David Crosby, June 12, 2015: Shows I’ll Never Forget

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Photo by Amy Kagan

Photo by Amy Kagan

Capitol Theater at Clearwater, Florida: For anyone who’s followed the labyrinthine soap opera that is Crosby Stills Nash and Young, the song “Cowboy Movie” – from David Crosby’s If I Could Only Remember My Name – has particular resonance.

It’s a thinly disguised parable about the quartet’s early squabbles, told as a loping Old West narrative. Eli (Stills) and the Duke (Nash) are battling over an “Indian girl” called Raven (that’s Rita Coolidge) as the outlaw gang’s other members, Fat Albert (Crosby) and Young Billy (Young) watch from the sidelines. This, of course, really happened, back in 1970. It’s what broke CSNY apart – the first time.

Today, with David Crosby and Neil Young on the outs over a public dig the former took at the latter’s new girlfriend Darryl Hannah, it seems that some things never really change. Yes, it’s déjà vu all over again. How refreshing, then, to see Crosby take the bull by the proverbial horns by putting “Cowboy Movie” front and center during his summer solo acoustic tour. (OK, it’s his encore, but we’re trying to make a point here.)

At 73, Crosby looks better than he has in decades. Of course, the walrus moustache and the lion’s mane are snow-white now, and he’s still a tad paunchier than he ought to be, but at the June 12 show in Clearwater, Florida, old Croz crowed and crooned like the Croz of old. Well, almost.

Some of the high notes were missing on “Carry Me” and “Déjà vu,” but otherwise David Crosby’s voice has retained its high-tenor warmth, and has mellowed (in a good way) considerably. Happily, he still does those jazzy, wordless vocal runs, and impeccably.

The dark horse in what remains of Crosby Stills and Nash (aka the mothership), he doesn’t do a lot of contemplative solos in their big-theater shows. And that’s too bad, because he is the trio’s most idiosyncratic songwriter, the biggest musical risk-taker, and – especially in this here 21st Century – the best vocalist. Contemporary CSN shows are touring museum pieces, all flash and familiarity. And whether or not they can still reach those golden harmonies together, well, that’s a discussion for a different day.

Alone onstage for his first-ever solo excursion ‘round the country, David Crosby was comfortable, he was chatty, and he was only too happy to play lesser-known songs, tunes from his recent Croz album (gotta promote that product!) and even a few newly written pieces. From his days in the Byrds came “Everybody’s Been Burned.” He cheerily introduced “Triad” by saying: “I gotta clear something up; this song wasn’t responsible for getting me kicked out of the Byrds.” Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman drove to his house that day in ’68 and said, “Crosby, you’re out of the band. You’re an asshole.”

Because he writes and plays with alternative guitar tunings, Crosby used a different instrument for virtually every song. (A tech walked them out to him.) He performed “What Are Their Names” a cappella. The set list included chestnuts like “Guinnevere” and “The Lee Shore” – although Crosby adamantly refused to take requests, much to the chagrin of the drunken lout who kept calling for “Almost Cut My Hair.”

Instead, we got “In My Dreams,” “Naked in the Rain,” “Thousand Roads,” “Rusty and Blue” and Joni Mitchell’s “For Free” (one of the few played in standard guitar tuning). The audience (except for that one guy) was rapt and receptive for the entire concert, which Crosby gratefully acknowledged.

Crosby-Nash shows are fun and (mostly) musically satisfying. (Those two still harmonize like nobody’s business.) Throw barking, growling Stephen Stills (and a band) into the mix, however, and things get loud and sloppy. That’s where the money is, though, so they have to do it. And they do it a lot.

But David Crosby, alone and acoustic, now that was something special.

Bill DeYoung

Bill DeYoung

Bill DeYoung spent 35 years as a music journalist before giving it up for a (relatively) cushy job in public relations. His essays appear in more than 100 CDs (including the Cat Stevens Box Set, Stephen Stills’ 'Manassas Pieces' and Chicago’s 'Stone of Sisyphus'). He is also the author of 'Skyway: The True Story of Tampa Bay’s Signature Bridge and the Man Who Brought it Down.' See www.billdeyoung.com; contact Something Else! at reviews@ somethingelsereviews.com.
Bill DeYoung
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