David Crosby - guitar, vocals; Stephen Stills - guitar, vocals; Graham Nash - guitar, vocals, piano
From the time they came together as a trio at the end of 1968, to the fall of 1973 when they turned in this impromptu set at Winterland, the three voices comprising Crosby, Stills and Nash had seen their share of changes: they triumphed with their 1969 self-titled debut, joined forces with Neil Young for the follow-up Déjà Vu in 1970, and took their show on the road; by the end of that run, they'd weathered the kind of wear and tear on their hearts and souls that could throw the average band off course for good. And yet, whether performing songs from those first two albums, Crosby's If Only I Could Remember My Name, Nash's Songs for Beginners, Crosby and Nash's heralded duo album, or Stills' solo albums and works with Manassas, when the original core CSN trio got together they still made sweet harmony, as they did on this night to remember.
In the Fall of 1973, Crosby, Stills and Nash were still slightly reeling from a busy period that followed recording in Hawaii with Young and the passing of CSN&Y roadie Bruce Berry (famously eulogized by Young on "Tonight's the Night"). Stills had been on the road with Manassas, and Crosby and Nash were playing their own shows with an electric band. But when Manassas booked a couple of dates at Winterland on October 4 and 7 of 1973, it was family reunion time when Crosby and Nash pulled a walk-on and the trio appeared onstage together for the first time since 1970.
Informal, joking, and pleasingly loose, the three friends seemed to truly enjoy singing together, despite the occasional onstage bristling and ropy moments. Crosby sarcastically refers to "our usual slick Hollywood show," explaining away the presentation's unrehearsed nature as "more fun this way for us." Stills answered his band mate's quip drolly with, "Anything you say, David, anything you say."
Between the banter and tuning up, the three manage to turn in some prime vocal shots, from a version of the Beatle's "Blackbird" to a handful of their group's and solo works. Nash takes the lead on "Southbound Train" and retreats to piano for "Prison Song," his protest of tough marijuana laws on the poor population. Stills sings Young's "Human Highway," which Crosby characterizes as a song by "our skinny friend;" the live version isn't quite worked out the way we've come to know it, but that's part of the excitement of this off-the-cuff set. "Wooden Ships" is dedicated to Crosby and Stills' co-writer, the Jefferson Airplane/Starship's Paul Kantner, before the evening is crowned with the vocal trio tour de force "Helplessly Hoping."
The two sets from these Winterland shows foreshadowed a proper reunion on the horizon: a couple of months later, Young would join Nash and Crosby at an appearance at the San Francisco Civic and, the following year, CSN&Y would be on the road again, playing to their largest audiences ever. Marking a tentative step toward their mid-'70s triumph, as well as a throwback to their early days when the vocal giants were just a trio, this Winterland night is a historic footprint on CSN's trail of rock & roll. Long may they continue to run its course.