Neil Young, Stephen
Stills and Richie Furay plug in and drain the tank of every Buffalo
Springfield classic at the Fox Theater in Oakland on June 2.
By Jud Cost
The appetizer was so tasty last summer, a legion of Buffalo
Springfield fans returned tonight for a full, five-course meal. It felt almost
like a sacred pilgrimage to be undertaken once in your lifetime.
Richie Furay, Stephen Stills and Neil Young-the pumping
heart of the band that rode high in a ’60s Los Angeles rock scene that also
included the Byrds, Love and the Doors-had played together at last fall’s
Bridge School Benefit Concert at Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View,
Calif. for the first time since Young left the band in 1967. That outdoors,
50-minute set was all acoustic. Tonight the other shoe dropped: a stunning
90-minute, electric program that almost drained the tank of Buffalo Springfield
devotees gave up hope long ago at ever hearing the songs from the band’s slim,
three-album repertoire performed live by a full-blown version of the group. But
here they were, Young, Stills and Furay, accompanied by bass and drums, before
a packed house at Oakland’s
Fox Theater. Without any fanfare, they plugged in and dug into “On The Way
Home,” the breezy opener from their 1968 swansong longplayer, Last Time Around, as the faithful
settled in for a night to remember.
Electric though it was, no mountainous stack of Marshall amps cluttered
the stage under the band’s tasteful logo, surrounded on the neon-like backdrop
by a pair of vintage Buffalo Springfield steamrollers, with a single Tiffany
lamp hanging above the piano. The nicely understated sound, in a three
thousand-capacity room known for its excellent acoustics, was probably pretty
much how they came across at legendary gigs in Los Angeles
clubs like the Troubadour, Cheetah and Whisky A Go Go, as well as San Francisco’s Fillmore
and Avalon ballrooms. One thing is certain: No rock band, before or since, had
the unique harmonic blend that these three achieved.
With Stills singing lead, they immediately strike up the
hackle-raising “Rock & Roll Woman,” unfolding like a hothouse
orchid, a little slower than the recorded version from 1967’s Buffalo Springfield
Again. This AM radio anthem helped spread the word about their potent
electric blend of folk, rock and country that helped form a telling response to
the chart-topping stars of the British Invasion.
The “how many angels can dance on the head of a
pin?” conundrum seeking the origins of country-rock-with the Byrds,
Youngbloods and a few others as solid contenders-should also include Buffalo
Springfield. “A Child’s Claim To Fame,” featuring the masterful,
backporch tenor pipes of Furay, dates from their self-titled 1966 debut album.
“It doesn’t really seem like 44 years ago. This is the
‘way-back machine,'” jokes Furay. “We’re Buffalo Springfield, not the Buffalo Springfield. We want to get
that straight,” says Young. “Yeah, we like precision,” chimes in
Stills. “We’re from the past,” adds an off-mic Young, dressed in his
trademark fringed buckskin jacket and a rakish straw hat as he wanders over to
the right side of the stage to play barrelhouse piano and sing lead on
“Burned,” backed by stirring harmonies from Stills and Furay.
For some misguided reason during the band’s short lifespan,
Young’s voice was deemed less commercial than those of Furay and Stills. As a
result, he sang fewer leads than the other two. Young’s brilliant work tonight
on “I Am A Child,” with his deliciously fragile, slightly vibratoed
voice as the perfect complement to his jagged harmonica, make that early
management decision even more baffling. As events have proved, it was the right
move for Young, whose subsequent career has been a multi-faceted joy, to wander
into other pastures.
“It’s a pleasure to be here with Stephen and
Neil,” says Furay, a sentiment obviously shared by the other two, whose
pleasure in blowing the dust off these musical relics is unmistakable.
Tonight’s demographic, similar to the Social Security-eligible age bracket of
the headliners, means annoying cellphone photography, endless text-messaging
and self-serving crowd outbursts are kept to a bare minimum. Young had
admonished a younger, more self-absorbed, Fox Theater crowd to shut up last
July, telling them, “It’s not about you.”
“Bluebird,” another firecracker from the sophomore
album, warbled by Stills, found Young replicating a mandolin for the song’s
outro, taking the place of the finger-picked banjo from the original recorded
Young’s ripsnorting “Mr. Soul” was a highlight
tonight of an evening full of high-water marks. Like many of the Springfield’s best songs,
its lyrics deal with what the band came to know best, their rapid ascent as
rock heroes in a city where that voyage can also be painful. “Mr.
Soul,” almost a companion-piece to the Byrds’ “So You Want To Be A
Rock And Roll Star,” describes the perils and rapidly changing nature of
fame and the relationship between a “happening” band and its rabid
Nothing tugged at the heart-strings tonight more than an
encore number, something not played at the Bridge Concert. Sung by Young,
is a time-lapse short story worthy of a David Lynch film production. (“The
lights turned on and the curtain fell down/And when it was over it felt like a
dream/They stood at the stage door and begged for a scream/The agents had paid
for the black limousine that waited outside in the rain.”) Maybe someday,
“Expecting To Fly,” the Jack Nitzsche-orchestrated Springfield gem from their second album, will
get the live treatment it deserves. Until then, this was plenty good enough.
“This is our hit,” cracks Young as Stills takes
the lead vocal on “For What It’s Worth,” hewing much closer tonight
to the song’s original road map than he did at the Bridge Concert. It’s an
exposé of the LAPD’s mistreatment of young revelers on the Sunset Strip in the
summer of ’66. (“What a field day for the heat/A thousand people in the
street/Singing songs and carrying signs/Mostly say hooray for our side.”)
It didn’t take much urging for the multitude to join in on the refrain
(“It’s time we stop, hey, what’s that sound/Everybody look what’s going
down”). In retrospect, the song almost seems a foreshadowing of larger
events chronicled by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s “Ohio”
when the National Guard killed four students at Kent State University in 1970.
The boys wrapped things up tonight with Young’s more recent
anthem, “Rockin’ In The Free World.” It was a fitting, though almost
unnecessary, finale to a glorious evening. It’s not often you get to witness
something as historically important-and musically exhilarating-as the long
overdue return of Buffalo Springfield. Long may they run.
[Photo Credit: Eleanor Stills]