David Crosby - vocals, guitar; Mark "Slick" Aguilar - guitars; Austin "Audie" DeLone - keyboards; Tony Saunders - bass; Jay David - drums
It would be difficult to find any musician who experienced such exhilarating highs and such soul crushing lows as did David Crosby on his journey through the 1960s and beyond. Crosby would first gain recognition as a key ingredient to the initial success of The Byrds, a monumentally influential band. His next major project, Crosby, Stills, Nash and sometimes Young, would literally define the Woodstock generation at the start of the 1970s, with all the promise and challenges that came with such notoriety. Crosby's first solo album, If Only I Could Remember My Name, featuring a virtual who's who of the San Francisco musical elite, remains one of the most enduringly compelling and sonically beautiful recordings of all time. However, along with these major accomplishments and creative highs, there have been equally astonishing personal challenges and disasters. Drugs and alcohol were an ever-present part of the music scene, and Crosby was a legendary connoisseur of mind-altering substances. As the 1970s progressed, Crosby began to demonstrate increasingly erratic behavior, eventually alienating himself from friends and musicians in the process. As the 1980s began he was deep in the grips of a serious drug abuse problem and his feet were firmly planted on a path of self-destruction. His downward spiral finally bottomed out in 1985, when a drug-related arrest in Dallas resulted in a prison term that forced Crosby to endure the painful steps toward recovery that would eventually save his life.
In 1984, the year prior to the big crash, Crosby took to the road, performing solo acoustic sets followed by full blown electric sets that featured an outstanding band of younger San Francisco-based musicians that included Slick Aguilar are lead guitar and Austin Delone on keyboards, as well as the rhythm section of Tony Saunders and Jay David. Former Byrdmate, Roger McGuinn opened on this tour leading to even higher expectations.
Crosby's acoustic set on this evening featured a stellar selection of songs, beginning with "The Lee Shore," followed by Joni Mitchell's "Real Good For Free." It's remarkable to hear these songs stripped down to such a degree and Crosby's unique and beautiful acoustic guitar sensibilities are fully intact. However, the self-abuse of the last decade had taken a toll on Crosby's voice. The velvety smoothness that was once so irresistible on ballads like these does surface, but his poor health is undeniably present. He often strains when sustaining notes and the unexpected raspiness is disconcerting. The newer songs, "Carry Me" and "Delta" are both played beautifully, but again, in this solo acoustic setting, the spotlight shines a little too bright on the vocals, illuminating every nuance and flaw. Strangely enough, his damaged voice improves on the "Guinevere" that closes the acoustic set and there can be no denying Crosby's heartfelt emotion here. Crosby's sense of humor is also intact as he leads into the set break with a humorous monologue about his renegade band, which he informs the audience that he must go find in order to continue the show. Back in 10 minutes.
The recording resumes near the tail end of the first song of the electric set, "Deja Vu." (This has been tacked on the end as an outtake for completists). One of the true highlights of Crosby's set is next, when he and the band deliver a thoroughly engaging 15 minute jam on "Low Down Payment." This piece had begun as a studio jam with members of the Grateful Dead during their 1975 Blues For Allah sessions, but here it is fully fleshed out and full of improvisation, propelled by Crosby's distinctive rhythm guitar. Slick Aguilar takes a lengthy, consistently impressive solo as does Delone and Sanders. At times downright funky, it eventually ventures into a solid jam, before ending with a nod toward Jimi Hendrix and Crosby introducing the band members. The "Triad" that follows begins in a most intriguing manner, with a swinging jazzy feel to it. Unfortunately, Crosby's voice is again showing signs of serious strain, which detracts from the uniqueness of the new arrangement. One of his loveliest songs, but at times downright painful to endure here, this is probably the most unsatisfying performance of the set. However, things again improve for the remainder of the show. The three classics, "Almost Cut My Hair," "Wooden Ships" and the show-closing "Long Time Gone" are by now perceived as generational anthems that have come to define Crosby, so the audience welcomes their arrival with open arms. It should also be noted that both "Almost Cut My Hair" and "Long Time Gone" are both songs that Crosby tended to shout rather than sing, so they tend to work better considering the condition of his voice. The band brings some of their past glory to these numbers and Crosby seems to be enjoying himself despite his vocal challenges.
All in all, an honest glimpse of Crosby in 1984, a monstrously talented musician headed toward oblivion.