There was a moment on Tuesday night at the Toledo Zoo Amphitheater when everything that makes Crosby, Stills & Nash special -- in the pantheon of great iconic rock bands, with their audience, and as musicians -- seemed to crystallize into a singular moment.
David Crosby stood before the sell-out crowd and stared at a bank of clouds in the west, the sun's waning rays back-lighting the puffy sky and pouring out over the top of the formation in horizontal columns. His son James Raymond, whom he had given up for adoption many years ago and with whom he was reacquainted with much later in life, was behind him playing keyboards on "Lay Me Down," a song he wrote.
To Crosby's right were Graham Nash and Stephen Stills, his musical partners for 43 years. He's now 70, but still with a strong voice and his musical chops intact (along with his signature mane -- thinning considerably -- and bushy mustache) and he stared at the sky nearly the whole time he sang the ballad.
The conflagration of nature, music, and companionship was impossible to miss. Yes, the cloud had a touch of gray that could portend bad things, but for now that was all kept at bay by fellowship and a sense of history. The crowd was respectful, the sound pristine, and time really didn't matter at that moment.
And when that kind of pseudo-metaphysical juju wasn't going on, the spry old hippies rocked impressively hard for men of any age.
Stills was on fire all night. He jammed out on songs like "Carry On" and "Bluebird," wandering out to the front of the stage and firing off bright, aggressive lead lines with economy and a sense of purpose. But he also offered country jazz on "Helplessly Hoping" and jam band pyrotechnics on "Bluebird."
His voice now relies as much on enthusiasm and gritty determination, but it worked fine. He sounded best on a fragile, beautiful cover of Bob Dylan's "Girl From the North Country" that featured just the three of them singing nearly a capella other than Stills' acoustic guitar.
The nearly full moon hung over the Maumee River as the three men paid homage to, as Crosby called him, "old weird Bob."
The band took the stage shortly after 7:30 as Nash and Stills seemed to be deep in conversation, their arms around each other. They shared a high five before the band --the three namesakes, two keyboard players, a fourth guitar player, bass, and drums -- tore into the first set. It must be a running joke on the tour because Nash said the auxiliary guitarist Shane Fontayne, a veteran sideman who played with Bruce Springsteen, was "born and raised here in Toledo." He is actually from England.
Rockers such as "Long Time Gone," "Immigration Man," and "Southern Cross" front-loaded the first set, setting the stage for a 75-minute run that ended with a funky "Love The One You're With."
Returning for the hour-plus second set after a 20-minute break, CSN weaved a much more mellow blanket of music, featuring "Helplessly Hoping," "Guinnevere" and a rarity -- "Johnny's Garden" from Stills' Manassas album -- for "Lorenzo," who Nash said had come to Toledo all the way from Italy.
Contact Rod Lockwood at: email@example.com or 419-724-6159.