Graham Nash: An Intimate Evening of Songs and Stories, Perth Concert Hall ****
Afforded legendary billing thanks to his time in The Hollies and various incarnations of the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young folk-rock juggernaut, not to mention any number of classic tracks that have resonated with artists beyond his own recording, Graham Nash retains visible passion, a devoted romantic, yet also still an angry, outspoken dissident. Unwilling to pull punches in his disgusted assessment of Donald Trump, the Blackpool-born singer-songwriter retains a love-hate relationship with the America he calls home.
Backed by keyboardist Todd Caldwell and Shane Fontayne, former guitarist for Bruce Springsteen, the charged indignation of Immigration Man and Military Madness seem as current as ever, the harmonies on the latter crystalline, the 76-year-old’s lead vocal undiminished. There was plenty of wry reflection on David Crosby and his productive yet difficult collaborations with his volatile former bandmate, but also touching mention of Joni Mitchell and her recovery from brain aneurysm, cemented with a beautiful rendition of Our House.
Though a CSN standard, Marrakesh Express retains vestiges of the psychedelia that created it and a hugely respectful cover of The Beatles’ A Day in the Life remained soulful
right up until Fontayne’s thunderous final chord. The gentle Myself at Last is, admittedly, a little treacly. And the eco-warrior tub-thumping of Wind on the Water, with its mawkish lyrics and keening guitar, was floridly sentimental. But a crowdpleasing encore, featuring an a cappella rendition of Buddy Holly’s Everyday and closing with the evergreen Teach Your Children brought successive standing ovations.
Rodney Crowell and Iris DeMent, Perth Concert Hall ****
Last year, when ill health forced Rodney Crowell to postpone his Southern Fried Festival appearance, some 55 years after he began performing, the much-covered and seasoned singer-songwriter revisited and re-recorded a clutch of his songs on Close Ties, a stripped-back retrospective that he belatedly showcased.
Clear-eyed and confessional, the mournfully dreamlike Reckless revised the roistering swagger of a rolling stone from the perspective of a burnt-out playboy, while the bluesily hard walk down memory lane of East Houston Blues captured his volatile youth.
Flanked by the virtuoso fiddler Eamon McLoughlin and the prodigious young guitarist Joe Robinson, the trio flirted with rock ‘n’ roll on the friskily frenetic Frankie Please. But the abiding mood was lament for love lost, with Crowell casting unsentimentally back through collaborations with Emmylou Harris and his ex-wife Roseanne Cash. Nevertheless, the highlight proved to be the fraternal twin tales of reconciliation I Wish it Would Rain and Wandering Boy, with Robinson’s guitar bringing the latter to a stirring climax.
Iris DeMent had a task on her hands to match that but she did with a composed yet highly emotive set, her lyricism as grounded and cinematic as Crowell’s but with spiritual aspirations too.
The centrepiece was her melodic adaptations of the poems of Anna Akhmatova, her distinctively fragile voice making Like a White Stone a country-soul hymn wrenched from the raw pain of Stalinist Russia.
Let the Mystery Be ached as well, with the uncertainty of wry, agnostic gospel, while an encore of the textured, bittersweet Our Town was powerful testament to her complex, nuanced writing and heartfelt performance.