Talk From The Rock Room: Stephen Stills: Live At Berkeley 1971 - "Gotta Move On"

Monday, May 15, 2023

Stephen Stills: Live At Berkeley 1971 - "Gotta Move On"



Stephen Stills new hand picked live release from the depths of his 60 year musical vault is a special project. Stephen Stills - Live at Berkeley 1971 illustrates the culmination of fertile era in Stills career. After his early days founding both Buffalo Springfield, and Crosby, Stills, and Nash, he was a principal creative force in the "Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young" supergroup. Following the collision of egos in CSNY in 1970 that resulted in musical infernos burning down the ship, Stills and his mates took to divergent paths in order to discover their own musical futures. It's vault excavations like this current Stills dig that the rock room lives for.

Stephen's second solo album, Stephen Stills 2 was released in June of 1971 and this accompanying performance in support of the record was recorded over two nights on August 20 and 21st 1971. The dates were the final two concerts of his 52 concert, 1971 North American tour, sometimes referred to as "The Drunkin' Horns" tour. Stills was prolific during this era and was on a streak of writing, recording and producing a string of fantastic albums and songs. While in the media, Stills talent, indulgence, and fame often overshadowed the music. What is undeniable is the deep wealth and wide span of his abilities during this period.

Luckily now, a reassessment is due, and this newly released recording allows us to do so. Stills jittery creative fire explodes off the crystal clear analog recording. Stills said to American Songwriter in 2023, "The thing is fantastically recorded. It never has any distortions. There’s so many things that are right about it, besides a few awful songs and some of the singing that’s a stretch of imagination to call it singing.”

The new live release captures an anticipatory Stills as he embarked on his first solo tour. Using the same format as the "CSNY" shows, Stills played an intimate acoustic set before taking the stage with the Memphis Horns for a full blown electric second half.
                                    Photo By: Henry Diltz


The two LP version of the set opens with "Love the One Your With," played with a loose jubilation and with Stills accompanied by friend and long tome percussionist Joe Lala. Guitarist Steve Fromholz then joins Stills and plays a welcome and country bluesy "Do For the Others" from Stephen Stills 1.

The duo then collaborate on a rare version of "Jesus Gave Love Away For Free," which would later end up on Stephen's first"Manassas" record. Fromholz lends pitch perfect harmonies and Stephen picks out a boozy benediction with his plucky fingering.

In what would be the first time one of the members of CSNY joined another onstage, Stills introduces David Crosby to the audience. Buttering both sides of the bread, Crosby slides right in between Fromholz and Stills vocals on "You Don't Have To Cry," and a different three way blend rises to the surface. Stills then joins Crosby by adding a beautifully delicate harmony on Crosby's own "The Lee Shore." A perfect addition to the collection and well timed tribute to the recently departed Croz.

A crushing solo acoustic version of "Word Game," that rivals the reading on 1975's Stephen Stills Live, leaves the crowd cheering for more. The acoustic set covers the multiplicity of Stills acoustic guitar playing, who is of the best rock and roll hollow bodied players around.

In the 'rock room's opinion, the highlight of the collection is Stills solo piano rendition of "Sugar Babe." While Stills stage persona often walked the high wire between beauty and beast, "Sugar Babe" is a reflection of the former. The song is an underrated confection, and is comprised of sticky sweet Stills serenading. His voice a warmed taffy, stretching notes to the horizon line with effortless control. His clustered chording and dancing finger moves on the piano are a special highlight. The performance one of a string of stellar Stills piano compositions of his career including but not limited to, "As I Come of Age," and "Got It Made."

Staying on piano, Stills plays a roly poly rendition of his "49 Bye-Byes/For What It's Worth," medley (minus the preaching which he notes) before playing a version of a song previously released on Four Way Street, "Black Queen." Stills, known as "Captain Manyhands," illustrates why, as he next dons his banjo for a honky version of "Know You Got To Run," from the then current Stephen Stills 2 and concluding the acoustic portion of the collection.

The real interest for both the hardcore and newly onboarded Stills fans is the intensely played electric set on the flip side of the second record. The electric songs offer a specialized glimpse into Stills attempts at assimilating his songwriting with contemporary horn heavy arrangements featured by groups like, Chicago, and Blood, Sweat and Tears. The concert's second half is also made up of deeper cuts from Stills catalog, songs that following the tour would rarely be performed on stage.

Stephen and the Memphis Horns work well together and the music has a funky bed that works well with Stills love of exotic rhythms. Beautifully ramshackle, Stills and his CSNY rhythm section of Fuzzy Samuels and Dallas Taylor blast their way through the "big" numbers from Stills first two records. Paul Harris is on keyboards, Fromholz, second guitar and Joe Lala on percussion.

"Bluebird Revisited," from Stills 2, receives an enthusiastic run-through, with Stills quoting the original Buffalo Springfield "Bluebird" mid-song."Lean On Me," written by horn player Wayne Jackson gets a bombastic groove going. Stills is in full growl mode, answering his gruff hollers with slick riffed guitar responses. The horns blast, Stills shreds, and the resulting jamming is exciting and aggressive.

Both "Cherokee," and "Ecology Song," come to life on the live stage with substantial horn-centric exclamations. While the record is only a snapshot of the tour's electric sets which also featured songs like, "Open Secret," and "Go Back Home," it is a welcome addiction to Stills canon. "Cherokee," a highlight from Stills debut solo record, reaches ten minutes, and is an active and moody piece of music. A fleeting arrow, heading for it's mark the arrangement slices through the air on Paul Harris's sneaky organ flourishes and Lala's constantly creative percussion. The song streaks impatiently, trailing recklessly toward its target.

A mid-song spotlight for the horn players cracks the center of the song open spotlighting extended sax and trumpet solos over the agitated rhythm. When Stills enters for his guitar segment he plays with a spiky and fuzzed out tone that increases the intensity of the playing by Dallas Taylor. Stills riffs with a spacey feel, not always found in his playing. The solo peaks in a steamy feedback wave as the vocals return. Stills then brings the song to a proper conclusion with thrashes of big distorted chording."Ecology Song," has the same feeling of motion, and spacious plane landscapes as "Cherokee". The horns blow breathlessly and the drums pound the arrangement into the soil. Stills sings in a full throat ranging from snarl to falsetto, a soulful and husky serenade.

Stephen Stills and the "Memphis Horns" tour of 1971 is hopefully the first in a long line of new Stephen Stills archival releases. His friend and bandmate Neil Young has opened his vaults and it appears Stills has signed off on doing the same. It's long overdue that Stills career is given a deeper more detailed analysis. When releases like this allow the listener to do so, an entirely new view of his music is revealed.


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