October 22, 2008

Music Icons Crosby and Nash Perform At State Theatre

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At first, I was disappointed with David Crosby and Graham Nash’s show at the State Theatre on Monday night. Mostly, this was because they didn’t perform “Fortunate Son” or “Bad Moon Rising.” Then I realized that I was confusing CSNY with CCR, and that expecting them to perform the latter group’s hits was somewhat unreasonable. After I came to this understanding, my entire perspective changed, and I found the concert quite nice.
For those of you as ignorant as I was (and am), Crosby and Nash are perhaps best known as one half of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and two thirds of that group’s original incarnation of Crosby, Still and Nash. It’s difficult to sum up this group succinctly, so I’ll turn to Wikipedia to do the heavy lifting for me. According to Stephen Colbert’s favorite online information source, they are famous for “intricate vocal harmonies, often tumultuous interpersonal relationships and political activism.” Of those three things, only two were on display to great effect on Monday. Crosby and Nash sang with remarkable grace and fervor, spoke about their political beliefs, and got along famously.
As performers, Crosby and Nash, without their co-conspirators Stephen Stills and Neil Young, come off as a rock and roll Abbott and Costello-type duo; Crosby plays the benevolent stoner with a slight Owen Wilson drawl (or maybe Wilson has the Crosby drawl) while Nash entertains with a sharper edge. Impressively, both of their voices have held up well and can still amaze. At one point in the concert, the lights came down and Crosby and Nash and some of the other band members sang what I can only compare to a high-pitched Gregorian chant, sung in a round.
The set list, made up of old classics and newer songs, was unapologetically political, lambasting the current administration at every turn. It was, unsurprisingly, well received by almost all of the audience. For this observer, however, the phrase “preaching to the choir” leapt to the fore repeatedly. While I can’t argue with their sentiments, the songs and jokes, at this point, seem a little stale and, frankly, beside the point — at least in Ithaca, a place where few people need to be reminded of the ineptitude of the departing administration. A line like “I think you should only be allowed to control nuclear weapons if you can pronounce the word ‘nuclear’” was hackneyed in 2004 (though if Governor Palin stays on the national stage much longer, the joke, or some variation, may see an unwelcome renaissance).
With a tremendous backing band, including a former guitarist for Steely Dan, Crosby and Nash put on an entertaining, relaxed show. Not only are they clearly having a great time, they want their fans to as well; in an innovative twist, C&N now offer their fans the option to purchase USB wristbands at their concerts, which contain the entirety of that night’s concert for posterity.
It’s refreshing to see two old hands who are comfortable with themselves and their art, but not complacent. Going into the show, I was afraid it would turn into a glorified cover band or worse, these two ’60s stalwarts wouldn’t really care. (They have been playing for forty years now, after all.) But that wasn’t the case; they were enthused, involved and singing songs they believe in for a cause they still believe in. It’s nice to know some things never change.