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.
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.”
STEPHEN STILLS SET LIST
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)
Rock & Roll Woman
Ole Man Trouble (Stills at the piano)
The Wrong Thing to Do (Mudcrutch)
Make Love to You
Wounded World > Rocky Mountain Way (Joe Walsh)
Love the One You’re With
For What It’s Worth