Graham Nash has always been brutally frank about the ego and artistic clashes that have characterized Crosby, Stills & Nash's 18-year career nearly as much as the trio's soaring vocal harmonies.
For example, in discussing the skirmishes that have frequently erupted among David Crosby, Stephen Stills and himself, Nash once told The Times: "It's always stupid stuff--we've been guilty of the most infantile behavior."
And he eventually used equally blunt terms to denounce Crosby's legal and pharmaceutical problems (behavior that landed Crosby in a Texas prison last year on drugs and weapons charges).
So given Nash's history of candidly addressing the dark issues associated with the threesome behind "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes" and "Teach Your Children," you're not as likely to dismiss his current glowing appraisal of CSN as the gushings of a part-time publicist.
That's not to say Nash isn't gushing about CSN, which plays Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre on Saturday. Ask him a simple question--such as how things are going on the first CSN tour since Crosby was paroled last August--and he delivers a \o7 long\f7 , enormously enthusiastic answer.
"This tour is doing remarkably well, from four points of view," Nash, 45, said this week in a telephone interview. "One, the band has gotten a burst of renewed energy that is unbelievable--like a booster rocket--now that David is back.
"He's happy and healthy and creative, and it gives the band three engines to run on instead of only 2 1/2. . . .
"The second thing is that we have five or six brand new tunes that we put into the show that we're very proud of. . . .
"The third reason is that we have been . . . doing really good business. And the fourth thing is that the age range (of the audience) is getting more mind-blowing as the years go on. Now it's between 14 and 42, and that's really amazing."
Nash sounded particularly delighted that these pluses are ones that bode well for CSN's future rather than ones that strictly trade on past glories. In recent years, there have been grumblings from both critics and longtime fans that the trio was not only over the hill, but deep in a creative valley.
Indeed, in their last Southland shows two summers ago, CSN seemed closer to a nostalgia act you'd find in a lounge than a pioneering pop force whose debut LP you'd find in Rolling Stone's new listing of "The 100 Best Albums of the Last Twenty Years."
But on this tour, Nash has seen evidence to suggest that the band isn't quite a lumbering dinosaur ready to whoop it up on stage with Wayne Newton.
"The remarkable thing is that the young kids know the words to the tunes," he said. "Obviously, half of them weren't born when that stuff was written. So they're either getting it from their parents or their older brothers and sisters.
"Whatever the reason is, they like the music enough to learn the lyrics. People say, 'Well, isn't there a lot of nostalgia out there--the '60s you know.' But 14-year-old kids don't have much nostalgia in their souls."
In Nash's view, an even more encouraging and telling indication of the band's shift from artistic backslide to rebirth has been the audience reaction to CSN's \o7 new\f7 music.
"When people stand on their feet at the end of a tune, it's usually (a reaction of) recognition, good times had while hearing that tune over the last 10 years or whatever. But when they do that with a brand new tune they've never heard before, something special is going on."
In light of this, you would expect there to be thoughts of capturing that "something special" on vinyl. But the band in question is \o7 Crosby, Stills & Nash\f7 : You can count on one hand the number of studio albums CSN has released since forming in 1969--and still have fingers left for the trio's studio collaborations with Neil Young.
But--surprise!--Nash says there \o7 are\f7 plans to record a new LP, with full participation by Young (who records for a different record label than CSN). "If (the two record companies) can work out the business logistics," he said, "we'll go into the studio at the end of September and start a CSNY record."
Nash added that under the current game plan, the quartet will release that album next spring, then start a major tour of the United States and Europe next summer.
"We \o7 really\f7 want to do that," he said, "because CSN has never felt better. And Neil knows that. He's played with us a couple of times earlier this year."
Which raises the question of on-stage reunions of CSNY in the meantime, particularly because both CSN and Y are now performing in the same areas--including Orange County--at about the same time. (Young plays the Pacific Amphitheatre on Thursday.)
"Right, our tours kind of leapfrog. . . . So at a couple of those places, I wouldn't put it past either of those two, meaning CSN or Neil, to visit each other's show."
What's the chance of that happening in Orange County? "It depends what day Neil's show is, 'cause we have to leave the 13th for Detroit," Nash said. Informed that Young's show is scheduled for Aug. 13, Nash said, "We'll just miss then, and that's a shame."
(It may be an even closer call than it appears: A spokeswoman for Young's record company said he'll be in town rehearsing a few days before his Pacific Amphitheatre show.)
But, ever upbeat, Nash made it clear that even if the four musicians don't share a local stage, CSN's concert Saturday will hardly be disappointing--or skimpy. He noted at the show follows the oft-favored format of an hourlong acoustic set, followed by a 90-minute electric segment.
"We've always been able to provoke (a powerful) response in people," he said. "It's just that all these factors are coming together to make it a real special night."