September 30, 2012

I’ve been a fan of Crosby Stills Nash and Young since high school.  My favorite album for a very long time, and it may still be, is 4 Way Street, their live album released in 1971.  I’ve always wanted to see CSN in concert, and last night I finally did.

My wife and I went to see them at Humphrey’s last night.  Humphreys is my favorite concert venue in San Diego, and perhaps anywhere.  It’s outside, under the stars, with a stage overlooking the sailboats at the Marina, and the atmosphere of a party with your good friends.

We arrived early, and went to our seats.  On the way, a cheery woman approached me and handed me a brochure and said, “Graham Nash wants you to read this.”

I replied, “Then I most certainly will.”  And I did.  It was a glossy brochure on the evils of plastic and the damage it is doing to the ocean and to marine life.  It was well done and fairly compelling.  I’m aboard.  Stop throwing plastic into the ocean and don’t use it when avoidable.  Check.  We then picked up our wine and beer in the plastic cups Humphreys provided, and took our seats on the plastic seats which I noted were held together with plastic zip-ties and sitting on Humphreys plastic astro-turf.

One other word on the seats.  The white plastic folding chairs are fun until the rest of the crowd arrives.  Then you realize you have less room than on Southwest Airlines and no arm-rests to keep other people out of your space.  In fact unless you’re surrounded by close friends, family members, or midgets, you will be bun-rubbing someone you don’t know.  We watched with great expectation as fairly large members of the crowd who were in the offensive lineman category of mass, sat on the spindly chairs.  I fully expected to hear the a gunshot pronouncement that one of the chairs had finally given way.  But none did, to my knowledge.

My wife and I tried to figure out the average age of the crowd.  I thought 57 or so, she thought, surely 63 or more, which would make the average age of the crowd seven years less than the average age of the band.  Stills is 69, Nash 70 and Crosby 71.  They looked it as they walked onto the stage.  Nash was barefoot, Crosby had long flowing white hair, at least in the back, and Stills looked dazed in his thick glasses.

They started with a rousing rendition of Carry On.  The instruments were terrific, but the initial vocals had people in the crowd looking at each other.  Someone was way off.  Probably Stills.  Then I noticed that of the other four musicians playing with them, three were singing on most of the songs featuring CSN’s famous tight harmonies.  They were getting help.  As the evening wore on their voices seemed to warm up and the vocals became tighter and more recognizable.

Then there were songs which featured each of them individually.  Crosby’s voice is as strong, or stronger, than it’s ever been.  He sounded amazing.  Nash sounded good, but seemed to be straining a lot. Stills is a different matter.  His voice has not worn well over the years.  He sounded hoarse and unable to put up much of a fight

They played a lot of their old classics and satisfied the audience’s hunger for the old days.  They even played Chicago, their paean to the demonstrations at the Democratic National Convention held in Chicago in 1968.  That song gave rise to the great line, “Rules and regulations who needs them.”  Well I bet CSN does, if people start walking off with their guitars or standing on stage uninvited.  What that line really means, is who needs the rules I don’t like?  Now that’s an attitude we can all agree with.  We’re all against the rules we’re against.

At one point David Crosby noted that they have been called a political band.  Then, tongue in cheek, he said, “We just play love songs.”  Hoots and laughter from the crowd.  Then he said he’d like to offer “just one thought.”  His thought was this gem, “I don’t think the men who wrote the U.S. Constitution believed that the first amendment means we have to give the presidency to the one with the most money for advertising.  It’s supposed to be to the one with the most votes!”

I guess that’s his criticism of the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission 588 US 310 (2010) in which the court allowed the until then illegal broadcast or payment for broadcast commentary or content regarding candidates for office funded by corporations or labor unions.  I guess David Crosby’s disagreement with the court’s analysis is that he believes only the New York Times, Newsweek, MSNBC and Fox News should be able to comment on candidates.  Not corporations or labor unions.  I think I disagree with him.

During another political commercial, this time Nash’s (when he wasn’t moving his arms and face like he was doing vocal yoga), he stopped to say that the U.S. government, I take it he means President Obama’s government, is torturing Bradley Manning, the Army enlisted man who allegedly released hundreds of thousands of classified documents to WikiLeaks.  He clearly feels strongly that Manning is being done wrong.  And he even wrote a song about it, which they then proceeded to sing, called Almost Gone.  The chorus says:

“What I did was show some truth to the working man,

What I did was blow the whistle and the games began.”

What Manning did was turn over hundreds of thousands of classified documents, including operational reports from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that showed US operating tendencies and locations to WikiLeaks.  You can read about it here. I think disclosing classified information should be wrong.  I might agree that there could be a time when doing so is justified.  So I wouldn’t say never (see the movie Safe House for an example of when it may very well be justified).  But this isn’t one of those times.  I guess I disagree with Mr. Nash on how Manning “showed some truth.”  Perhaps Mr. Nash is against all secrets like WikiLeaks seems to be.  If so, then perhaps he wouldn’t mind if someone published his bank account numbers and passwords.  Just some truth for the working man.

One of the burdens of attending a concert like this is that you are forced to suffer through political speeches with no ability to respond.  I guess that’s the risk you take when you go to hear a “political” band.  I used to agree with them.  Now, not so much.

But back to the concert.  One of the pleasant surprises was that one of Crosby’s sons, who he put up for adoption when he was young, James Raymond, played the keyboards and accompanied Crosby and Nash one of the best of the performances of the evening.  It was a beautiful ballad called Lay Me Down.  It was superb.  Intricate harmonies and deep feelings.

In summary, the concert was magnificent, CSN is very much worth seeing, even if, like for me, it’s your first time.  Nash said one thing I loved.  His goal is to do a huge stadium concert where the three bands from which each of them came would open, Buffalo Springfield (Stills) , The Hollies (Nash), and The Byrds (Crosby).  Then they’d take a break, and the concert would continue with a huge performance by Crosby Stills Nash AND Young.  The crowd went crazy.  Then when it quieted down, Crosby looked at him and said, “You’d better hurry.”

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