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Crosby, Stills and Nash @ The Riverside Theater

Aug. 5, 2012

Aug. 6, 2012
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It is unlikely that any concert in the Milwaukee area on Sunday night inspired more partial and full standing ovations and clapping over audience members' heads than Crosby, Stills and Nash at the Riverside Theater. Though the trio epitomizes hippie ideals, it wasn't merely nostalgia that brought people's hands together and got them on their feet.

Primarily, there are the harmonies. David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash all contributed memorable vocals to their respective works with The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield and The Hollies. Together, however, they created something more sparkling than any of them could have achieved on their own. The idea of the rock super-group has been responsible for much mediocrity since Crosby, Stills and Nash became one of its earliest examples, but when this trio joins forces, it can still be a spine-tingling event.

Not far removed from the delight of their singing is the instrumental prowess that backs them. Though all three principals strummed guitars or sat at a keyboard at various times throughout the night's 26 songs, the primary force for tasty licks was Stills, who stepped out on several occasions to deliver virtuosic, if sometimes deceptively simple, solos. But he wasn't the only agile player. Each member among the backing band got a bit of space to work out on his own to engaging effect; one of the night's supplementary axmen was Milwaukee's own Shane Fontayne, who, as Nash noted, has also hit the road with Sting and Bruce Springsteen.

To be sure, nostalgia likely figures high among the reasons for much of the especially enthusiastic reactions after, and often before, most every tune. The trio occasionally fostered that feeling, too, as they encouraged sing-alongs on the choruses to "Southern Cross" and "Our House." Nash's invitation to the crowd to go with the guys to Morocco for a smoke in his introduction to "Marrakesh Express" could have evoked memories among some ticket-holders of using a CS&N LP cover to roll special cigarettes. Perhaps to the group's credit and some of their throng's chagrin, though, they didn't exploit the nostalgic impulse as much as they could have. For instance, among the hits left off of the evening's playlist was their rendition of Joni Mitchell's reflection on hippiedom's golden moment, "Woodstock."

One reason they may not have taken their listeners farther down memory lane could be the freshness of the political commitment that still fuels their art. It's especially the case for Crosby and Nash. The latter offered numbers dedicated to federal government Wikileaks conspirator Bradley Manning and victims of the Oak Creek Sikh temple shooting earlier that day. Crosby prefaced "What Are Their Names" by wondering whether the writers of the Constitution would have approved of the idea that the presidential candidate with the biggest TV ad budget would get the keys to the kingdom.

The second of the threesome's two sets allowed for more jamming and the introduction of less radio-familiar material. Some of it was entirely new; Crosby unveiled a song about an encounter with an underage prostitute. Though the lyrics seemed to lack a moral resolution, the man with one of rock's most glorious mane-and-mustache combo's accompanied himself with keening, cyclic riffs on his electric six-string.

The sound got even more minimal for their final number, "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes." Featuring Stills on acoustic guitar, the melodically complex ode to Stills' one-time girlfriend, Judy Collins, encapsulates the act's propensities for art, folk, pop and rock, all buoyed by their scintillating harmonies. It kept much of the crowd standing just before they departed after a lengthy night of music and, yes, memories.

Photo by Melissa Miller.


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