MUSIC REVIEW: Crosby, Stills & Nash at Tanglewood

Classical Music
At Large

Crosby, Stills & Nash

Lenox, Mass.
September 1, 2010


Review by Abby Wood


(LENOX, Mass., Sept. 2, 2010) - Nobody came into last night’s concert at Tanglewood expecting folk-rock legends Crosby, Stills and Nash to sound exactly the same as they did on stage at Woodstock over forty years ago.



Then again, nobody expected them to sound absolutely horrible either. And what the audience got was pretty much some mix of the two: an altogether good performance, with some high points and some mediocre performances. It is always difficult for an older band to attempt to reinvent their sound in order to avoid playing the same thing over and over again; overall, CSN has done an impressive job so far, reworking some of their old classics into hard-rocking tunes.



However, somewhere along the way, the band lost some of the original folky pizzazz that drew so many listeners to them in the first place. That being said, few left disappointed (a heaping helping of crowd-pleaser numbers took care of that), but few were completely blown away either. Despite this, each member of the band had a chance to show his distinct musical colors during his time in the spotlight.



Crosby looked the most age-worn out of the group--probably stemming from his past with drugs, a liver transplant in the mid-'90s, and diabetes; and his lack of movement during the first few numbers was a little disconcerting. All concerns seemed to melt away, however, when he delivered a surprisingly powerful “Long Time Gone.” Crosby has by far the most distinctive voice of the group (not to mention the most distinctive hair), and it shone in all its gritty, bluesy glory on this number. If one thing can be said about the group’s songwriting capabilities, it’s that most of the lyrics are still relevant today; hearing Crosby belt out the line “Speak out!” emphasized that. After the song, Crosby graciously pointed out his two band-mates, but exactly what he was giving them credit for on the tune was unclear—he had clearly taken it to the next level all by himself.



Stills may have been the rock guitar god of the night, but his voice was merely mortal. Even “Southern Cross,” a fan-favorite, fell a bit flat with Stills on lead vocals. Of course, he does still play an integral part in the beautiful harmonies for which the group is known (and still delivers just as brilliantly as ever). Making up for his lack of vocal presence alone, Stills gave it his all on the electric guitar. His rock-out solos were impressive for the first few songs, but after three or four, they got to be a little stale, and didn’t always vibe with the song being played. It was as if he was trying to prove something; but just because he has the talent (which he definitely does), doesn’t mean he has to fill every gap with a lengthy solo jam session. They’re not the Grateful Dead, after all.



Nash was the most free-spirited on the stage, with bare feet, a glass of red wine, and amusing little quips in between songs, such as “As a songwriter…sometimes it’s hard to write about deep shit,” or, “I was just thinking, that if we played every song we ever recorded, we’d be here for fucking years!” Like Crosby, Nash supplied some amazing vocals, but on a much more subdued level than his band-mate. “In Your Name,” a reflective song about violence caused by religious differences that he called a “small prayer,” was a nice break from the rock and roll of the first set. Nash’s voice was soft but forceful at the poignant parts, giving the lyrics an emotional and spiritual tone. Nash had perhaps the most entertaining stage presence, hopping around, dancing to Stills’ solos, and juggling guitar, harmonica, and even a little cowbell. His harmonica on Neil Young’s “Long May You Run” was great, but total overkill on “Déjà Vu.” Some songs, especially the popular ones, are better off when left as is.



While hits like “Our House,” “Teach Your Children,” and “Love the One You’re With” garnered enormous applause, the real gems of the night were not CSN tunes, but the multitude of ‘60s- and ‘70s-era covers that the band produced, including a stripped down version of the Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood,” the Rolling Stones’ “Ruby Tuesday,” the Who’s “Behind Blue Eyes,” and Buffalo Springfield’s (of which Stephen Stills was founding member along with Neil Young) “For What It's Worth.” The covers seemed to breathe new life into the band, perhaps because they were a chance for them to play something outside of their own repertoire. Each one was a perfect tribute to a musical era gone by but not forgotten.



The highlight of the evening was a lesser-known tune, “What Are Their Names,” from Crosby's first solo album, sung a cappella by just Crosby and Nash. The pair’s soaring voices resonated throughout the Shed and lawn, reviving the protest song into a touching ballad. Although Stills completes the trio’s incredible harmonies, these two can definitely hold their own just fine without him (and sometimes they do, performing and recording as Crosby & Nash).



It is refreshing to see an older band still rocking at a venue they last played decades ago. And even if the band isn’t exactly known for “rocking out” (and should perhaps stick to their classic sound a little more often), at least they had fun doing it. 



 Abby Wood is the editorial assistant at Berkshire Living.





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