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Concert Reviews:
Graham Nash's "bunch of songs" enraptures at the Royal Oak

By Gary Graff
ggraff@digitalfirstmedia.com, @GraffonMusic on Twi

Posted: Thursday, March 21, 2019

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"We have a bunch of songs for you," Graham Nash said at the start of his show Wednesday night, March 20, at the Royal Oak Music Theatre. "That's all we got."

It was more than enough.

Over the course of 22 songs and nearly two hours, plus intermission, the two-time Rock and Roll Hall of Famer delivered an intimate, enrapturing survey of his career -- from early influences like Buddy Holly and his time in the Hollies through his work with Crosby, Stills, Nash &/or Young and his most recent solo work. It's material that's held up well over the years, and so has Nash's voice and sense of humor, with a palpable ease and confidence that clearly comes from doing "whatever the f*** I want to" on his own, without the compromises that come from working in his currently dry-docked partnerships.

That said, Tuesday's show was certainly a collaborative affair, with well-credentialed guitarist Shane Fontayne (Lone Justice, Bruce Springsteen, Jackson Browne), who produced and co-wrote Nash's last album, 2016's "This Path Tonight," shining throughout the night and longtime CSN keyboardist Todd Caldwell providing color and texture. But the setlist, heavy in favorites, was the real star of the night, letting Nash quietly stake a claim for stature as one of the rock era's most significant songwriters.

There were certainly some rarities and surprises, such as "Better Days," which Nash co-wrote for Rita Coolidge, "Carried Away" from the 1977 "CSN" album and a daring rendition of the Beatles' "A Day in the Life" that closed the first set. But the black-clad Nash -- who switched between acoustic guitar, piano and harmonica throughout the show -- mostly delighted the boomer-heavy audience with his best-known material, starting with the early CSN tracks "Pre-Road Downs" and "Marakesh Express" and including material from the band ("Wasted on the Way," "Just a Song Before I Go," "Cathedral," "Our House") as well as solo fare such as "I Used to Be King." Most were introduced with stories, ranging from a bet with a drug dealer in Hawaii to write a song on the spot ("Just a Song Before I Go") or the acid trip in England that inspired "Cathedral."

Nash tipped his hat to his time in the Hollies with an ebullient "Bus Stop" and to Stephen Stills with "Love the One You're With," while his current estrangement from David Crosby did not stop him from offering up "Wind on the Water," along with a story about whale-spotting while cruising on Crosby's sailboat during the early 70s. His outspoken political bent got its airing, too, mostly through the music -- though he did note that "there are more wars in the world today" before "Military Madness" and inserted a reference to U.S. President Donald Trump into "Ohio."

But Nash let "Immigration Man" go by without referencing the current situation on the U.S.-Mexico border, while the pairing of "Find the Cost of Freedom" and "Ohio" said all it had to without additional comment.

Nash finished on a sweet note, with he, Fontayne and Caldwell around the center microphone singing Buddy Holly's "Everyday" before wrapping with "Teach Your Children," a singalong he dedicated to the surviving students of Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. Early on Nash spoke about "some unknown reason" that brought he and the crowd together at the Royal Oak on Wednesday, but the songs and their performances made it pretty evident why everyone was there.

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