Bournemouth International Centre: 5th October, 2013
Once saluted as the ultimate Anglo-American rock band, Crosby, Stills and Nash continue to defy advancing years and a history that should have seen them crash and burn.
Nearly 45 years after they made their famous debut at Woodstock in front of hundreds of thousands of people - "We're scared shitless man" - their spectacular three part harmonies and mind-blowing back catalogue that veers between anthemic rock, folksy home-spun philosophy and hard-hitting political protest can still make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end.
At the BIC on Saturday, the opening concert of the UK leg of their current European tour found David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash consigning the oft told tales of drug-addled rows and money-grabbing concert deals to the dustbin of history. The trio are once more at the top of their game.
Backed by a superb five piece band, they hit the stage with Carry On and followed it with Marrakesh Express - two iconic CSN numbers that told the audience that the magic that was created when these three musicians from The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield and The Hollies first harmonised so sweetly together at a Laurel Canyon party back in 1968 is still not only there but more skilfull than ever. Add to that Stills’ astonishing guitar skills, plus the charisma and vocal dexterity of Crosby and Nash and you have a vintage outfit.
The ever-ebullient Nash – barefoot on the carpeted stage - was without doubt the self-appointed bandleader. He handled most of the introductions and regaled the audience with amiable asides. Crosby, at 72, seemed more at peace with himself these days and appeared supremely relaxed and happy to take something of a back-seat.
Stills, who at 68 is the baby of the band, was perhaps the most ill-at-ease but also the man who pushed the boundaries with his blistering guitar. Ill health has robbed him of much of his hearing and damaged his eyesight and speech. He walked with some difficulty but his contribution to this trio remains utterly essential. Whether it’s blues, country, folk or rock Stephen Stills is at the core of any song.
All three of course are excellent songwriters and, backed by a stunning five piece band, they displayed an appetite for performance that delivered a three hour concert which plumbed the impressive depths of their respective talents. But, here’s the problem. Crosby, Stills and Nash may be an exceptional band but CSN is also a brand and a vehicle for three very different musicians. There are too many tangents to make it cohesive. So although 80 per cent of the Bournemouth concert was utterly brilliant - we got Guinnivere, Our House, Teach Your Children Well, Southern Cross, Deja Vu, an anthemic Cathedral (written, Nash informed us, “On acid in the middle of Stonehenge”) - but there were simply too many counter-directions to make this the concert it so often promised to be.
Not that I'm complaining. At their best the trio were peerless and alongside some great numbers offered a fascinating glimpse of half-formed ideas and one of two bits and bobs that may or may not have made the final mix. There were some surprises too. Not least when Nash suddenly got all nostalgic for his youth, waxing lyrical about Blue Peter and singing a new song – Golden Days – specially for the TV show’s presenter Valerie Singleton who was somewhere in the audience.