Graham Nash at the Ace Hotel
Photo by Steve Rood
“Let’s have a few hours of peace,” suggested Graham Nash shortly after taking the stage of the Theatre at the Ace Hotel. Shepherding a host of his timeless cuts from the ‘60s and ‘70s into present-day relevance, if not necessity, really this was as much a concert as it was a therapy: a two-hour respite from the daily roll-out of conflict-laden news and views; as Nash noted, it’s the negative that sells. Visually and sonically, the Ace became a near-meditative musical spa, with the silver-haired singer surrounded by groupings of faux candles, blanketing the crowd, solo or in three-part harmony, with his calming and ageless dulcet tone.
Joined by the formidable talents of guitarist Shane Fontayne and keyboardist Todd Caldwell, the latter on loan from the Crosby, Stills, and Nash band, the trio opened with a lovely rendition of the CSN nugget “Wasted on the Way.” The evening was billed as one of songs and stories, and Nash did introduce his many of his selections with a remark or two. Usually telling of the tune’s origin, sometimes instead he used the moment to throw roses at Crosby and Stills for their songwriting acumen or marvel at Neil Young’s acceptance back into the States years ago while Nash was denied and questioned at the border; a humorous tale recalled prior to “Immigration Man.”
Nash’s solo catalog received its share of attention, on early first set inclusions of “Military Madness” and “I Used to Be a King.” He offered “Myself at Last” to his wife, revealing at its conclusion his refusal to use teleprompters to remember the lyrics. He’d have been forgiven, considering the five-decade span on his illustrious career that produced so many classics to remember. He dug back to The Hollies’ 1966 hit, “Bus Stop” and closed the opening stanza with a touching and sharp reading of The Beatles’ “A Day in the Life,” particularly appropriate in the shadow of John Lennon’s birthday just a few days earlier.
“Thank you for staying,” joked Nash after a 20-minute intermission. Starting the second set with a story of blue-haired ladies on a train- something he admits he understands differently in his older days- Nash launched “Marrakesh Express,” with the Ace audience all aboard. He moved through a somewhat quieter stretch of CSN&Y album tracks, dropping in “Right Between the Eyes” and “4+20,” heading into the final turn with a yarn about a $500 wager with a low-level drug dealer in Hawaii and the birth of “Just a Song Before I Go.”
Most dramatically, he wrapped the set on a chilling paring of Crosby’s “Orleans” with CSN’s “Cathedral,” then lightened the load with the smiling bounce of “Our House” that included a promising update of Joni Mitchell’s condition as she’s rebounding from a brain aneurysm. A three-song encore closed the show, featuring the powerful “Chicago” and a gather ‘round the mic for delicate three-part harmony on Buddy Holly’s “Everyday,” then the sing-along send-off of “Teach Your Children.” On a night that began with the suggestion of peace and concluded with a message of love, the spirit of optimism toppled all other thoughts, courtesy of some songs and stories from Graham Nash.