Review: Derek See Reports on the Buffalo Springfield Reunion

June 2011

I first heard Buffalo Springfield’s “Mr. Soul” on KROQ when I was very young and I think it forever changed the way I appreciate music.  I was born in 1975 and while I have always liked music that was contemporary, it’s the music of the 1960s that resonates the deepest within me. To me, musicians like Buffalo Springfield, The Beatles, Love, The Zombies, The Who, Velvet Underground and Otis Redding were heroes who put it all on the line musically and emotionally. Looking back, too much of the more modern music that was the soundtrack of my teen years and young adulthood now just sounds phony, uninspired and half-baked.

So you can imagine how excited I was to go to the Buffalo Springfield reunion show at the Fox Theater in Oakland on June 2, 2011. Unlike the all-acoustic Buffalo Springfield show at the Bridge School Benefit in October 2010, the June 2011 show was a reminder that the band always had an amazing mix of acoustic and electric guitar genius within its ranks. Do I really need to say more than Neil Young, Stephen Stills and Richie Furay?

At that show I felt that the audience and I were witnesses to something so special and yet so fleeting. We were hearing music created by the three surviving original members of the band (original drummer Dewey Martin passed away in 2009 and original bass player Bruce Palmer died in 2004), men who have known each other for over 45 years. This was music played by guys who, together and apart, created some of the finest music of the 20th century. They brought all that experience and history onstage and mixed it with an enthusiasm and joy that was moving. There may have been a few rough notes here and there, but this is human music, and if those bad notes weren’t there, I suspect I wouldn’t have loved the concert so much.

The show began with “On The Way Home” (a number Neil opens many of his solo shows with) and while the group took the duration of the song to find their footing, they worked out the kinks by the next number, “Rock & Roll Woman.” Stills’ voice sounded better than in recent years on this number, and he punched out his guitar solo with great fire, although with a very saturated, modern sounding tone which was odd considering he was playing a late 1950s Strat on this song.

From start to finish the show was a guitar geek’s dream. Neil strutted around the stage in his trademark Springfield-era fringe jacket, playing his period correct Gretsch 6120, his beat-almost-to-death Gibson Les Paul Custom and a small-bodied mahogany Guild acoustic.  Stills and Furay switched between an impressive array of guitars. Stills played a Martin D-45 (sans pickguard), a Gibson Flying V, various Strats, and his trademark late 50s Gretsch White Falcon. Furay alternated mostly between a Petros acoustic, a Guild 12-string and a Gibson ES-335.

The musical highlights included “Do I Have To Come Right Out and Say It,” which found Furay’s voice to be almost as fresh and youthful sounding as it did in 1966; “I Am a Child” (man, Neil’s harmonica really echoed hauntingly through the theater on that one); and “Kind Woman,” which Furay dedicated to the song’s subject, his wife of 40 years.

The only disappointing number of the night was “Bluebird.” The song was stripped of Dewey Martin’s driving, garage-y drumming and to my ears this version was far too laid back to be effective. The set-list could have benefitted by having “Flying On The Ground” and “Expecting To Fly” added, but the appearance of a beautifully artsy “Broken Arrow,” the rousing conclusion of “For What It’s Worth” and an unexpected (some may say cheesy, but I found it exhilarating) “Rockin’ In The Free World” drove home the brilliance of the three remaining core members of Springfield.

The centerpiece of the set was “Mr. Soul.” Young and Stills alternated blazing guitar solos with Neil walking over to Stephen’s side of the stage at one point and resurrecting the alpha male power struggle that have always powered those two to great heights of musical tension. (Check out the audience video below.) I’ve been to too many shows in the past featuring my musical heroes where they just phoned it in. The Buffalo Springfield show was anything but a freeze-dried oldies show. Young Stills and Furay delivered a set of songs with a passion, power and joy that sounded as fresh and vital as when they were first recorded more than four decades ago.

Derek See is a regular contributor to the Fretboard Journal. He is also a member of the San Jose-based band Careless Hearts and the proprietor of the most excellent blog Derek’s Daily 45.