Graham Nash – Keeping the Flame Alive, Humphrey’s by the Bay

For a certain generation, Graham Nash’s songs are a bedrock. He was the English gent among the Canadian and two Yanks comprising Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. As the trio and sometime quartet shot to fame, it was the understated Nash who was the ombudsman among his comrades. Although the relationships now ebb and flow, the music he touched remains timeless.

At the tail end of his current tour, Nash brought his deep songbook to a late season show at Humphrey’s. The most notable element of the show was how he referred (somewhat affectionately) to the other three as monkeys and how their time together was WW2. Yet, he assayed loving versions of Stills’ “4+20” and Crosby’s achingly beautiful a’capella “Orleans.” To the former Nash gave credit, but the latter was the unannounced and stunning segue into “Cathedral.” Given that the latter two songs are both about churches, it was an amazing yet obvious pairing. For the rest of the evening I was hoping Nash would play a deep cut from Young’s vast catalog, cementing his ultimate affection for the other three compadres.

Supported ably by Shane Fontayne on guitar and Todd Caldwell on organ, Nash pulled from five decades worth of songwriting.

He included a key song from his first solo album. “Simple Man” remains a frank self-reflection, and a powerful touchpoint to the evening. Also included was “Bus Stop,” one of his early hits with The Hollies. Soon came “Marrakesh Express,” one of the sweetest travel songs ever written. Fontayne delivered a great version of the double-tracked guitar Stills recorded on the original version. I admit getting a bit choked up during the song, recalling my youthful insistence in junior high that my folks take me to the train station when we visited Marrakesh.

The song was rejected by The Hollies when Nash brought it to the band he founded, somewhat parallel to the way “Triad” was rejected by The Byrds when Crosby brought it to the band he founded.

“I Used to be a King,” also from Nash’s debut solo album, remains further connective tissue to his time in The Hollies, especially “King Midas in Reverse.”

Nash looked back across his prior decades in “Golden Days.” The song looks at his music in three stages, resolving in his current contentment. Caldwell’s keyboard work was especially effective.

What was apparent by intermission was that Nash was in far better form than when he last appeared locally, at Belly Up. His delivery was consistently impassioned, and his two backup musicians were sterling.

Nash repeated his oft-told stories of writing “Just a Song” as a bet, adding “if I knew it was going to be so successful, I would have written a better song.” And he used the introduction of “Our House” to give us an update that Joni Mitchell, about whom the song was written, is in fine form and getting ready for the large celebration in Los Angeles of her 75th birthday. Nash and a clutch of excellent musicians will be appearing.

Politics is never too far from Nash, and he took some deserved digs at Trump, updating the lyrics in “Chicago” for instance.

For the encore, the trio of musicians did a stirring nearly a’capella version of Buddy Holly’s “Everyday,” a reminder of whence Nash derived the name of his first band.

The evening was capped, of course, by Nash’s utterly timeless “Teach Your Children.” He introduced it by asking folks to check out the new YouTube version, and the audience needed no prompting to sing along. Fontayne again leveraged his fretwork prowess, this time to evoke Jerry Garcia’s pedal steel guitar on the original recording.

The four musicians that came together in various permutations over the last half century have left an indelible mark. At present, any future collaborations look murky. Crosby has upcoming dates in California on the heels of several superb albums, Stills tours and records intermittently and Young drops new albums regularly and unexpectedly.

Nash continues in his dignified manner, letting his music and words stand for what he believes.

Brad Auerbach has been a journalist and editor covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, SPIN, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.