy Blues Eyes”. Only it was Stills’ intense, flying, punctuated acoustic work, more than the soaring vocals of the three that gripped me. That just about every instrumental track off their debut album was handled by Stills is often overlooked.
The light/dark tableau of Crosby/Nash harmonies and Stills/Young fury, fueled jams and music tabloids for decades to come, and the CSN/Y dance often played out like overripe “Behind the Music”. CSN’s constant touring could be taken for a creaky nostalgia trip some years, but collectively and apart, they all kept coming back to that well, and still do (their aborted covers project will hopefully have a life after producer Rick Rubin’s departure). Earlier this year saw a brief tour under the Springfield banner with the Stills/Young chemistry fully intact. The sight of these two getting in each other’s faces while scorching through “Bluebird” was something to behold. The slimmed down Stills was on his game and ready for anything Shakey threw at him. Neither backed down and the interplay was still furiously epic.
Stills has been on the road the past month or so with East and West Coast dates and set lists sprinkling in a few unexpected covers (Dylan to Mudcrutch) with the usual Springfield, CSN, Manassas, Stills touchstones. With no LA dates scheduled, I headed to Anaheim for the show at the City National Grove. Backed by long-time CSN drummer (and Joe Walsh alum) Joe Vitale, Todd Caldwell on keys and Kenny Passarelli on bass (new rule – matador pants do not = rock fashion), Stills launched right into “Bluebird” to kick off the first of two sets to a packed house. Switching to his trademark Gretsch for “Helplessly Hoping”, he established a relaxed, warm tone that flowed throughout the first set. His vocals have been road worn and ragged in recent years but he was far from dialing it in. To the contrary, he reached and pushed through his more limited range with conviction and emotion. Pegi Young joined Stills for “Long May You Run”. He seemed delighted to share the stage for the signature tune from the only collaboration under the Stills-Young name. Stills shared stories throughout the night, including his purchase of a rather large home replete with gardener ala Peter Sellers (in fact, it’s former owner was indeed, Peter Sellers) – cute trivia to tee up “Jonny’s Garden” from the first Manassas album. Stills then went unplugged for “So Begins the Task” and a beautiful take on Dylan’s “Girl From the North Country” that has been a staple of this brief tour. The latter with simple single note soloing that suitably echoed the longing of the bard’s lyrics. “Blind Fiddler” followed, a forlorn traditional tune well suited for Stills’ repertoire. That the set would close with the inevitable “Suite Judy Blue Eyes” was established earlier when Stills alluded to Judy Collins recent book portraying him as “nicer than he really was”. That it would be bookended with Stills’ solo reading of the Beatles “Within You, Without You” was unexpected, and I found, a little gutsy. By the time familiar passages of SJBE rolled over the crowd, the balding 50-something dude in the front and the barely 20-ish dude with the lid a few rows back were singing in sync. Stills respectfully reached for the higher notes and nailed a few, at which he paused with a rehearsed admonition of, “I’m just as astonished as you are”.
After a brief break approaching many of the elder demo’s bedtime, Stills and band returned for a more up tempo set that kicked off with a spunky version of “Woodstock”, his playing generating some real sparks while working his way up the neck of the vintage Strat. A languid “Southern Cross” included a few obvious flubs in his soloing that didn’t seem to bother anyone, though Stills appropriately stepped back from the edge of the stage at just the right moment. Having arrived at that point in the show where he would really cut loose was signified by Stills taking off and pocketing his specs before the predictable blues roll of “Wounded World” (from his last solo album, 2005’s “Stills Alive”) into “Rocky Mountain Way”, with Stills and the crowd clearly having a good time with this. “Want to Make Love To You” (also from the Stills-Young “Long May You Run”) began with jazz inflected picking, trademark muted soloing and understated whammy flourishes. Like many of the best, he knows when touch trumps burn. By this time, Stills returned to prowling the front of the stage and playing to the crowd to close with “Love the One You’re With” (group hug, anyone?). Much lore surrounds Buffalo Springfield and “For What It’s Worth” (those words never appear in the lyrics) and there is no other encore for a Stills show. There shouldn’t be – the power of the lyrics fermenting with contemporary context. Stills grabbed all of it, driving the song with a slow cook and heavy reverb that lingered well after the lights went up.
Pegi Young and the Survivors opened the show with a set featuring songs from her just released third album “Bracing for Impact”, with fine backing by Muscle Shoals and session vet Spooner Oldham on keys, Kevin Holly on guitar, Phil Jones on drums and LA fixture Rick “the Bass Player” Rosas (late of the very brief Springfield reunion and husband Neil Young’s recent tours). Holly shredded up “Bracing’s” “Lie” early on and the set featured a touching cover of the late Danny Whitten’s “I Don’t Want to Talk About It”.
Those of us in this middle mojo of life have kept the concert industry going by supporting the same acts for the past 30 years. Some of us fare better than others as the orbits pile up. It ain’t about staying young. Stephen Stills brought all that he had to an appreciative audience basking in tunes they know by heart and can’t get enough of. Not exactly a tearing the roof off night, but kicking a little age appropriate ass felt alright for all. I probably was not the only one thinking, long may we run, as I made my way to the door.