Deja Vu: Voices of The Ages Soar

“And it gets harder, as you get older, and farther away as you get closer.”  See The Changes-Stephen Stills, Crosby, Stills, and Nash

Earlier this week, much of Greater DC remained in the dark (literally and figuratively) after a livid wind blew out the lights in homes and offices throughout the region.  Temperatures flirted with the century mark, adding insult to injury.  But three stars shone brightly on the eve of Independence Day on the stage of Wolf Trap, the glorious amphitheater in the Vienna, Va woods operated by the National Park Service.

At around 8:15 on that humid night, with storm clouds again looming, Crosby, Stills, and Nash dove into a crisp version of Carry On, the opening track from their 1971 album with Neil Young–Deja Vu.  Nearly 45 years after this supergroup released its debut album, Crosby, Still, and Nash remain icons of the Woodstock era.  And though the years have increased several waistlines and decreased a few hair lines, the music of CSN retains vitality and relevance that belies the passing decades.

Tuesday’s show presented David, Stephen, and Graham in top form.  Their vocals and harmonies remained strong and largely intact through a set lest that featured 21 songs, most of them treasures from the rich CSN catalogue.  Crosby’s Long Time Gone showcased David’s still-formidable pipes along with nimble and soulful guitar solos from Stills, one of Rock’s most expressive and underrated guitarists.  Though his voice has lost some of its range and clarity, Stills’s guitar work has never been better, as evidenced by transcendent and inventive solos on his Buffalo Springfield classic Bluebird, as well as on Wooden Ships and Crosby’s counter-culture anthem Almost Cut My Hair.   Nash, who retains his slim physique and keening tenor, was rock-solid on all of his lead vocals, beginning with the propulsive ’60s protest song Chicago, and  continuing throughout the nearly 2.5 hour set that included a spry Marrakesh Express, a somber yet muscular Cathedral, and the plaintive, intimate Our House.  

The trio and their excellent backing band closed out the opening set with Love The One You’re With featuring some of Stills’ best singing of the night.  After a short break, they returned for an interlude of acoustic music that included the lush harmonies of the alliterative Helplessly Hoping from their debut record and a moving cover of Dylan’s Girl From the North Country. 

Then, Crosby and Nash wove  special magic with Guinevere, Crosby’s love song that he dedicated to Jan, his wife of 35 years.  Though David and Graham have performed this haunting tune thousands of times, they delivered the whistful lyrics and mytical harmonies as if they had been written that morning, drawing one of the evening’s loudest and longest of many standing ovations.

The sell-out crowd, including many with lawn seats who braved a mid-concert deluge, was in for one last treat.  For their encore, CSN returned to the stage, just the three of them.  Stills to our left with his signature Martin acoustic guitar, and then Nash and Crosby, both standing empty-handed by their respective microphones.  As Stephen began strumming, we knew we were in for a rare gift.  For the first time in nearly a decade, the trio was tackling Suite: Judy Blue Eyes, the challenging, transcendent four-segment composition that opens CSN’s debut album, and which cemented their place in history as folk-rock’s preeminent harmonists.  With Stills nailing every vocal crescendo, including the prolonged verse “It’s my heart that’s a suffering, it’s a dying, that’s what I had to lose,” and Crosby and Nash recreating the ringing harmonies of the original recording, “The Suite” punctuated an incredible evening of song with an emphatic exclamation point.  This was no nostalgia act.  This was music in its purest and most resonate form.  Three voices, one guitar–voices for the ages.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Notwithstanding their personality, their dress and their ideas, they were and they are the most courteous, considerate and well-behaved group of kids I have ever been in contact with in my 24 years of police work.” Lou Yank, head of the police department in Monticello, New York, as reported in the New York Times August 18, 1969, during Woodstock.

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