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Concert Review: USA Today, June 2, 2011

By Marco R. della Cava, USA Today, June 2, 2011

OAKLAND, Calif. — His imposing frame cloaked in a fringed leather jacket and wispy hair secured under a Panama hat, Neil Young smirked at the microphone as he summarized the vibe. “We’re Buffalo Springfield,” he announced to the packed Fox Theater crowd, “and we’re from the past.”

But Young wasn’t entirely correct. Wednesday’s concert, which kicked off the band’s first tour since it disbanded in 1968, proved to be far more than a mere greatest hits revival as it showcased the musical journeys of its three surviving members through a tight, 18-song set that ranged from mellow to monstrous. Meanwhile, the smell of marijuana wafted through the ornate 1920s theater with golden walls and large statues that look like cat Buddhas.

The tour continues to Los Angeles and Santa Barbara before hitting the Bonnaroo Music Festival June 11.

Opening with a compelling “On The Way Home,” one of the songs that defines this short-lived ’60s hit machine with its lilting harmonies and punchy pop sound, Young, Stephen Stills and Richie Furay (ably backed by drummer Joe Vitale and bass player Rick Rosas, who replaced the late Dewey Martin and Bruce Palmer) showed that a successful regrouping at last fall’s Bridge School benefit concert was no fluke.

Stills’ high lonesome voice anchored “Rock and Roll Woman,” while Young’s distinctive cry lit up “Burned.” But Furay, who stood center stage, reminded everyone he was the linchpin, his plaintive tone painting songs such as “Kind Woman,” “Do I Have to Come Right Out and Say It” and “Sad Memory” with a soulful brush that had women in the largely Baby Boomer crowd doe-eyed.

“We grew up with their music, so to hear it live is just amazing,” said Sheri Barschi, 53, of New York, who convinced her childhood friend Jodi Coren, 54, to leave Miami and rendezvous with her in the Bay Area for this show. “Look at her, she’s dancing like she’s 12.”

Coren stopped long enough to point out she was wearing the same embroidered jeans she sported against her parents’ wishes as a teen. “I wouldn’t have missed this for anything,” she said.

On stage, the motif was far simpler. Beneath a sign bearing the band’s name, Young and company had assembled a few vintage Fender amplifiers and a scruffy upright piano that shone beneath a Tiffany-style lamp. The only nod to extravagance was the trio’s many guitar changes, which included Fender Stratocasters and Flying Vs (Stills), a black Gibson Les Paul (Young’s weapon of choice) and a vast assortment of electrified acoustic guitars (for all three).

One of the most interesting byproducts of seeing Buffalo Springfield in concert is being able to instantly hear why they could not last. Any Furay tune announces his soft-rock future in Poco. Hear Young sing “I Am A Child” and you sense the inevitability of his solo career. And when Stills blasts out “Bluebird,” you know that his melding with David Crosby and Graham Nash (and later Young) was pre-ordained. But mostly, one is amazed at the sheer quality of music from a bunch of guys in their 20s who, for the most part, were in their first band.

Indeed, much of Buffalo Springfield’s success four decades back can be attributed to catchy harmonizing atop astutely constructed chord progressions. But that pop music formula was occasionally chased from the room Wednesday, never more so than when Young thundered through “Mr. Soul,” stomping across the stage like a T. rex who missed dinner. Dueling with Stills while Furay looked on amazed, these men seemed more like boys, grinning wildly as they pushed each other to the sonic edge.

Fun ruled the night, from the frequent smiles to the impromptu quips. Taking his time introducing “Do I Have To,” Young seemed like he was stalling. He smiled, then joked, “Hey, we only know about 10 songs, so we have to really stretch things out.”

The 90-minute show wrapped with a three-song encore featuring Young’s mixed-tempo “Broken Arrow,” Stills’ iconic “For What It’s Worth” and closing with Young’s anthemic post-Springfield tune, “Rockin’ In The Free World.”

Afterward, backstage, a joyful Furay said the show was nothing short of a time machine.
“I felt I was back at (Los Angeles’) Whiskey-a-Go-Go forty-odd years ago, singing to my wife,” he said. “What amazes me is that the songs still hold up so many years later.”
Furay said the trio rehearsed “for a solid week.” For Stills, that was enough. “At a certain point we all felt like, let’s just get out there and do it,” he said.

There were no Whiskey flashbacks for Stills, though. “Nah, back then we were young and small and we just hoped people wouldn’t leave the show,” he said with a laugh.

Nearby, Young, nursing a cold beer, grinned. “Sometimes,” he said, “it’s good to be from the past.”

Random Quote

“The same thing
that makes you living
can kill you in the end.”
by -- Neil Young

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