Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Re-formed Buffalo Springfield Prove They're No Los Angeles Codgers; Audience, Not So Much...

By Peter Rodman


SANTA BARBARA, JUNE 8--
A friend of mine asked for "the Full Report" on the Buffalo Springfield's reunion show, and I was happy to oblige.  I was also conscious of retaining, for my review, as many concert details as possible--despite my overall fatigue.  (As opposed to the most telling fashion statement of the evening...fatigued overalls.) 
But let's be frank--age is as much a factor for the audience now, as it is for the band.  In that context, because the seats at the fabled Santa Barbara Bowl are a mere 15 inches wide--with NO armrests!--I had to carefully time any 'pants adjustments' to coincide with the four prolonged standing ovations.  Otherwise, I would not only have injured those adjacent to me, but caused untold embarrassment to the Rodman family name.  In addition, simply unfolding my arms required wiggling the circulation back into them, before any said adjustments could even be considered.

Buffalo Springfield, version 2010 (from left): 
Joe Vitale, Stephen Stills, Richie Furay, Neil Young, Rick Rojas 
Face it:
At my age, and in this shape (and in that 'seat'), there was no way to document the proceedings here (at AARPSTOCK 2011) in anything even approaching the detail some might prefer.

In other words, I forgot to bring a pen.  And nobody else had one either. 
Apparently, even women stop carrying pens after 25 years of marriage, because by that time, they've stopped carrying purses altogether--especially in Santa Barbara. 
Yes, these are 'the Golden Years'--when a girl knows 'the hubs' has made it, and accessorizing the Montecito chalet is no longer in doubt--as long as she'll take a Tuesday night in June, to let the old jamoke revel in his favorite band from 1967.
I'm telling you, I must have asked 25 people...no pens!
 
So, be forewarned: I did not record the set list in detail, for you. 
Besides, my days as a daily newspaper writer are over. Heck... newspapers are over!
But if I were still a music writer, I'd have made you up a detailed 'set list' from last night's show, worthy of a cross between Phillip Seymour Hoffman (as Lester Bangs in Almost Famous) and Marv Alpert's most anal basketball statistician. 
It would have listed every song from top to bottom, with asterisks for encores, and who played what...I promise.  But since I'm only doing this for the fun of it now, my failing memory will simply have to suffice. 
I'm gonna just say what my overall impressions and feelings were, once I can edit out MOST of the details of a turbulent journey--including hookers, literally knocking on my airport hotel door all night in San Francisco the night before, having had to stay over because of repeated flight delays, and cancellations.
I won't kvetch about that stuff.

This is about the music, man!!!
But suffice it to say, I wasn't feelin' too 'groovy' by the time I made it to the concert, on Tuesday.
In fact, an afternoon cat-nap turned into a coma, deep enough to have been induced by laying down in front of an actual Buffalo Springfield Steamroller...if you know what I mean.
And if you know what I mean--about any of this--you are my target audience, and their target audience, and like me...you know Buffalo Springfield.  
So:
In the afternoon, just to suss out the place (and mostly to refresh my memory, directions-wise), I sojourned up to 'The Bowl,' as we Santa Barbarans call it...and was greeted by hand-printed signs everywhere, saying
"NO CAMERAS. NO VIDEOS. NO CELL PHONES.
NO WHISTLING OR HOLLERING BETWEEN SONGS.."
and about eight other forbidden behavioral quirks I never made it to, like NO LATE LIBRARY BOOKS, NO READING GLASSES, NO CRAPPING YOUR DEPENDS, and most curiously, NO EXPLAINING THE ENTIRE HISTORY OF COUNTRY ROCK TO YOUR WIFE DURING THE OPENING ACT'S SET.
Oy, such detail!  I mean, the Bluebird Cafe sells t-shirts that say, "SHHHHHHH!"...but that's a 75 seat bar, not a major outdoor amphitheatre.
Go figure.
I swear, I am not making up those "rules"( except all the ones after the 'whistling and hollering between songs' part).
Even the backstage parking guy helpfully volunteered, "It's specifically on Mr. Young's orders." Guessing there were no Chinese maitre'dee's around, I figured out who he meant.


I told him I had hoped to possibly stumble on the soundcheck, but it was still only 3:45...and while there was a tour bus there,  I knew that must belong to (my good friends) Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings--the opening act. 
When I say 'good friends,' they're people whose houses I've been in, and I've supped with, and hosted on my radio program many times, and who would themselves say we were good friends, unless I started tweeting untoward pictures of myself wearing only Fruit of the Looms (with the original, collectible logo on them) to various receptive females (presumably in nursing homes) around the country. But let's leave that icky thought behind, shall we?
The point is/was, we've been friends, yeah. 
I love Gil, and I love Dave.
But have I called them in the last five years?
No.
Is the phone number I have even current?
Not likely.
See 'em around town now and then, but they've been busy touring and recording and being great....and I've been busy, ummm...mowing the lawn, writing a book I may never finish, covering my bald spot with Toppik, and hangin' out on Facebook, 24/7. 



Dave Rawlings, Gillian Welch
The parking guy said they'd already done their sound check, so I knew that was their bus--but in truth, it was a process of elimination. Because there is simply no way the entire 'core three' in Buffalo Springfield  (from the Summer of Love) are gonna effin' share one bus.  There'd be no 'love and peace'  if they did.


Anyway, ten years ago I would have approached the bus and said "hello" out of the blue, far from our Nashville homes, but  now, I just thought "That'd be too weird," though I know they would have graciously received me.

In fact, I was reticent to even call my old Boulder friend (and teenage hero) Richie Furay, but since he suggested it when I told him I was coming, I did put in a courtesy phone message, saying, "Have a great show, Richie! I'll be out there rootin' you on!" or something along those lines.
By the time I pulled out of the venue in the late afternoon, many more (identical) tour buses were groaning their way up the hill, towards the lot.  Obviously...THAT was "them."


I declined to turn back....but this Monmarte-like neighborhood was already crammed with cars, seemingly parked on each others' backs, and grey-haired hipsters excitedly converging on the venue. 
Even when I had checked into the Motel 6 three hours earlier, two scary drunks, stinking of pot and wearing grey dreadlocks interrupted the process to say, "Heyyyyyyyy, man!!!  YOU'RE an old HIPPIE!!! Must be goin' to the Springfield concert!!!! Right on, mannn! When you leavin'!!!???"
Oh look...it's Wayne and Garth's grandfathers...drunk.


Get to the show, I know.
That's what I was thinking, three hours later...late, having 'overnapped' again...
Suitably forewarned about the camera thing, I left behind my trusty Nikon 200mm zoom/rig completely--packed just for the occasion, but no longer a viable option-- and simply tucked a fLiP video cam into my jeans pocket.
It's hard trudging uphill, ten blocks, on gout-ridden feet. 
I finally got to the meet-up place my local friends had designated, and the kindly guards said, "Take your time," as I tried to huff out the words, "Is this the area known as the Wine Bar?"
Easy, old man...you'll be okay.
My friends, whose 4:30 dinner reservation I had slept through, had said, "Park at the high school!"
But even though I used to live here, I was too embarrassed to mention that I no longer had any idea where the high school was.


As luck would have it, I actually beat my friends back to the Bowl, by show time.
While I was waiting, I bought the requisite 'Buffalo Springfield' zippered hoodie ($60...XL, please) and chatted up the extremely cute t-shirt girl, who was more than accomodating.
"See?" I winked, "We old guys still know how to flirt!"
She smiled back at me, with those cobalt blue eyes, and that smooth, flawless, youthful skin--looking right through me...
"That's okay!!!," she chirped. "You're SAFE!!!"
Oh.
Thank YOU very much.
Jeez, Edith...
video
(The two ants in the middle are Dave and Gillian.)

By the time we'd all met up and bought our wines, and walked up the steeper-than-Red Rocks stairs, Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings had already started their set.  It was still light out, and the setting is spectacular (I'd last been there for Brian Wilson, some ten years ago). 
Behind them was a huge "BUFFALO SPRINGFIELD" logo, in the familar italic typeface that graced their debut L.P.  Under that, a planetarium-style amalgam of backlit stars.
But with no 'big screens' and the 7,000 or so seats well removed from the stage, they were tiny--even from my close-up section (fifth row of the first tier behind the 20 rows of folding seats).
I could see their new, white 'Manuel' (rhinestone) suits, an obvious nod to the Parsons/Burrito contingency, and quite frankly, a sartorial concession to their first-ever major tour-opening stint.
But for the most part, as folks filed in, loudly talking and not paying almost any attention to the music, their two-part delicacy was lost to the crisp air of sunset.


One secret to the SB Bowl is that the 'worst' seats have the best view: 
Over the mountains, the stage, the city, the unmatched harbor, and then the ocean...and THEN...(on a clear evening like this)...the Channel Islands.
(I tried to remind my pals of that, as my seats were far closer to the stage, than the ones I'd bought them.)
Mine, I said, were too low to peer over the trees, and the stage, and out into the pastel orange, Pacific sunset.
In the cool dusk air, the sound mix seemed to reach us in bursts of treble, and while it was rich, it had no legs--sorta like the venue's wine. The sound hit you, and then disappeared like dry ice, almost upon arrival.
I gingerly grabbed thirty seconds of low-held video from my seat (sun still up, but barely now), VERY unobtrusively. 
Ten full minutes later, I received a visit from (again, a very nice but very firm) security guy:
"Hey...I've been told...on orders directly from Mr. Young...that if we find any video or cell phone cameras, we are to immediately remove the camera, and the person using it.  Hope you understand!"
"I'm so sorry," I said, looking around at my seat mates earnestly.
"Don't worry," I assured him, tacitly reminding him of our collective age group. "...I'm compliant!"
(My pre-compliance video clip can be found, above.)
My whole row thought it was among the weirdest warnings they'd ever heard, at a concert. 
Wow...
"Mr. Young!"...mentioned a second time...by a separate guard...four hours later.
(Guess we know who's in charge on this-here tour!)
The charm of the Bowl (and its related drawback) is that it's not unlike Forest Hills in '67, which was more of a club with rules: No nonsense, no riff-raff, curfew, decorum, the whole bit.  And there's something to be said for that. 
But in respecting the neighbors (and the strict 10 p.m. curfew--$1,000 a minute fine, if you go over), the poor soundman had very little to work with.  An outdoor theatre must be UNsubtle in its sound, by definition, or it just...dissipates.
This was a near-fatal problem for Welch and Rawlings.  Nobody gave a shit about their show--which was as good as anything they do at the Ryman or on Prairie Home Companion, or wherever--because most of it was drowned out by arriving guests. Until they closed with "White Rabbit," this crowd hadn't unleashed their "I'm 60 and I deserve a bit of unfettered nostalgia" fervor...but boy, did they, at that point! 
BOOM! Engagement.
From then on, for me at least, the nostalgia worked. 

I truly believe that (despite some rough edges) from everything I've heard on bootlegs and such, this is the best-ever version of Buffalo Springfield.

I don't curse much anymore--it's unbecoming, of an old person--but Richie Furay is a fuckin' rock star
In my opinion, he carried the show. 
And if Stills and Young have done some remarkable catch-up work (since their rusty debut at Coachella last year), Furay's still the one with the lion's share of the stage appeal. He's got the voice, the onstage demeanor, the lack of pretense and ego, and an overall comfortability factor the others have simply worn out, over 40 years of 'Monster Fame' Furay has never shared. 
He's fresh; they're less so.

But the best parts about seeing this re-tooled Buffalo Springfield were, in truth, 'parts'--collaborative moments, unavailable from any source but the sum of the three surviving members, period. Those occasional blends in background harmony singing ("if I do come back at all...alllll") simply cannot be found in any other configuration, solo or otherwise. 
The real reason this show/tour is so worth doing, is the vocal blends and guitar tones peculiar to this particular band.
Though the material is surprisingly durable, Buffalo Springfield was never so much about a song, as it was about a sound.
We have not been able to revisit that particular sound, for over 40 years...and in regrouping for this tour, I believe that is the key:  We boomers have squeezed nearly every lemon dry, nostalgia wise--and in 2011, Buffalo Springfield remains a curiously untapped source, found nowhere else, that can still give us the $100-a-seat goosebumps we so crave.


It did that much, and then some.
"On the Way Home," "Burned" (a marvelous guitar showcase for that pedal tremelo that first introduced Stills to our consciousness), and Richie's cut-through-the-night vocal on "Do I Have To Come Right Out And Say It" were early highlights, for sure.
Neil Young was, as advertised, the 'Alpha Dog' of the bunch.  Stills has been beaten into submission;  Furay, the happy loyalist, is finally getting his due.
Young was the first to speak.
"How ya doin'?" he said, shaking his requisite fringed jacket.
Two songs later, during a recurring sound glitch, he approached the mike again:
"How ya doin'!"
Richie leaned in, to ask Neil if it was okay to dedicate a song to a couple whose 29th anniversary it was.  Young nodded his acquiescence.
(Do you think he'd have leaned in to ask anyone else?)

The three men wore the kind of reasonably blue bluejeans, you only get in department stores--the ones that fade the way only older peoples' jeans fade: straight, slate blue.
No 'Diesels,' for Buffalo Springfield. Nor 'True Religion' (unless you count Richie's day job) either.
Think Wrangler's Stretch--not Levi's 501's--but it still made for a smartly handsome lineup of 60-somethings.
 
Stephen Stills not only played marvelously--adopting his seldom used 'Buffalo Springfield' style--but sang perfect 'thirds,' harmony-wise.  He's dropped around thirty pounds since the last videos we saw.  Still, when forced to sing lead--and it seemed like a push--he was far less effective.  My theory is (no joke here) ill-fitting dentures.  Something about his speech and singing has been off now for several years, and all I want to say is, we have a place in Brentwood Tennessee called 'Dental Bliss,' where they apparently feed you so much laughing gas that you simply won't care anymore, while ya git yer teeth did...for what it's worth.
Young actually made them re-start one Stills song...stopping it so blatantly that I figured it was a rehearsed 'bit.'
But whether or not it was, his ego dominated the proceedings, and his own vocal effectiveness didn't kick in until "I Am A Child," which may have been the highlight of the whole show.  It was perfect--not in a Neil Young Live-Archive-Released-From-Massey-Hall-In-Toronto way...but in a uniquely BUFFALO SPRINGFIELD way.  He adeptly covered the harp parts himself;  the others did backgrounds; everybody was ON.
That can't be said for some of the pacing, which took a few distinct dips, almost as if Stills was flagging (I thought) on the tempos...but again, no Richie version of "Kind Woman" has ever sounded quite like the BUFFALO SPRINGFIELD version, which they ably delivered in tip-top form tonight.  His intro to it was the longest speech of the evening, detailing how he met...(and right here, the other two chime in, like mocking brothers...."Naaaaancy!")  His voice is in the best shape of his life, period...and Stills did an applause grabbing mandolin-strum during each chorus, echoed by Young's piano trills, all perfectly augmenting a show piece of the evening. 
Still, there were low points.  As with the original records, "Go and Say Goodbye" was a yawner by the Buffalo Springfield, in no way competitive with the turbo-charged Poco version.  Same story on this night.
Thankfully, the "Bluebird" jam of yesteryears was truncated some, and I still maintain there's gotta be that banjo part at the end, no matter what.
I liked how Young moved around, urging Stills on at times, mocking the guitar battles of olde.
"Oops," he said after one tune, "I think I just hit the worst chord of the whole tour.  This is why we broke up in the first place!"
And, "We're the Buffalo Springfield...we're from the past!"
And, "Still got the Earl Warren Fairgrounds?  We played there...just a little while ago!"
My friends were less familiar with the original Springfield albums.  I wondered how they'd feel...and near the end, since we weren't sitting anywhere near each other, I mozied (sp?) downstairs. 
They were down there, and already leaving. 
I could see where not knowing these deep album cuts might have made for a boring show, to them. 
They blamed the 'bad sound'...but to a lifelong fan of the Springfield, the sound was fine.  Not overpowering, just an honest band, actually playing every note, muffing a few, but giving it all a real 'go.'
This was a very specific show, about very specific songs from a very specific time, by the specific players who'd originally played them.
Not for the casual fan, maybe...but just about right, for this one.    
  
As I was writing this, my cell phone rang.
It was 1:30 a.m.
The caller ID showed Richie Furay's number...but he'd hung up, after two rings.
Honest mistake.

But hey...know what?
At my age, I'll take an accidental rock star 'pocket dial,' over any backstage pass.

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UPDATE:  Following my silly joke above about his accidental late-night phone call, Richie did in fact leave a very sweet message, the next afternoon. One hopes he'll forgive my revelation, in the service of comedy.  
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This article Copyright 2011 by Peter Rodman.  All Rights Reserved.

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