|David Crosby (left), Stephen Stills, and Graham Nash played for nearly two hours.|
Nearly 40 years after they were anointed cultural icons for the Woodstock generation, Crosby, Stills, and Nash have become so deeply woven into the fabric of American popular music that it's easy to forget, amid all the nostalgia, that they remain a living, breathing entity: still writing songs; still harmonizing; still capable of compassion, outrage, and transcendence.
Friday night's nearly two-hour concert (not counting intermission) at the
"For everybody that didn't get tickets to the [Red Sox-Yankees] game, we'll keep you posted, OK?" singer-guitarist Stephen Stills coyly announced, knowing full well that the genial opener that had preceded his comment, the Graham Nash-sung "Marrakesh Express," had done its job magnificently: the sun-dappled song, engineered to whisk us blissfully away, had just made the blue skies a little bluer.
Backed by a subtly wonderful four-piece band, the three principals traded instruments - acoustic for electric guitars, keyboards for maracas - as easily as they traded gossamer, gilded harmonies. The lion's share of the latter fell to Nash and David Crosby, while Stills mostly contented himself with playing bluesy lead guitar that refreshingly took a few knotty, winding detours on otherwise well-traveled melodic roads. On his lead vocal turns - and those were split among the three fairly evenly - Stills's hickory-smoked voice lent appealing amber shades to the autumnal "Southern Cross" and the Buffalo Springfield protest anthem "For What It's Worth."
If Stills's voice has always been the grittiest of the three, and Nash's the poppiest, Crosby's crystalline instrument is perhaps the most beautiful. It lent striking clarity to the organic psychedelia of "Deja Vu" and infused the golden "Guinnevere" with an ethereal delicacy. Incredibly, after all these years, Crosby's hippie anthem, "Almost Cut My Hair," retained its sense of desperate defiance in the face of bureaucratic authority and soul-crushing conformity. In other words, it sounded relevant again.
In fact, dissent, death, and war were recurring subjects and themes that threaded, like sadly beautiful eulogies or eloquently angry missives, through music that connected several generations of an audience that ranged from grandparents to teenagers.
Young wasn't there, but his virulently anti-Bush, anti-war presence (made more visible by the just-released documentary film, "Deja Vu," about CSN&Y's 2006 "Freedom of Speech" tour) seemed to loom in spirit over the proceedings. Nash's airy tenor did not lessen the righteous lesson of "Military Madness" or lighten the gravitas at the core of "In Your Name." If anything, its enduring sweetness drew the listener closer to the music's trenchant message. And that, in a nutshell, is what Crosby, Stills & Nash have always been about.