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When David Crosby, framed by that now-white shoulder-length hair and walrus mustache, leaned into one of his classic CSN songs, uttering, “I feel like I’ve been here before,” one couldn’t help but get chills running down the spine.
After all, this sold-out, five-night stay at the Troubadour – where he famously got his start in the Byrds in the mid-‘6os – had already been postponed from February after he underwent an angiogram for a blocked artery. Appearing fit and trim –- commenting he can now tuck in his shirt –- the 72-year-old led his crack, five-piece band, which included veteran British transplant lead guitarist Shane Fontayne (who has played with everyone from Lone Justice to Bruce Springsteen) and son James Raymond on keyboards, through a two-part set to close out the L.A. run.
The first section featured a run-through of his recent solo album, Croz, from start to finish, the audience sitting patiently –and responding mostly enthusiastically – through the 11 songs, several of which were collaborations with the son he only discovered years after he was put up for adoption. “Time I Have” is one of Crosby’s patented countercultural political rants, with its nod to the assassination of Martin Luther King, “’I have a dream,’ a great man said/Another man came and shot him in the head/Yet the dream floats out there visible/Still alive…still alive.” The rocking “Set That Baggage Down” seemed to be autobiographical, a nod to letting the past go and forgiveness, especially for your own misdeeds. “Every girl that left you/Every friend that ran/Everything that broke you/Bury it in the sand.” Crosby stands alone with acoustic guitar for the tone poem, “If She Called,” a rather somber ode to a lady of the night who ‘remembers a time/When love was alive/Somehow it gets lost in the sound of the city’s morning drive.”
“Sadness is part of life,” offers Crosby. “And happiness is the better part.”
“Morning Falling” is about an Afghan family that refuses to join the Taliban and must accept their fate when others see them leave his house. “A world away/The trigger is pulled/And here there is no reason to forgive.”
“Find a Heart” is a yearning love song that features a searing Fontayne guitar solo and Crosby, Stills & Nash harmonies and David’s career-long message of peace and love amid the ruins. “Make it work like touching skin/Make it open so you can reach in/Make it breathe, make it sweat/Go as deep as you can get.”
“We’re taking a little break,” he announces, midway through the two-and-a-half hour show, “and we’ll come back and sing you stuff you’ve heard before.”
The band returns, Crosby straps on his Stratocaster and we’re off to a thrilling take on “Eight Miles High,” Fontayne on Rickenbacker dueling with Marcus Eaton on acoustic, the psychedelic refrain reverberating once more off the Troubadour’s fabled brick walls. Squint and it’s 1965 all over again, followed by a dynamic reading of “Long Time Gone” he delivers with relish, uttering the refrain that may well stand as his credo: “Speak out you got to speak out against the madness/You got to speak your mind if you dare.”
He introduces “Luck Dragon,” an obscurity from his 2004 double-album Crosby & Nash with Graham Nash, by jokingly announcing, “If anyone knows what this song means, please tell me.”
That’s followed by “Where Will I Be” and “Page 43,” back to back from the first David Crosby Graham Nash album, suffused with an airy Brian Wilson feel and some great interplay between Fontayne and Eaton that prompts David to observe, “I hate f—king guitar players. Who needs ‘em anyway?”
Introducing “That House,” a track from CPR, his ’96 collaboration with son Raymond and guitarist Jeff Pevar, Crosby acknowledges what he left behind, and ruefully admits his kid is a better musician than he ever was. “Bittersweet,” yet another Crosby Nash composition, leads into CSN’s “Homeward Through the Haze,” its lyrics about the “soul of a ragpicker” and “the blind leading the blind,” evincing a Steely Dan-like jazz-rock flow that precedes a delicate, lovely, almost unrecognizable “Guinevere” – which he dedicates to the love of his life for the past 37 years, his wife Jan, that holds the audience in its hushed, breathless sway.
From there, it’s on to an epic “Déjà vu” that features the entire band taking solos – with bassist Kevin McCormick and drummer Steve DiStanislao in particular shining by bringing things to a practical standstill, then building back up, like nurturing a roaring flame from a spark, with Crosby kvelling watching his boy Raymond fly over the keys like a virtuoso classical/jazz pianist, inheriting the genes of his biological dad. Returning for an encore of “Cowboy Movie,” from his 1971 solo album, If I Could Only Remember My Name, is the perfect narrative climax, a mythical tale of train robbers who are discovered by “an Indian girl all alone,” that turned out to be “the law,” ending in a bloody massacre.
But David Crosby didn’t perish then, nor after his many brushes with the law and his failing health since, and this triumphant appearance at one of his old haunts offered conclusive proof that he has triumphed over his demons, and lived to tell the tale.
Time I Have
Holding on to Nothing
Slice of Time
Set That Baggage Down
If She Called
Find a Heart
Eight Miles High
Long Time Gone
Where Will I Be/Page 43
What Makes It So
Homeward Through the Haze
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