OAKLAND, Calif. Reunited '70s supergroup Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young demonstrated their instrumental and vocal prowess for three and a half hours Monday, bringing an entire arena to silence during a stripped-down acoustic set.
The folk-rock veterans, on the seventh stop of their first tour in 26 years, didn't take their elder-statesman status too seriously.
"This song was written before the Civil War," Graham Nash said, jokingly, introducing a rocking version of Stephen Stills' "49 Bye Byes."
"It's not that we don't love the old songs," David Crosby told the audience while introducing "Looking Forward" (RealAudio excerpt of album version), the title cut of the album the foursome released last year. "It's the new ones that keep us alive."
Standing on Oriental rugs across the front of an Oakland Arena stage that resembled a basement home studio, CSNY showed off their still-intact harmonies and an arsenal of vintage guitars which included Stills' Flying-V and a rare white archtop that Stills and Neil Young both played.
Candles flickered atop amps. An old-fashioned lamp stood center-stage. Nash and Young played keyboards placed toward the back.
Each member took turns in the lead position, singing the main vocal on his own song while the others joined in on the choruses. All four wore big grins and saluted each other throughout the show.
Stills and Young, who also played together in the '60s group Buffalo Springfield, swapped guitar leads all night. Crosby and Nash took turns without guitars to keep the sound unmuddled.
The band opened with "Carry On," an anthem injected with new meaning for a group of rock veterans keeping its flame lit for a younger generation. As the group belted out the "Rejoice! Rejoice!" chorus, Nash, who broke both of his legs in a boating accident last year, stood alongside his old friends, rocking back and forth.
The lyrics to Young's anti-racist indictment "Southern Man," which appeared on CSNY's 1971 live set, 4 Way Street, sounded contemporary in an election year fraught with controversy over the Confederate flag flying over the South Carolina state capitol.
"Southern change gonna come at last/ Now your crosses are burning fast," Young and friends belted in strong four-part harmony. Crosby, Stills & Young converged at center-stage to rock out together on guitars, while Nash danced among them.
Nash moved over to the organ for Crosby's rocker "Stand and Be Counted," from Looking Forward, the supergroup's first studio album since 1988's American Dream.
Ace sidemen bassist Donald "Duck" Dunn and drummer Jim Keltner began the mellow lope of Nash's "Heartland," also from Looking Forward. Dunn and Keltner laid down a solid rhythm foundation behind the principal players all night.
"Let's talk about trains," Young said, introducing Nash's "Marrakesh Express" (RealAudio excerpt). "I got on a train here [in Oakland] and went all the way to New York City."
The arena had its first moment of near-silence during Young's harmonica solo on his quiet ode "Slowpoke" (RealAudio excerpt of album version). Crosby scatted bluesily on his freak-flag anthem "Almost Cut My Hair." Stills jumped up and down with his flying V, joining again with Crosby and Young to jam in the onstage living room.
After "Cinnamon Girl," CSNY took a break. They returned without the rhythm section for an acoustic set that started with Young on piano for "Only Love Can Break Your Heart."
Crosby's drawn out, trippy "Dream for Him" spawned dream-state psychedelia with only voices and acoustic guitars. Stills played Hawaiian-style chord flutters on Nash's sweet lullaby "Someday Soon."
Shedding The Years
"They seemed to get younger as the night progressed," Shoshanna Tenn, 26, of San Francisco, said. "In the acoustic part, they were singing about being old, but by the end, they just shed their years."
Crosby, Stills & Nash formed in 1968. Young joined the lineup for a 1969 tour that included a set at Woodstock, and the foursome released Déjà Vu in 1970.
Crosby and Nash converged on one mic at the back of the stage to accompany Young, who was on pipe organ, for the environmentalist lament "After the Gold Rush." "Look at Mother Nature on the run/ In the 21st century," Young sang, bringing the tune up to date.
"Guinnevere" featured only Nash and Crosby, their hypnotic harmonies inspiring such silence in the huge arena they could actually whisper the lyrics.
Young rang out the harmonic notes on the Buffalo Springfield classic "For What It's Worth." The audience clapped along with the gospel-tinged groove, then Stills twisted tight riffs high on his guitar neck.
Nash took to the organ for Young's "Down by the River," while Stills and Young harmonized on the long jam. Keltner blasted out gunshot drum fills during the chorus, "Down by the river/ I shot my baby."
The band returned for a long encore of Young's 1989 anthem "Rockin' in the Free World." All four grouped center-stage, facing inward to rock back and forth in wide arcs, drawing out the closing jam.
The guitars scrambled, ringing out big chords that disintegrated into hairy feedback. Crosby held the last note until Stills walked him offstage.
The tour continues through April 19, where it closes in St. Louis.