Saturday, June 11, 2011

Buffalo Springfield Rides Again...

Giving power to the phrase 'never say never', after much weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth, the passing of two members, and 45 years of water under the bridge, it was with both heady excitement and blind fear that I awaited the return of Buffalo Springfield.

They clocked in for two nights at the Santa Barbara County Bowl this week, in the midst of a handful of California warm up dates, setting the stage for an appearance at Bonnaroo this weekend.

I studiously avoided anything in the way of reviews; figuring just to play it out and hope for the best. Knowing the involvement of Neil Young, a certain amount of faith could be invested that a) the process would not be easy, and b) that his quality control would be in effect. Which ultimately turned out to be the case...the man seems very vested in every part of his legacy, and not only was the Springfield crown brushed off, but one would say burnished. The band only lasted '66-'68 and managed a few records before imploding into acrimony, and never had the advantage of playing shows where the technology matched the talent...

So, this was what had to be put right, and the answer turned out to be a resounding 'Exceeds Expectations'. Like the Pixies reunion, it was driven not wholly by money, or new material, but a chance to shine a light on an unjustly overlooked band, as the setlist reaffirmed. Not only that, but it was done the right way, giving out star turns to the players, but keeping the entire night focused on the unit. The big takeaway was the indelible tightness of the players. In just their sixth official show since returning, the tone was set early on, from the emotionally charged opener "On The Way Home", they slid into "Rock and Roll Woman", Steven Stills and Young trading off solos like it was yesterday, as Neil gruffly observed between songs: "We come from the Past..."

The setlist was well chosen, giving everyone a spotlight, and they made the most of it, from Richie Furay turning "Kind Woman" into a sublime tribute to his 40+ year marriage, to Steven Stills masterwork "For What It's Worth", where his tattered growl showed it's age, but aged like good whiskey. Stills' finest moments might have been when he donned a solid body Gibson and added delicate tonal colorings to the songs. Seeing the songs played gave lie to everyone's subsequent individual celebrity and reinforced the greatness of the band.

As for Neil, two things I never thought I'd see or hear: #1) Neil genuinely laughing & joking onstage, just generally having a blast...and #2) a beautifully arranged version of "Broken Arrow". Wow.

Opening the evening were Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, now with a few shows under their belt after a long hiatus, and they stepped up their game to the big stage. Unfortunately, as an opener, they were treated to the typical Santa Barbara apathy/hospitality, the audience looking to be about 70/30 yakking/engaged. They stepped out in the Nudie suits reserved for special occasions, and battled through a set of the highlights of their catalogue, and near the end, the normally unflappable Rawlings was even moved to observe audibly that: "There's a whole lot of time between the bands to talk..." After the set closer, "Revelator", they still had some time, and had the sound crew amp up the reverb, and pitched headlong into a noisy cover of Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit", thoroughly drowning out intended conversations...Which, ironically, earned them a standing ovation from the pit in front of the stage, most of whom had spent the show talking...Hmmm.

Programming note: lack of supporting media with this screed will be explained by the humble sign. My guess is that the shows were being recorded, as another sign stressed that after the show started, no one would be seated for two songs, and then only in between songs. For the main event, it certainly brought a hall ambiance to the great outdoors, and people, for the most part, complied with the cell phone photo restrictions.

It was a night to remember for all, and apparently the experiment worked, because word has come down that they'll be adding more dates in the fall. It's so nice to have them back, and I'm looking forward to reading about their reception at Bonnaroo.
  1. On the Way Home
  2. Rock & Roll Woman
  3. Burned
  4. .A Child's Claim to Fame
  5. Do I Have to Come Right Out and Say It
  6. Go and Say Goodbye
  7. I Am a Child
  8. Hot Dusty Roads
  9. Kind Woman
  10. Mr. Soul
  11. Nowadays Clancy Can't Even Sing
  12. Everybody's Wrong
  13. My Kind of Love
  14. Sad Memory
  15. Bluebird
  16. (encore) Broken Arrow
  17. For What It's Worth
  18. Rockin' In The Free World

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