Crosby, Stills & Nash, Royal Albert Hall, London

Graham Nash

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The relationships between Crosby, Stills and Nash, back-porch balladeers of the Woodstock generation, have blown hot and cold over the years. Today, to the delight of their (mostly) old fans, they are enjoying a warm flush. At the second of three shows here, the bonhomie seemed genuine and the spotlight was evenly shared. The odd niggle (“It’s still my turn,” Stills quipped at one point) just went with the between-song flow.

The trio now resemble elderly extras from a Tolkien film – you’ll have to guess which of the barefoot Nash, bull-necked Stills and often beatific Crosby would be elf, hobbit or orc – but their talents continue to justify star billing. “Carry On” opened with a soulful thrum and a military bearing to the drums. Stills’ guitar coaxed it into country-fried krautrock. Only occasionally in isolation did their vocals betray the signs of age; a cappella sections showed them still able to harmonise with telling grace.

If he isn’t already, Stills should be acknowledged as a master of his instrumental art, as proficient at sun-dazed psychedelic flanging (“Bluebird”) as he is at sardonic blues (“Treetop Flyer”), and always with that trebly, introspective tone. Certainly his guitar was in finer voice than he was: more than once, I wanted to give him a lozenge to soothe his parched yearning.

Crosby and Nash consistently nailed most of their notes. “Guinevere” became a courtly pad down memory lane, and their most beguilingly twinned vocal of the night. The hall’s organ serviced the opening bars of “Cathedral”, and I sensed the spirit of Spinal Tap in the misty distance. Yet that’s surely forgivable when Stonehenge is mentioned in the lyrics.

Their writing goes on (“The new songs stop us being the Eagles,” Nash chirped), and these tracks had their place. Nash’s “Burning for the Buddha” was a ragged, conscience-tugging mantra about ending war. But if a former hippie can’t tug your conscience, who can? It’s the classics that the people come for.

All pop songs turn into folk music if you give them long enough. Nash, with his McCartney-esque way with melody, had a head start in that regard. “Teach Your Children” might be incorrigibly twee but “Our House” is actually rather sweet as a grown-up lullaby. Crosby’s electric peacenik anthem “Almost Cut My Hair” has outlasted any carping about its ideals. He sang it like the restatement of a creed, spluttering and yelling the emotive parts with impressive passion. Then “Wooden Ships” reached escape velocity and kept on chugging, as Stills brought us back, sonically, to where the evening had begun.

The encore was “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes”, delivered with gusto, acoustic-guitar flourish and some rapturous “doo-doo-doos” from the audience. The grey pound more than got its money’s worth.

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