Friday, July 6, 2012

Crosby, Stills and Nash at nTelos Pavilion, Charlottesville, Virginia, July 5, 2012

Crosby, Stills and Nash
nTelos Pavilion
Charlottesville, Virginia
July 5, 2012

"We can change the world
Rearrange the world" 
- CSN, "Chicago"

     Those of us in the grey hair population remember when we actually thought that was true.  Crosby, Stills and Nash were our spokespersons, our conscience, our collective soul.  They gave voice to a generation of war protesters, environmental activists, optimists and romantics.  Their art was (and, amazingly, stil is) more than their music.  They were relevant, important and vital.

      I have several vivid memories of this group:

1) I remember standing on a dock at the old Tidal Basin Boat Center in Washington, D.C.  where I worked summers and hearing "Ohio" for the first time on the radio.  All activity stopped while we listened to the angry rage of that song, released only weeks after the Kent State student killings.  We all felt this but CSNY put it out there in such a forceful and undeniable way. 
2)  I saw their performance (again with Neil Young) at the old Capitol Center in Washington, D.C. in 1974 which was about two or three days after Richard Nixon resigned because of the Watergate Scandal.  That was a show that is forever etched in my memory, especially the all out Stills-Young jams on "Carry On" during a lengthy encore.

3) I recall being stunned by the beauty of the vocal harmonies when the "Crosby, Stills and Nash" album was released and then being even more blown away by the follow-up "Deja Vu". 

So, it was with great mixed emotions that I purchased tickets to this show.  Would they be a shell of their former selves, resurrecting a tour to cash in on boomer nostalgia?  Would this be a "mail it in" performance of rehashed oldies but goodies like those awful rock and roll oldies videos played on NPR during their fund drives?  Or, would this somehow be a rekindling of the spirit of the '60s?  I figured it was worth the price of admission to find out.

    It was miserably hot in Charlottesville on July 5th.  The heat index was over 100 at show time.  nTelos distributed paper fans to help people cool off.  A bottle of water, though, was still $3.00.  The weather conditions were, in a word, oppressive. 

     Show time was 7:00 P.M. and there was no advertised opening act.  At about ten minutes after the hour David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash walked on the stage unannounced and without fanfare.  Their band followed.  They picked up their instruments and boomed into "Carry On" - the same song I remembered from so many years ago.  It was obvious from this beginning that this night belonged to the Rock and Roll Hall of Famers and was going to be special.

     They played an extensive set list over nearly three hours (with one brief intermission).  They incorporated all of their hits as well as the great songs from their solo careers.  They dipped deep into their collective repertoire for such gems as Buffalo Springfield's "Bluebird" (juiced up by some great guitar playing from Stills), Crosby and Nash's "Wind on the Water" and finishing their first set with a rollicking kick-butt version of Stills' "Love the One You're With."

     The highlights (of which there were many) were from the CSN and Deja Vu albums:  "Helplessly Hoping", "Marakesh Express", "Our House" (with robust audience participation) and "Guinnevere" to name several. They validated their ongoing social consciousness with rousing renditions of "Chicago" and new songs dedicated to Bradley Manning, the U.S. Army private who leaked government secrets to Wikileaks and "In Your Name", a new Graham Nash tune which is a prayer asking God to stop the "killing in your name".  

    David Crosby really let loose in "Almost Cut My Hair".  During that song, the impossible happened.  I guess it was when Crosby bellowed/sang/screamed "I guess it was because I had the blues for Christmas" there was a time warp and it was indeed 1970 again.  I wanted to "let my freak flag fly" like Crosby, whose long, flowing white hair was billowing in the artificial wind created by an onstage fan.  The finale was a rousing "Wooden Ships" with Stills using every effects pedal known to man and destroying the whammy bar on his Stratocaster.  

     The encore was an acoustic "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes" with Stills acoustic/electric  solo leading into a full band final last verse and chorus.  This was a fitting ending to a memorable evening of music.

     Sure, there was an occasional technical lapse -  a missed solo entrance here, a slight missed harmony there, but give these guys credit.  The temperature was in the 90s for the entire show and probably hotter on stage.  These fellows aren't exactly spring chickens anymore either.  Crosby even quipped early on that we may be the audience "that gets to finally see us carried off a stage."   But for 180 minutes, Crosby, Stills and Nash turned back the clock and reminded us of when music meant something more than the bottom line on a spread sheet.  They entertained and mesmerized their audience.  They actually made me feel eighteen again, if just for a moment.  They gave a great performance for the ages under lousy conditions and, somehow, seemed to enjoy it.  They deserve to be the Hall of Famers that they are.

(Note: This was another "No Camera" event at the Charlottesville nTelos Pavilion.  I have alluded to this in previous post.  The folks at this venue have taken this to a new level, however and it is obnoxious.  The ushers climb over seats and yell at audience members who dare to brandish a smart phone or digital camera.  I did sneak the one photo during the encore, but would have really liked to have taken some more photos with a higher quality camera.  I think that Crosby, Stills and Nash should write a new song about the photo Nazis at the concert venues where they perform.)

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