Monday, August 14, 2006

Crosby, Stills, Nash And Young

Though his name comes last in the sequence of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Neil Young was the fulcrum of the group's show at Nissan Pavilion on Saturday night, providing the star power, the freshest material -- and the controversy.

Though the set list included political tropes spanning four decades, it was Young's new song, "Let's Impeach the President," that sent some patrons heading toward the exits. Were their red-state sensibilities offended, or was it simply that the song came late in a three-hour show and certainly felt like the climax (though the band had another half-hour to play)? Hard to say. After all, the gig had been as much an antiwar rally as a concert from its opening moments, and the audience's rapturous response to "Wooden Ships," "Military Madness" and "Almost Cut My Hair" appeared to be prompted as much by the sentiments as by the actual performances -- which, by the way, deserved the ovations they got.

Young's current "Living With War" protest disc accounted for a quarter of the material spread over two long sets, with new songs such as "Families" accompanied by a CNN-parody video presentation of uncensored combat footage and U.S. casualty counts in Iraq.

But the show gave more or less equal time to the other three songwriters, who graciously introduced one another's songs, and found some of its finest moments in performances of lesser-known ones, with Stephen Stills's "Treetop Flyer" a particular highlight. Still, "Impeach" was the only song in a set of three dozen to have its lyrics projected on the video screens, and any patrons who walked out during the lines "What if al-Qaeda blew up the levees? / Would New Orleans have been safer that way?" missed powerful renditions of "Ohio," "What Are Their Names" and an incendiary four-guitar meltdown of "Rockin' in the Free World." Chalk it up to the prescience of their authors or the folly of our leaders, but this material is still topical, and this band of sixty-somethings still rocks.

-- Chris Klimek

'Four Islands' at Wolf Trap

It takes guts to mix Britten, Chabrier, Irving Berlin, and Rodgers and Hart. Wolf Trap Opera Company Artistic Director Steven Blier is gutsy. He also showed himself to be a genial host and fine pianist at the Barns at Wolf Trap on Saturday night (although one could quibble with his naming the program "Four Islands" -- for Ireland, Madagascar, Cuba and Manhattan -- when additional islands, even imaginary ones, kept cropping up).

Soprano Heidi Stober and mezzo-soprano Lauren McNeese, fresh from triumphs in "Le Comte Ory," were outstanding. Baritone Alexander Tall was solid and expressive. Tenor Jeremy Little emoted well but pushed his voice hard and tended to shout when projecting.

The program proved too ambitious, too diffuse and too long (at 2 1/2 hours), but high points were numerous. McNeese and Tall made a delightful skit out of "The Palatine's Daughter." Stober smoldered in Kurt Weill's edgy cabaret song "Youkali." Tall was sensuous in Ravel's exotic 1926 cycle, "Chansons Madecasses." Little and Tall intertwined neatly in the ambiguous "La Cleptomana."

The most fun came from some rather silly show music. Two Jerome Kern celebrations of suburbia, "Enchanted Train" and "Bungalow in Quogue," came across as short sitcoms. And "What a Movie" from Leonard Bernstein's "Trouble in Tahiti" was a showstopper: McNeese sang and acted wonderfully.

What did they do for an encore? "Rigoletto"! Yes, a four-person Verdi scene, sung with intensity and understanding, capped this highly unusual recital. It took guts to plan it and musicianship to make it work.

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