At the beginning of David Crosby and Graham Nash’s second set Sunday at the Arlington Theatre in Santa Barbara, when the crowd was shouting out requests, the barefoot Nash responded, “We’re going to do every bloody song that Crosby can remember!”
OK, I can’t speak for Crosby’s memory, but they certainly performed a number of songs — some originally recorded as a duo, some as solo artists, and especially some as part of the supergroup Crosby, Stills & Nash — that the crowd enthusiastically remembered.
It was only the second night of their current tour, but after decades of recording and performing together, Crosby and Nash effortlessly nailed the soaring harmonies that define the CSN sound. At times, a third voice joined in as a surrogate for CSN’s Stephen Stills, that of keyboardist James Raymond, who was raised by adoptive parents and discovered in 1992 that Crosby was his biological father. The rest of the superb band was Santa Barbara’s Kevin McCormick on bass, Steve DiStanislao on drums and Dean Parks — best known for his work with Steely Dan — on regular and pedal steel guitar.
There were a few firsts for the evening. After “Guinnevere,” which Crosby dedicated to his wife, he joked that he and Nash never do it the same way twice — not because they are “jazz geniuses,” but because he can’t remember how they did it the last time. But more seriously, he claimed that in the hundreds, or perhaps thousands, of times they have performed the song live, it was the first time that they were accompanied by other musicians — in particular, the rest of the band.
Another first was the live performance of “Camera,” one of only a few Crosby and Nash songwriting collaborations. Crosby dedicated it to his father and to Nash, both of them photographers. I didn’t realize this, but as Crosby mentioned, Nash made pioneering contributions to digital photography, and as such donated his printer to the Smithsonian.
And an almost-first was the second-ever live performance of “A Slice of Time,” a reflective brand-new Crosby song that he joked was “what happens when you sit around Santa Ynez watching the cows,” a reference to his home up in the hills.
Not surprisingly, there were many political songs. This included Nash’s still relevant “Military Madness,” which lamented that both military and nuclear madness are killing our country, the angry greed-bashing “They Want It All” and “Don’t Dig Here,” which was based on a contest for the best wording for a sign for the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste storage site. Also, after mentioning the recent report that General Electric didn’t pay any taxes last year, they sang Crosby’s biting “What Are Their Names” a cappella. Finally, the show closed with “Chicago/We Can Change The World,” based on the aftermath of the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.
The biggest response was for the well-known Crosby, Stills & Nash songs, including the aforementioned “Guinnevere”’ the delicate “Our House” for which the crowd got to sing the chorus; the early-1980s hit “Wasted on the Way”’ an impassioned “Long Time Gone”; the chugging “Marrakesh Express”; the mini-epic “Deja Vu,” with cool keyboard, bass and guitar solos; the anti-nuclear-war “Wooden Ships”; the hippie anthem “Almost Cut My Hair” belted out by Crosby; and the timeless “Teach Your Children.”
But other lesser-known gems also shined, such as “Orleans,” which served as an impossibly pretty intro to the powerful “Cathedral,” which laments that “so many people have died in the name of Christ.”
Incidentally, Crosby & Nash’s 1971 live album Another Stoney Evening has just been re-released, which includes six of the same songs that we heard at the Arlington concert. What a blessing that we got to hear this duo perform — and still sound great and relevant — 40 years later.
Wasted on the Way
Long Time Gone
Lay Me Down
I Used to Be a King
Don’t Dig Here
To The Last Whale: Critical Mass/Wind on the Water
Slice of Time
Dream For Him
Just a Song Before I Go
What Are Their Names
In Your Name
They Want It All
Grace/Jesus of Rio
Almost Cut My Hair
Teach Your Children
Chicago/We Can Change The World
— Noozhawk contributor Jeff Moehlis is an associate professor of mechanical engineering at UCSB. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his Web site, music-illuminati.com.