Wednesday, July 29, 2015

He Came To Chicago . . . And Rocked

The main event in A Hollies Summer In Chicago took place last night.

Actually, the most recent stop on Graham Nash’s summer tour was in St. Charles, but that’s close enough to be considered part of the Chicago area. Delivered in two separate sets at The Arcada, the show was a well-crafted retrospective guaranteed to make the iconic musician’s fans very happy. Nash was accompanied by the impressive guitarist-vocalist Shane Fontayne, who has toured with Crosby, Stills and Nash, as well as with Bruce Springsteen, Sting, Paul Simon, and Rod Stewart. Nash and Fontayne began writing songs together after the 2014 CSN tour ended last October, and they’ve already recorded an album’s worth of material. Their newly formed bond was evident in their harmony vocals and musicianship throughout last night’s performance.

Dressed in a denim shirt and jeans, Nash jokingly compared himself to a vintage car show that was taking place just down the street from the Arcada; saying he was “old and polished.” He exuded a casual, friendly presence, and introduced a number of songs with interesting and funny anecdotes. He explained that “Our House” was written after a shopping trip with Joni Mitchell back when he lived with her, and added the good news that she is currently recuperating after recent health issues. His tale of the Canadian border incident that sparked “Immigration Man” included a good-natured jab at Neil Young; and before performing “Wasted On The Way,” he noted that Crosby, Stills and Nash could have created more music together if they hadn’t indulged so heavily in drugs.

The wide-ranging song selection began with an appealing and acoustic take on The Hollies’ “Bus Stop.” Nash drew an interesting connection between “King Midas In Reverse” from the final album he recorded with the British Invasion band and “I Used To Be A King” from his solo debut Songs For Beginners. He also performed “Just A Song Before I Go,” “Military Madness,” and “Simple Man,” and went with the deep cut “Marguerita” from his Whistling Down The Wire album with David Crosby. The recorded portion of Crosby’s a cappella “Critical Mass” preceded a live performance of “Wind On The Water,” in which Nash played piano and the consistently inventive Fontayne conjured mournful whale sounds via his guitar. 

“Wind On The Water,” with its condemnation of animal abuse (“It’s not that we don’t know/It’s just that we don’t want to care”) is a prime example of Nash’s long-running passion for delving into political and social issues. He was at full power belting out the provocative lyrics of “Fieldworker” and “Cathedral,” as well as the rousing finale “Chicago.” After stating he believes the majority of America’s cops do an amazing job, Nash raged through an energetic, brand new composition co-written with Fontayne that protests the recent deaths of African-Americans who had confrontations with police officers.

Two other Nash-Fontayne compositions, the optimistic “Golden Days” and the soul-searching “Myself At Last,” bode well for the album they’ll be releasing next spring. The duo harmonized perfectly on a breathtaking version of Paul McCartney’s “Blackbird” as their first encore. “You might as well stay standing,” Nash said after the audience had risen to its feet in approval. “We’re going to sing this for all the teachers around the world.” A spirited version of “Teach Your Children,” with the audience taking over on some of the verses, was a fitting end for a performance that showed Graham Nash remains an essential force on the current music scene.

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