On Saturday I was lucky enough to see gods in action; Crosby, Stills & Nash, performing in Brisbane at the Riverstage.
It’s been about 10 years since I last saw these guys live. The last time was in South Africa, on a night where a sudden downpour in an open arena had the sound washed away in a wall of water. Luckily, the weather cooperated with us this time, and CSN were treated to the conditions they deserve.
After the originally scheduled concert date of February was postponed, the breathless anticipation of the crowd was tangible for hours before, waiting in queue… so when the troupe walked on stage at 8.30pm, the roar that greeted them was solid.
With that said, the trio didn’t really hit full song for me in the first half. Even with the opener of “Carry On“, there was a discordant feel to the music, something which was shocking and jarring for a band renowned for their crisp harmonies and meldings.
For the men themselves, not much appears to have changed: Stills, still the cantankerous old devil, flamboyantly wrestling with the guitar as if it was a beast he needed to tame; Nash, the consummate buffer between the two titans, someone who tries to invite you into the music; and Crosby, a space-traveller who has retreated into the world of music in his head, a place that always leaves a smile on his face… however, it seems a struggle to persuade him to return to the real world.
Highlight of the first half, for me anyway, was Marrakesh Express. There was a glimpse there of time-past, and a hint that the second-half would deliver. We were not disappointed.
The band that returned after the intermission was the band we all know and love. From the beginning Nash-penned song of “Military Madness“, there was a synergy there that only the band of CSN can attain. Not only a synergy, but a renewed vigour and youth seemed to find them in the song. From there, the night was a amalgam of powerhouse rock and entrancing melodies, none of which were finer than on the song “Helplessly Hoping“.
I was surprised at the amount of Crosby-Nash material that was played, but unfortunately I think this might have something to do with the state of Stills; although he put on a stellar performace, he does not look a well man… whenever Crosby and Nash performed, he rushed to the edge of the stage, and in the darkness you could see him collapsing on a stool, seemingly exhausted.
Stills, however, was undoubtedly the cause for my highlight of the night; against all expectation, CSN performed Stills’ tune, “For What It’s Worth“, penned during his Buffalo Springfield days. I never thought I would be lucky enough to hear that performed live. It was everything I had hoped for.
Another unexpected song for the night was Stills’ solo performance of “4+20“, a song he reminded us was, “simply a passing childish phase. Don’t read too much into a fleeting phase“.
Crosby’s performance of his “Almost Cut My Hair” was a wonderful highlight as well, his voice leaping and soaring as if he was still a young man, belting out the lines:
“I feel like letting my freak flag fly
Cause I feel like I owe it to someone”
as if he was trying to tell us all, “You too can do this. Just believe”.
Rather than go through the wealth of material performed that night (around 2 and a half hours!), suffice to quote Graham Nash, responding to a request for a song from one of the front rows:
“We’ll play all the fucking songs we can remember man… all four of them. Or, in Crosby’s case, two“.
Their interplay with the audience was wonderful; introducing the song “Our House“, Crosby stated, “University studies have shown, that in the years between 1969 to 1974, 40% of all women who gave up their virginity, did so to this song…“, to which Stills wryly replied, “Yeah. And boy was I tired“.
The reality of the humour was forced home when a member of the audience threw a bra up onto the stage during one of the final songs. The boys looked at it for a while, and then Nash placed it up on his microphone stand, saying, “Wow. It’s been a loooong time since we had one of these thrown up at us“.
There was a magic there that night. Although the first half started off slowly, it was almost as if an energy built up and built up in the venue… eventually bursting the dams and possessing each and every person there, showing them the way of the music. So, naturally, when the band retired, there was a resounding encore call; to which the boys replied (of course), with stunning renditions of both “Teach Your Children” and “Woodstock“.
I grew up listening to CSN(Y); with both my mother and father avid fans, I really had no choice. So they had a lot to live up to that night.
They blew away each and every expectation I had.
Listen. Love. Support.
Listen: Crosby, Stills & Nash – 4+20 (live at Woodstock)
Listen: Crosby, Stills & Nash – Almost Cut My Hair
Listen: Crosby, Stills & Nash – Helplessly Hoping
Update 20 Dec:
I’ve just learned via Rolling Stone that Stephen Stills has been diagnosed with prostate cancer. According to the column:
Last night on Larry King Live, Graham Nash revealed that Stephen Stills, his bandmate in Crosby, Stills and Nash, has been diagnosed with prostate cancer. The revelation followed a discussion between King and Nash about the death of singer-songwriter Dan Fogelberg, who suffered from prostate cancer for three years before passing last Sunday. According to Nash, Stills — unlike Fogelberg — caught his at an early stage, and will be operated on January 3rd, which also happens to be Stills’ birthday.
Best wishes Stephen. We need you.