Graham Nash took to the Birchmere stage with all the grace of an elder statesman whose body of work and history as an activist long ago marked him as a force for social change. Launching his opening set with “Military Madness,” Nash’s righteous indignation was firmly in place, a testimony to a man whose singular vision that art can transform the world is as timely as ever.
Nash walked the audience through his catalog, a rich tapestry of music spanning more than five decades, accompanied by Shane Fontayne on guitar and vocals. Touring in support of his latest release, This Path Tonight, the strength of the material and the resilience in Nash’s voice made for a wonderful evening. And, as the crowd soon discovered, the new songs were every bit as vital as the classic anthems they came to hear.
In fact, Nash seemed energized by his collaboration with Fontayne, who served as co-writer and producer on the new record. On stage the two men engaged in the kind of give and take that brought out the best in each. Fontayne’s edgy slide guitar added a sense of urgency to “Military Madness,” layering the song’s dread and paranoia with nimble fretwork.
“King Midas in Reverse” and “Marrakesh Express” followed, and the crowd was enthusiastic in their appreciation. Fontayne’s voice complements Nash’s nicely and his guitar statements were tasteful and emotive and never obscured the central focus of the songs.
At one point Nash referenced his sometime bandmates by joking that the advantage of “not playing with the other maniacs is that I get to play songs I haven’t performed in a while.” The song selection reflected each phase of Nash’s career and all the hits were there for the audience to savor.
Midway through the first set Nash unveiled two songs from the new album. The first, “Myself at Last” was a lovely acoustic ballad that featured a solid harmonica solo from Nash. The title track to This Path Tonight followed and posed the question, “Where are we going?” The lyrics seemed all too poignant in this season of terrorism, public unrest, and fractious political salvos.
The highlight of the night was a new number, “Back Home,” written as a tribute to Levon Helm. Heartfelt without being maudlin, the tune honored an original American musical treasure with a very personal expression of love. In all, the half dozen songs from This Path Tonight were as good as anything Nash has ever released.
After a three song encore that included a gorgeous rendition of the Lennon-McCartney gem “Blackbird” the lights came up and the crowd began to file out. But hanging in the air was the knowledge that, at 74, Nash remains a vital artist who continues to create stirring new compositions and to impact the world he inhabits.