Graham Nash review – the lyrics are iffy, but the melodies remain magic

There are few melodicists in rock as gifted as Graham Nash, who – and this is not a pejorative – was the missing link between light entertainment and the counterculture through the second half of the 1960s and the first part of the following decade. He seemed to pluck tunes from the air – Marrakesh Express, Our House, Teach Your Children, all present this evening, though there’s no room for the Hollies’ amazing King Midas in Reverse – that permeated the consciousness and transitioned from being hippie anthems to staples of MOR radio.

In this two-part show, Nash – backed by the excellent Shane Fontayne on guitar and Todd Caldwell on keys, both also singing harmony – takes a skip through his career, from the Hollies’ Bus Stop (1966) through CSNY to the present day, with a couple of songs from this year’s album Now. Even at 81, his high tenor is straight and true, and when Fontayne and Caldwell join in the results are meltingly gorgeous. It’s like bathing in sunshine, musically at least. There’s drama, too – Cathedral, first recorded by Crosby, Stills and Nash, is dramatic and surging, changing pace and mood, bringing shadows.

The problem is the lyrics. There’s not an ounce of subtlety to the writing. It’s pop’s version of Catchphrase: one half expects Roy Walker to appear on stage between songs, calling out: “Say what you see!” Wind on the Water, the one about whales, plumbs depths no cetacean ever reached: “Now you are washed up on the shoreline / I can see your body lie / It’s a shame you have to die / To put the shadow on our eye.”

It’s hard to argue: most of us would agree killing whales is a bad thing. But the limits of his approach – I’m angry, but not so much that I want to upset anyone – become apparent after Military Madness, updated from 1971 with references to the war in Ukraine, when someone in the audience calls out, “What about Palestine?” He thinks for a moment, then replies: “It’s crazy all over the world. But, you know, we’ve got to hope it gets better.” Peace out, man!

Oh, but the melodies. They’ll make you forgive anything. Even if the words won’t end war.

  • Graham Nash is on tour in the UK until 21 September, then in Europe, the US and Australia