Words by: L. Paul Mann | Images by Scott Dudelson & L. Paul Mann
Buffalo Springfield :: 06.08.11 :: Santa Barbara Bowl:: Santa Barbara, CA
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A sold out crowd of faithful fans arrived early at the Santa Barbara Bowl for the Buffalo Springfield reunion concert. By the time opening act Gillian Welch appeared on stage, most had already huddled in their seats in the unseasonably cold twilight.
|Buffalo Springfield by Scott Dudelson|
Buffalo Springfield appeared on stage, right on schedule at 8.15 pm, leaving the refreshment and merchandise area looking like a ghost town. A quick conversation with the crowd, poised politely in their seats, revealed avid fans that had traveled from different cities, counties and neighboring states to attend the rare reunion show. In fact, the current Buffalo Springfield mini-tour offered up a strange dichotomy of venues, from theatres in Oakland and Los Angeles to two nights at the 4500-seat Santa Barbara Bowl and finally, a triumphant headline appearance at the Holy Grail of summer music festivals, Bonnaroo.
This was the first tour by the surviving original members of the seminal, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees in over 40 years. But the chemistry appeared so relaxed onstage between Stephen Stills, Neil Young and Richie Furay, it seemed like they had been playing together since their inception. Veteran session men Rick Rosas and Joe Vitale filled in for the late bass player Bruce Palmer and drummer Dewey Martin, respectively. The group, having only been together for two short years and producing three commercial & critical smash albums, is highly regarded as one of the most influential rock groups of the 60s by rock historians.
The band joked and frolicked about the stage, often bantering about their early roots in Los Angeles, like typical Southern California teenagers. They told anecdotes about how some of the favorite songs were composed, including how Neil Young had written on a newspaper with a Sharpie about a girl who jilted him in a burger joint before launching into “Mr. Soul.” They joked about their pet names for each other - Stills was Blue Squirrel, Furay was Kind Squirrel and Neil Young was Brown Squirrel. There was sadly no mention of local resident Jim Messina, who took up bass for the band towards the end of their short, stormy time together after Palmer left the group.
|Buffalo Springfield by L. Paul Mann|
Young took the lead in most of the conversation and music, butFuray, who went on to form Poco after the Springfield break up, had the strongest, most eloquent singing voice. Stills’ vocal skills have been challenged in recent times, leaving him with a throaty, raspy voice. But what he lacked in the vocal department he more than made up for in his ever-impressive, ever-innovative guitar work. The band played most of their hit songs in the hour and 45-minute set, but shined brightest when the three would devolve into a 60s inspired electric guitar jam session, as on Stills’ iconic classic “Bluebird.” The trio jammed an extended version of the song that reminded the audience why they were such a legendary live act back in 60s.
The band ended with Stills’ bonafide classic “For What It's Worth”, which launched the band’s early career, followed by a 20-minute improvisation on Neil Young’s “Keep On Rockin’ In The Free World.” The last jam straddled the dreaded 10 pm Santa Barbara Bowl curfew by several minutes.
It should be interesting to see if the group, inspired by a large Bonnaroo crowd, and extend set times, whether they will play an even longer jam. If the reception fans in this mini tour gave the band any indicator of the future, it seems there surely will be more dates added to this once in a lifetime reunion.
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