Going out to see a classic rock act is often an exercise in wishful thinking. Maybe they’ll capture magic again, but too often they are shadows of their former selves. Of course for many people, the shadow is enough. David Crosby, Graham Nash, and Stephen Stills, who have been playing music together in a variety of configurations on and off since the mid-’60s, came to Red Rocks on Tuesday night and delivered a mixed night of music over the course of two disparate sets.
Set one focused on acoustic music, mostly covers, that were far too quiet in the large confines of Red Rocks. Set two was its antithesis, showcasing Still’s very underrated electric guitar talents in a rock-heavy set.
After opening with a strangely jaunty “Helplessly Hoping,” the trio delved into a subdued series of covers, starting with “Ruby Tuesday,” which, contrary to what one woman I heard say, is actually a Rolling Stones song, not a Beatles song. Also included in the cover-heavy set were James Taylor’s “Sweet Baby James,” Bob Dylan’s “Girl from the North Country,” the Allman Brothers’ “Midnight Rider” and the Grateful Dead’s “Uncle John’s Band.”
Stills fingerpicked nicely on “Rider,” but his vocals were rough and uneven on the Dylan cover, and the harmonies on “Uncle John’s” were raspy. Sandwiched around the covers were Crosby’s ethereal “Guinnevere,” with Nash adding excellent harmonies, and Nash’s “Our House,” on which the audience happily sang a verse. The trio closed the set with an instrumentally solid “Southern Cross,” but it’s clear age has affected their voices, particularly Stills’, which struggled on the bridge and chorus.
After a short set break, the band returned, opening with Stills’ adolescent hippie ode to free love, “Love the One You’re With.”
While many consider Neil Young the crucial component of one of the best vocal lineups in rock, it has always been Stills who drives the band. Stills found heavenly tube distortion tones during an extended solo on “Long Time Gone.”
Stills continued to rock out on a bluesy “Wounded World,” which jammed into “Rocky Mountain Way,” a pedestrian Joe Walsh song whose popularity continues to puzzle. Crosby stepped up at the mid-point of the set, fingerpicking nicely on “Déjà Vu,” and dedicated a fiery “Almost Cut My Hair” to “the person who thought we wouldn’t do it.”
The trio finished their second set with “Wooden Ships,” and if the voices have aged, they can still find greatness at times. Stills stepped up with a searing solo before the last verse. The two-song encore provided plenty of opportunity for the crowd to sing along on “For What It’s Worth” and a subdued “Teach Your Children.”
Perhaps their age also contributed to the perfectly timed sets; I can’t remember the last time I got out of Red Rocks by 10:30 p.m. after a two-set show.
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Mark Osler is a Pulitzer Prize-winning Denver photographer and regular contributor to Reverb. See more of his work here.