Audience members inside a fully seated Centrepointe Theatre were taken on an emotionally charged journey through the vast songbook of Graham Nash’s life, complete with no-holds barred stories. They were songs chosen from the various points of his past 50 years in music, from his beginnings with The Hollies; to Crosby, Stills & Nash; to Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young; to his work with David Crosby; and to his recent songwriting partnership with Shane Fontayne which has produced his first album in 14 years, “This Path Tonight”. Nash and Fontayne are continuing their extensive tour through to the northern part of Ontario before they return to the US.
“I love this city, you know why?” Nash began. “Joni!” someone shouted, followed by bouts of laughter from the crowd. “This is where I met Joni, you’re right, but we’ll get into that a little later. Let’s start at the beginning,” and with that, he reached into the past with the 1966 hit “Bus Stop” from his former band, The Hollies. The two stood side by side, guitars in hand, and blended harmonies all the way through.
Every song was attributed to a poignant time in his life, whether personal, political, some kind of significant current event that angered him, or a simple moment that captured his heart. “As a performer, I always try to put myself in the same emotional state as when I wrote these songs,” Nash explained. “It’s kind of okay except I got 24 of them in a fuckin’ row here!
“This is probably my first break-up song that I wrote about Joni,” where Nash spoke in reference to the emotional aftermath of his two year relationship with musician Joni Mitchell which spawned the song “I Used To Be A King” (1971). It was also during this time that Crosby, Stills & Nash had gone their separate ways to pursue their individual musical paths. I enjoyed Fontayne’s haunting electric guitar tones, the wonderful ring of Nash’s acoustic, and of course, a perfect combination of vocal timbres joined in harmony. Similarly in his latest single, “Myself At Last”, the lyrics spoke of another major turning point in his life which stemmed after the divorce with his wife of 38 years. Faced with another open road of uncertainty, solace this time came in the new love of his life, Amy, to whom he wrote the song for. Another one for Joni, “Sleep Song”, was a lyrically and musically touching three-quarter timed love song that had me reaching for a tissue early in the show.
Next came the story of his holiday travels to Marrakesh, Morocco in 1966, and a train ride that would become the subject of another classic CSN song. Bored with the company of two blue-haired elderly ladies in his first-class compartment, he wandered off into the third-class compartment area: “I’m telling you it was incredible there. There were people charming cobras out of baskets with a flute, people making food, and there were ducks and pigs and chickens running all over the place. That’s where it was happening – that’s when I wrote Marrakesh Express.”
Another Crosby-Nash collaboration, “Wind On The Water” (1975), was written from an awe-struck experience of seeing a blue whale while on board Crosby’s yacht off the coast of Nicaragua. Nash’s bold and beautiful piano chords, accompanied by Fontayne’s whale cry guitar bends, gave a moving audio depiction of the majestic beast itself. A pleasant surprise which ended the first set came with a riveting version of The Beatles “A Day In The Life” and by this time, the wizardry of Fontayne’s guitar skills were clearly showcased.
The second half of the show began with the story of a $500 bet from a friend at the time who said to him, “I’ll bet you can’t write a song before you go.” In about 20 minutes, “Just A Song Before I Go” was born, Nash became $500 richer, and the song became one of CSN’s biggest hits in 1977. The song’s simple minor-chorded melancholy melody, rich in those iconic vocal harmonies was given some nice solo work by Fontayne.
Another song from his current album entitled “Back Home”, written in tribute to the life and music of his friend Levon Helm, was laden with moody instrumental swells and augmented harmony work. Nash also dedicated the song to friend and fellow musician, Tom Petty, who had been reported as fighting for his life due to heart failure, but would sadly be pronounced dead only hours after the show.
Nash moved on to tell the story of his lone adventure after an early 70’s CSNY performance in London, which involved LSD and a trip to Stonehenge, followed by a visit to neighbouring Winchester Cathedral. It was there he found himself standing on a soldier’s grave marked 1799 with his own birthdate written next to it. That profound moment led to the song “Cathedral”, filled with very dramatic segments and an overall progressive and psychedelic flair.
“As a songwriter, sometimes songs come from some of the most ordinary moments,” said Nash as he began another story out of the Joni archives, involving lighting a fire and putting flowers in a vase she’d bought that day. From out of that simple moment came the song “Our House” during which the crowd joined in on the chorus. Nash had also assured the crowd that after a recent visit to see Joni, she looked to be getting better and better by the day.
The first standing ovation came with another an early solo piece, “Chicago”, which featured more of Fontayne’s rock-flavoured fills, some nice counter vocal melodies, and delivered its powerful message of bettering the world. A second standing ovation would ensue, and the two returned with their beautiful rendition of “Blackbird” where Nash’s voice would weave through harmony thirds and fifths. The audience remained standing from this point on during the finale, “Teach Your Children”, where both men re-adorned themselves in their acoustic guitars. The house lights were turned up and all joined in to sing the chorus in what was the icing on the cake of a truly magical evening.