The recently renovated Lobero Theatre was the perfect backdrop for what was billed as a warm-up concert for his new mini tour to promote his first solo project in 20 years.
The theater, the oldest continuously operating live production venue in California, has removed 40 or so seats and replaced the remaining ones with much more comfortable plush new ones. The bathrooms and central air were also upgraded, but the original ornate charm of the theater has been kept intact. Another new addition to the venue is a larger outside bar with myriad local winery and brewery choices, and patrons can now bring their drinks into the venue with them.
Amid the celebration of the upgraded Lobero, Crosby and a team of five seasoned musicians played two full sets lasting nearly three hours into the night. Although Crosby was born in Los Angeles, he has lived in Santa Barbara since his elementary school days, attending both Crane Country Day School and Laguna Blanca School in Santa Barbara. He then graduated from Cate School in Carpinteria before going to Santa Barbara City College. By 1960, he dropped out to become a musician, and the rest is rock music history.
So it was probably no surprise that the sold-out crowd at the Lobero contained many old friends, relatives and musical collaborators of the beloved old rocker. But even with such an intimate and familiar crowd, Crosby began the evening by admitting that the idea of the performance scared him to death. The quip was reminiscent of the Crosby, Stills and Nash remarks frozen in time on the historic Woodstock Live album, where the band exclaimed they were "scared sh**less" at the infamous performance.
But Crosby didn’t have to worry much about his ongoing stage fright with his hometown crowd Thursday night, as an adulate audience stood on the edge of their seats, applauding vigorously after every song in the extended set list.
The first set of the night was devoted almost solely to his new recording Croz, which he generously provided to members of the audience. The Septuagenarian singer began surprisingly strong with crisp, clear vocals and harmonies that he had honed since his early days with The Byrds. The backup musicians not only supplied strong musical skills but crisp, clear harmonies as well, harkening back to the early vocals of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. In fact, of all the members of that iconic rock band known for their harmonies, Crosby has probably maintained the most pleasing and astute vocal skills.
The band featured James Raymond on keyboards. The story of Raymond and Crosby coming together to be musical collaborators reads almost like a fairytale. When Crosby was deathly ill and awaiting a liver transplant in 1994, he learned that his son, who he hadn't seen since birth, was looking for him. The two met and discovered that they were both musicians and shared a love for music. Their collaboration evolved, and the chemistry onstage at the Lobero did seem a bit magical. Much of the new Croz album was actually constructed in Raymond's home studio.
The band also featured Shane Fontayne and Marcus Eaton on guitars, Kevin McCormick on bass and Steve DiStanislao on drums. The band proceeded to play most of the 11 tracks on the new album. Some songs covered familiar ground from the singer's earlier days, but one song in particular encapsulated the political relevance of Crosby’s music. Back in the heady days of the anti-Vietnam War protests, the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young song “Ohio” became an anti-war anthem.
A new song on the Croz album paints the ugly picture of civilians caught in modern-day warfare in Afghanistan with the same passionate plea for peaceful coexistence. But Crosby’s brightest moments in the first set came when he picked up an acoustic guitar and sang a few songs solo in a delicate tone, emitting pure emotive harmonies.
After an intermission full of jovial concert-goers sampling the local spirits, the band returned for an extended second set featuring the remaining tracks on the album, some Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young classics and even an inspired version of The Byrds classic “Three Miles High.”
Music fans waiting across the country to see the upcoming Croz mini tour can rest assured that Crosby and his band are quite warmed up and ready to play.
Click here for information on the upcoming tour visit. The release date for the new Croz album is Jan. 28.
— L. Paul Mann is a Noozhawk contributing writer. The opinions expressed are his own.