We attended the Buffalo Springfield concert yesterday evening at the Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles. I vividly remember seeing them some 43 years ago and always have been a big fan, so I was excited about going to the show. It was sold out and I was far from the oldest person there. It was amusing to look at people in the audience and speculate about their varied and multifaceted experiences since the late 1960s. A trip back in time, indeed.
The show was “good enough.” Their stage set was hokey with a big Buffalo Springfield logo hoisted over the backdrop, together with large cut-outs of the eponymous tractors that gave the band its name. It also was cluttered with pointless artifacts, e.g. a cigar store wooden Indian. It definitely was not like Lady GaGa’s recent HBO special.
The rhythm section was pedestrian with some session musician dutifully whacking his drums and a bass player thumping out root and fundamental notes. Neither were particularly dextrous and they were mixed way too loud. Bass in particular can sound loose and flabby if it is not compressed between the guitar and the amp. It overwhelmed the rest of the band and the low end of the mix pretty much was undifferentiated noise. It literally was unendurable on some of the louder numbers, which dissolved into a sea of sonic sludge. I’m surprised the band could put up with it on stage.
The big drawing card of course was the interplay between Steven Stills, Richie Furay and Neil Young. Messrs. Furay and Young were fully engaged. Stills on the other hand was strangely distant and detached from the other two. At many points during the show he did not appear to be playing his instrument. He stood apart from the other band members. Once he tripped over a front stage monitor. His vocals on his songs, e.g. “For What It’s Worth,” were ragged, and once he forgot the words.
While it is a specialized point, I also must note my disapproval of his choice of guitars. He played, variously, a Stratocaster; a Flying V; and a White Falcon. The first two were inappropriate. The thin, single-coil output of the Strat particularly was obnoxious and did not blend well with the other instruments. It even looks funny in the context of the other players. Guitarists in bands like the Buffalo Springfield should play electric archtop guitars made by Gibson, Gretsch, Guild; or, for acoustic numbers, Martin. They’re the only ones that work with the material; please save the Strat for Hendrix.
Even when playing a White Falcon, the guitar with which he most is associated, Stills looked uncomfortable. He continuously was fiddling with the controls in a manner that suggested he did not know which pickup to use. The ones he ended up selecting were too dark, relegating the legendary White Falcon, with its wonderful Filtertrons, to the low- frequency muddle of the house mix. The notes he ended up playing were slow and uninspired, showing no particular dexterity.
Young, on the other hand, was the band’s driver. His playing was first-rate. Amazing to report, his singing was well intonated. Furay’s performance too was excellent (although on some of the louder numbers there was no point in him continuing to strum his acoustic guitar). He sings lead on several of the band’s best-known songs and his voice was wistful, achingly beautiful. There were several transcendent moments when all three singers harmonized perfectly, the mix was in balance, the instruments well-blended. These were the highlights of the performance.
It’s hard to discern exactly why the band reunited for this tour. Stills and Young are rich as Croesus and do not need the money. Furay’s circumstances most likely are less optimal, and on margin he probably will be the most-benefitted member of the group. Although bands like Buffalo Springfield have a catalog of well-recognized songs, their royalties from selling records (downloads) probably are miniscule and bogged down with commissions payable to former managers, recoupment issues and other financial commitments. Publishing should be more lucrative, but even then it depends on the extent of radio (internet) airplay, record (download) sales (which, as noted, are miniscule) and use in television or movies. In this latter category, I cannot recall any recent featured uses of Buffalo Springfield songs.
It’s also probable that Young simply felt like reuniting the band and playing again; he was the instigator of the band’s recent comprehensive box set, and this is a fitting coda to that initiative.
In conclusion, we have been privileged to see recent reunions of the Doors (most of them, except for Krieger); Love (when Arthur Lee still was alive); and now, Buffalo Springfield. The only band left of consequence would be the Byrds. McGuinn, Hillman and Crosby still are alive, and it would be wonderful if they could find a way to bury the hatchet for a few shows. Given their still-gurgling-right-below-the-surface animosity, though, this seems unlikely!