According to Homer J. Simpson, rock attained perfection in 1974 with the bong rattling bass of Grand Funk Railroad and their ilk. Now far be it for me to contradict that yellowest and wisest of sages but by my reckoning that zenith was reached four years earlier, in 1970 with Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s album, Déjà Vu.
That album and its totemic collection of songs epitomises and embodies all that was great and good about the freewheeling ’60s in America. The sharpness of the sound, the quality of the song writing, every nuance and meticulously crafted embellishment all laying foundation for the quartets’ vocals and those celestial sounding cherubic harmonies. Their sweet cannoning choruses tumbling down Laurel Canyon, cajoling and caressing your ears like amber dark honey. It’s the perfect synthesis of the ying and yang of hippy culture. The balance and poise of the work still impresses along with its hints at the turmoil and discord beneath.
Recorded just prior to the nightmarish events in Altamont, which CSN&Y also performed at, when the Hell’s Angels killed off the naive hippy dream of the ’60s with their harsh brutality. It encapsulates a golden era and is a high water mark in, not just popular music but of the creative output of the 20th Century.
There’s a photo montage on the inside of the record cover which contains an image of David Crosby standing with his back to the audience at Woodstock, his left arm raised with his hand forever frozen in time, flashing the V of the peace sign to his tribe at Yasgur’s farm. This image of the larger than life Crosby, in all his buckskin clad, gatefold glory, embodies everything that rock n’ roll is about. The counterculture icon, sticking it to the man, communing with his fellow Mary Jane addled and acid dazed far-out freak brothers and sisters under the eternal summers skies of a psychedelic flower powered America. To paraphrase Cosmo Kramer, he’s out there Jerry and he’s loving every minute of it.
It’s an image that caught and has fired my imagination over the years since coming across it as a young lad making his first forays into Rock fandom and this is probably why, when Crosby leads CSN out on stage tonight, at a sold out Bord Gais Energy Theatre, that he cuts such a familiar and welcoming figure.
Time has inevitably moved on since 1970 and the three figures that face us tonight are no longer the spritely merry pranksters of yesteryear but any fears over their musical prowess and ability are allayed as they launch into ‘Carry On/Questions’ and their chemistry remains demonstrably intact.
Backed by a solid bunch of players of fine pedigree, including local boy Kevin McCormick on bass, over the course of the next two and a half hours they skip across their collective back catalogues, enchanting and beguiling us with pearls such as the sing-along-tastic ‘Our House’, a rather bopping and popping ‘Love the One You’re With’ and with the, as described by it’s author Mr Crosby, “weird shit” of a mesmerizingly hypnotic ‘Déjà Vu’.
That über hippy, hirsute anthem of ‘Almost Cut My Hair’, with Stills’ Californian sun kissed solo climaxing with Crosby’s yawp, his call out to the wild blue yonder, has the audience on their feet, forgetting that their own freak flags have fallen to the ravages of male pattern baldness and not to the same hasty actions of a marijuana induced paranoid episode as almost befalls the songs protagonist.
‘Guinnevere’, performed by just Nash and Crosby and dedicated to the “saint-like” Mrs Crosby on the advent of her birthday, is one of many moments tonight that finds you catching your breath as the duo’s vocal lines interplay, swell, soar and cosy-up over Crosby’s esoteric guitar harmonics. It’s stripped down simplicity in a modern world, the craft and beauty of this song may belong to a different time and space but its exquisite magnificence ensures that it remains timeless. These seven minutes alone are worth the price of admission.
For the encore, we’re treated to another timeless classic from Nash’s backpages, ‘Teach Your Children’ and by the time the trio have finished their parting shot of ‘Suite: Judy Blue Eyes’, the audience, back on their feet once again, “doo-doo-doo-da-doo”-ing the song’s Spanish coda at full tilt right back at the band.
Tonight’s show isn’t perfect. Stills and Crosby’s when singing alone, without the protection of the others can sound muddied and aged. Stills in particular sounds workmanlike when he’s performing centre stage but all is forgiven and forgotten when he lets a few licks ring off his guitar. He also manages to reach the high notes on ‘Suite: Judy Blue Eyes’ even though it looks like he’s using a step ladder to do so.
Nash’s voice is the least ravaged of the three by time and the untold excesses that they have enjoyed and endured over the decades. His delivery and diction are still crystal sharp. His remains the clearest and brightest of lights in tonight’s firmament.
But when the three in unison combine, when their stars are in alignment and their trinity sparkles, when we too fly with the eagle and the dove under their wings and in their stellar glow, we all shine on. Peace Out!