David Crosby 2.0 Knocks it Out of the Park in NYC

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David Crosby at Lincoln Center, NYC 8-11-19 (Photo by Jeff Tamarkin, used with permission)

“This truly does not suck,” said David Crosby, taking in the crisp summer air and the sight of the overflow crowd at Lincoln Center’s Damrosch Park in New York City. It truly did not.

On Sunday night (Aug. 11), exactly 49 years and 51 weeks after performing another free outdoor concert of note—that one in a farmer’s field in upstate New York, surrounded by a few close friends and a half-million acquaintances—Crosby confirmed that his is one of rock’s great comeback sagas. By all accounts, particularly his own, he should not even be alive right now, let alone at the top of his game. He makes that clear in the brilliant, confessional documentary film Remember My Name, now playing at select theaters. The man, to put it mildly, has been through a lot.

Related: Our review of the David Crosby documentary Remember My Name

Yet here he was, just three days short of his 78th birthday, and not only did he not suck, but his instantly recognizable voice has lost nothing. Sobriety, and a serious reconsideration of his life’s purpose, has produced a David Crosby 2.0 that must be seen to be believed.

David Crosby and the Sky Trails Band at Lincoln Center, NYC 8-11-19 (Photo by Jeff Tamarkin, used with permission)

Leaving the confines of Crosby, Stills and Nash (and sometimes Young) after more than four decades pocked by consistent bickering and music of variable quality, has also done wonders for him: he performs prolifically now, alternating between his Lighthouse Band and the Sky Trails Band, the outstanding sextet with which he played on Sunday. Both bands are named after recently released studio albums—he’s made four of them in the past five years, all quite fine—and he’s rarely seemed as comfortable with a group of musicians as he does with these crews.

Two of the core members of the Sky Trails Band, keyboardist James Raymond (who is Crosby’s son and served as his producer on the 2017 Sky Trails album) and guitarist Jeff Pevar, have been with Croz for some time—the three played together previously in the short-lived band CPR in the late ’90s to the early 2000s. Bassist Mai Leisz, drummer Steve DiStanislao and keyboardist/singer Michelle Willis, each considerably younger than Crosby and each a stellar player, are newer discoveries.

It was clear from the moment he opened his mouth at Damrosch (the show was the finale in the 2019 Lincoln Center Outdoors program), to sing “In My Dreams,” a song from 1977’s self-titled CSN album, that Crosby is one older rock artist whose musical gift is intact. All of the range, his acute sense of dynamics, the warm tone, are still in place. The long hair and trademark mustache may be white now, but the voice is youthful and full.

David Crosby at Lincoln Center, NYC 8-11-19 (Photo by Jeff Tamarkin, used with permission)

Crosby dipped into material from throughout his career, reaching back to his tenure in the Byrds for a spirited “Eight Miles High” (which he cowrote) and testing out a new song, titled “I Think I,” according to a published set list. “I’m not sure I wrote this,” he said before singing it, “because it’s very positive.” A few of the band members contributed stellar harmony vocals as needed throughout the night, and a light show reminiscent of those from the psychedelic era pulsed behind the band, but Crosby was clearly in control of everything happening on that stage.

Watch the band perform the Byrds’ “Eight Miles High”

Of course, he reached into the CSN(Y) catalog a handful of times, beginning with “Long Time Gone,” one of Crosby’s compositions from the debut Crosby, Stills & Nash album, celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. A punchier version than the original, it featured the first of several dazzling, economical guitar solos from Pevar. “The Lee Shore,” a song that first appeared on the 1971 live album 4 Way Street, featured Crosby on acoustic guitar (he alternated between acoustic, electric and no instrument at all), and he sang the beautiful “Homeward Through the Haze,” first heard on the 1975 Crosby-Graham Nash album Wind on the Water. Crosby preceded that performance with a mini-diatribe comparing New York City (“great”) to his hometown of Los Angeles, which he called “a disgusting place. I can say that because I was born there.”

Watch “Long Time Gone” from the New York show

There were some omissions—no “Guinnevere” or “Almost Cut My Hair,” nothing from his beloved debut solo album If I Could Only Remember My Name or the more recent Sky Trails—but it’s doubtful anyone felt slighted. And while the familiar ’60s and ’70s songs naturally found favor with the mostly boomer-aged audience, some of the musical highlights came with the later tunes. “Morrison,” about a fellow Los Angeles-based singer who didn’t have Crosby’s survival skills, was first recorded by CPR on their 1998 debut. “I’ll sing the song and you can figure out whether I like him or not,” Croz said at the outset. Suffice to say he’s not a fan. “Janet,” written and sung by keyboardist Willis and featured on the latest Crosby album, Here If You Listen, was the only song of the evening that did not feature a lead vocal by Crosby, although he pitched in with harmonies.

Watch “Deja vu” from the NYC show

For the final three songs of the show, Crosby returned to the crowd-pleasers, but never did they feel like gratuitous panders. A relaxed, extended and spare “Déjà vu” was a highlight, featuring solos from Willis, Leisz, Raymond and Pevar. (It should be noted, too, that drummer DiStanislao  is a keeper.) “Wooden Ships” rocked hard, Crosby’s own vocal lead replacing the parts that, for all those decades, would have been sung by his bandmates.

And finally there was “Ohio,” written by the other estranged sometime-member of that now-defunct group, Neil Young. Crosby has recently been making overtures about getting CSNY back together, perhaps in support of a shared political goal. If there was an olive-branch aspect to Crosby’s choosing the song as his show-closer though, it was overshadowed by the poignancy of the lyrics, the performance coming just days after a mass shooting in Dayton, Ohio. The often-outspoken Croz didn’t comment about the tragedy; he let the song speak for itself.

Watch “Wooden Ships” from Lincoln Center

He had some help with that one: virtually every member of the audience, standing up by that point, sang along, the repeated cry of “four dead in Ohio” punctuating the New York night. Despite the anger and sadness of the song, there was an unmistakable sense of jubilation in the air.

Watch “Ohio” from the Lincoln Center concert

David Crosby Tour Dates (Tickets are available here and here.)
August 13 Carolina Theatre, Durham, NC
August 15 Jefferson Center, Roanoke, VA
August 18 Philadelphia Folk Festival, Upper Salford, PA
August 20 The Kent Stage, Kent, OH
August 22 Honeywell Center, Wabash, IN
August 24 Lake Superior Big Top, Chautauqua Bayfield, WI
August 25 Fargo Theatre, Fargo, ND
August 27 Belle Mehus Auditorium, Bismarck, ND
August 29 The Wilma Theatre, Missoula, MT
August 31 Neptune Theatre, Seattle, WA
September 1 Aladdin Theatre, Portland, OR
September 3 John Van Duzer Theatre, Arcata, CA
September 4 Fox Forum, Redwood City, CA
September 6 Uptown Theatre, Napa, CA
September 8 Henry Miller Memorial Library, Big Sur, CA
September 10 Saban Theater, Beverly Hills, CA
September 12 The Celebrity Theatre, Phoenix, AZ
September 13 Red Rock Casino Resort Spa, Las Vegas, NV
September 15 Belly Up Aspen, Aspen, CO
September 17 Red Rocks Amphiteatre, Denver, CO

Jeff Tamarkin

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  1. Al Dente
    #1 Al Dente 12 August, 2019, 21:06

    Very nice review – I caught the show and have seen Crosby more than ten times now. The freshness of his new music and vitality of the old is something to hear. The drummer Stevie D. fits in with older group – he played with CPR and was in the studio with Crosby years ago. Michelle Willis is a genuine talent and an overlapping member of the Sky Trails and Lighthouse bands. I’ve seen her play with Crosby three times in the past five years and he definitely keys on her – vocally, and she keeps muscling up that organ, as during Wooden Ships last night. It’s just a great story to see Crosby kicking butt. I’d have to agree that I missed Guinevere the most – his best song, to me. Deja Vu is great, more of an extended riff than opens itself up to improvisation.

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