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Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young in Peak Form

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

Crosby, Stills and Nash minus Neil Young can seem like a four-cylinder car hitting on just three. But even those who know how much spark Young can add must have been blown away at the way his relentless energy turned that 32-year-old vehicle into a rip-roaring V-8 on Saturday at the Arrowhead Pond in Anaheim.

On a strictly musical level, Young led the quartet--perhaps the late ‘60s and early ‘70s’ quintessential conglomeration of socially relevant hippie musicians--to numerous peaks during a 3 1/2-hour performance sprinkled with four songs from his forthcoming album, “Are You Passionate?”

Beyond jacking up the set’s freshness, those songs combined with Young’s firebrand stage manner and ferocious electric guitar work to carry the whole band to a place where, in the aftermath of Sept. 11, all that once was noble and good about the ‘60s ethos seemed to be resurrected, at least for one brief, Camelot-like shining moment.

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Talk about your Easter season of miracles.

The new material also lent contextual poignancy to the songs from the prime of Crosby, Stills & Nash (and sometimes Young) that made up the bulk of the set.

When they dusted off Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock,” her lyrics “We are stardust/We are golden/And we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden” emerged more as a challenge to the band’s fans to reawaken dormant ideals than the boast of earnest but naive youths who first sang along more than three decades ago.

Young, David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash got plenty of power from the backing of organist Booker T. Jones, his MG’s bassist Donald “Duck” Dunn and drummer Steve Potts.

Throughout the show, Crosby beamed a beatific, Wilford Brimley-like smile, Stills played and sang with rare passion, and Nash lent his sweet, high voice to several songs of his own and to the always scintillating CSNY harmonic mix.

Rock’s answer to the Rat Pack turned in enough transcendent moments to suggest that maybe the wooden ships weren’t just a hippie dream after all.

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Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young play tonight at Staples Center, 1111 S. Figueroa St., L.A., 8 p.m. $40.50-$226. (213) 742-7340.

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