For the most part, Crosby, Stills & Nash eschewed tender renditions of the softer hits and bellied up to the bar of full-on rock. From the get-go, the volume was nearly excessive, and the trio, backed by several outstanding musicians, did not relent with their sonic stampede until after the set break. The aged musicians brought it as best they could, and their fans responded by standing, dancing, piercing the air with hands clenching glasses of Chardonnay and singing along with heads rolled back -- this from a RBG audience that general sits until cajoled by the performer midway through a set to fight gravity. They stood, it seemed, to pay respect to these Rock & Roll Hall of Famers
The set rolled along (or should I say sailed, since the metaphor is so frequently used by the band?) to include "Chicago," "Long Time Gone" and "Southern Cross," before which David Crosby observed that Red Butte Garden was "an appropriate place to sing a song about sailing." If you are a songwriter of David Crosby's status, a bathtub is an appropriate place to sing a song about sailing.
I was skeptical before the show if the trio would still have their rich voices. But a trained voice box stands firm against the erosion of time. Their harmonies were still aligned and robust more often than not, minus a few odd off-key moments, although those high notes seemed mostly unreachable. Each singer in turn showed his voice could stand on its own, except for Stephen Stills, whose words became grumbled together like he was singing with a porcupine in his mouth. But, hey, these guys still rocked, and the overall singing aesthetic and performance was the equivalent of drinking Champagne out of a Dixie cup* -- by god, you're still drinking Champagne! ... but something seems a bit off.
"Why are you all in such a great mood?" asked Graham Nash after "Southern Cross." "Are you smokin' it or somethin'?" Surprisingly, I didn't smell weed wafting about where I was all night. Stills and Company then rolled out several new songs, including "Lay Me Down." I can totally respect legends that continue to write songs after their time in the sun has ended, although these songs rarely stand up to the classics. In fact, the audience decided it was time to sit down (perhaps to roll one up or uncork another bottle of bubbly). The first set, which lasted nearly an hour, turned on itself with a full-on rocker of "Deja Vu," where they stretched out on the bridge, with each band member rolling out a solo or two, and the outro; thereby, leaving the over-capacity crowd wanting more.
The second set marked the trio taking the stage without the band to unfold classics like "Helplessly Hoping," Bob Dylan's "Nashville Skyline," a brief a cappella "What Are Their Names?" and "Guinevere." At one point the band said, "We're glad you all are having a good time, but we need you to be quiet." The request wasn't needed for long, as CSN was joined again by their band and an eery Hammond B3 introduced "Cathedral," which was the best tune of the evening. The band encored with a rousing rendition of "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes," which left the audience puckered and resonating the "Doo doo doo doo doos as they left the amphitheater.
A note about *: I actually saw my former boss drinking Champagne out of a Dixie cup. Oh, journalists.
Best overheard quote: "If I had wanted to hear quiet music, I would've gone to church."
The weirdness: At least three ambulances arrived on scene -- one employee said that was a new record.
What was missing: This show was the first time that I can remember that did not feature lights illuminating the behind-stage pine -- what I like to call the magical psychedelic Christmas tree.
Random notebook dump: "Is the music excessively loud to compensate for inarticulate playing or to accommodate the failing eardrums of the older population in attendance?"
Best thing my buddy said: "Oh, it must be time to gargle salt water backstage for awhile." ["And hit the inhaler and take a nap," I said] -- after Stills sang a tune solo at the beginning of the second set and then left the stage.