David Crosby | Palace Theatre | Manchester | 15 September, 2018
David Crosby, former Byrd, formerly of Crosby, Stills and Nash (and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young), is, possibly thanks to the fact that many of his former band mates are no longer talking to him, these days touring with his son, James Raymond, Canadian keyboardist Michelle Willis, Estonian bassist, Mai Agan and long-time buddy, Jeff Pevar. He takes to the stage with sprightly vim wearing a woollen hat apparently knitted by his wife of forty-something years (a fact shared mid-way through the first set) before launching into ‘In My Dreams’, a track CSN recorded back in 1977 – roughly thirty seconds later, astonishing three part harmonies are transporting the majority of the audience to a sweetly finer place.
Someone yells for a song and Crosby cuts him off. “All I can hear up here is (barks like a dog).” People laugh. “But whatever it is you want, we’ll play it. We’ll play it all.” Of course he can’t do that, but he makes a damn good fist of it, playing two hour long sets comprising songs from a fair few of the six decades he’s been performing for. There are Crosby, Stills and Nash songs, as you’d expect – ‘Guinnevere’, for example, off their 1969 debut (if you haven’t heard it, imagine a dippy collision of hippy folk and scatty jazz) and ‘Long time Gone’, which draws the biggest whoops of the night and much in the way of crinkly-eyed smiles among the audience – as well as solo material, like ‘Thousand Roads’ (from his ‘93 solo album of the same name) and ‘Sky Trails’, released just last year as well as a single foray into his Byrds back catalogue with ‘Eight Miles High’.
As you’d expect from someone who has been protesting for all his adult life, in one form or another, there are rants a-plenty, about the likes of Trump (he apologises on behalf of America, says “We’re embarrassed”, shares the fact that he and the band are considering wearing maple leaves in order to pass for Canadians “because everyone likes Canadians”), corporations (we get a pretty scorching a capella rendition of ‘What are their names?’ from the 71 solo album, If I Could Only Remember My Name), and the wave of police shootings of black people in the run-up to set closer ‘Ohio’. Also, perhaps unsurprisingly, given that Crosby is someone who has taken more than their fair share of drugs, we get anecdotes about being saved by Jackson Browne who took him, when he was at something of a low ebb, to Warren Zevon’s house to finish recording – and he wanted to leave after half an hour and score – but Jackson Browne told him he had to finish the song. And. He. Did.
There are moments when you can tell people wonder about his song choices (we get two songs by CPR, the band he formed with Pevar and Raymond, which “didn’t sell too many copies” but ranks among his favourite work), but there are also plenty of moments when it could still be 1969. “Are you happy?” someone yells. “Am I happy?” he asks. “I’m just about as happy as it’s possible for a human to be,” he says, smiling. For a couple of hours he shares his happy with us and makes a lot of old-timers happy too.
by Peter Wild