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EXPLORING THE TRAILS

David Crosby & Friends / Mayo Performing Arts Center, Morristown, N.J. / June 17, 2018

Looking like a portly hippie farmer, with his trademark white frizzy hair and mustache, along with a radish-red wool cap, David Crosby offered a disclaimer of sorts early in his June 17 show in Morristown, New Jersey: “I don’t have any hits. My guitar tuning’s kind of weird. So, buyer beware.”

The soon-to-be 77-year-old performer was being exceedingly modest. The two-time Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee had his share of chart success as a member of The Byrds and Crosby, Stills and Nash. And as for his self-described weird guitar tuning: It seems to be working lately for Crosby, who has enjoyed a creative renaissance that began with the 2014 release of Croz, his first solo record in more than two decades, and has continued with 2016’s Lighthouse and his latest, 2017’s Sky Trails.

On this night, Crosby and his band navigated their way through an eclectic set that hit on his solo career, his various collaborations with Stills, Nash and Neil Young, and his side band CPR.

The first number set the tone for the evening as the band began the CSN song “In My Dreams,” which Crosby halted after a few chords. “You don’t know this song,” he said, playfully admonishing a young(er) audience member, as the crowd applauded and laughed.

“This is going to be one of those nights,” he said after a few more songs. “A good one.” At no point was Crosby at a loss for words. “This is a song about a guy I didn’t particularly like, but I understood,” he said, introducing CPR’s “Morrison,” written about late Doors frontman Jim Morrison. “It’s also the first song I wrote with my son, [keyboard player] James Raymond.”

Solo efforts “Tracks in the Dust” and “Thousand Roads” followed, and the autobiographical “At the Edge” (from CPR’s self-titled 1998 album) was a highlight. The lyrics “And it’s life and it’s dying / it’s beginnings and end / it’s what did you do / with the life they gave you?” hit home with the members of the audience familiar with Crosby’s past drug, legal and medical issues.

“Guinnevere,” from the 1969 CSN debut album, was enhanced by Crosby’s acoustic guitar playing. The vocal harmonies of Crosby, Raymond, keyboardist Michelle Willis and guitarist Jeff Pevar were near perfect, as they were on the accompanying a cappella version of “What Are Their Names,” a protest song from Crosby’s 1971 solo debut. “I’ve been singing this song for over 40 years,” he said, “and nothing’s changed. In fact, things have gotten worse.” Another familiar CSN song, “Long Time Gone,” followed, and a rousing version of CSNY’s “Déjà Vu” closed the first set, with each band member given a brief solo to showcase their talents.

The second set began with a lush version of the CSNY tune “The Lee Shore,” followed by the Crosby and Nash number “Homeward Through the Haze,” which was highlighted by Pevar’s guitar work. The rhythm section of Mai Leisz on bass and Steve DiStanislao on drums was also solid on these numbers and throughout the show, giving many of the songs a jazzy, alt-rock feel reminiscent of Steely Dan. Willis accompanied Crosby on a gripping version of “Sky Trails” — quixotically enough, the only track represented from Crosby’s three recent solo efforts.

Saving some of the best and more familiar mainstream songs in his catalog for last, Crosby and his band elevated the crowd with the CSN classic “Wooden Ships,” a song co-written with Stills and Paul Kantner (and also made famous by Kantner’s Jefferson Airplane).  After leaving the stage to considerable applause, Crosby and friends returned to perform the Young-penned CSNY hit “Ohio” — and while it’s about the 1970 shooting deaths of four Kent State University students by the National Guard, the song’s impassioned plea “How many more?” certainly applies to problems and challenges today.

The concert was a fitting personal retrospective of Crosby’s life and career, seasoned with wry stories of addiction, survival, dreams both deferred and achieved, and uplifting accomplishment. At this stage of his life, Crosby is in an enviable position to look back and ahead with aged wisdom and hope for the future.

— By Donald Gavron

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