Review: Stills standing
ASPEN – Among those surprised by what Stephen Stills – age 66 and a veteran of many of the pitfalls that come with rock stardom – is still able to accomplish is Stills himself.About six songs into his first set Saturday night at Belly Up, Stills began “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” perhaps the best of his masterpieces. But the song was written 42 years ago, and many of its singing parts were written for a flexible, strong 20-something voice. In a concession to time, Stills has clearly rethought some of those high notes and vocal acrobatics. But Stills seemed in an apparent good mood and noticeably good shape, so when he came to one of the trickier passages – “It’s my heart that’s a-suffering” – he went for it full-throttle. And more or less nailed it, which brought a sigh of relief from this listener, and from Stills himself, this midsong ad-lib: “I’m as astonished as the rest of you.”A bit earlier, the direction of this night was not a sure thing. The show had opened with a strong opening set of mostly straightforward country-rock by Pegi Young & the Survivors. Stills opened his set with “Bluebird,” a song from his days with Buffalo Springfield, and for a moment it looked as if Stills might play second fiddle to the wife of one of his Buffalo Springfield bandmates. (Yes, Pegi Young also goes by Mrs. Neil Young.) Stills’ voice during the song lacked power, and Stills strikes me as the sort who might be given to downward spirals. But the song closed with Stills’ good mood intact; he introduced the next song, the lovely “Helplessly Hoping,” with a riff about “Occupying Aspen.” (His frequent collaborators David Crosby and Graham Nash had made news a few days earlier by performing at Occupy Wall Street.) “But this being Aspen, I’m occupying with a two-million dollar bus,” Stills claimed. (And he might not have been exaggerating: I took a close look at his tour bus parked outside Belly Up, and have never seen the likes.) “Helplessly Hoping” found his voice warming up and by the end of the following song, “Johnny’s Garden,” the audience, one of the oldest I’ve seen at Belly Up, had fully warmed to him.Stills then dismissed his band – including his longtime, most capable rhythm section of bassist Kenny Passarelli and drummer Joe Vitale – for a solo acoustic set that included a take on Bob Dylan’s “Girl From the North Country.”Several audience members worried about Stills’ occasional walks to the side of the stage, apparently to discuss issues of sound. As far as I could tell, these were handled with no theatrics – again, not a matter I took for granted.The show ended predictably: “Rocky Mountain Way” and “Love the One You’re With” to close the second set, and an encore of “For What It’s Worth.””Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” opens with the line, “It’s getting to the point where I’m no fun anymore.” I went into Saturday night’s show wondering whether Stills had hit that point.I bet Stills has some of those nights. This wasn’t one of email@example.com
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