Few music careers have had as many twists and turns as David Crosby’s. From finding tremendous success early with influential groups The Byrds and Crosby, Stills, and Nash, to a varied solo career that’s seen highs and lows, the seventy-seven-year-old Crosby has seen and experienced as much as anybody in the music world. On Friday night, Crosby returned to The Pantages in Minneapolis for a two-set show with his Sky Trails band, drawing from his deep catalog and showing why he was, and still is, a vital presence in music.
Crosby and his band drew from many of the sounds that have defined his career over the years. Folk, jazz, rock, and psychedelic influences were all present. Tying it all together was the stellar playing of the Sky Trails band, who proved as adept on the jazzier numbers as they were on the rock anthems.
Each set had a unique arc and feel. Set one leaned heavily into the band’s jazz and folk roots. Both have been key parts of Crosby’s sonic palette since the early parts of his career. Though he opened the set with a run of deep cuts, including Crosby Stills, and Nash’s “In My Dreams,” and CPR’s “Morrison”, the crowd was receptive, ready to follow wherever Crosby and the band took them. The set wasn’t particularly high energy (most of the harder rocking numbers would be saved for later), but it was very well paced and, at a lean 60 minutes, held the audience’s attention without testing their patience.
The song selection in set one was interesting for what it wasn’t, as much as for what it was. The mix wasn’t overly nostalgic (though the band would play a run of Crosby, Stills and Nash favorites at the end), but also not particularly reliant on recent material, which Crosby has in abundance (he’s released four solid albums since 2014). Instead, he relied heavily on songs from CPR, his primary outlet from 1996-2004. It’s a period that isn’t well-known beyond the diehard Crosby fan, but on this night, particularly in set one, the material proved to be rewarding.
The songs’ inclusions made sense, as more than half of the Sky Trails band were onetime members of CPR. Their influence was felt not only in the songs themselves, but in the way the songs were played-the jazz influence that they brought was clear, and they proved to be rangy, covering a lot of stylistic ground.
Most impressive was their ability to preserve and amplify the qualities that made the songs memorable in the first place. This was especially true of the CSN tunes played at the end of the set, with “Guinevere” as haunting as the excellent recording, and an extended “Déjà Vu” as psychedelic as its ever been.
As skilled as the playing were the harmonies. This is to be expected from a Crosby-led group, but to watch it in person was something else. The songs Crosby writes, sings and plays are sophisticated, and the band was up to the challenge of playing and singing them.
Set two was strong but different. Though there were still beautiful moments like those found in the first set, the set as a whole was more rock-oriented. The back half of the show was also more focused on Crosby classics than the opening set. This was particularly true of the closing sequence, which included the Byrds’ psychedelic “Eight Miles High,” and three of CSN’s best songs (“Wooden Ships,” “Almost Cut My Hair” and “Ohio”).
The final two, both timeless protests anthems, were especially resonant. Judging by the audience reactions, the songs mean as much today as they did when they were recorded. It was a strong closing statement by one of rock’s most important voices.