David Crosby suggested on Crosby, Stills & Nash’s most recent live album that Graham Nash’s role in the group is to “write anthems that the whole world wants to sing.”
Nash performed many of those ingratiating songs for an audience of almost 600 at the Uptown Theater on Saturday. Accompanied only by guitarist Shane Fontayne, Nash provided a thorough survey of his extensive career.
The veteran of the 1969 Woodstock festival and a two-time inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame shared insights about his creative process as he demonstrated that he remains committed to his craft.
Nash opened his 90-minute outing with a spare reading “Bus Stop,” a 1966 hit he wrote for the Hollies. He left the successful British Invasion group to team up with Crosby and Stephen Stills a few years later. The trio’s 1969 debut album remains a folk-rock touchstone.
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The opening notes of “Marrakesh Express,” a somewhat moldy period piece from that recording, elicited nostalgic sighs of appreciation from many aging hippies in the audience. Sentimental sing-alongs during renditions of his familiar compositions “Our House” and “Teach Your Children” resembled a taping of the radio program “A Prairie Home Companion.”
Nash dropped a few prominent names on Saturday night. He recalled that he wrote the lush song of heartbreak “I Used to Be a King” after breaking up with Joni Mitchell. Nash remembered that his habit of catching a baseball with his bare hand before placing it in a glove once amused Bruce Springsteen.
Nash’s most startling stories were related to drugs. He said that the wispy 1977 soft-rock hit “Just a Song Before I Go” was the result of a $500 bet he made with a drug dealer in Maui that hinged on Nash’s ability to write a song on the spot. Nash confessed that “Cathedral” was inspired by an eerie drug-fueled hallucination he experienced on a jaunt to Stonehenge and Winchester Cathedral.
Fontayne contributed a haunting solo to “Cathedral” and added angry flourishes to the protest songs “Military Madness” and “Immigration Man.” The sideman’s quieter work was just as incisive.
The encore included a serene interpretation of “Blackbird,” a song that Paul McCartney wrote for the Beatles. The ballad resonated partly because Nash tends to resemble McCartney’s country cousin.
On the wistful new composition “Golden Days,” Nash questioned whether there still was a place for “songs with soul and words with so much hope.” Nash’s vital performance indicated that flower-power optimism never will go entirely out of style.
Bus Stop; King Midas in Reverse; I Used to Be a King; Marrakesh Express; Immigration Man; Golden Days; Myself at Last; Wasted on the Way; Wind on the Water; Our House; Military Madness; Simple Man; Marguerita; Wild Tales; Watch Out for the Wind; Just a Song Before I Go; Cathedral; Chicago; Blackbird; Teach Your Children