Stephen Stills has released a live album he recorded over 50 years ago. The taping was done in August of 1971, shortly after Stills released his second solo album. The high-quality recordings were selected from two shows at the 3,500 seat Berkeley Community Theater in Northern California.
The first ten songs are all acoustic and all good, with Stills on guitar, piano, and even one song on banjo, “Know You Got To Run”. The concert starts with his most famous solo hit “Love The One You’re With”. Stephen’s voice is young and strong, and it sounds great, but the background voices from the original recording are missed. The next song, “Do For The Others” is near perfection, with Steve Fromholz providing excellent vocal harmony. A song that wouldn’t be released until the Manassas album the following year, “Jesus Gave Love Away For Free”, continues the harmony work, but this time Stephen sometimes slips into the upper harmony part instead of singing the lead. Even though the song is over 50 years old now, it has the sound of a country standard that could have been 20-years-old back then…in a good way.
The main guest star at the concert was David Crosby. Unlike the above photo, Stephen and David were on acoustic guitars. They performed Stills’ “You Don’t Have To Cry” with their usual great harmonies. Then Stephen returns the favor on Crosby’s “The Lee Shore”, with excellent guitar playing and subtle harmony vocals.
One bit of unique harmony came during “Black Queen”. Stills is playing a guitar lead, and then he vocalizes a harmony that goes with the melody of the guitar. It sounds cool, and the audience spontaneously applauds his efforts when that instrumental ends.
After the ten acoustic songs, there are four electric songs with most of the band members Stills had been using since CSN&Y started recording in 1969. Plus, there’s a five-piece brass section, The Memphis Horns. The electric set doesn’t quite rise to the level of the acoustic portion of the concert, except for the over 9-minute “Cherokee”. The bass, drums, and percussion keep a driving rhythm, while the horn section provides some superb jazz instrumental breaks, and Stills wraps it up with some searing electric guitar.
Overall, Stephen Stills Live At Berkeley 1971 is a welcome addition to any Stephen Stills collection. It was thoughtful of Stephen to release the album on my birthday (April 28th), because my wife got it for me as a present.