Music Review: Crosby, Stills & Nash’s vocal friendship transcends specter of mortality


Stephen Stills, Graham Nash and David Crosby of Crosby, Stills & Nash perform at Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts in Vienna. (Kyle Gustafson/For The Washington Post)

It’s easy to sound callous when pondering the Woodstock generation’s not-so-distant future, so let’s just pass the microphone to 62-year-old Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders:

“Because all of the greats are now in their 60s and 70s,” she recently told the New York Times, “they’re going to start dropping like flies.”

That’s a harsh little thought-bubble, but not an unreasonable one. So don’t feel bad if it’s ever bloomed over your head while weighing your summer concert options. Life is temporary, we’re reminded, and so is summertime, the season when our veteran troubadours take their legacies out for another spin.

At their worst, these career victory-laps can feel warmed over, phoned in or tossed off. At their best, they feel urgent and wise, charged with an awareness that nothing lasts.

Thursday night at Wolf Trap felt like the latter, with Crosby, Stills & Nash delivering some of the sturdiest harmonies in the American songbook. Opening their two-set, 24-song performance with 1970’s “Carry On,” they were three pillars of rock-and-roll doing exactly that.

Stephen Stills is 69. Graham Nash is 72. David Crosby turns 73 next month. Since these three first teamed up in 1968, some have walked closer to the edge than others. In August 1994, after a three-night stand here at Wolf Trap, Crosby was whisked off to Johns Hopkins, the hospital where he was told he would soon die without a new liver.

Three months later, he got one. Twenty summers later, here we were.

Up on stage, Crosby looked great (almost regal), sounded great (almost angelic) and seemed pleased to be present (despite suffering a cold). But the night gravitated around Nash, perhaps as his reward for keeping the group together through decades of turbulence, but more likely because his voice was in the best shape.

Nash stood between Stills and Crosby (and in front of their backing band), as poised and political as ever, making his protest anthem “Military Madness” sound tragically evergreen, and dedicating the eerie-sweet “Just a Song Before I Go” to outgoing House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.

Nash also sent a song out to the late Levon Helm — a handsome, newer tune called “Back Home.” When it dovetailed into the harmonized refrain of Helm’s “The Weight,” the trio sounded strong, but mortal.

That’s because this is music that starts with the body — three very specific bodies (or four when Neil Young decides to show up). And though the trio’s harmonies occasionally derailed, they still embodied Nash’s idea that vocal harmony is “the epitome of friendship.”

It felt most tangible during “Our House,” “Love the One You’re With” and a particularly delicate rendition of “Guinnevere,” after which Crosby explained the trio’s presence with a smirk: “You’re supposed to creep off and die, but we just didn’t feel like it.”

It was funny, bittersweet and affirming — a reminder that the truest friendships last lifetimes. The truest music lasts even longer.

Chris Richards became the Post's pop music critic in 2009. He has covered D.I.Y. house shows, White House concerts, go-go and Gaga.
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