Crosby, Stills & Nash at Orpheum Theatre, 8/6/12
Orpheum Theatre, Minneapolis
Monday, August 6, 2012
Crosby, Stills & Nash is a band that needs no frills and no introductions. To a darkened room eagerly anticipating the trio and its band, the house music reached a climax as Stephen Stills, Graham Nash, and David Crosby walked onstage and approached their mics. The audience gave the band a standing ovation even before a note was played -- that's how excited they were.
No frills means no frills for this band, and they did not need any special effects. Playing before a backdrop that contained the band name and logo, they let the music speak for itself. Honestly, any of the three men could easily pass for the average grandfather with Stephen Stills wearing a polo shirt and jeans, and Graham Nash and David Crosby wearing simple black button down shirts -- it's just these three grandfathers have been rocking out for the past three-plus decades.
Opening with "Carry On/Questions," Minnesota folks had a hard time deciding what kind of audience it was going to be -- polite and friendly or a crowd there to see a rock show and dance in the aisles. A little bit of both, it seemed, sitting down for each song while cheering and sometimes even heckling the band during the pieces. The band either ignored the heckling or couldn't hear what was being said. No matter, they still thanked the audience for showing up and selling out the venue, all the while Graham Nash shared, "We're gonna be here for quite a while tonight." They certainly were with a set containing 25 songs with covers and new and old tunes in the mix.
In guitar playing, no one can hold a candle to Stephen Stills, but on "Southern Cross," he was able to show how he can break hearts with his soft, grainy voice, a compliment to Nash's light tenor and Crosby's soaring vocals.To slow down the pace a bit, the band integrated a new song written by keyboardist James Raymond into the set. "Lay Me Down" is a haunting piece sung by David Crosby that is instantly appreciated on the first listen, while "Radio," a new song written by Crosby and his son, may sound "nautical, but it's really about if you can reach out and help people," David Crosby shares. "Almost Gone (The Ballad of Bradley Manning)" is another song co-written by David's son James giving a voice to Bradley Manning, a jailed soldier, with the lyrics "tell the truth and it will set you free, that's what I was taught as a child."
The band covered Buffalo Springfield's "Bluebird" and the title track off their first album Déjà Vu, before the endearing, advice-ridden "Love the One You're With."
With such a long show, an intermission in the middle of the set was a welcome break that allowed a change of pace in the show. Video at the Orpheum was forbidden and strictly enforced, but photos without flash were allowed. Yet, as he came back onstage, David Crosby called out a lady by saying, "To the lady in the front row in the white shirt trying to take our picture right now, you can text outside for free. You didn't have to pay to come text." To be true, the concert experience in the 21st century is very different than it was back in the '70s, with everyone trying to capture the moment with their phones. Sometimes it's just nice to be in the moment and watch a show without the lens getting in the way.
The second half of the concert was a more sombre affair -- more intimate -- and a lovely change. The band reintroduced themselves with "Helplessly Hoping" and then segueing into "In Your Name," a piece dedicated to all those killed in the Sikh temple the previous day. The lyrics "Love, can you help me, help me deal with this pain, all this killing in your name," was so apt for the situation. Although they have been playing it throughout the tour, Stephen Stills said, "Here's a surprise for you: we're gonna do a Dylan song for you." The band had been on the road, and he saw the sign for the town of Hibbing covered in snow. For some reason, he could not get the song "Girl From the North Country" out of his head, so he had to learn it, leading him to perform it this evening. Left with just Crosby, Stills, and Nash onstage, the three blended their harmonies perfectly on the stunning love song made famous by the Minnesota singer.
Objectivity is sometimes a difficult thing for people to grasp. In this case, it may be that the band is so immersed in politics that they don't consider themselves a political band, but nonetheless David Crosby allowed, "I don't know why you call us a political band. The men who wrote our Constitution did not intend that they guy with the biggest T.V. budget gets the key to the kingdom. This is your country, your Constitution, your vote." This led to the opening of a poignant a capella rendition of "What Are Their Names."
For an unnamed song that he had only performed once in public previously, David Crosby introduced it with, "I'm going to do something I don't normally do. This is a new song. I'm scared. Here's what happened: I was in Europe looking at a street full of bars, and there were these girls down there practicing the world's oldest profession, and they were young. I started thinking about what their lives were like; what did they think, or how did they stop from thinking," bringing the heartache out with a gut-wrenching song about girls with said profession.
Welcoming back the full band for "Cathedral," the song runs the gamut with its tempo changes and layers. Starting with a Phantom-of-the-Opera-like organ, the tune features eerie lyrics before transitioning into a full rock song. Before breaking into their hit "Our House," the band shared a story of Jamie, a friend who follows them around (at this point of the story, some douchebag screamed out, "Groupie!") in a wheelchair, and whom they met twenty-six years ago at the Orpheum Theatre. Graham Nash announced, "Jamie, wherever you are this is for you. We get older, but you don't," ushering in the nostalgic song.
For the last two songs of the regular set, Crosby, Stills & Nash made sure to include the classics "Almost Cut My Hair" and "Wooden Ships" -- which included a jam session in the middle of the piece, but the encore was what the whole room sat through the two hour set for. Asserting that, "We know you know how to sing, and we know that you know this song. Let's do it for the teachers," the band broke into the moving "Teach Your Children Well." The song may be over forty years old, but the simple lyrics "feed them on your dreams, the one they picked, the one you'll know by, don't you ever ask them why, if they told you you would cry, so just look at them and sigh and know they love you" still ring true today.
Critics bias: Nothing beats classic rock. It's interesting to see if any acts these days will have as much sustenance as Crosby, Stills & Nash.
The crowd: An older crowd of pure CSN fans, with a few sporting Neil Young tshirts.
Overheard in the crowd: "David Crosby is so potent; I think I may be pregnant."
Long Time Gone
Just a Song Before I Go
Lay Me Down
Almost Gone (The Ballad of Bradley Manning)
Love the One You're With
In Your Name
Girl From the North Country
What Are Their Names
(David Crosby song)
Almost Cut My Hair
Teach Your Children Well
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