Dylan & the Grateful Dead

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Stephen Stills 5-14-07

Stephen Stills 5-14-07

At a time when the Beatles broke up, Dylan was practicing songwriting moderation and Hendrix and Morrison did themselves in, a new generation of musical geniuses emerged to carry the torch. These artists included Stevie Wonder, Sly Stone, Elton John The Band, Neil Young, and the Grateful Dead. I had the pleasure of seeing the most underrated whiz kid of his era, Stephen Stills, last night at the Concert Hall on W.64th St. I’d say underrated is a fair description of Stills because tickets were still available at $40 a pop for this performance at a place which seats approximately 1,000 concert goers.

I didn’t know that the Concert Hall at the New York Society for Ethical Culture Tickets existed prior to last night. It’s not a provocative name for this venue which is located near Lincoln Center. About a year and a half ago, the powers that be, converted this cozy little church into a concert hall. All the original church seating is intact with a little a place to stash your bible on the wooden pew in front of you. Attractive girls greeted us upon entry informing us there was a bar and we could bring our drinks inside. God bless this place. Okay, that’s my last religious reference, I promise not to call any of the performances religious experiences. But what a great idea they have going here. It’s about time we reclaim the synagogues, mosques and cathedrals and start putting these magnificent structures to good use – concert halls and theatres. God knows how great he is and he appreciates our zealous devotion, but it’s time for a new phase in the man/God relationship.

Thanks to my inquiring mind, I upgraded from a row U balcony seat to row G in the orchestra. I asked the young lady behind the counter if there were any good seats available and she informed me somebody had just turned in a row G ticket they weren’t using, so she was kind enough to let me swap it. Jay Boy Adams, a solo acoustic act from Buddy Holly’s hometown of Lubbock Texas, opened up for Stills. Looking younger than his age and sporting a goatee, Stephen took the stage with a four piece band at around 9PM. He was wearing one of his specially designed brown pineapple-palm button down Hawaiian shirts that were selling in the lobby for 100 beans. The entertainment got under way with a popular number from the first CSN album, Helplessly Hoping. I was so close to the stage that with a running start, I could have long jumped from the first row and crashed into the drums - the stage was only elevated two feet off the floor.

For the next six songs, the band went into hibernation leaving Stills solo with his acoustic. I wasn’t taking notes, but if my memory serves me well, he played Treetop Flier, Man Alive, Blind Fiddler, Change Partners, Johnny’s Garden and Find the Cost of Freedom. Stills vocals and pounding guitar strumming rang out through the church hall. I dig the way he plays the acoustic; it was a treat to hear. He seemed to be in fine spirits and had animated rambling commentary between songs. The audience was surprisingly rowdy (in a good way) for an older crowd. Stills let the crowd harmonize the last chorus of Find the Cost of Freedom, and the New York City grandparents nailed it. Afterwards, he shared the following recollection of a Q&A session he had with a female reporter in promotion of his current tour:

“Question - What happens to the harmonies in those songs when the other two aren’t there?
Answer – You see, they were songs first.”

Right on cue Stills strummed the familiar opening chords to Suite: Judy Blue Eyes. I knew it was coming at some point, but it was still quite moving. Stills emphatically weaved his way through each amazing part of this masterpiece which included a dazzling acoustic solo that brought the crowd out of their seats to pay homage. The band appeared back on stage to drive home the big sing along ending.

Due to all this excitement, I worked up a thirst, so I stepped outside the hall to purchase a beer. It was my third bottle of Sam Adams, yet the extremely attractive young bar attendant exclaimed, “This one’s on the house.” Say What? I’ve never been the recipient of a buy back at a music venue outside of a bar before. I didn’t even think it was a possibility. I was back at my pew in no time at all enjoying Stills’ next popular jingle, Southern Cross. Three more rocking tunes featuring Stephen on lead guitar ensued - I can’t recall which ones or I wasn’t familiar with one or two of them.

Stills took his place behind an organ which was rolled out to center stage for a spirited number called Old Man Trouble. His keyboard work was impressive and his guitarist ripped off a smoking jam. Moving back to guitar, Stills served up his classic Buffalo Springfield anthem For What It’s Worth. As Stills said earlier in the show, “unfortunately some of these songs are timely today.” It was a lively rendition followed by his only flat performance of night on Love the One Your With. That’s a favorite song of mine from one the greatest albums ever, Stephen Stills, his solo debut. Besides Love the One Your With, he didn’t play any material from that album. Church (Part of Someone) would have been a fitting choice at this venue.

Woodstock was next as I joined a rush of fans that lovingly stormed their way to the front of the stage. We were so close to the stage that Stills’ sweat was spilling into the spectators as he was cutting loose with searing guitar solos. After a satisfying offering of Woodstock, he came back for one more of his CSN compositions. During the Dark Star finale he was doing 360 degree spins while whaling away on his axe. Around 11 PM a brilliant non-stop hour and 50 minute concert was in the books. That was the best $40 I shelled out for live entertainment in a long time.

During Woodstock, I couldn’t help but think what a great ride this has been and what’s to come. On June 30th I’ll be front row at Dylan’s concert at the original Woodstock site in Bethel. In addition to five other dates with Dylan on his upcoming tour, I’ll be catching a Levon Helm Ramble in Central Park on June 28th. This is turning out to be my Spring/Summer of Love 40 years later. I’ve also had the privilege to see Gordon Lightfoot and Van Morrison within the last month. These legends of the Woodstock generation refuse to fade away; they just go on tour and keep getting better.

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