MUSIC REVIEW: Roger Daltrey, David Crosby, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Steven Stills, Judy Collins, Alison KraussMore Info
Lenox — Twenty-five years before former Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara apologized to America in his Vietnam War memoir, admitting after a quarter-century of silence that he had been “terribly wrong,” David Crosby and his bandmates in the folk rock group Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young pleaded for answers to the fatal shootings of four Kent State University students who had been protesting McNamara’s war before being gunned down by Ohio National Guard soldiers on May 4, 1970. “How many more?”, Crosby shouts in the fade of the group’s 1970 hit single “Ohio.” And at Tanglewood on June 16, he yelled, “Somebody tell me!” toward the end of the same song.
Crosby’s show was one of four popular-artist concerts at Tanglewood that started with Roger Daltrey and his band performing the Who’s rock opera “Tommy” on the 15th and ended with Alison Krauss on the 19th. Stephen Stills and Judy Collins appeared on the 17th, the day after Crosby’s show.
On Saturday, June 16, David Crosby and his fellow Americans were experiencing a horrifying déjà vu: Forty-eight years after the Kent State shootings, Crosby is once again compelled to speak out against government policies and actions that are grossly at odds with American values and the rule of law. His audience on the 16th included a legion of staunch allies, members of the Woodstock generation who had protested the war and various other government-sanctioned depravities of the 1960s and ‘70s. This gray-haired contingent responded to Crosby’s message enthusiastically. It felt like a solemn patriotic rally.
To say that David Crosby sings well for a 76-year-old would be an insult. He sings well, period. In fact, his singing is better than ever, because he writes and performs songs and harmonies nowadays that are far more complex than anything he attempted in his early music. He surrounds himself with highly competent jazz musicians, so he naturally writes songs that require their capabilities.
Crosby’s opening act was Mary Chapin Carpenter, whose powerfully restrained singing and penetrating observations on life and love kept the crowd’s close attention and won her many new fans. (If you’ve never heard her music, think Janis Ian meets Nashville.) Her opening act was Kenny White, whose uncommonly clever and incisive words unexpectedly delighted the crowd and made a perfect first course for the evening’s music—a hint of Dylan and a dash of Billy Joel.
Judy Collins, who appeared on the Shed stage with Stephen Stills the following day, is almost 80 years old, and her voice is purer, stronger and steadier than when she appeared on television shows like “The Midnight Special” in the 1970s. The quality of Collins’ voice today is almost inexplicable, but she attributes it to decades of voice coaching. In any case, there was no mistaking it on Sunday, June 17, when she gave an a cappella performance of her own song “My Name is Maria,” a poignant story about present-day immigrants and Dreamers. The crowd fell silent. Every word rang out with pristine clarity. Many were moved to tears. Clearly, the “ageless wild angel of pop,” as the New York Times has described Collins, has lost nothing of her magic touch.
But Judy Collins wasn’t the only one to sing in angelic fashion over the course of these four concerts. On the 19th, Alison Krauss took the stage, along with a backup band of formidable picking capabilities. Her touring band includes members of the Cox Family (“O Brother, Where Art Thou?”), and two of her guitarists have worked with Krauss in the Grammy Award-winning bluegrass group Union Station (11 wins). Her keyboard player on the current tour, Matt Rollings, has long been a legend in Nashville, Los Angeles and just about everywhere else in world where music is played or recorded. He has worked with a long list of artists from Willie Nelson and Lyle Lovett to pop acts like Billy Joel and Mark Knopfler.
Yes, Krauss sings in a manner reminiscent of heaven (or thereabouts). But everyone knows that.
Alison Krauss’s music isn’t political. That’s not her style. Instead of rhetoric, she delivers words and music that celebrate life and humbly affirm her faith. One of many highlights was “Down to the River to Pray.” Everything else in Krauss’ set featured smoking hot picking on par with her best Union Station recordings. Stunning.
Krauss’s humorous asides between numbers blindsided listeners who had been unaware of her comedic powers. Some of her jokes drew convulsive laughter.
Roger Daltrey is a British citizen, so we don’t expect him to lead our American patriotic rallies. Instead, he gave patrons their money’s worth on the evening of June 15 by performing every song from the rock opera “Tommy.” And, as he had promised, he and his band were faithful to the original “Tommy” recording, maybe even more faithful than the “Tommy” shows he did with the Who in 1969. How is that possible? It’s easy: This being the 21st century, the Who touring band is no longer obliged to assault their audiences with the ear-shattering decibels made famous by Pete Townshend (now hearing impaired) and the Who in the 1960s. That means you could hear most of the words Daltrey sang.
It’s a good thing these concerts weren’t billed as a battle of the bands, because David Crosby’s and Alison Krauss’s backup musicians made it difficult to choose a first-place winner. But if you base your comparison on the level of unabashed patriotism emanating from the Shed stage, Crosby comes out on top. He loves the United States of America and wants everyone to know it, which is why he continues to include “Ohio” and other protest songs on his concert set list. He’s doing his part to make America a democracy again.