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David Crosby live review
O2 Shepherds Bush Empire
Reviewed by Michael M Sandwick
Crosby Stills Nash & Young played, one glorious Fall day in 1974, at Wembley Stadium, supported by Joni Mitchell and The Band in front of 80,000 adoring hippies (and this writer). Would a two date UK tour in the comparatively intimate surroundings of the 2,000 capacity Palace Theatre, Manchester and London's Shepherds Bush Empire prove a bit of a comedown?
Not a chance. The 76 year old ambles onto the stage. "Hello," he laughs, slightly bemused by the warmth – and the volume – of the welcome before a note is played. The Sky Trails Band launches into 'In My Dreams', from 1977's CSN album. After the second number, 'Morrison', he grinned, "This might possibly be a very good night". He's right. The six piece band, including Cros, locks into the intricate arrangements. Harmonies are perfect, of course – this is the member of Buffalo Springfield, The Byrds, CSN&Y (and their various permutations). Folk, country rock, jazz? Genres don't matter to this band who make the evening's songs, drawn from every one of Cros's six decades of playing, writing and recording, their own.
Introducing a gorgeous rendition of 'Guinevere' (from 1969's Crosby, Stills & Nash album) Cros says, "You guys understand that I never wrote the hits... I wrote the weird shit!". After an apology "to the whole world on behalf of my whole country" he continues with 'What Are Their Names' from 1977's If I Could Only Remember My Name, complete with the lyrics he says he loves to sing at every concert: " I wonder who they are / The men who really run this land... Peace is not an awful lot to ask"). The first set ends with 'Long Time Gone', Crosby's 1969 reaction to Bobby Kennedy's assassination, and CSNY's seminal Deja Vu.
Taking a short break, Cros jokes "If this were California, we'd go and smoke a joint now, but here we'll go drink some water." The second set starts a little slowly with Crosby & Nash's 'Leeshore' (perhaps the interval refreshment wasn't revitalising enough) but soon gears up. The band, smiling as their music interweaves, are an amazing ensemble, impossible and unfair to pick out one. All have their own bands and write their own material, which maybe enhances their understanding of their nominal leaders' work. James Raymond (keyboards and vocals – and Cros's son, incidentally) and Jeff Pevar (guitar and vocals) were both in CPR with Cros. Michelle Willis (keys and vocals) co-writes with him and duets on her own 'Janet', a strong song about jealousy from their new album Here If You Listen. Steve DiStanislao has played drums with Cros for a quarter century, and it shows. Mai Leisz, the young Estonian female bass player, was found by Cros when he heard her playing as he walked down a street one night – she fits right into the group.
Cros says, in a long intro to one song, that it's his most difficult to sing because "I was a junkie": in the '80s Cros was virtually incapable of working, but a visiting Jackson Brown told him one idea was good and he should finish it. Cros prevaricated, saying he'd started it on piano and didn't have one there. Jackson dragged him over to Warren Zevon's house "because Warren had a piano" and wouldn't let him leave until he'd completed the song. It became the beautiful 'Delta'.
You could say that the final two songs are crowd pleasers, except every song this special evening pleased the audience. The Byrds' 'Eight Miles High', reworked with Roger McGuinn's guitar ragas replaced by muscular guitar riffs, and CSN's 'Wooden Ships', here in epic form.
We're allowed just two encores – an amped-up 'Almost Cut My Hair', which Cros says he hasn't performed for three years, and Neil Young's 'Ohio'. Cros is, in his own way, as much a contrarian as his old sparring partner, and he involves the whole audience in singing Shakey's song about death at an American place of education, making it as tragically relevant as ever.