Crosby, Stills & Nash
Bournemouth International Centre
Saturday 5th October 2013
2 hours 50 minutes
Graham Nash – vocals, guitar, keyboards
David Crosby – vocals, guitar, 12 string guitar
Stephen Stills – vocals guitars
James Raymond – keyboards
Shane Fontayne – guitar
Kevin McCormick – bass guitar
Steve Distanislao – drums
Todd Caldwell – Hammond B3
Carry On / Questions
Long Time Gone
Lay Me Down
Time I Have (new Crosby song)
Exit Zero (new Nash song)
Love The One You’re With
Golden Days (New Nash song)
Teach Your Children
What are their names?
Just A Song Before You Go
Burning For The Buddha (new Nash song)
Almost Cut My Hair
Suite Judy Blue Eyes
It’s been a long time coming. Ouch. Thirty-nine years since I last saw them, me and 79,999 others. That was Wembley 1974, when Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young were headlining a day with Jesse Colin Young, The Band, Tom Scott & The L A Express, Joni Mitchell. It was the end of a 1974 tour, when inexplicably, The Band were supporting them. I say inexplicably, because earlier the same year Bob Dylan and The Band’s ‘Before The Flood’ tour had broken all records for ticket applications. In retrospect, Wembley has been described as one of CSNY’s weaker shows, though next year’s promised 1974 box set will answer that one. They each did a solo set back then. I thought Graham Nash was on stunning form on that night, surprising to me because I’d always enjoyed Stephen Stills’ songs the most on record. Crosby and Stills were less so, and Neil Young was definitely on an off night. To me, The Band and Joni with the LA Express were the highlights of the day. But, hey, thirty-nine years means I only recall set opinions. I’ll be fascinated to hear it next year.
CSN are in a good place now. David Crosby has an eagerly-anticipated solo album due in early 2014, there’s the promised 1974 box set, and Crosby & Nash, with Jackson Browne, sing all over Jonathan Wilson’s new album. I’ve enjoyed their various autobiographies, find all of them extremely likeable survivors. The secret is that they most often compose songs solo, the styles and voices are distinctive, but then it’s all tied together by that magnificent wash of three part vocals. I’m pleased they’re minus “Y” in that I’d rather hear them apart. 2006’s “Déjà vu Live” album by CSNY was two-thirds Neil Young material, and his guitar sound was all over the rest.
Let’s start before the show. The concession stand had T-shirts at £22 and £30, and CDs and box sets at reasonable prices. The real CSN unique feature was kingsize CSN rolling papers for £5. Never seen that before. Before the show they announced that cameras ‘tablets and iPhones’ could not be taken into the hall. How you stop 3000 people carrying their iPhones (or equivalents) I don’t know. And sensibly no one tried.
This is the first gig on the UK tour, and the Bournemouth International Centre, designed more for political conferences has about thirty rows of flat seating then steep terraces. From experience, it usually sounds better on the flat. Not tonight. There was a row of six 4 foot x 4 foot (i.e. huge) J-Sub subwoofers below the stage. It might work in some halls. In this one it was a misconceived sound system at a basic level. We’ll come on to it later, but the bass guitar was overwhelming. I don’t think I’ve seen a show where it was often hard to hear either the drums or the lead guitar through the bass part. For Leonard Cohen, five weeks ago, I was sitting directly in front of the seat I had tonight, so the same position. The mix was a lot louder than Leonard Cohen’s hi fi sound, but not “too loud” … in fact voices, drums and guitars and organ solos were about right, and nothing was distorted. It was just the bass guitar being so much louder than anything else, though again, undistorted.
I was in row three, maybe eight or nine feet from the nearest subwoofer, and sitting so my head was in line with one of the six J-subs. Interestingly, nearly three hours later for the encore, we were all standing and there were maybe five rows of people between us and the subwoofer absorbing the sound, and my head was suddenly well above the J-sub So in the encore, to my amazement the bass guitar actually sounded good … as it might well have done further back or in the terrace earlier. As it was the bass guitarist was a dampener on the sound throughout, and they suddenly soared into the stratosphere when he was off stage, or playing less. He is a “relentless” bass player rather than a melodic bass player too, so he was playing pretty much all the time, rather than having spaces between notes. He also seemed to end virtually every song by holding a chord shape and patting all four strings hard with an open hand. Nice a couple of times, but done too often.
They have a recorded overture, an instrumental version of A Day In The Life with lights down, which is very effective. I assume it’s a Stephen Stills re-recording. The show started with Carry On, and we got the soaring voices, but not that wash of acoustic guitars. Throughout, I thought Crosby & Nash sounded better when with acoustic guitars, and I think they could have left the electric guitars to Still and the extremely gifted Shane Fontayne. I think four electric guitars, as it often was, added an edge of messiness. When Stephen Stills took a guitar solo in Carry On, it was almost inaudible, and they didn’t get him up properly in the mix till the third number. You’re supposed to get that balance right before the show, not during it, and face it, Stephen Stills soloing is one of the delights you come to see. But the sound was improving through Marrakesh Express and Long Time Gone. As in 1974, Graham Nash seems to take the leader role, more often taking lead vocals, especially earlier on, and doing more introductions … though whenever David Crosby joined him and chatted to the audience he exuded such good vibes that we all felt the warm glow. That is a magic quality.
Southern Cross is simply my favourite CSN number of all time, and it was a great thrill to hear Stills singing it live. He missed one note badly, but I don’t think any of us cared. 99.5% of it was right … and it looked as if he whispered ‘Sorry’ to the others afterwards.
Lay Me Down (a Crosby and Nash song) came next, and for three or four songs Stills either watched, or just played a little guitar. I had heard that this tour was originally to be a Crosby & Nash tour, but they were able to bring Stills back in after the Buffalo Springfield reunion had ceased earlier than expected. It is obvious in box office terms that CSN attract more than C&N, and indeed CSNY is the biggest draw of all. However, C&N have spent many years as a duo, and it’s easier all round to keep a segment like that. Cathedral came next with Nash recounting the acid trip in Winchester Cathedral story (recounted in the CSN box set) and playing keys. The sound was noticeably improving with fewer people and less bass.
They’re at pains NOT to be an oldies act. I wondered if Graham Nash had noticed the adverts for his contemporaries due soon at the same venue on packages … The Searchers, Gerry & The Pacemakers (a name starting to have a double-edge!), The Fortunes, The Zombies, The Animals, The Yardbirds. Meanwhile, The Hollies are on their 2013 50th Anniversary Tour, not that it’s coming to the BIC. If he had seen the posters it would be the n’th time his decision to get out of all that and over to the West Coast was fully vindicated. So no, not an oldies act. Several songs in the set have yet to see the light of day on record. What Time Have We Now? was announced as a new Crosby song, presumably from his forthcoming solo set (NOTE: I’m sure he announced it as What Time Have We Now? but the title is in fact Time I Have) . This was followed by the powerful Exit Zero which Nash says he wrote when ‘herbally challenged’ driving through Colorado and seeing the flames over an oil refinery. What with the rolling papers on the concession stand, they try to live up to that old 70s “Crosby, Pills & Hash” tag!
Stephen Stills returned for Buffalo Springfield’s Bluebird with the sort of magnificent guitar playing from Stills I’d hoped to hear (and by now they had him right in the mix). He got a huge ovation from the crowd, and deservedly so.
Crosby introduced Déjà vu saying that Stills wrote the rock classics, Nash wrote the anthems that people sang around the world and he wrote the weird shit. This was the point when everyone did a showcase solo around the band, and it was somewhat messy and disjointed after the more solo stuff, but then I guess it was on the record.
The first set was closed by Stills with a rousing Love The One You’re With.
The second set immediately had a better sound. Maybe someone had told them about how overwhelming the bass guitar was. Helplessly Hoping was far quieter (I think it was without the keyboard players) and sounded beautiful. Musically, one of the stand out songs of the night (though not in crowd pleasing terms).
Then we got the debut or premiere of a new Graham Nash song, composed with guitarist Shane Fontayne, Golden Days. He announced that neither Crosby or Stills had heard it yet. He performed it with just Shane Fontayne on guitar, and James Raymond (who is producing the Crosby album) on keys. It’s a very good one and Crosby gave him a hug.
Teach Your Children was another musical highlight, again much less busy which benefitted the song. Beautifully sung too.
Stephen Stills did his own Treetop Flyer with himself on guitar plus just drums and bass (possibly some keys). As with all the guitar playing showcases he got massive applause.
What Are Their Names? is Crosby’s pithy political piece from Déjà vu Live , sung by Crosby and Nash unaccompanied by any instruments. They went on to Guinevere, with just the two of them singing, and Crosby playing acoustic guitar. They do this acoustic stuff so well. I’d lil to see more of it. Both have retained their full voices
The band were back for Just A Song Before I Go which led into another recent Nash composition, Burning For The Buddha. He talked about the Buddhist priest who had set fire to himself in Vietnam and the impact that had had, then told us that 128 Buddhists had done the same in just the last year in Tibet. And there is no publicity.
David Crosby gave a talk about how songs evolve over the years and said we’d have to guess the next song … it was Triad. To my amusement, online set lists for CSN describe this as “a Jefferson Airplane cover.” Hardly fair on the composition which allegedly was the final straw that led to him leaving The Byrds. So it’s been redone radically. Problem is that the radical remake sits on loud relentless bass guitar, and we’d just been getting over that, but got it back louder than ever. It may have evolved, but to this Grace Slick fan, and someone who loves the Airplane version, and likes The Byrds outtake too, it’s gone in the wrong direction. I thought it was truly dire. Sorry.
A very solid Our House with audience singalong put the show back on track. I have mentioned this elsewhere as twee. I take it back. It still is charming. The bass on this was the most excruciating of the night though, and I think it was synth bass on the keyboard, or the bass player was doing a lot without moving much.
Chicago was great, but another surprise was how well Crosby hollered our Almost Cut My Hair … a magnificent interpretation that more than made up for Triad and caused a spontaneous standing ovation when it finished.
He strapped on a 12 string for a very 1969 Wooden Ships, sounding much more like Jefferson Airplane in full flight than the first CSN album version. Mind you, yet again, when the whole band was going, that bass came up again, and I thought, ‘Well, it might have been OK if it were Jack Casady.’ But it wasn’t.
Another out of focus iPhone shot … encore with other smartphones glowing … people waited till the encore. Bass player visible between Graham Nash & David Crosby
It’s interesting how for so much of the show Nash seems the leader, then two powerful enders rely on Crosby … and for the encore we have Stills on Suite Judy Blue Eyes which was a wonderful experience, and as mentioned earlier, a few rows of bodies blocking off the subwoofers, then standing up with your head above the subwoofers, the bass guitar even sounded good.
An enjoyable evening. A nice atmosphere from three of the all-time greats. The lighting plot was unobtrusive but excellent in picking out changing singers and focus correctly without fuss. A lovely effect in the air above Crosby on Guinevere.
Good music, shame about the mix at times, but it does seem a factor of the flat seating. On overall sound balance, Leonard Cohen a few weeks earlier was vastly, vastly better from the same position, as were Paul Simon, James Taylor and Jackson Browne in this hall … and Jackson apparently had the same bass guitarist too. So I would put it down to inappropriate equipment for the type of hall, with so many people seated flat directly in line of those subwoofers, and poor mixing. Maybe it sounded better further back or on the terraces. Please feel free to comment if you were there (Because comments are moderated there is a time gap before they appear).
SEE ALSO: The Toppermost site, with Top Tens of many artist. Link here is to the article on Crosby, Stills & Nash by me.