The Uptown Theater felt like a nightclub Tuesday night. The floor in front of the stage was furnished with chairs, and most of the crowd of about 500 was sitting directly in front of the stage.
The headliner, David Crosby, was the only act. And he took the stage not long after his appointed time of 8 p.m. Accompanied only by a pianist, his son James Raymond, he proceeded to take his modest but enthusiastic audience on a journey that was filled with plenty of new music, songs from his various solo projects.
Crosby has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice: for his membership in the Byrds; and for his membership in Crosby, Stills and Nash.
Both bands were as influential as they were successful, but each suffered bouts of internal dissension. Most recently, Crosby caused what seems to be an irreparable split among himself and Neil Young and Graham Nash, putting to rest any hopes of a Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young reunion.
Those severances emerged twice Tuesday night. Crosby introduced “Triad,” a Byrds’ song, asserting the rather meandering, prog-folk ballad wasn’t the reason he was kicked out of the Byrds. Rather, “it was because I was an ***hole.” Later, during the encore, he brought up the CSN trio, but without mentioning anyone’s name.
Anyone expecting an evening of greatest hits or a parade of CSNY songs was in for a surprise. Instead, Crosby showcased his wealth of solo material, some of it newly minted, which made for a rather sedate evening.
The crowd showered him with applause after nearly every song, but there was hearty engagement during only a few of them, like “Naked in the Rain” and “Delta,” two CSN songs, “Dream for Him,” a CSNY song, and “For Free,” a Joni Mitchell cover.
Crosby, 75, has usually been the best singer on whatever stage he stood, and lo these many years later, his voice is still firm, agile and soulful. He also still knows his way around an acoustic guitar, whether plucking chord progressions or laying down leads over his son’s percussive piano chords.
Much of his solo material veers into progressive folk/jazz terrain. There is plenty of melody, but song structure is elusive, as if he is singing poetry, improvisationally.
Crosby is unabashedly political and socially conscious, so many of his lyrics, at least those that didn’t dabble into love and romance, expressed some dissatisfaction with the state of our country or world.
He dropped some names during the many anecdotes he delivered between songs: Jackson Browne, Warren Zevon, the Beatles, the Stones.
After a one-hour set, he and his son took a break that lasted nearly 30 minutes, then returned for a final set that lasted nearly another hour.
Raymond provided plenty of percussive heft, plus some electronic additives. He also sang harmonies on several songs. Crosby took the stage alone for a couple of songs during the second set, including “What Are Their Names,” a call-out to the political power-mongers who wield so much influence.
In the first set, he promised the crowd he’d deliver something familiar later, and he did: first an on-point version of “Déjà Vu,” the title track of CSNY’s brilliant studio album, then a smoldering rendition of “Guinevere” from CSN’s inaugural self-titled album, now 47 years old. His guitar play on both was impressive.
After that perfect finale, the crowd beckoned the pair out for one more song, and Crosby gave them “Cowboy Movie,” a cryptic tale about train robbery that ends in mayhem. It’s a track from Crosby’s first album, “If I Could Only Remember My Name, released in 1971, and another sign that these days, he’s more interested in his solo career than the other mighty bands he has been a part of.