Crosby and Nash @ Symphony Hall, 6th October 2011

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There is no mistaking the unbridled joy that pours onto the Symphony Hall stage with Messrs Crosby and Nash, on this their first night of the UK leg of their world tour. You hear Graham say in the wings: “Are you ready?” and Dave answer resolutely: “No!”; followed by the two of them stumbling and laughing onto the stage. A few moments pass before the two of them can contain themselves, stop laughing and launch into a stunning version of “Eight Miles High”. David Crosby explains later in their charming banter with the audience that he is never ready and was in fact born ‘unready’. From the quality of the two hour plus performance, you would have never guessed.

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And this is the tone for the evening: stunning musicianship, laughter and an almost tangible thrill of pulling off the gig of the year. You watch Graham Nash punch the air after every song as if to say “We nailed it again”. But there is not a hint of arrogance in possibly the world’s most humble man; the gesture sometimes seems made out of relief, but mainly just an expression of total delight.

As you would imagine for the world’s first real super-group, the quality of the songs never stops and spans their 40 plus year careers. It is particularly special when they play a version of “Bus Stop”; a nod to Graham’s previous job in The Hollies and also having opened with a Byrds song.

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Despite the greying hairs and in Mr Crosby’s case, years of substance use, there is not a hint of a problem with the two singers’ voices. When singing alone, their characteristic qualities are as good as they were in the late 1960’s and when singing together, the harmonies are pure and intelligently worked out. I think I only missed the added vocal harmony of Stephen Stills once in the Nash composed “Marrakesh Express”; for the rest of the set the sound envelops you like the warm arms of an old friend.

The duo’s backing band is faultless and the set even includes compositions by keyboard player James Raymond (Crosby’s son); whose jazzy piano solo late in the set is dissonantly perfect, something Mike Garson I am sure would have been proud of. Special mention must also be made for the lead guitarist Shane Fontayne, who is outstanding throughout and managed to make his guitar sound like a dozen different guitars; hearing a pedal steel guitar sound coming from a standard Gretsch made me look twice and then lift my jaw off the floor.

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Although difficult to choose from such a solid performance, my personal highlights are a rare performance of the sublime “Taken At All”; a stunning harmonica solo from Nash in “Déjà vu”; the glorious “Long Time Gone”; and the audience participation in the uplifting “Our House” and encore “Teach Your Children”. Crosby’s “Almost Cut My Hair” is as powerful as it was when it was first written and judging by the mass of men in the audience with equally long and grey hair all nodding along, the lyrics, as well as the emotive vocal still resonate strongly.

The only time I feel the quality falter slightly is the song “In Your Name”, which although a vehicle for Nash’s good intentions, is lyrically rather naive; songs about senseless killing in god’s name are more your Sixth Form fodder. This is a minuscule, practically unnoticeable criticism though and only mentioned due to the incredibly high standards by the two fine songwriters. In fact, forget I ever mentioned it.

The show ends to a standing ovation and appreciative thanks from the two legends on stage. I can’t help feeling that Crosby and Nash, despite their unquestionable success and place in rock history, are just happy to be singing and playing their songs; there is no pretence or resting on laurels, they work very hard to ensure the quality of their craft never diminishes.

The English part of the tour continues to London, Gateshead and Sheffield over the next few days — I urge you to do whatever you can to get a ticket.

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Set included: Eight Miles High, I Used To Be A King, Wasted on the Way, Long Time Gone, Just a Song Before I Go, Marrakesh Express, Deja Vu, What Are Their Names?, They Want It All, Don’t Dig Here, Critical Mass/To The Last Whale, Our House, Military Madness, Almost Cut My Hair, Wooden Ships, Teach Your Children.

Review – Al Neilson
Photos – John Bentley

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