on October 27, 2009
With so many artists retreading their catalogs with concert performances of classic albums, Stephen Stills' career-spanning live set provides a different proposition. Rather than take his audience back to a single point in time, he takes them on the musical journey he mapped out for himself with Buffalo Springfield, CSN(&Y), Manassas, and various solo releases. The set list focuses primarily on the years 1966 through 1973, but reaches to Stills' last solo album, 2005's Man Alive! for "Wounded World" (segued here with Joe Walsh's "Rocky Mountain Way") and draws in a cover of Tom Petty's recent Mudcrutch song "Wrong Thing to Do."
The show is split into solo acoustic and electric band sets, and rather than following a strict timeline, Stills has arranged the songs into a program that makes for a good show, with crowd-pleasing favorites placed strategically among the deeper album cuts. The solo tunes show Stills to still be a powerful acoustic picker (both finger and flat-pick), and though his singing voice is rough in spots, the song introductions and storytelling are incredibly engaging. Best of all, the disc provides generous helpings of between-song continuity and gives you a good sense of how the show felt as a whole. This is a document of a live concert performance rather than a cleanly edited set of live songs.
The show kicks off with "Tree Top Flyer," a 1968 solo tune that didn't appear on a commercial release until CS&N tackled it fifteen years later. Fan favorites "4+20" and "Change Partners" bracket a touching version of the Manassas tune "Johnny's Garden," and a couple of covers, Dylan's "Girl From the North Country" and the traditional "Blind Fiddler" show off some of Stills' own favorites. The acoustic set closes with a 9-minute rendition of "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes" that shows off Stills' blistering guitar skills, and provides a transition to the electric band set. The second set opens with the little heard "Isn't It About Time," from the second Manassas album, and unlike the chestnuts that follow, the arrangement and performance sound very fresh as Stills adds some meaty Stratocaster playing.
The Buffalo Springfield numbers are a mixed bag. They're stretched into jams that give Stills an opportunity to show that his guitar can reach heights that his voice can't always follow. "Rock & Roll Woman" retains its passion, "Bluebird" is reworked enthusiastically to fit Stills' limited vocal range, but a bluesy 7-minute version of "For What It's Worth" can't muster the vocal pungency of 1966, despite its on-going political relevance. Overall, Stills sounds more enthusiastic about the material that's newer to him, including his own "Wounded World" and the Petty and Walsh covers.
The widescreen DVD offers the same track line-up as the CD, though with the option of DTS Surround. The only extras are a short intro clip by Stills and credit-roll clips in which Stills discusses the set list. The lighting and videography are excellent, giving viewers a chance to see close-ups of Stills singing and picking. He sells his songs with facial expressions, postures and body movements, and his lack of vocal flexibility is more than made up for by watching him rip on guitar. This is a nicely selected mix of hits and album cuts, performed with the freedom of someone with nothing left to prove. CD and DVD discs are packaged in a three-panel cardboard slipcase. [©2009 hyperbolium dot com]
If you've read Crosby's second installment of his autobiography, you know that he and Nash get off a couple of very pointed barbs aimed at Stills. Presumably, they were good natured. With his very first remarks on this set, Stills slaps the puck back into their net and scores magnificently, and then gets on with the business at hand, beginning with Tree Top Flyer and roaring right on through seamlessly to the closer, Love The One....
Stills looks healthier, and by his own admission, feels so. His voice is coming back, much as Levon Helm's has, and that's just amazingly great news. While there is no new material here, the renditions, now from a 63 year old campaigner and defender of democracy, a cancer survivor, and a man who has lived his life with eyes open and his mind on, all sound brand spanking new and infused with an insight that comes from the road thus travelled. It ain't the years, it's the mileage, and Stills delivers a triumphant survey of his work. He has found different registers in which to cast his voice and the songs he has written. For my money, I think his take on Suite: Judy Blue Eyes and Rock and Roll Woman eclipse the CSN and Buffalo Springfield versions. The loss in both songs is more palpable, the tragedy accepted with a wisdom that knows one's life runs against time. His sense of humour is spot on throughout and there is even a sense of self deprecation, first evident in his tumble during the Deja Vu film and now in his wry asides about his own youthful perceptions found in Four and Twenty.
There is a clarity of tone to his guitar playing that I haven't heard in ages and his command of his instrument and the Latin and American blues that are the bedrock of his influences ring with an authenticity that has been enhanced by age, by life. There isn't a lick throughout that is there as showmanship. Every harmonic, every chord and key sequence, every pluck and plectrum strike rings with authority. He takes on Dylan's "Girl From The North Country" and makes it his own - absolutely an astounding delivery. And the man looks like he's having fun.
Stills has questioned whether he still has it, whether the Muse is still speaking to him, or if he can, through his tinnitus, still hear her. Based solely on this performance, I'd encourage him to keep at it. He has very clearly prepared himself in such a way that the Music is as much playing him as he the music. In short, in the words of another English guitarist, he has prepared himself so that Music can lean over and take him into its confidence. To that end, I would hope he will continue to sing, play, compose. He has something worthwhile to say, and I very mcuh want to listen to him. For all his afflictions from a life such as his, he is a man alive with his muse and that's cause for celebration. Isn't it about time?
on October 27, 2009
A fine live set from the often rather underrated Stephen Stills caught live at the legendary Shepherd's Bush. Starting of with an intense acoustic set showcasing his considearble picking skills that ends with a surprise "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes", a song he hasn't played in recent years, here nailed perfectly. He even hits some of those high vocal notes. In fact he seems to be in the best of form both vocally and overall. Thx to a clean up of his act and succesful cancer treatment.
After the break he dives into a solid electric performance backed by a congenial band anchored by the always inventive drumming of long time musical partner Joe Vitale. And here the show really takes flight with classics like "Bluebird", "For What it's Worth", "Dark Star". But also some lesser known tunes like "Rock & Roll Woman" and the stylish "I Wanna Make Love To You" (from the Stills-Young album).
The often reclusive Stills comes across here as a humorous and relaxed performer facing a great and enthusiastic crowd. The days when he was a pioneering artist may be long gone, but he can sure still deliver a magnificient evening armed with a collection of songs many others would have to envy him. Blues, rock, country, latin, impressive wah-wah drenched psychedelic solos all blend into one.
Like the recent brilliant album of Manassas outtakesPiecesthis is essential stuf for any CSN(Y) fan.
on October 30, 2009
I just recently attended the CSN concert at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles. The opening set seemed a little flat but the electric was surprisingly good. I've seen CSN and all the other versions over the years and have resigned myself to thinking that the best performances were behind us. But Stills' electric contribution to the Los Angeles concert was definitely the highlight and surprise of the event.
The versions of Rock N Roll Woman and Bluebird were delightful. After the concert I was thinking how lucky I was to hear those songs once again, but how unlucky it was that I could replay those songs as they were performed that night again.
But low and behold.....here comes this CD and DVD with those two songs included. It was pretty much the same versions without Crosby and Nash singing harmony. I like the new arrangements and the guitar solos as well. The makeup of the band makes Stills' song stand out more....no organ, percussions, extra singers, or other guitar players. It's a simple rock band with one guitar - one solo instrument. And I loved it.
As a guitarist myself, I haven't been a huge fan of Stills' electric guitar solos. But over the last decade, he's learned some new tricks (techniques) to create better sustained notes and bends. He'll never be as fluid as Clapton, but in a live setting with a song like Rock N Roll Woman, this guy can really soar.
I'm so happy that this album came out and want to encourage any CSN or Buffalo Springfield fan to get it and listen to the new energy of Mr. Stephen Stills. Even his singing was surprisingly good for a guy who we all thought had completely lost it vocally.
on December 12, 2009
I feel that an artist's fans do a disservice to prospective buyers with the inevitable gushing, no matter the quality of the product. I don't want to do that.
I am a long-time fan of Stephen and his musical compadres myself; I learned to finger-pick with some of his songs and have seen him a number of times over the years. On listening to this CD my honest reaction is... He just sounds very tired throughout most of it, as if he can barely stand up and get the song out.
I won't go through a critique of the individual songs here, most of them (though certainly not all) would be negative and there is no point in it. I can just say that by the time he reached the end of Rock & Roll Women, in which he removes the most energetic and demanding bars of the original tune, I realized this live CD was not created for artistic reasons. There is nothing new or interesting here, there is just Stills doing what he can in terms of performance at this late point in his career.
Of course Stephen and the CSN gang need to continue making a living, and I am glad that they have it and what enjoyment they still derive from performing their old material. But if I review this CD honestly and only with regard to the music herein, I don't know who I could recommend it to.
on November 24, 2011
Just started listening to these discs. All I can say to those who rated this low, and say his voice is gone, etc. is that you are not hearing what is on these discs. It's not how his voice sounds, it's how it makes you feel. By all means, if you don't like what you're hearing, don't listen. But I would say that any Stephen Stills fan who can let this music/voice in, will be rewarded with some of the best music from an old soul you will ever hear. It's simply as good as it gets. Reminds me of why we have ears in the first place!
on November 21, 2011
Because of the reviews that said his voice was gone I hesitated buying this album for a year, sorry I waited. Stills can still rock the house with the best of them, and is absolutely one of the best guitarists of all time. This album reinforces this fact. Sadly his voice isn't what it used to be, but if you know this going in you will love this album.
on November 7, 2009
* For those of you who have put Stills down for many years and are now listening to this, it will not be what you remember from years past. Stephen has some obvious vocal impairment now, I think primarily due to tinnitus. However, for those of us who have steadily followed him for all these years, this show is a very solid performance, especially compared with a few years earlier on the CSNY Déjà vu tour, where he was having substantial enunciation difficulties. You have to give him a lot of credit for continuing to go it alone and delivering.
* This show is quite similar (about 75% the same) to shows I saw live at the House of Blues and at the RnR Hall of Fame (both in Cleveland, OH) in 2007 and 2008. I was really happy to see this rendition of `Isn't it About Time' recorded as I love the powerful opening bass and guitar run. For me, this alone was worth the price of the disk.
* The acoustic set is quite good, Stephen surprisingly hitting notes one thought not possible at this point. Others have mentioned this. Acoustic guitar is stellar as usual. The rendition of Johnny's Garden was on key and sung at higher tone than I can remember recently. Another stunning version of `Treetop Flyer' which I never get tired of hearing. Some (including him?) will say things got too personal and self-absorbed for Stephen as a young man, but `4+20' is one of his defining songs for the startling admission, beuatiful singing and lovely acoustic guitar. Stephen gets a little winded in the electric set during `Wounded World' and `Rock'n'Roll Woman' but finishes VERY strong with `For What It's Worth' and `Love the One You're With'. At 63, we might get winded too.
* Some years from now, it would be interesting to see Chris Stills put a show together singing only the music of his father. Chris has an incredible voice, maybe not with the power, edge, and range of the young Stephen Stills at the top of his game, but certainly close and with the flavor and tint of his old man that you readily recognize. Chris does some Manassas songs now in his shows. Maybe this is heresy but I wonder if others have thought this.
Seen you in the city, seen you on the road......(and hope to again)
I think most fans of Stephen Stills are aware of his history, and specifically that in the last few years he seems to have (thankfully) gotten his act together, cleaned himself up, and shed quite a few pounds. And like anything else in life, the hard-living years have taken their toll. That said...this was a pretty decent set. I've heard better versions of his signature acoustic track "Treetop Flyer," and the opening electric track..."Isn't It About Time"...is a little too rough around the edges for me, considering how tight, smooth and slithery it came across on the second Manassas album.
But then he launches into an insane "Neil Young & Crazy Horse / Weld" version of "Rock & Roll Woman"...one of his greatest Springfield tracks...and all is well with the world.
"Wounded World" sounds a little too close to his earlier solo track "Right By You," but considering the fact that it's used here to set up "Rocky Mountain Way" in the second half, that's OK, and a sloppy, raucous version it is, but hey...it's only rock and roll. He did something similar on his 1975 solo album, "Stephen Stills Live," using the song "Jet Set (Sigh)" from the first Manassas album to set up "R.M.W."
"Bluebird" and "For What It's Worth" also get the "Weld" treatment. This might turn off some long-time fans and purists, but c'est la vie.
"Love The One You're With" is a bit of an anti-climactic climax to an 80-minute disc...sure, it's one of his biggest solo hits, maybe THE biggest, but it seems more like an afterthought and less like an inspired performance.
I do know what I like, and sometimes it's stuff that's in the mainstream and adored by millions, other times it's not. This may be one of those "other" times. For me, the Springfield trilogy...especially "Rock & Roll Woman"...made it worth the price of admission. The reunion at Bridge School it ain't...but it rips and stomps like a rock & roll survivor with something still left to prove, on both the electric AND acoustic tracks.
on January 22, 2014
This is an easy review. Stephen Stills just cannot sing any longer. Great material. Good band. Vocals are just not there. Assuming this "live" album was "sweetened" in the studio makes the result even worse. Stills is a fine artist but save your money.