Three out of four of my work colleagues had never heard of them. To anyone growing up in post-punk New Zealand, or any time thereafter, Crosby, Stills & Nash were merely an anachronism, forever stuck in the cozy communal haze of that first, 1969 album cover, perhaps the ultimate exponents of flawed hippy ideology. Their first-ever concert was, after all, at Woodstock.

But hey, if even the much-despised intricacies of prog-rock can wend their way into contemporary affections, then the creamy harmonies and fingerpicked acoustic guitars of Laurel Canyon's folk-rock utopia are also ripe for picking up, dusting off and hitting the lost highway.

CS&N, it turns out, were never easy to peg, and tonight's gig demonstrates why.

One of rock's first supergroups, each of the trio had experienced fame (Crosby in The Byrds, Stills in Buffalo Springfield and Nash in The Hollies) prior to CS&N, and while they made a blueprint that bands like America carbon-copied and The Eagles poisoned, they were always an uneasy and often brilliant commingling of three very different writers and players. As Crosby says tonight (but not for the first time, natch): "Stills is the rock'n'roller, Nash writes the anthems, and I write the weird shit."


One great surprise tonight is that Stills' innate guitar-mangling skills are still intact, and he lets those electric sound sculptures fly through the air with abandon. Another is that Crosby, when impassioned on Almost Cut My Hair, can sing with amazing power and pitch-perfection. The best songs are invariably Crosby's: small slices of genius like Wooden Ships and Guinevere in which mantra-like repetition and odd tunings and timings make for a magical riposte to Nash's rather pat pop ditties, like the sing-along Our House and Teach Your Children.

It was also great to hear renditions of songs Stills wrote outside the context of CS&N, like golden oldie staples 'For What It's Worth' and Love The One You're With.

But. And it's a big, fat "but". These guys are all pushing 70, and showing it. Songs like 'Suite: Judy Blue Eyes' - which they played tonight for the first time in 20 years - require split-second timing and perfect harmonies, and too often, they botched it. Mark it down as the perils of the very first date on a worldwide tour, perhaps, but they're incapable of hitting the notes in unison, or meshing the voices together anymore, which puts a rather big dint on proceedings. While Nash is svelte, both Stills and Crosby are portly and often look breathless, and perform erratically. Stills in particular, behaves oddly, wandering around the stage as though he's lost in some personal oblivion.

Understandable, given their age? Maybe, but the tickets weren't half-price to acknowledge deterioration of performative ability.

On balance, the show was worth seeing, and the crack five-piece backing band gave the sound enough oomph - replicating the blue-eyed funk grooves that occasionally surfaced on those early recordings - to gloss over any senior moments.

Who: Crosby, Stills & Nash
Where: The Trusts Stadium, Auckland
When: Saturday 24 March

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