Crosby, Stills and Nash played the Oakdale last night and a totally laid-back experience was had by all. The mellow vibes began in the parking lot where the usual pre-concert chaos was replaced by a smooth and painless entry. A woman in the lot was selling flower headbands and flashing peace signs. No one was in a hurry. It was nice. Crosby, Stills, Nash and Xanax, if you will. The show started before 8 p.m. with a very honest version of "Carry On" as the opener. It was solid, but not perfect, as the band doesn't take extreme measures to hide its weaknesses. And that's a good thing. Weaknesses are what make live performances interesting.
Stephen Stills started off with some froggy grandpa voice going on that made us raise our collective audience eyebrows, but he later managed to iron it out when the show gained momentum. He just needed to get warmed up. It wouldn't have been so noticeable except that Graham Nash and David Crosby were sounding particularly tight, vocally, crushing the constant barrage of harmonies that define the group and made them famous. But when Stills' voice isn't up to the task, his guitar can always steal the show. Stills is the band's guitar virtuoso. Nash is the vocally perfect crowd charmer. Crosby is the soulful guy you want to hang out and have a drink or a smoke with (if not for his highly publicized past abuse problems and medical issues), not to mention the group's self-depreciating comic-relief provider.
What's nice about a CSN show in 2014 is that it's not a huge deal. The band has toured annually in recent years, and unlike when it hits the road with Neil Young, it remains a low-key, low-pressure show — just a bunch of guys playing some songs they wrote together without fancy lighting or sets or explosions or anything to take away from the tunes. It's just what they do. This year they're promoting "CSNY 1974," a live album culled from stadium performances at the height of their fame and ostentatiousness, but last night's show was the exact opposite of that.
"Thanks so much for being here, and for paying to come see us," said Nash (I'm paraphrasing)."What you don't know is that we'd happily do this for free. But don't tell the promoters we told you that."
A handful of new tunes were played, including songs written or co-written by the band's current keyboard player who is not Crosby, Stills or Nash. They cracked jokes at the fact that they're not supposed to still be writing new songs, or to still be alive for that matter, but, hey, that's what's happening, so deal with it. Some new songs were sweet. Some were a bit cringe-worthy, but you've got to hand it to them for going for it.
The crowd, naturally, wanted the hits, and the band delivered with "Military Madness," "Southern Cross," Deja Vu," "Guinnevere," "Our House," Stills' "Bluebird" and "For All It's Worth" from his Buffalo Springfield days, "Love the One You're With" and the encore, "Teach Your Children."
The Oakdale cleared out quickly once the show ended and we were home and in bed by 11p.m. Sometimes it's nice to go to a show and not have it hit you over the head and dominate your night, leaving intense impressions and changing your life. It was casual, enjoyable and like I said — totally mellow. Mellow shows are something both CSN and the Oakdale excel at providing.