Review: Stephen Stills’ First Solo Tour Gets an Overdue Release

Stephen Stills
Live at Berkeley 1971
4 out of 5 stars

Videos by American Songwriter

Most acts don’t start shows with their most famous songs. So it’s surprising that Stephen Stills kicked off this date on his first solo tour with “Love the One You’re With,” the opening track and hit from his 1970 self-titled debut.

The 1971 trek, in support of the disappointing second album, was a major undertaking. He brought a full five-piece brass section and named the outing The Memphis Horns Tour. But the first half featured Stills, mostly alone and acoustic. The full ensemble, with another six pieces, closes the evening. Due to his enormous popularity in Crosby, Stills, Nash, and then Young, he filled larger venues like Red Rocks and Madison Square Garden. Yet for a few nights in late August, Stills took the stage in the intimate 3500-seat Berkeley Community Theater. The tapes were rolling and this condensed compilation of highlights is the much-delayed result.

It’s far from the first example of Stills in concert without his cohorts. A few previous live discs have already been released, but none from this jaunt featuring the expanded horn section and, for two terrific songs (“You Don’t Have to Cry” and “The Lee Shore”), guest David Crosby joining Stills on unplugged guitar and vocals.

It’s an inspired performance. Stills is in fine form, vocally, on guitar, banjo (a searing “Know You’ve Got to Run,” a precursor to Déjà Vu’s “Everybody I Love You”) and even pounding the piano for a ragged but committed mash-up of “49 Bye Byes” and the Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth.” The show’s first half dominates this recap with 10 titles, leaving just four longer ones with the full horn-powered outfit. Only three selections are from Stephen Stills 2.

[RELATED: ‘Stephen Stills Live at Berkeley 1971’ Captures the Legendary Singer-Songwriter’s Solo Success]

We get a sense of Stills’ diverse talents as down-home Delta bluesman (“Black Queen”), pop star (the opening tune), sensitive folkie (“Do for the Others”), political firebrand (a breathless, Dylan-inspired “Word Game”), country-influenced religious writer (“Jesus Gave Love Away for Free” wouldn’t appear on a studio album until Manassas in 1972), and R&B band leader (a searing, nearly 10-minute version of “Cherokee,” featuring horn work from most of the brass players and a roaring Stills guitar solo). There is also a reworked/rearranged “Bluebird,” titled “Bluebird Revisited,” that lacks the original’s intensity but still exhibits Stills’ willingness to interpret older material with fresh enthusiasm. 

There are extraneous moments too, particularly concerning Stills’ nearly four-minute introduction of the band, which should have been jettisoned. And with just an hour of music, the spare time could have been filled with additional tunes. A second disc would be welcome since the shows typically went much longer than 60 minutes.

Regardless, what is here, including “Lean On Me,” (not the Bill Withers classic) unavailable elsewhere, is historically relevant and an often mesmerizing illustration of one of rock music’s most gifted musicians, arguably at the top of his game.

Photo by Robert Knight Archive/Redferns

Leave a Reply


Miranda Lambert, The Lumineers & More Share Their Favorite Memories with Willie Nelson: “He’s So Kind”