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Concert Review by Nick Morgan
Hammersmith Apollo, London, Tuesday 28th June 2005 - by Nick Morgan


Apparently, according to a bloke I met in my new briny local by the Thames, the Lord Nelson, this gig was organised as part of the celebrations of the 200th Anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar. That explains, I thought, why tickets were being promoted by the Daily Mail (who also spent the last week pumping up the Nation’s loins for this celebration of our greatest day) amongst the adverts for stair-lifts and time-share hideaways in Cyprus, and why they gave away a CS&N CD with the paper (I use the word in its loosest sense) at the weekend. And why the venue was the Hammersmith Apollo, originally named (as everyone knows) The Victory Theatre when it was built in 1805. And of course just before the gig HM the Queen & Co were conducting a review of the Fleet at Portsmouth: “Our greatest Victory over Europe ever” or some such was the Mail’s headline. In case you don’t remember Trafalgar was the one when the brave British boys, against the odds, destroyed a combined enemy fleet under the flag of, errr….well, you know who. Odd really I thought that it had come to this for these one time princes of peace and outspoken critics of injustice and oppression. But I suppose we all change as time goes by, and after all this is a band that’s heading for the Bank of America Pavilion in Boston, the Hampton Beach Casino, and the Borgata Casino Resort in Atlantic City (other visitors will include Stevie Nicks, the Moody Blues, Chicago and REO Speedwagon – ‘nuff said?).
But I have to confess that I’m like much of the audience (for surely no-one can really like much they did after about 1972) – taken back by CS&N to an innocent world, captured by the naive insouciance of songs like Nash’s Marrakesh Express. On the positive side it’s the very late 1960s in North Oxfordshire with a friend who’d turned up from San Francisco to live with his Mum and stepfather (who made classical guitars and things, which seemed very cool at the time) with a bag full of long playing records that changed my attitude to music. Moby Grape, the Band, Quicksilver Messenger Service (damn – I did like that album), Strawberry Alarm Clock, Love (forever gets re-released) and Crosby Stills and Nash.
On the other hand, if you take Nash’s great song as an exemplar, it’s a grotesque mix of cultural ignorance and cultural imperialism. Peace, love, but not a great deal of understanding, until maybe thirty or so years later when that train came down the tracks like an Express out of control and forever shattered the complacency (I hope) of western Europe and North America.
CROSBY STILLS & NASH On our left is Steve Stills. Played the guitar very well, but he seemed distressingly out of sorts (looked like he was heading for hip surgery at best) and spent long periods off-stage. Lucky the backing band behind them were so good. As the on-stage chemistry went he said not a word to Nash, but spoke and hugged with Crosby. Saddest of all his voice was spent (even when he tried to rock his way through Booker T’s Ole’ Man Trouble from his most recent CD) – he managed few of his original harmony parts, the reason I guess that we were spared Suite: Judy Blue Eyes. Centre stage Graham Nash. I wanted to describe him as hopelessly talent less, but even with my deeply ingrained prejudices realise this could not be so.
After all, as Crosby later said, “we all had our jobs man. Nash wrote the anthems. Stills wrote the rock and roll. And I did the weird stuff. A dirty job, but …” So let’s just call him an egotistical prat. Bare footed, silk trousered, compared to his band mates grotesquely insincere, he seemed like one of those spooky old guys who hangs around in gyms in Lycra looking at himself an awful lot in the mirror. And to our right was Crosby. Strolling around his patch like a benign and increasingly avuncular walrus this man who once made his body a temple to drug and alcohol abuse (‘till he had most of it replaced) gradually stole the show – with his personality, presence and most of all, his singing. What a star! CROSBY STILLS & NASH
CROSBY STILLS & NASH So I would have to say that ‘Guinnevere’, led by DC, was the moment of the evening, probably followed by ‘Long Time Gone’ (Crosby leading) and ‘Almost cut my hair’ (Crosby again). It was an interesting mix of material, probably only 50% truly from the old days, mixed with songs from Still’s more recent work and the new (2004) Crosby and Nash album. Oh yes, and in the week of G8 and L8 we had to have ‘Feed the world’.
I have to say that much of this was enough to make you wince – like the sort of stuff they play when the golf is on the TV, and confirmed my theory that for blokes song writing is for the most part a very young man’s game – it’s rare they can hack it once over about 25. Makes you wonder really how they could ever have written songs like ‘You don’t have to cry’, ‘Chicago’, or ‘Helplessly hoping’ (when Stills really gave it a go on the harmonies – “They are one person …”). And they finished the evening – of course, give the intimate link with that greatest of all British victories over those chaps from across the English Channel, with ‘Wooden Ships’. Oh how we danced. But not for long before a bizarre encore of ‘Teach your children’, which saw Crosby being surrounded by an increasingly large number of his progeny, ages ranging from 30 or so down to about four. Which bits did he have replaced?
Oh yes. One final point. I know Serge has been overwhelmed with anxious enquiries about the date for my Glastonbury review. Guys – don’t you know me better than that? I went sailing in Devon instead, but still had to suffer the new age hippies – actually pilled up City-boys and tequila juiced secretaries, in their mud cased Armani jeans on the way home on the train. For those who don’t know, it’s a smug self-satisfied weekend in the country for crass adolescents and over-grown middle-class Guardian readers. I nearly choked on my Brora, when watching it on TV late on Sunday I heard one BBC young-thing say (in a music-hall northern accent) “Ooooh, I had that real tingle when Coldplay came on stage”, only to be told by the other (more comedy accent) “No for me it was Brian Wilson …”. When we saw poor old Brian, empty eyed in front of an unplayed piano bop-bop-bop-adoping his way through the surf classics like a man trapped in a Dante’s Inferno, I really had to wonder what sort of drugs they’d all been taking. But never mind. We do have an upcoming Festival special, for the very best of English music, later in August. Watch this space. Nick Morgan (concert photos by Kate)

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