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Friday, June 3, 2011

Buffalo Springfield Recasts the Old Songs, Forgets the New Jokes at the Fox

Posted By on Fri, Jun 3, 2011 at 8:00 AM

Buffalo Springfield (all images taken at June 1 show) - CHRISTOPHER VICTORIO
  • Christopher Victorio
  • Buffalo Springfield (all images taken at June 1 show)
Buffalo Springfield

Gillian Welch
@ The Fox
June 2, 2011

Better than: The last time you reminisced about life 44 years ago with a couple of drinks in your belly. Or heard about it from your dad.

Last night, the one working bar at the Fox -- in the Den, not the main room -- was thick with the iconic hairstyles of middle-aged men aching for nostalgia: ponytails, mop-tops, skullets, the David Lynch, a haircut I can only describe as the Stills (shaggy in the back, downy up top). Somewhere between a third and a half of the men displaying these hairstyles were accompanied by a wife/girlfriend/date on their arms, swaying more and more drunkenly to the Dylan tunes playing out of the bar's stereo.

In the theater itself, opener Gillian Welch's voice filled the darkened, half-full room with the kind of beauty that's a rainy day spent next to a warm fireplace, weaving close old-timey harmonies with her partner David Rawlings. It was a precious, quiet moment before the real party started.

It definitely started once the house lights came up, and those in the bar made their way to their seats (seats! at the Fox! I thought this was a rock 'n' roll show!) three drinks in and three drinks in hand -- though for seats selling for $85 to $200, perhaps it's best to get your money's worth.

The nostalgia tour announced itself as the core three of Buffalo Springfield took the stage (in descending order of fame/; Neil Young, Stephen Stills, and Richie Furay) to thunderous applause. It was the second night of their official reunion tour, after the group's three original members shared a stage for the first time in more than 40 years at last year's Bridge School Benefit. And as much as it was a nostalgia show -- "We're from the past," Young announced -- it was also about how those old, innocent songs would sound updated with Neil's guitar and Stills' voice, both of which have matured quite a bit since 1967.

  • Christopher Victorio
  • Gillian Welch
For some songs -- thin, reedy, country-rockers in the band's heyday -- the update turned them into plain old rock numbers, stripping the country twang and bounce and upping them into the fist-pumping '70s anthem rock that the trio, broken up by June 1968, never got to experience collectively.

In some respects, the change was welcome. Young was 22 when the band broke up, and he's come pretty far since. On "Mr. Soul" he strapped on "Old Black" and made the kind of guitar sounds that would have gotten you and your crowd hit with firehoses and nightsticks in 1967. He stalked the stage back and forth, wolflike, reminding everyone why Buffalo Springfield had to die so that Neil Young could be Neil Young. It was crunch and dirt, the sound Young invented grunge with, used to morph the bouncing rock song into something the kids would have danced to in 1993. The boomers danced, too, though, and followed with a midshow standing ovation lasting over a minute. It wouldn't be the last.

  • Christopher Victorio
  • Neil Young
Furay was all enthusiasm and nostalgia, Ned Flandersesque in his banter about writing songs for his wife ("Kind Woman" -- and they're still together), and what it was like playing these naive love songs so many years after the fact while Young tinkled away at a barroom piano off to the side of the stage. Furay was favored as lead singer in the past, so he strummed acoustic and sang melody on many of the songs while Young sang his harmonies at equal volume, splitting lead guitar duties with Stills.

  • Christopher Victorio
  • Furay
Stills' voice has aged considerably since the band's initial run, and though he looks a bit like Jim Belushi these days, he has got a voice like a catcher's mitt. Where his original songs were the kind of blue-eyed soul that walked the edge of vocal smokiness allowed for a white dude in those days, his voice now was a bit too aged to handle the arrangements, sounding like Randy Newman at times. This made tunes like the 1967 highlight "Bluebird" effective only in showcasing Stills' (and Young's) guitar prowess as it turned into an extended jam.

  • Christopher Victorio
  • Stills

Stills' voice was perfect just once, with the encore performance of "For What It's Worth" ("We're gonna do our hit for you," Young said). The song, so iconic as it was recorded, was rearranged to a country-fried-and-dipped-in-honey version. Finally, instead of trying -- and barely succeeding -- at singing 1967-style Springfield, Stills could let that bluesman voice come ripping out from him as Young played the memorable guitar part. He gave Stills a middle eight to remind us again how great a guitarist he is, even on Young's stage.

  • Christopher Victorio
  • Young and Furay
If there was one more reminder needed that it was Young who was most successful at the 44-year reunion, the band closed with his "Rockin' in the Free World," moving the setting from Johnson-era (not yet Nixon when the band broke up) to Reagan-era. The crowd, already risen for "For What It's Worth," stood and danced to the yuppie-era protest song before returning to the present.

  • Christopher Victorio
  • Welcome indeed.
Critic's Notebook

Underrated: Neil Young singing harmony.

Overheard: Boomer in a Hawaiian shirt: "I dunno why we're smoking grass in the bathroom ... "

Historical Note (for the kids): Buffalo Springfield has perhaps the best origin story in all of rock history. It involves Rick James gone AWOL, a canceled record contract for Motown, and a furtive roadside meeting following Stills and Furay chasing down Young's hearse on Sunset Boulevard.

Onstage Banter:
NY: We're the Buffalo Springfield. Wait. No "the," just Buffalo Springfield, right? We'll have to decide that.
NY: Whatta you use THAT for? (at Furay's guitar pedal)
SS: It's a wayback machine.
NY: I didn't get the jokes for tonight. They didn't send me the jokes.
Crowd member: Just tell the ones from last night!
NY: I don't remember last night. I remember 44 years ago like it was yesterday, but I don't remember last night.

Spotted: J Mascis (or a convincing lookalike), in purple hoodie in the crowd exiting the show.

On the Way Home
Rock 'n' Roll Woman
A Child's Claim to Fame
Do I Have to Come Right Out and Say It
Go and Say Goodbye
I Am a Child
Hot Dusty Roads
Kind Woman
Mr. Soul
Nowadays Clancy Can't Even Sing
Everybody's Wrong
My Kind of Love
Sad Memory

Broken Arrow
For What It's Worth
Rockin' in the Free World


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