LIVE: Stephen Stills @ The Egg, 10/11/11

Stephen Stills

Stephen Stills

Where do perception and interpretation intersect? Did Stephen Stills suck for fully half of his Tuesday night show at The Egg, or did I imagine it? Did he rule in other parts, summoning old fires and incantations, or am I just trying, out of kindness for grizzle, to cut him some slack?

Stills’ Egg show was nothing if not difficult, for him and his audience.

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Woodstock was a long time ago, and while Stills has been involved in some magically mercurial music (I mean Buffalo Springfield fer chrissakes, not to mention Manassas), the hippie haze has given way to the reality that baby boomers are no longer babies.

Stills’ voice is gone. That gives him permission to stand in line with Gordon Lightfoot, John Sebastian and others of the ilk. But all of those men were responsible for beauty. They were carriers of joy, and we owe them something for that, although I’m not quite sure if I’m ready to argue whether or not we owe them the price of a concert ticket for a largely subpar performance. I get in to stuff free, so maybe I’m not as concerned about that as I should be. But, I also staunchly, righteously and unflinchingly believe in the artist’s right to do their thing as they see fit – which is why the CONSTANT bellowing of requests, bordering on commands, at every Egg and Palace show makes me sad and embarrassed to be part of the human race.

OK, back to the voice. Stills admits he’s deaf. He even yelled that in response to the avalanche of requests. The hearing loss is a huge part of what makes his voice off – I mean he wasn’t even in the same state, much less the same key for Dylan’s “Girl From The North Country.” I say this being fully aware of my inability to carry a tune in a large wooden bucket, but it doesn’t say Stephen Stills on my tickets, does it?

The voice became less of an issue during the electric music and boogie portion of the show, in which bassist Kenny Passarelli called up literal ghosts of Calvin “Fuzzy” Samuels with his farting, growling four-string.

With an electric on his back and Joe Vitale on the skins, Stills seemed more confident. There’s a reason this guy was a bonafide ’60s/’70s guitar hero, and if he hasn’t learned any new tricks since 1974, so what? Stratocasters are still afraid of him.

He bore holes through “Rock and Roll Woman,” Mudcrutch’s “The Wrong Thing To Do” and an absolutely unexpected “Carry On” (“I haven’t played that song in ten years,” he beamed). That’s good, because the opening salvo of “Bluebird,” with Stills mumbling and spraying fumbled six-string lines at the wall, did not bode well.

On the solo side, “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” was impressive more for its merger of George Harrison’s “Within You, Without You” and its sheer nostalgia factor than its execution. “Treetop Flyer” (the reason Ray LaMontagne exists), on the other hand, was chock full of Stills’ still-shining, if sometimes-esoteric humor and heavily processed acoustic tones.

Stills, I would argue, albeit half-heartedly, can be excused many of the performance’s foibles. Dammit if we’re not all getting old and weird, right?

What cannot be forgiven is the stunning ineptitude of his hirsute, bopping guitar tech, who handed his boss one out-of-tune instrument after another. Ridiculous. I would imagine – or at least hope – he is on a long, lonely bus ride home.

Obviously, it’s hard enough for Stills to cope with a ragged voice, dimming ears and his own past. He should at least be able strum in tune without waiting for Leland Sklar’s little hobbit brother to get his game together.

Review by Bokonon
Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk

Greg Haymes’ review at The Times Union
Excerpt from Brian McElhiney’s review at The Daily Gazette: “From electric, to acoustic, to Crosby, Stills and Nash (and Young), to Buffalo Springfield, to irreverent covers of Tom Petty and Bob Dylan, Stills touched upon it all before a packed house. He and his quartet — drummer Joe Vitale, bassist Kenny Passarelli and keyboardist Todd Caldwell — hit hard for two hour-long sets, all the while keeping things loose and fun. Stills started his first set out on a strong — and rocking — note, though it took a few songs for his vocals to warm up. He played four songs with his band to kick things off, including ‘Helplessly Hoping’ and ‘Johnny’s Garden.’ By the time he strapped on his acoustic for ‘Ruby Tuesday,’ he seemed fully warmed up, just in time for the band to take a breather. He played the rest of the first set solo, but still got plenty of bite to his sound on a ripping version of ‘Treetop Flyer.’ The set then gave way to a few covers. His ‘Girl from the North Country’ added a new dimension to the old Bob Dylan favorite. Throughout, Stills was relaxed and very casual, cracking jokes about the Tea Party movement (not without a bit of bile in his voice) and about himself.”

Helplessly Hoping
Johnny’s Garden
Ruby Tuesday (Rolling Stones)
Treetop Flyer (solo)
Girl From the North Country (Bob Dylan) (solo)
Blind Fiddler (solo)
Within You, Without You (Beatles) > Suite: Judy Blue Eyes (solo)
Southern Cross
Rock & Roll Woman
Ole Man Trouble (Stills at the piano)
The Wrong Thing to Do (Mudcrutch)
Make Love to You
Carry On
Wounded World > Rocky Mountain Way (Joe Walsh)
Love the One You’re With
For What It’s Worth

Opening act Josh Hisle

Opening act Josh Hisle

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9 Responses to “LIVE: Stephen Stills @ The Egg, 10/11/11”

  1. Bob Rosinsky says:

    If you thought Stephen Stills sucked, let me tell you about “HippyFest” last night at The Palace.

    Let me start off saying that I’m extremely happy that I won the tickets to the show
    The show started right on time at 7PM with Felix Cavalarie (Young Rascals)… it was like a Vegas lounge act.. not a great voice left..he covered most of his “hits” along with Motown songs intertwined. In 30 minutes he was done

    Rick Derringer started his set with “Still Alive & Well” but on closer listen the lyrics seemed to have changed. Jesus was the reason he was still alive and well (oh, oh) The “High all the time, hope you all are too” part I was waiting for was nowhere to be heard.. Then a flag waving song about how he’s a “Real American” turns out to be a song he wrote for Hulk Hogan for the WWF..A quick round of “Hang On Sloopy” and 30 minutes he was gone.

    Mark Farner (Grand Funk Railroad) was next. I was never a big Grand Funk fan, but he was very decent I then realized that Grand Funk’s biggest hits were covers of songs made famous by other people (The Locomotion) (Some Kind Of Wonderful). He did do a very nice “Closer To Home” and yep in 30 minutes he was gone.

    Dave Mason started up with “We Just Disagree” with great playing and superb vocals. A great version of “Dear Mr Fantasy” and a fabulous “Watchtower” then “Feelin’ Alright” and boom, it was over..I looked at my phone for the was 9:36… WTF?

    Tickets were $59, $44, $39 and $29. If I paid anything for this show, I would not be a happy boy.
    The house was about less than a 3rd full.
    If you went you would have been home, in your jammies, by 10PM..

  2. KC says:

    I thought it was just me. There were some high points for a guy who hasn’t seen Stills before, but I was left wanting more. Looks like I missed my chance by a few years…

  3. MP says:

    You imagined it. Sure his voice was gone at times, the hearing loss definitely a factor. But the passion for the music and the skill as one of the great guitarists was still evident. His talent was not hidden by out of tune instruments. Live performances are like life – not perfect. He was truly inspirational for anyone sixty plus years on. His brilliance still shone through the haze of the years.

  4. Gary Knox says:

    I just saw Stephen Stills last night at the Bearsville theater last night and he was magnificent. His guitar playing was off the charts great and his voice was totally on. His stage presence and stories reminded us of what it was like to be a real rock and roll icon who came thru the years like gangbusters. Maybe you’re the one whose deaf,old and weird if you couldn’t appreciate this concert.

  5. Andrzej Pilarczyk says:

    Though I was only the photographer for the article, seeing Stills performing live was a treat! I didn’t remember the third song’s title, it was “Johnny’s Garden,” but it emotionally moved me to the point that I put down the camera just to listen. Still’s experienced voice had all the years of performing behind it and it was just a little frayed at the edges, but you know what? That’s what made the song real for me. It resonated with truth and that’s why I loved it. I would see him again in a heartbeat!

  6. I missed this show but Still’s guitar was the highlight of CSN’s last performance at SPAC, opening for Tom Petty in 2009. Before that point I had almost written off the band, having seen them so many times over the years that I thought they couldn’t come up with anything I hadn’t alreardy heard, but it was Stills who woke up the Tom Petty crowd with some of the best guitar work I’ve ever seen him play.

  7. J Hunter says:

    Didn’t see the show, and haven’t seen CSN for over ten years. But I do want to relate something I read way back in the day: During the recording of the CSN album (which gave us Graham Nash’s bowl of musical pablum “Just a Song Before I Go”), the producer stopped Stills in mid-take and said, “You’re flat, Stephen.”

    Stills retorted, “I made a career out of singing flat!”

    In short: Twas ever thus.

  8. Christian Cullen says:

    I am a star-struck fan of Stills since Buffalo Springfield & Super Session with Kooper/Bloomfield.
    Seeing & listening to Stills is like bonding with an old friend.
    Having thus prefaced my comments…
    Friday night’s Bearsville concert was fabulous! Guitar playing was especially phenomenal!
    The first number, “Bluebird” was out of sync & the voice was rough, but Still’s voice improved steadily thereafter. His voice is not what it used to be, but still recognizable & nowhere near as shot as Bob Dylan’s, Smokey Robinson’s or Frankie (The Four Seasons) Valle’s.
    Stills played for an hour and a half from 10 PM to 11:30 PM.
    The opening act was an acoustic blues singer, Josh ?, a marine veteran who fought in Fallujah, Iraq, & who is now very much “anti-war.” He did a great version of “In my Kitchen.”
    Stills liberally talked to the audience touting liberal causes, e.g., “Occupy Wall Street,” although he was not always audible. He kidded the crowd about going out to the parking lot and getting high. Sentences came across as incomplete. He used “f..k” every other word as a noun, verb, adjective, adverb, past & present participles. He did a great English accent when he very humorously imitated his formal meticulous English gardner, Johnny, when he introduced the song “Johnny’s Garden” from the first Manassas record. Stills spoke of how he and his friends were disingenuous because they always spoke of leaving America but never did. Finally, however, when Stills was placed on Nixon’s enemy list, Stills moved to England. He bought a house which had belonged to Peter Sellers & Ringo. When he bought the real estate, he had to buy the butler-like gardner with the property, hence “Johnny’s Garden” which Stills fell in love with. Stills said he eventually returned from England with a cocaine habit he had to break. He said that nobody lives that type of lifestyle anymore, except maybe Jonny Dep.
    Stills got more sound out of playing an acoustic guitar with one hand, than I’ve heard from entire bands using both hands.
    He did a medley of “Judy Blue Eyes” & the Beatle’s/George Harrison’s “Within You & Without You” which was awesome. “Medley” may not be the right word since he combined both songs together interspersing the lyrics as if it was one song. He sang the Stones’ “Ruby Tuesday” & commented how the original version should not have been done with a harpsichord. He introduced the next song as coming from another Woodstock ’69 “no show”: He then performed Bob Dylan’s “Girl from the North Country” after sharing an anecdote about being caught in white out blizzard conditions in Hibbing, Minnesota. He talked about circling in a helicopter over Woodstock ’69 thinking of the Crosby, Stills & Nash song “Helplessly Hoping” which he proceeded to sing. When he sang “Woodstock” the crowd went nuts as the words resonated all the more singing it in the actual village of Woodstock. “Rock ‘n Roll Woman” from Buffalo Springfield days was mesmerizing & how anyone from our generation could not get goose bumps listening to Stills perform the classic “For what it’s worth” is beyond me. His highest charting single, “Love the one you’re with” also brought the house down. Whether he was waling away at the piano Ray Charles-like or blazing out licks on the guitar, he was soulful, poetic, & exhilarating. Other performers may give more polished shows, but nothing beats bonding with an, albeit less than flawless, old friend.

  9. Charley Ward says:

    The review of Stephen Stills was inaccurate perhaps you need a sound adjustment. I thought he was fantastic.

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