Crosby, Stills & Nash: Entwining Masterpieces

Against all odds, the famously dysfunctional team of David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash are still touring the world some 46 long years since their debut album. Their tumultuous career has seen highs and lows, both of which were displayed at various points during their performance at Berlin’s Tempodrom on that rainy night, 7th of October.

Proceedings kicked off with Déjà Vu opener ‘Carry On’, which picked up considerably when they hit the ‘Questions’ section and began to warm up. A somewhat sluggish ‘Marrakesh Express’ followed before they stepped things up a notch with ‘Long Time Gone’. The burst of energy continued into a spirited version of Nash’s ‘Military Madness’, all the more poignant considering the crumbling monument standing opposite the concert hall, riddled with holes from the shelling it received during World War II.

Time has played her hand differently for each of the stars of this show, their excesses and age affecting them in varied ways. Stills’ voice has become coarse and patchy, leading him to battle through his vocal parts with audible difficulty. Nash avoids the highest notes of his recorded work but for the most part he sounds much as he did in the ‘70s. Stunningly, Crosby has become a veritable powerhouse. Despite his staggering drug abuse in days gone by, he sings with remarkable vigour and sometimes sounds stronger than he ever has before.

Fantastic versions of ‘Déjà Vu’ and Buffalo Springfield classic ‘Bluebird’ provided an opportunity to stretch out musically; harmonica, keyboard, bass and guitar solos ably demonstrating how well CSN and their backing band can handle their instruments. However, the 20 minute intermission seemed to bring their energy level down and they began the second set with a shaky version of ‘Helplessly Hoping’ but gained momentum as they split off into a couple of as-yet-unrecorded solo tracks, both of which were excellent.

Crosby’s ‘60s masterpiece ‘Guinevere’ is easily one of the most beautiful songs ever written, a dark and delicate piece that he and Nash sing with sinuous, intertwining harmonies. Crosby joked that they do it differently at every show as they can never remember how they sang it the night before, and the version they performed for Berlin retained the spellbinding mood of the original but with different vocal syncopations.

Following this, Stills and the band returned to the stage and they powered through the rest of the set with gusto. ‘Almost Cut My Hair’ was utterly monstrous with Crosby belting like his life depended on it and Stills playing his ass off like a man possessed. Similarly, ‘Wooden Ships’ became epic; the jazz-like verses giving way to a burning exchange between guitar and organ.

The audience flocked to the front of the stage for the encore, which began quietly with the rolling country vibe of ‘Teach Your Children’. They launched into party mode with a suitably jaunty reading of Stills’ solo hit ‘Love the One You’re With’ before closing with the first song off their first album, the much-loved ‘Suite: Judy Blue Eyes’. The crowd went absolutely nuts, and it was clear that any imperfections on display did little to dampen the love for these old heroes.

By Greg Reason

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