Put the Boot In: Stephen Stills – ‘It’s the Ride’ 1978 Bread and Roses Festival

by | Jan 10, 2015 | 1 comment

Pulled from the Rock Room vault is a 1978 radio
broadcast of a Stephen Stills solo performance at the Bread and Roses Festival
on September 4, 1978. The concert took place at the Greek Theatre over
September 2-4, 1978 and Stephen Stills was a last second addition to the bill
along with already performing friends Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne and others.
The recording is a slightly sterile broadcast soundboard
probably hailing from cassette but clear in its capture and representation of a
Stills solo acoustic performance. There is a light hiss at high volume but
nothing that detracts from the enjoyment of the show. The first two tracks
feature a rogue tambourine that is either from a drum machine or some enterprising
folks assisting Stills with a rhythm. The performance is one of Stills finest;
it finds Stephen in a laid back groove, in good humor and playing a unique set
list for the assembled crowd. The positivity of the performance emanates from
the tape, partly due to the accepting and eager audience.
Stills greets the crowd and comments, ‘I’ve never seen so
many guys do so many things so many times, over and over’, before beginning a
groovy and somewhat apprehensive ‘Love the One Your With’. The loopy vibe is
similar to another Stills song from the 70’s, ‘Buying Time’ ‘Love the One Your
With’ gains momentum and by the last chorus Stills elongates the lines into a
frozen rope falsetto and pulls the vocal rip cord unfurling his voice to the
delight of the crowd.
A rare rendition of Buddy Holly’s ‘Not Fade Away’ follows
with Stills reconstructing the expected Bo Diddley’ beat into a striding back
country campfire strum fest. Stills vocals are hiccuped accentuated and
completely invested in the performance. Stills takes a few liberties’ with the
lyrics, expanding the scope of the tune and injecting a signature originality
to the song. A careful listen reveals a female voice adding some off stage
vocal additions late in the rendition. 
The crowd responds in kind with great applause, Stills
rewards them by stating that he is going to perform a more recent song, but he cannot remember the
words, so he will use a lyric sheet because he is ‘not proud’. What follows is
a stunning early version of what would become the song cycle the ‘Spanish
Suite’ first appearing in its entirety on 2005’s Man Alive. Here in its formative stages Stills moves through the
various sections of the tune on solo acoustic. The song opens with a short
guitar solo prelude before Stills voice begins to croon in a gentle Spanish to
the surprise of some audience members. 
Stills confidently navigates foreign musical waters, his voice surging
and then retreating in dynamic grace with the warm movement of his taught acoustic
strings. A special performance.

                                                       Photo: Michael Weinstock   

A quick ‘thank you’ to the crowd and Stills slips on his
weather worn traveling shoes, heading to a quiet café for a candlelight
conversation comprised of Stephen’s personal idol Fred Neil’s ‘Everybody’s
Talkin’. Whispered gently like a secret, Stills lullabies’ the verses and takes
a measured levitating solo break. The crowd loves this one.
With only a brief pause Stills keeps the emotional momentum
at a premium. A short crisp finger picked introduction clears the vines and
reveals the aged opening to ‘4+20’. Keeping with the theme of the concert this
is a definitive performance. Stills decorates the circular melody with opulent
detail and sings the song in a moaning broken voice representative of the
troubled narrator.
Introducing the next song as ‘somebody else’s, a rare
performance of the Rick Roberts (Flying Burrito Brothers and Firefall fame)
song ‘Colorado’ follows. A song that Stills could obviously relate to through
his deep connection to the Rocky Mountain state. Stills smoky alpine vocals drift
across the current warm California landscape longing for the pine tree time of
his beloved Colorado Mountains. A Stephen Stills fan will be hard pressed to
find another performance of such refinement and glory.
Stills makes a few humorous comments about his teeth and
‘Rolling Stone’ before inviting ‘Mark’ on stage to add some railroad harp to
a rare performance of the traditional longing of ‘Take Me Back to the Ohio
Valley’.
Yet another rare track follows with a performance of ‘Jesus
Gave Away Love For Free’ hailing from the 1972 Manassas LP. A  fiddle player
named (Green?) joins Stills on stage for an intimate version of the rarely
performed song.

What follows tops even the preceding performance with a
lofty reading of the early environmentalist song ‘Fallen Eagle’ again hailing
from the 1972 Manassas LP. After some
on stage adjustments the song drops from a treetop. This version careens around
summits and ascends through the clouds with a reckless freedom. Just Stills and
the fiddle player shit kicking and taking names. The song salutes a perfectly
constructed set of traditional and earthy originals played with a tender and
respectful hand.

Stills moves to the piano stool for a gut bucket reading of
Otis Redding’s ‘Old Man Trouble’, a song that would later become a standard in
Stills live sets. This version extends past eight minutes and moves into a
spoken verse section where Stephen growls a bit and really digs into it. The
freedom felt by Stills in the set is illustrated though the easy going nature
of these Stills piano improvs.
There are some slight tape issues that appear in this segment
of tape but rectify themselves quickly. The acoustic guitar returns for what
seems to me to be a premier performance of ‘Thoroughfare Gap’. Stills
introduces it as a new song that he had been trying to record for ‘three years’
and that he won’t be reading the lyrics for this particular performance.  Stills moves confidently through the multiple
verses, climbing toward the blue sky over deadfall and earthy decompositions on
the forest floor. Stumbling only once, Stills sings his mistake away and continues
in orotund voice to dictate his recently composed travel tale. Admittedly this
particular performance is a ‘rock room’ favorite as well as perfectly
illustrating Stills sometimes underrated songwriting prowess.

A vehement demonstration of the Stills concert classic
Crossroads/Can’t Catch Me ends the second acoustic segment. Stills flaunts his
superior acoustic guitar abilities through the blues/ rock standard reenactment
with his hollow body. Percussive thumps, picks, stops and pulls emanate from
Stills acoustic as he growls his way through the classic duo. Stills fingered
acoustic guitar bass licks in ‘Can’t Catch Me’ climb the fire escape rung by
rung as he raps through Chuck Berry’s original lines in one particular musical
moment of note. The song segue climaxes in Stills screaming in church revival
satisfaction as the crowd responds back excitedly to his blues hollers. Jammed
this section a couple of times for good measure.

The conclusion of the set comes with Stills returning to the
piano stool for an extended sixteen minute get down with the combination of ’49
Bye Byes/For What It’s Worth. Stills grooves playfully throughout the rendition
of the concert warhorse, singing with range and careful enunciation. His always
interesting piano playing gets an extended examination under the solo
spotlight. At one point responding to hollers from the audience Stills replies,
 ‘Listen harder’ in addition to another
funny comment I’ll leave for the reader to discover. By the time Stills rolls
into ‘For What It’s Worth’, many singers and musicians have joined the stage contributing
joyous vocals, celebratory hand claps and a gospel flair. A collaborative vocal crescendo
is reached, a tapestry of interweaving voices chanting the classic chorus with
Stills coaxing the assembled voices to ascend to higher peaks. A very unique
and inspiring version of a couple of Stills ‘best’ songs and rock standards.
The unique set list, stellar playing and solid soundboard
quality of Stephen Stills at the Greek September 4, 1978 makes the recording
essential for rock fans looking to add a Stills show to their vaults. While
lacking Stills usual screaming electric guitar displays, the performance finds
the acoustic Stills playing with confidence, humor and with a focus on a superior
vocal performance. The honest stage dialog and off the cuff celebratory nature
of the song choices only increase the power of the performance. Essential
listening.

1 Comment

  1. Anonymous

    Great Review!

    Reply

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