His solo show was as insightful about classics as it was outspoken about current issues.
Few musicians tour in support of a tell-all autobiography. But then few artists are Graham Nash.
The co-founder of the popular British Invasion group the Hollies and longtime member of Crosby, Stills & Nash gave a rare solo performance Wednesday night at City National Grove of Anaheim, bolstered only by two top-tier sidemen. The good news for local fans of the 71-year-old singer-guitarist is how much stronger he sounded on his own compared to recent outings alongside Stephen Stills and David Crosby.
I was fairly disappointed with the legendary trio's headlining appearance at Doheny Blues Festival in May 2010, mostly because of ragged harmonies and a performance that felt dialed-in. Such was not the case with Nash's two-hour-plus turn in Anaheim. The performance was powerful, the arrangements memorable, and there was the added thrill of listening to Nash discuss many of his best-known classics and their genesis in rich detail.
The recent publication of Wild Tales: A Rock & Roll Life provides a backdrop for him to ponder his life and the songs that have enriched and chronicled it since he launched the Hollies with Allan Clarke more than 50 years ago. It didn't hurt that his two supporting players, keyboardist James Raymond and guitarist Shane Fontayne, were as tuned in to the intimate proceedings as their two-time Rock and Roll Hall of Fame leader.
Nash, his voice in fine form, opened with one of the ’60s most enduring numbers, "Bus Stop," reworked here in more folk fashion. Thankfully, the original’s distinctive harmonies were replicated, Nash's light tenor joined by the voices of his hired guns. Another Hollies classic, "King Midas in Reverse," was similarly – and powerfully – reproduced early in the set.
Two dozen songs were performed over the course of the two-part program, some of them freshly penned. Introducing one written for the late Levon Helm, the drummer and co-vocalist for the Band who died in April 2012, Nash explained what happens when a tune begins to surface: "They torture me if I don't get them out." That particular piece, "Back Home," was a beautiful Americana folk-rocker that wrapped with an effortless glide into "The Weight."
Another new song, "Exit Zero," was inspired by a drive Nash took through Colorado, during which he noticed expansive oil fields with towers burning away wasting untold amounts of energy. The bluesy rocker that resulted was greeted with cheers here from a crowd pleased to see Nash still using his music to reflect the world as he sees it.
Yet another freshly formed gem, "Burning for the Buddah," allowed him to unleash his artistic wrath on Tibet's treatment at the hands of China. He noted the suffering of the region’s monks: 128 have burned themselves in the past year, yet that has received little media coverage. "Burning" was one of the biggest sonic surprises of the night, playing out like a symphonic Peter Gabriel piece.
Of course, favorites such as "Our House" and "Wind on the Water" (he played piano on those) and "Just a Song Before I Go" were greeted like old friends by an audience that grew excited whenever enough details in spoken intros revealed what song was coming. "Wind on the Water" was especially potent, its ambitious arrangement delivered with grace by the three musicians.
Nash's encore included a sterling take on the Beatles' "Blackbird" and a spirited audience sing-along on one of his most-loved staples, the uplifting anthem "Teach Your Children."