A lot has happened since 1968. Most significantly for me, I was born. But also, Neil Armstrong become the first person to walk on the moon, The Beatles broke up, President Richard Nixon resigned, the Iran hostage crisis occurred, two space shuttles exploded, the 9/11 terrorist attacks occurred, the United States got involved in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast. Whew!
But one thing that didn’t happen was a tour by the band Buffalo Springfield. Until now.
Buffalo Springfield’s tour grew out of their first performances in more than 40 years at Neil Young’s Bridge School benefit concert last October. While perhaps of greater historical significance, those shows adhered to the Bridge School acoustic-instruments-only rule.
At the Santa Barbara Bowl, where their tour stopped Tuesday and Wednesday (the latter of which was attended by this reviewer), we got to hear classic Buffalo Springfield songs such as the “Mr. Soul,” “Bluebird” and their only big hit, “For What It’s Worth,” in their full electrified glory. And what glory it was!
The Buffalo Springfield of 2011 consists of core members/songwriters Young, Stephen Stills and Richie Furay, plus drummer Joe Vitale replacing the late Dewey Martin and bassist Rick Rosas replacing the late Bruce Palmer.
The concert drew on material from their three studio albums released from 1966 to 1968 — plus one true obscurity, the Furay-penned song “My Kind of Love,” which was unreleased until the Buffalo Springfield box set came out in 2001.
The relatively small Buffalo Springfield songbook exhibits an amazing diversity of styles, and this was amply represented at the concert. On the mellower side are songs such as the should-have-been-an-AM-radio-hit “Do I Have to Come Right Out and Say It” and the yearning “Kind Woman,” which Furay dedicated to his “bride of 44 years.” A more country-pop sound came through on Furay’s “A Child’s Claim to Fame” and a folk-rock sound on Young’s “I Am a Child.” And things lean heavily toward rock on the crunchy “Mr. Soul” and timeless “For What It’s Worth.”
Stills’ voice seems to have weathered a bit more than the others, but his guitar work is certainly as good as ever. It was cool to hear the contrasting guitar styles between his warm tones and Young’s biting edge, sometimes, as in the jam at the end of “Bluebird,” at the same time.
It was also cool to see Furay have so much of the spotlight, whether singing his own songs or those written by Young. Furay somehow didn’t attain the profile that Stills and Young did, but he certainly was and is a key ingredient of the Buffalo Springfield sound and legacy.
Young, who seemed to be particularly enjoying himself, introduced the last song as being in the “what they would have sounded like if they stayed together” category. The band then launched into a scorching version of Young’s solo song “Rockin’ in the Free World,” which they stretched out to the audience’s delight.
Hearing this, one does wonder what Buffalo Springfield would have done if they had stayed together. We have hints from the future careers of the core members. Stills became part of the ultra-popular Crosby, Stills & Nash, plus he formed Manassas and had a notable solo career. Young has had a hugely successful solo career, and sometimes joined up with Crosby, Stills & Nash. And Furay was a founding member of the noted country-rock band Poco.
However, a wise man (actually, a latter-day Neil Young) once said, “It’s better to burn out than to fade away.” Maybe this applies to Buffalo Springfield. Let’s just be thankful that they haven’t burned out or faded away completely — their star now shining bright many years after it first was born.
On the Way Home
Rock & 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
Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing
My Kind of Love
For What It’s Worth
Rockin’ in the Free World
— Noozhawk contributor Jeff Moehlis is an associate professor of mechanical engineering at UCSB. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his Web site, music-illuminati.com.