When David Crosby wrote “Déjà Vu,” the song that would become the title track for the 1970 debut by rock supergroup Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, it was a meditation on recurrence.
When Crosby sang on stage Monday night at the Troubadour in West Hollywood, the song’s recurring refrain “And I feel like I’ve been here before,” it was personal memory, plain and simple.
Crosby is one of many important rock figures who got their start on the Troubadour’s stage, and for him that was nearly a half century ago. “The Byrds -- right there,” he said, pointing to the stage from his perch on anupstairs sofa between sets at the second of five sold-out solo shows this week at the venerable club.
In fact, Chris Hillman, another founding member of the Byrds, joined Crosby at Sunday's opening show to sing "Turn! Turn! Turn!"
So Crosby's sense of déjà vu is understandable, but the centerpiece of the nearly 2½-hour performance with a five-piece band was the present, specifically his just-released album “Croz,” Crosby's first solo effort in nearly two decades.
As much history as the singer, songwriter and guitarist has experienced in his time with the Byrds, then Crosby, Stills & Nash (with and without longtime pal Neil Young), as well as one of the stars of Woodstock, Crosby sounded stoked to be focusing on his latest music for the first half of the evening.
“When you‘ve been in a band for 40 years or more,” he told the audience early on, “and then you get to be in another band and do all new [material], it’s ... spectacular.”
His solo stand at the Troubadour, which continues tonight, Thursday and Friday, had been postponed from February, when the 72-year-old L.A. native underwent heart surgery. Trimmed down considerably from a few months ago, Crosby looked and sounded better than he had in ages.
“Croz,” which features his son James Raymond on keyboards (who also is part of his live band) explores atmospheric, jazz-tinged rock ballads that extend his penchant for dreamy, poetically minded lyrics.
Those lyrics continue to espouse ideas and attitudes that were prevalent in the ‘60s, but now they’re reflective of a lifetime of experience. In “Time I Have” he sang:
Angry isn’t how I want to spend what time I have
Cognitive dissonance they call it
I wonder just how small it
Could be made to be
Many of the new songs were impressionistic, but tended toward concision rather than the meandering, stream-of-consciousness works of yore. “Slice of Time” benefited from a haiku-like compactness:
A slice of time
Back from the edge of the knife
As if between two trains
Motordrive frames of life
His shoulder-length hair and signature walrus mustache are snow white, but his voice rang crystalline clear, and many songs were enlivened by the scintillating harmonies that have characterized most of the work he’s done over the last 50 years.
During the second half of the set, he and the band hopscotched from Byrds classics (“Eight Miles High”) to CSN repertoire (“Guinnevere”) to the CSNY songbook, including “Déjà Vu,” with its opening line: “If I had ever been here before, I would probably know just what to do.”
Check, and check.
Follow Randy Lewis on Twitter: @RandyLewis2