October 9, 2016
Troy Savings Bank Music Hall
Review by David Gardiner
Photos by Stan Johnson
New York is now home to legendary singer and songwriter Graham Nash, so he stayed local with a trip to one of the state’s best venues for sound. Joined by guitarist and producer Shane Fontayne, Nash filled the room with many of his finest works.
He got his start as a British pop star with the group The Hollies in the mid 60s and much of their success was certainly due to his unique tenor voice. And no more does that voice come into play than on the show’s opener "Bus Stop." I was struck with the control he had with his voice. Having Fontayne to accompany him on guitar throughout the evening rounded out the songs nicely.
Hoping for "Carrie Ann," Nash talked of traveling to Africa in 1966 and I immediately knew what was coming. "Marrakesh Express" is a Top 40 hit single from Crosby, Still & Nash’s self-titled debut album, and tonight it came across as well-crafted with Nash on acoustic guitar, and Fontayne creating all the proper embellishments on electric. There is an undeniable musical chemistry, and both musicians seemed to be enjoying themselves.
Truly one of rock’s great songwriters, Nash made some really great records in the early 70s. I picked up Songs For Beginners when it came out in 1971, so I was pleased to hear "I Used To Be A King" from the album. Memories of my youth came back when I used to listen to this song surrounded by denim-wearing hippies. I wasn't familiar with the back story behind Nash's inability to get to a CSNY show in Vancouver for lack of the proper paperwork but he had stories to tell and they all ended in song.
"Immigration Man" had Nash taking control of the acoustics of the hall with his voice and Fontayne rounded out the sound beautifully. They performed a sincere version of "Right Between The Eyes," which was seriously nostalgic for me as I've gone down many a mile listening to CSNY’s 4 Way Street on cassette in the car. Further control of the room was gained with "The Sleep Song" from Songs For Beginners — the delicate tone was ideal for this intimate setting.
Nash told the audience that he and Fontayne wrote about 20 songs in a month, and recorded This Path Tonight in eight days. Proof that a restless artist creates good art, This Path Tonight is a personal record that reflects the pain of loss coupled with finding new fulfillment in life by moving to New York. Inspiration for much of the album is his girlfriend Amy, who Nash dedicated "Myself At Last" to. The album’s title track is a catchy song that probably could have been a big hit in the 70s. I bought the vinyl and have played it several times, always picking up on how well it was produced. The musicians on the album were chosen to carefully add the right elements to each track, and I love it.
The more familiar "Military Madness" was played, followed by "Wind On The Water." Nash mentioned that the song was born on David Crosby's boat without showing signs of the widely reported tension between the two these days. Nash was on electric keyboard and Fontayne created a sound from his guitar that prompted Nash to ask: "Is this man insane or what?" The set closed with "Wasted On The Way."
The second set opened with the story of an awkward moment at a CSNY show. Joni Mitchell, whom Nash dated, was there and it was not that long after their breakup that he played "Simple Man," a song she inspired. Tonight showed that although the song was recorded over 45 years ago, Nash’s voice has shown little variation from then. His ability to nail this stuff amazed me.
Songs of protest and social injustice are common among the circle of friends Nash has been associated with. I was unfamiliar with the next tune titled "In Your Name." This song had a passionate ring and the line, "Stop all this sadness, stop all this madness, stop all the killing in your name." seemed to resonate with the people in attendance. Fontayne added some tasteful slide guitar.
Introduced as a love song from a long time ago and shifting the mood came a magical performance of "Lady Of The Island." Moving from past to present, Nash carried on with an autobiographical selection from the new album titled "Golden Days." Another one from This Path Tonight, "Mississippi Burning" is about three murdered students over the black right to vote. Crediting The Band as America's greatest band, a tribute was paid to drummer Levon Helm with "Back Home." This had me pondering the roots of Woodstock and seemed appropriate for the last night of the tour.
As Nash returned to his piano, the story of Stonehenge and Winchester Cathedral was told in the best light I had ever seen. At larger venues "Cathedral" is a song with tricky dynamics.The smaller Troy Savings Bank Music Hall was friendlier at helping everyone enjoy this selection. I'm sure there's never much trouble prompting a sing-along to "Our House," and the audience was happy to oblige. Nash stood up and walked around the piano to take a bow with Fontayne. Everyone got up and made enough noise to get them to return for an encore of "Chicago." I couldn't help noticing how many tracks from Songs For Beginners were played.
On a day that would have been John Lennon's 76th birthday, I enjoyed hearing a very interesting take of the Beatles’ "Blackbird," which was quite different from CSN’s version, with a great vocal by Fontayne. The show ended with "Teach Your Children" with everyone encouraged to sing along. It was a sold-out show and I felt were very fortunate to catch this performance. More dates for 2017 have been announced and my advice is to attend even if it takes a bit of travel. Graham Nash is worth it.