First Impressions: Live at Berkeley 1971 by Stephen Stills

The early 1970s saw Stephen Stills on a roll: The first Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young album, Deja Vu, was released in March 1970 and the band of bickering brothers then toured in support of it from May through July; his eponymous solo debut arrived that fall, and he followed it up seven months later with his second solo set. (Yet to come: the sprawling double-LP Manassas set and its rocky follow-up, Down the Road, not to mention the CSNY 1974 stadium tour.) In between his solo albums came the release of 4 Way Street, a live set drawn from CSNY’s 1970 tour. The two CSNY sets topped the charts, while his solo efforts did almost as well—the first peaked at No. 3, while the second LP made it all the way to No. 8.

Anyway, the first thing one notices upon pressing play on the archival Live at Berkeley 1971 is that the 14-track set features pristine sound. There’s no hiss or moss, in other words. It’s well-mixed, with the clarity transporting the listener—or this listener, at any rate—to the Berkeley Community Theater in Berkeley, CA, in August 1971, where Stills and band closed out their two-month tour in support of Stephen Stills 2 with concerts on the 20th and 21st. The sets for both shows, a la those from the rest of the tour, veered from acoustic to electric to brassy, and featured past favorites from Buffalo Springfield, CSN/Y and his first solo LP in addition to a healthy assortment of new songs.

Live at Berkeley isn’t a complete performance from either night, however, or—a la Bruce Springsteen’s No Nukes collection from a few years back—a best-of-breed approximation of the same. Rather, it’s an abridged presentation that strips away songs such as “Rock and Roll Woman,” “Questions,” “Go Back Home” and “Fishes & Scorpions” in order to fit the remainder onto two LPs. Yet, to quote from a song he released a half-dozen years later, “It’s no matter. No distance. It’s the ride.” Aside from a few bumps in the road, aka the brassy “Cherokee” and “Bluebird Revisited,” it’s excellent. (To quote the Oakland Tribune’s Doris G. Worsham from her review, which appeared in the newspaper’s August 25th edition, “The last thing on earth the Stills concert needed was a set of horns.”)

One highlight: the piano-only rendition of “Sugar Babe,” a Stills 2 track that resonates even more in the stripped-down presentation. Another highlight: the future Manassas track of the still-timely “Jesus Gave Love Away for Free.” The rendition of “Black Queen” is killer, too.

The backing band includes Dallas Taylor on drums, Calvin “Fuzzy” Samuels on bass, Paul Harris on keyboards, Steve Fromholz on guitar, and Joe Lala on percussion. Also on hand: the Memphis Horns. The band is tight, no doubt due to their months on the road together. Joining in on the fun, also, was old friend David Crosby, who lends vocal support to “You Don’t Have to Cry” and takes the lead on his own “Lee Shore.” They are sterling renditions, each. (Dave Mason also guested on the second night, though that performance isn’t here.)

Most Stills fans will—or should—recognize most of the band members, as they were frequent Stills collaborators in those days; Taylor, Samuels, Harris and Lala joined Stills in Manassas. Fromholz, on the other hand, may not be known. At that stage of his life, which ended due to a 2014 hunting accident, the native Texan was a few years out of the Navy and still getting his feet wet as a professional musician. In the years to come, he’d become a staple of the Austin music scene, have a song recorded by Willie Nelson, stretch his talents into other fields and be named the Texas poet laureate for 2007. He even organized a mass-mooning of the KKK in 1993. (Yes, you read that right.) Everyone equips themselves well.

Folks who only know Stills from “For What It’s Worth” and his work with Crosby, Nash and sometimes Young will find much here to like, I think. He’s at the top of his game. Those of us who have long been fans—some longer than others, of course—will enjoy it even more.

The track list:

Also, for those interested, here is Worsham’s review in full (clicking of it makes it larger):

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