Review: David Crosby & Friends dazzle fans during Garde concert

By Rick Koster Day staff writer

There's a little known actuarial formula in the life insurance business regarding coverage for rockers given to Dionysian lifestyles. Known as the Keith Richards Clause, it calculates survival odds that fly in the face of wanton debauchery to the contrary.
For a long time, David Crosby was such a blatant example of this phenomenon that a beleaguered Richards called the head of Lords of London and said, "Hey, mate, I'm tired of always being the cliché. Maybe you could change it to the David Crosby Clause. You seen what THAT bloke's capable of?!"

At 75, years beyond the self-destructive lifestyle and comfortably happy at center stage in New London's Garde Arts Center Monday night, Crosby is a remarkable survival story. Wearing a knit cap and a tails-out shirt, he proved a genial host who led his sensational "David Crosby & Friends" band through a two-set, two-hour history of music and songwriting that went way beyond a recitation of "hits" and seductively demonstrated a Life in Music that oozed passion, genius, activism and, yes, a sense of awe, wonder and humble appreciation of his own gifts.

Crosby, of course, is a two-time inductee into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame. He co-founded the Byrds and Crosby, Stills & Nash (and sometimes Young) and, oh, yeah, has released three remarkable solo albums in the last two years noteworthy for the absolute quality of the songs and performances. All phases were represented at the Garde show, including the hits ("In My Dreams," "Deja Vu," "Long Time Gone"), revered deeper tracks ("Morrison," "At the Edge," the stunning "At the Edge") and, from the just-out "Sky Trails" CD, the Donald Fagen-esque "She's Got to be Somewhere," which debuted last week on "The Tonight Show."

The new album also provided what was perhaps the evening's high point. A bit of explanation: Monday's show served as a twin-purposed benefit with partial proceeds supporting the Garde's PACE nonprofit education and community outreach program as well as bestselling author Jeff Benedict's Institute for Writing and Mass Media at Southern Virginia University. Crosby and Benedict, a Waterford native who lives in Lyme and is the author of such bestsellers as "Without Reservation" and "Little Pink House" — the latter about the eminent domain case in New London — are longtime friends.

When a film of "Little Pink House" was announced, Benedict asked if Crosby might be willing to contribute a tune to the soundtrack. Crosby reached out to his son and frequent collaborator, James Raymond, and the pair came up with "Home Free." It's an incredibly beautiful and resonant song, and the Garde performance, the first-ever live attempt of the piece, scored an enthusiastic and appreciative standing ovation.

Throughout the evening, Crosby was in fine voice and his band — with keyboardist/vocalist Raymond, guitarist/vocalist Jeff Pevar, bassist Mai Agan, drummer/vocalist Steve DiStanislao, and keyboardist/vocalist Michelle Willis — was incendiary. Each is a world-class musician; more importantly, their chemistry and intuitive interaction only happens when players truly love working with each other.

Another magical element was Crosby's skill as a between-songs raconteuer. His remarks ranged from self-deprecating and cautionary to political to "insider" anecdotes about famous pals. It provided depth, warmth, humor and context to the already-stellar music. And by the end, the "David Crosby & Friends" billing became a shared sense of belonging that applied to every person who was there.