David Crosby, Stephen Stills, and Graham Nash are no strangers to the Santa Barbara Bowl. They have been playing there long enough to remember the days of afternoon concerts, a time when, according to Crosby, “the girls used to take off their tops.” Sure, you could have opened a Costco during one of his pauses, and yes, he’s not above bringing sexist back, but Crosby still has stage presence, an unforgettable voice, and great love for this town. Fortunately, CSN are that rare trio that achieve genuine balance, so that Nash and Stills remain every bit as central to the proceedings as the splendidly longhaired and mustachioed Crosby.
Wednesday’s show began promptly and included two sets. The opening sequence of the first drew heavily from the band’s best-known music. CSN and a quartet of backing musicians played “Marrakech Express,” “49 Reasons,” and “Immigration Man” all within the first half hour. “Military Madness” was dedicated to George W. Bush, a gesture that got a huge shout of approval from the happy crowd on this warm summer night beneath a full moon. But the second set followed nature’s lead and got darker. “Almost Cut My Hair,” “For What It’s Worth,” and “Wooden Ships” each received a thorough workout. No CSN show would be complete without “Teach Your Children,” which went out with the sentiment attached that teachers in the United States should be paid “two or three times more than they are.”
CSN carry a huge legacy, but they only delivered on it intermittently on Wednesday. Too often the crisp, staccato jazz harmonies of 4 Way Street were forgotten, left out of the mix to make room for more recent, less memorable material. Stills’s best moments came when he was fully electrified in true ’60s mode, like on “For What It’s Worth” and “Wooden Ships,” to which he contributed a skillful solo. The debonair Nash gently commanded the stage and kept the whole thing flowing by harmonizing in all the right places. Nevertheless, there were chords that wobbled when they could have spun, and that was hard on the audience’s collective memory, which is of course full of perfect recordings-and sunshine-filled summer daydreams