Crosby, Stills and Nash Play Their Debut Album – Royal Albert Hall (London – 10/11/13)
Friday night at the Royal Albert Hall was one of those nights where you probably had to be there. It was an event; with expectations high as this was the night, possibly cleverly marketed, where they were playing their 1969 debut album in full.
The crowd made for an interesting mix, with good numbers of women and not just those accompanying their greying partners, but lots of what looked like mother & daughter combinations, and unlike many CSN gigs I have attended in the past, a good smattering of young 20 somethings.
As the stage lights dimmed bang on 8 p.m. it was clear that there was not an empty seat in the place and on strode the famous trio. Behind them were a 5 piece band comprising long time cohorts James Raymond on piano, Todd Caldwell on B3 organ, Steve DiStanislao on drums, Kevin McCormack on bass and Shayne Fontayne on guitars. The noise ratcheted up as Stills strat got into a groove and the opening bars to a revamped “Carry On” got us underway. From there straight into “Military Madness”, “Just A Song Before I Go” and “Southern Cross” and we’d barely heard from the Croz. Next up “Lay Me Down” and then Nash told us we would be getting the whole of the debut album in the second set, just in case any fans were stuck in Friday night traffic on the M1 🙂
The rest of that first set was fairly diverse, and I don’t do set lists (except in the memory cells) but we got to the stage where Croz announced a new song to be on his new album due for release in the New Year and he gave us “Radio”, clearly he’d forgotten it came out last year on the live “CSN 2012” release. Then Nash told the tale of the Tibetan monks who had burned themselves to death and how it inspired him and his co-writers to write “Burning for the Buddha”, it was a fairly tepid song and got a rather polite lukewarm response from the crowd at the end. Then Nash told us Stills, in sound check, had been playing a riff when him and Croz asked what it was, Stills replied a new song. We got “Don’t Want Lies” one of four new songs Stills put on The Rides album “Can’t Get Enough” that came out in August. To be fair he made no attempt to peddle it and you wonder if C & N listen to Stills output. After its lightly picked opening motif it moved into its blues mode with C & N adding wonderful harmonies to the chorus before Stills blazed into a blues solo of some magnitude gaining tremendous applause at the end before reaching back into the lyric, come songs end the crowd was on its feet and Stills took the adulation, twirling to one and all in the packed hall.
We were treated to old favourites “Our House”, “Bluebird” where Stills stuck pretty much to the 9 minute (only once released) version again bringing the house down with his soloing, before we got a simply stunning and long “Déjà Vu”, with again Stills sticking close to the parts he played on the original before giving a formidable solo to bring things to a climax and the set ended with “Love The One You’re With”. We’d now had 90 minutes of fine music and were told there would be a 20 minute intermission.
Duly taken the trio emerged with Stills strapping on his Martin for the first time in the evening (he’d played an array of Fender Strats and Gretsch White Falcons throughout the first set) and the crowd went nuts as he played the intro to “Suite:Judy Blue Eyes”. Sure the harmonies, as in the first set, were a little ragged in places, but the feel, the music and the crowd were there for the experience, being taken back in time, transported to days of their youth, 1969/70. “Marrakesh Express” followed with Shayne Fontayne to the fore and Stills trading his rhythm part with him before the stage was left to C & N for “Guinnevere”. Next up a song I love and have possibly only seen them perform once before “You Don’t Have To Cry”, Stills picking his Martin with all his majesty. Then “Pre-Road Downs”, never a favourite and again I may have seen it played once, perhaps not, but the band found an energy and groove that suited the song well and Stills once more enthralled everyone with a great solo in the middle and as the dying notes faded we were straight into an epic “Wooden Ships”. This was a voyage, Stills took the song to new heights, the band right in behind him, the singing as good as you could wish. Back to C& N for Nashs’ “Lady of the Island”. “A jaunty “Helplessly Hoping” and a very taut, rockin’ “Long Time Gone” followed before I got to see “49 Bye-Byes” played live for the first time in my life, and what a staggering make-over to fit the band and the mood. Full of light and shade as Stills sang the opening verse, with due reticence before the band came bounding in with the harmonies on the chorus taking us off into another sphere as the song rollicked along, then back to the serene as Stills gave us the second verse, then bang into the chorus. Such joy, such a performance and then it was over. That song was almost worth the price of admission alone.
Crosby, Stills and Nash took the applause standing centre stage and then Croz announced, that’s the end of the album but not of the set. Nash than sat at his electric piano as the lights blazed high above the stage and there in the spotlight, sat at the Albert Halls organ, was James Raymond (Nash explained it had taken them years to persuade the venue to let them use it) and the huge opening to “Cathedral” thundered through the hall and we got the song in all its majesty. There followed a squall of electric guitar as the crowd sat wondering, then the harmonic fills chimed in, the crowd went nuts and we were into “For What It’s Worth” followed by the hippies rail against authority, the great crowd pleaser “Almost Cut My Hair” before Nash again sat the piano to give us “Chicago” and they took the adulation and were gone. We got one encore “Teach Your Children” and at 11.20 they were done. Exactly three hours of some of the greatest music of our times, not bad for a group who are 72, 68 and 71 respectively.
I have read half a dozen reviews, all bar the Guardians outstanding, joyous, buying into what is, three greats of our time still willing to put it out there and in Stephen Stills, yes the voice may be croaking, although it was better than I had heard certainly in the past ten years, a guitar player who can stand with anyone. He’s lost weight and has got his mojo back. This was almost his show; he was the one the crowd rose to repeatedly, giving him numerous standing ovations throughout the night. CSN were the best I’ve seen them in twenty years. Long may they run 🙂