With Crosby, Nash & Young having emerged from my archives over the past two days, it seems only right and proper to give Stephen Stills a shot. Here’s my review of his concert at the Carnegie Hall in February, 1974.
There’s really no substitute for experience in rock music and there are few musicians around with as much experience as Steve Stills who brought a new band to Carnegie Hall for two concerts.
Manassas, it seems, has been temporarily abandoned in favour of an outfit which shows off Stills’ talents as a definite front man. He’s the lead guitarist, lead singer, writer and midway through the shows he appears solo for half a dozen songs which, for me, was the highlight of the two hour set.
In the new group are Kenny Pasarelli (bass), Russ Kunkel (drums), Don Decus (guitar), Joe Lala (keyboards) and Jerry Aiello (keyboards). Pasarelli was a member of Joe Walsh’s Barnstorm band until quite recently, and Lala has appeared with Stills in various combinations of musical outlets several times before.
During the show Stills played a series of different guitars – six I think – and methodically went through his musical history while introducing about four new songs. Gone, it seems are the days when his excesses caught up with him on stage: at Carnegie Hall he was a straightforward musician playing and leading with an authority which rubbed off on to the sell-out crowd, from the opening song ‘Love The One You’re With’.
During the first electric session, the organ failed, which visibly annoyed Stills, though I’m willing to bet that half the audience were unaware of the problem. He mixed oldies like ‘Pretty Girl Why’ with new songs, the most impressive of which was ‘My Favourite Changes’ – a great descending chord sequence.
Four different acoustic guitars and a banjo were placed around a chair during a short interval before Stills reappeared solo, and it was the following half hour that showed what a great talent he is. Though his voice sounded a little croaky, his guitar style – so deceptively simple but hugely effective – was a joy to hear. He gave us ‘Change Partners’, ‘Crossroads’, ‘You Can’t Catch Me’, McCartney’s ‘Blackbird’, ‘4 + 20’ and a new song by Neil Young which promises to be in the same class as ‘4 + 20’.
It’s not until Stills actually performs on his own like this that you understand how skilled he really is. He’s casual in the extreme, lighting cigarettes during numbers and just tapping his foot to retain the time signature, and he creates an aura of respectful silence all along. He is undoubtedly one of the best guitar players rock has produced, equally at home on either the acoustic or electric instrument.
The mood he established was marred only by the inevitable yelling for requests between songs. But Stills gritted his teeth and played what he wanted to play.
The set concluded with another electric session which included ‘Bluebird’ from his Buffalo Springfield days, a spontaneous drum solo and a rock and roll jam to finish. The new group were tight and musical and all that Stills could hope for in a backing band, even though there were times when they looked a little frightened of their leader.