Crosby, Stills and Nash play in Berlin
By Sascha Krieger
For Berlin-based fans of former super group Cosby, Stills, Nash and Young, June was a dream month: it started with Neil Young and Crazy Horse playing in front of more than 20,000 fans, it ended with the remaining trio stopping by on their European tour. The venue, a faceless sports arena, was considerably smaller and ticket had obviously not been selling well: the entire upper circle was closed, ticket holders were seated instead on the floor. Those that came, however, were all set on celebrating their heroes – who clearly shared the enthusiasm. Stephen Stills is 68, Graham Nash and David Crosby have both passed the 70 mark – no small feat after decades filled with drugs and alcohol. Stills‘ walk is still a little awkward and Crosby is unlikely to complete a marathon any time soon but both have lost weight and look their best in years. And their trademark is all there, too: the three-way harmony singing which gave their music a floating, transcendent feel that fitted perfectly with the hippie generation for which they played at the legendary festival known today as Woodstock.
These days, they’re old enough to play a greatest hits show – and unafraid to do so. They have added some newer songs which, however, turn out to be the weakest of the set. The three who had already had veritable careers by the time they joined forces wrote their best music quite a while ago but perform it they still can. This goes particularly for the musically more complex such as the opener, Carry On, the mysterious Deja Vu or the multi-faceted Suite: Judy Blue Eyes, which opened their Woodstock performance and which is now the only encore. These songs now have more power, more character, more guts one might say than their softened studio versions. They reveal what Crosby, Stills and Nash are now best at being: a rock band. Driven by Stills‘ still excellent and often rough and edgy guitar play, the band would easily get the audience off their feet if security allowed it. They all started in rock bands – Stills in Buffalo Springfield, Nash in The Hollies, Crosby in The Byrds – at a time in which playing rock and roll meant so much more than just the music. Today, they invest their songs with a drive one hardly suspected in them. Their anthems of confusion, appeals to live one’s life, love songs and angry outbursts may come from long ago but they can still make them speak.
Nash’s voice is as soft and charming as ever, Crosby’s a soulful hard biting weapon, only Stills has lost some clarity. His voice is thinner, it breaks occasionally, his phrasing is a little slurred but there is a roughness to it that becomes it well – in the later hit Southern Cross, for example, or in his solo favorite Love the One You’re With. When the speed picks up, there is no sugary sweetness, just pure energy – and a remarkable level of enjoyment by these three elderly men who one almost tends to believe when they’re saying how happy they are to be here. There is little doubt they are and their enthusiasm is infectious. And they’re still angry: in Berlin, they played Chicago, one of their most political songs and they played it forcefully, uncompromisingly, with not a beat missing.
Of course, there are also the ballads and they have not aged as well: Helplessly Hoping has lost some of its beauty, Teach Your Children is a little too routine and Our House was almost one of their weaker songs. But when they unleash the forces of Cathedral or embark on their long, seemingly aimless journey aboard the Wooden Ships, they do not seem tired or stuck the past. They make their music come to life in this very moment and lift their audience above the purely nostalgic. They believe that their music still means something and here, in their house, we tend to share this belief, too.