Crosby Stills and Nash are both pioneers and survivors. They can be regarded as forefathers of the whole West Coast scene and the voice of the late sixties American counterculture, and though their initial burst of creativity was brief before they went their separate ways, after a chequered career they seem to have settled happily into leaving their legacy.
They are fairly regular visitors to these shores- two years ago I saw an excellent show at the Albert Hall and this UK tour included two London dates at Hammersmith but the better tickets (albeit for a slightly shorter show) were to be had at the Brighton Centre so it was Saturday night trek down to the South Coast.
The atmosphere was a little different from that which I am used to at gigs – for a start there seemed to be as many people in their seventies as even in their fifties. There was also a hushed reverence more suited to a classical concert.
From the start of the first of two sets it was clear the trio were sharing the burden equally, Stephen Stills getting the show started with lead vocals and some tasty guitar work on ‘Carry On/Questions’, supported by the band’s trademark harmonies, before after some laboured football-related banter from Graham Nash, his mid-Atlantic accent introduced ‘Long Time Coming’ with David Crosby in fine voice, one of the reminders of CSN’s political leanings at the time. Graham then showed the lighter side of the hippy dream with ‘Marrakesh Express’, one of their many able sidemen, former Bruce Springsteen guitarist Shane Fontayne, playing a country flavoured guitar solo.
The first half stuck surprisingly closely to greatest hits with ‘Just A Song Before I Go’ giving way to a rockier ‘Southern Cross’ which really took flight as Graham added a layer of great harmony singing over the top of Stephen’s rather gruffer vocals, which have not stood the test of time as well as his colleagues.
Graham took to piano for ‘Cathedral’ which had a beautifully constructed, dynamic feel and ‘Our House’ (an anecdote about Joni Mitchell reminding people that it predated a Building Society Commercial!) and there was even a rare crowd sing-along.
Joking that his role was to play the ‘weird shit’ to complement Graham’s accessible anthems and Stephen’s rockier tendencies, David then introduced ‘Déjà Vu’ which did drag on rather especially with nearly every backing band member, including his own son as one of the two keyboardists, given a solo slot, though it was brought back to a climax in fine fashion with some great harmonies between him and Graham, before Stephen gave the first set a rockier conclusion with a song from his Buffalo Springfield days.
The usual template is to experiment in the first half of a set and save the hits till later but, after some more great harmonising in ‘Hopelessly Hoping’, much of the second half was given over to individual solo slots. Stephen got in some good natured barbs at erstwhile bandmate Neil Young and Bob Dylan whose ‘Girl From The North Country’ he covered acoustically while Graham played a new song ‘Myself At Last’, though after he dedicated it one wag behind me said ‘isn’t he a bit old to have a girlfriend’.
Meantime after David’s solo slot, a lone heckler shouted ‘I love you David’ to which he memorably replied that he said he would rather hear it from a woman – ‘otherwise it reminds me too much of prison’.
Gradually the guitars were plugged back in as Stephen’s ‘Virtual World’ came over as a cross between Neil Young and Mark Knopfler and Graham returned to the piano for ‘Chicago’, before more ‘Crosby weird shit’ in ‘Almost Cut My Hair’ and ‘Wooden Ships’, a chance for the band to rock out and Stephen in conjunction with Shane to prove he is a tasteful, underrated guitarist, though at a ‘mere’ eight minutes long it was shorter than I had witnessed in the past.
For the encores the crowd finally roused themselves to their feet to relive a time long ago with ‘Teach Your Children’ and ‘Suite: Judy Blue Eyes’, which belatedly came to the boil with the closing scat singing delivered with harmonies of breathtaking precision.
Silver of mane but golden of voice, in the autumn of their careers Crosby Stills and Nash are still doing one of rock music’s most interesting legacies proud. Try and see them while you still can.
Review and Photos by Andy Nathan
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