Sunday, March 12, 2023

Stephen Stills: “Live At Berkeley 1971” (2023) CD Review

It must have been something to catch live music in the late 1960s and early 1970s. So much great music seems to have just poured out of certain artists at that time. Take Stephen Stills, for example. By the summer of 1971, he had already put out three albums with Buffalo Springfield, one with Crosby, Stills & Nash, two with Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, and two solo albums. Oh, and let’s not forget Super Session, an album he recorded with Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper. Well, following the release of that second solo album, he embarked on his first solo tour, which included a couple of shows at The Berkeley Community Theater in August. Live At Berkeley 1971 contains selections from those shows, chosen by Stephen Stills himself. And the musicians backing him on some of these tracks include David Crosby on guitar and vocals, Steve Fromholz on guitar and vocals, Sidney George on alto saxophone and flute, Paul Harris on organ, Joe Lala on congas and percussion, Calvin “Fuzzy” Samuels on bass, and Dallas Taylor on drums, along with The Memphis Horns. Most of the songs on this disc were written by Stephen Stills, and Stills co-produced this release.

The album opens with “Love The One You’re With,” the lead track from Stephen Stills’ first solo album, a song that was also released as a single, becoming a big hit for him. It was also included on the Crosby, Stills, Nash And Young live album 4 Way Street. The version here has a great energy, particularly in his vocal performance, and features some good percussion. The sound quality to this live recording is excellent, by the way. That’s followed by “Do For The Others,” which also follows “Love The One You’re With” on that first solo record. There is applause as the crowd recognizes it. It’s a beautiful song, and this version features some really good vocal work. “She is gone, there is no tomorrow/It is done, so now he must borrow/The life of his brothers/And living in sorrow/Must do for the others.”

So, following this tour in 1971, Stephen Stills formed yet another incredible band, Manassas, with Chris Hillman (of The Byrds and The Flying Burrito Brothers), Al Perkins (of The Flying Burrito Brothers), and several members of his touring band. They put out a self-titled double album in the spring of 1972, and one of the songs on that album is “Jesus Gave Love Away For Free,” a song that Stephen Stills also performs on this live album. It’s a sweet-sounding country number featuring some nice work on guitar. This live version has a somewhat different vibe from the Manassas studio version, for it lacks the pedal steel, but I think I actually prefer this live recording. “And we all know that people/Ain’t made to live lonely/They need to be trusted/And loved by one only.” Stephen Stills then invites David Crosby out for “You Don’t Have To Cry,” a song from that first CSN record. There is a short introduction (which is actually included at the end of the third track), in which he talks about the first time he met Crosby. The crowd is understandably excited to hear this one. This version is wonderful, with excellent vocal work, as you’d expect, and some really good stuff on guitar as well. David Crosby and Stephen Stills also play “The Lee Shore,” a song David Crosby wrote, and one that was included on 4 Way Street. This one has a more somber sound.

We then get a couple of songs from his second solo album, starting with “Word Game,” this one also having a serious tone. “It’s incredibly sick, you can feel it as across the land it flows/Prejudice is slick, when it’s a word game, it festers and grows.” I love the way he holds onto the “s” in the word “sick,” as he did on the studio recording. Sadly, this line still seems to be the case: “People see somebody different, fear is the first reaction shown.” Otherwise, there wouldn’t be this strange anti-transgender prejudice we’re seeing growing these days. This is a powerful song, and the crowd responds to it. Then Stephen Stills switches to piano for “Sugar Babe.” “People need love/People need trust/People need one another/And that means us.” And I love toward the end when he belts out certain lines.

“49 Bye-Byes” is a song that was included on the first CSN album, and then on the CSNY album 4 Way Street, where it is paired with the Buffalo Springfield song “For What It’s Worth,” though labeled as “America’s Children.” On that recording, he includes a spoken word section touching on the political landscape. On this release, “49 Bye-Byes” is also paired “For What It’s Worth.” Stephen Stills is again on piano. As he goes into “For What It’s Worth,” he asks the crowd to clap, and delivers a strong vocal performance. He starts to go into the spoken word section, but cuts it short, telling the crowd: “Well, as you all probably know, this is the part of the song where I start to run it down, you know, gonna tell everybody where it’s at and all that stuff. But this is primarily a music show, so I think I’ll get back to some music.” Did he change his mind about talking? Interesting.

Stephen Stills returns to the guitar for “Black Queen,” a song from his first solo album. It begins with some excellent work on guitar. He doesn’t ask the audience to clap along, but for a moment the folks do anyway. This is a cool, bluesy number. Then from the second solo album comes “Know You’ve Got To Run,” on which he plays banjo. He delivers another passionate vocal performance. “You expect for me to love you/When you hate yourself, my friend.” This song was written by Stephen Stills and John Hopkins. “Bluebird Revisited” is another song from that second solo album, but one that builds from the Buffalo Springfield song “Bluebird.” And for this one, he has the full band backing him. It is a soulful number, and features some wonderful work from the horn section, and some good work on electric guitar toward the end. This track has a great energy. The band also seriously delivers on “Lean On Me,” a song written by Percy Bradfield, Wayne Jackson and Andrew Love.

“Cherokee” is another song from the first Stephen Stills solo album. And right from the start, the band is cooking. They jam on this one, the horns getting a chance to really shine. This live version is quite a bit longer than the studio recording, highlighting the talent of the musicians joining Stephen Stills on stage. Stephen Stills then introduces the band. The introductions are presented as a separate track, which is handy for the next time you listen to the album and wish to skip them. The track is more than four minutes, which might seem like a long time to make introductions, but Stephen Stills adds to them, as when he mentions that Sidney George played seven different horn parts on the album version of the next song, and when he jokes about all the different mistakes reviewers have made regarding Steve Fromholz’s name. Then the band launches into “Ecology Song” to close out this disc. This is a song from the second solo album, with lyrics that are sadly still pertinent. “America is lost, figuring the cost/You can hang your head in shame, it's disgusting/Mother nature made it green/Prettiest place you've seen/People don't know what they need/Open your window/What do you see?/Do you remember/How it used to be?

CD Track List

  1. Love The One You’re With
  2. Do For The Others
  3. Jesus Gave Love Away For Free
  4. You Don’t Have To Cry
  5. The Lee Shore
  6. Word Game
  7. Sugar Babe
  8. 49 Bye-Byes/For What It’s Worth
  9. Black Queen
  10. Know You’ve Got To Run
  11. Bluebird Revisited
  12. Lean On Me
  13. Cherokee
  14. Band Introductions
  15. Ecology Song

Live At Berkeley 1971 is scheduled to be released on April 28, 2023 through Omnivore Recordings. Apparently, it is going to be available on vinyl (as a double album) as well as CD.

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