Stephen Stills – Live at Shepherd’s Bush
Stephen Stills – Live at Shepherd’s Bush (Rhino)
With so many artists retreading their catalogs with concert performances of classic albums, Stephen Stills’ career-spanning live set provides a different proposition. Rather than take his audience back to a single point in time, he takes them on the musical journey he mapped out for himself with Buffalo Springfield, CSN(&Y), Manassas, and various solo releases. The set list focuses primarily on the years 1966 through 1973, but reaches to Stills’ last solo album, 2005’s Man Alive! for “Wounded World” (segued here with Joe Walsh’s “Rocky Mountain Way”) and draws in a cover of Tom Petty’s recent Mudcrutch song “Wrong Thing to Do.”
The show is split into solo acoustic and electric band sets, and rather than following a strict timeline, Stills has arranged the songs into a program that makes for a good show, with crowd-pleasing favorites placed strategically among the deeper album cuts. The solo tunes show Stills to still be a powerful acoustic picker (both finger and flat-pick), and though his singing voice is rough in spots, the song introductions and storytelling are incredibly engaging. Best of all, the disc provides generous helpings of between-song continuity and gives you a good sense of how the show felt as a whole. This is a document of a live concert performance rather than a cleanly edited set of live songs.
The show kicks off with “Tree Top Flyer,” a 1968 solo tune that didn’t appear on a commercial release until CS&N tackled it fifteen years later. Fan favorites “4+20” and “Change Partners” bracket a touching version of the Manassas tune “Johnny’s Garden,” and a couple of covers, Dylan’s “Girl From the North Country” and the traditional “Blind Fiddler” show off some of Stills’ own favorites. The acoustic set closes with a 9-minute rendition of “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” that shows off Stills’ blistering guitar skills, and provides a transition to the electric band set. The second set opens with the little heard “Isn’t It About Time,” from the second Manassas album, and unlike the chestnuts that follow, the arrangement and performance sound very fresh as Stills adds some meaty Stratocaster playing.
The Buffalo Springfield numbers are a mixed bag. They’re stretched into jams that give Stills an opportunity to show that his guitar can reach heights that his voice can’t always follow. “Rock & Roll Woman” retains its passion, “Bluebird” is reworked enthusiastically to fit Stills’ limited vocal range, but a bluesy 7-minute version of “For What It’s Worth” can’t muster the vocal pungency of 1966, despite its on-going political relevance. Overall, Stills sounds more enthusiastic about the material that’s newer to him, including his own “Wounded World” and the Petty and Walsh covers.
The widescreen DVD offers the same track line-up as the CD, though with the option of DTS Surround. The only extras are a short intro clip by Stills and credit-roll clips in which Stills discusses the set list. The lighting and videography are excellent, giving viewers a chance to see close-ups of Stills singing and picking. He sells his songs with facial expressions, postures and body movements, and his lack of vocal flexibility is more than made up for by watching him rip on guitar. This is a nicely selected mix of hits and album cuts, performed with the freedom of someone with nothing left to prove. CD and DVD discs are packaged in a three-panel cardboard slipcase.