by Steve Houk
The two most common questions I was asked after seeing David Crosby live last Monday night were, “How’s his voice?” and “Was he conscious?”
Well, any concerns about the quality of his vocals or his state of consciousness were totally unfounded, at least on this night. Crosby’s legendary voice was in truly peak form, especially for a 73 year-old who for years has certainly done his level best to undermine it. And as far as his overall awareness and stage presence? Man, Croz was all THERE.
Playing to a sold out crowd at The Birchmere and accompanied only by a guitar, Crosby proved that no matter what you may endure as a rock star over five decades, there can be a very bright light at the end of a sometimes long dark tunnel. His singing was rich and strong all night with nary a note missed, and his onstage demeanor was, well…typical Croz: a bit self-deprecating, a bit political, often funny, mostly pleasant with an occasional barb or cranky comment tossed out for good measure. All in all, Crosby was as entertaining and enjoyable and powerful as he could possibly be at this point in his storied career.
The two-time Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee (for his work with The Byrds and CSN) opened the first set with “Tracks In The Dust” from his second solo record, a poignant song with a lyric that set the tone for the evening: “But I think we’re passing through here kind of fast, did you think these tracks in the dust would last?” A Crosby & Nash staple was next, “The Lee Shore,” which appeared in its grandest form on CSNY’s 1971 live opus Four Way Street. As with other songs on this night that have always been rooted in the accompaniment of Graham Nash’s harmonies, Crosby managed wonderfully, filling any potentially empty spaces with his strong and often lovely vocal expressions. “Time I Have” followed, one of many standout cuts from Crosby’s excellent and underappreciated “Croz” album from 2014, with Crosby alluding to his penchant for disdain and how he doesn’t want it to rule his twilight years: “People do so many things that make me mad / but angry isn’t how I want to spend what time I have.” Next up was the beautiful “For Free,” a Joni Mitchell composition, with Crosby lauding his beautiful friend, the brilliant CSN muse, as one of music’s best songwriters ever, along with his buddy, “Old Weird Bob” or Bob Dylan to you and me. You could just envision him singing this decades ago with Joni and Graham out in the tall grass somewhere, enjoying a smoke and the beauty of the “Summer of Love” vibe. Crosby then rolled a deeply emotional song from 1999’s Looking Forward, the last CSNY album they will likely ever record, called “Dream For Him.” The song is a desperate message about then baby son Django, as Crosby wonders how to honestly explain all the strife in the world to him one day, and was delivered with palpable emotion: “I am uncomfortable lying to a child / Feels like building a trap for something wild / Feels like building your house on the sand / And expecting the ocean to let it stand.”
“Triad” was next, Crosby’s semi-controversial song about a menage a trois that he wrote while with The Byrds. It was preceded by Crosby saying with a wry smile, “This is a song that I did NOT get kicked out of The Byrds for. I got kicked out of the Byrds…because I was an asshole.” “Carry Me”, a touching song from Crosby and Nash’s second album, 1975’s Wind On the Water, once again highlighted Crosby’s strong vocals, and even without Nash’s help, he heartbreakingly conveyed the sadness of a mother’s death, but also the freedom that comes with: “And then there was my mother, she was lying in white sheets there and she was waiting to die, she said if you’d just reach underneath this bed, and untie these weights, I could surely fly.” The first set ended with a solid rendition of “Thousand Roads”, the title cut to his third solo album from 1993.
After a fifteen minute break, the second set began with a mournful rebuttal to love surely written after a bad breakup, “Everybody’s Been Burned” which appeared on The Byrds’ 1967 record Younger Than Yesterday. The deep introspection in nearly all of Crosby’s lyrics was very much at play here, you could feel the pain of a love lost even in this older man’s heart: “Anyone in this place, can tell you to your face, why you shouldn’t try to love someone, everybody knows it never works.” “Rusty and Blue” followed, the only tune of the night from his days with CPR, his band with Jeff Pevar and Crosby’s son James Raymond that traversed the mid 90’s to the early 2000’s.
It was here where Crosby went on his only political diatribe of the evening, calling politicians “pond scum who don’t care about you, they only care about themselves.” He mentioned how he always goes to the Lincoln Memorial whenever he comes to Washington, each time climbing the stairs to read the words “of the people, by the people, for the people” from the Gettysburg Address. A visibly emotional Crosby said he then always walks from the Lincoln down to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, “the most beautiful memorial on earth, starting with that first name, John Anderson, on that sliver of granite until you walk down and see all those names, how high that f—ing wall is.” He angrily growled, “I mean, they sent 58,000 young men to their deaths, and none of those f—ing politicians who sent them, not one, went over and fought.” Crosby then rolled arguably his most politically-driven anthem, “What Are Their Names” from his masterful star-studded first solo record If I Could Only Remember My Name, saying this was a song “they wish I wouldn’t play.” Jerry Garcia’s guitar and Grace Slick’s vocals were absent from this version, but it made the song’s lyrics and Crosby’s vocals no less powerful: “I wonder who they are, the men who really run this land, and I wonder why they run it, with such a thoughtless hand.” Hearing this powerful song sung so passionately only a few miles from the epicenter of America’s political power was an experience no one in the room would soon forget.
Crosby then delved back into the world of CSN, doing a beautiful job with “In My Dreams” from the trio’s successful self-titled 1977 record. Even without his cohorts singing along on the “in my dreams, I can see, I can, I can see a love that could be” refrain, Crosby handled it perfectly, bringing the song to a beautiful close.
The crowd was treated next to two of Crosby’s excellent newer compositions which he said may appear on his next album, “What Makes It So” and “Somebody Home.” After the former, a visibly moved Crosby was clearly thankful for the positive response to his newer material, saying “Now you’ve done it. For a singer/songwriter that is the s–t, man.” Crosby has played these songs live before, and you could see why, they are strong and powerful and an indicator that Crosby’s songwriting days are still ever present.
After telling the adoring crowd, “Thanks for listening to those. I guess you deserve some of the older stuff now,” Crosby rolled a lovely “Déjà Vu” and closed the show with an absolutely gorgeous version of “Guinevere.” Again, although we are all used to the beauty and majesty of Stills and Nash (and sometimes Young) weaving their unparalleled harmonies into those classic tunes, Crosby layered in his own still-strong voice perfectly on both, closing out “Guinevere” with a heart-stopping sustaining note as the crowd erupted into a boisterous standing ovation. Crosby soon returned to encore with “Cowboy Movie” also from his first solo record, a dark yet affecting tune about the abduction of an Indian girl by a bunch of thieves, who turns out not to be just any Indian girl: “She wasn’t an Indian, she was the law.” Amidst another standing ovation, Crosby slightly bowed and walked into the night, having done exactly what he hoped to do, move an audience with his incomparably familiar and formidable voice, his magical words, and the power and beauty of his classic music. Well done, Croz.