If there’s one album in Stephen Still’s catalogue that deserves reappraisal, and perhaps even a deluxe reissue, it’s Stephen Stills Live, a document that captures the guitarist at his post CSN peak. Taken from performances recorded on March 8-9 1974, this album finds Stills and his band in fine form, with a setlist that will please any fan of the singer/songwriter.
Appropriately the LP is divided into two sides, electric and acoustic. Backed by Donnie Dacus (guitar), Jerry Aiello (organ), Russ Kunkel (drums) and ex-Manassas members Kenny Passarelli (bass) and Joe Lala (percussion), Stills playing is both ardent and not without a degree of passion.
The album opens with an impressive “Wooden Ships,” on which Stills and Dacus trade licks while the rhythm section turn up the heat. Stephen’s vocals are superb, as is Dacus, whose guitar compliments Stills’ playing perfectly. And yet despite the absence of Crosby and Nash, it remains an inspired version. “Four Days High” and “Jet Set (Sigh)/Rocky Mountain Way” are also forceful reminders of Stills’ outstanding talent, someone who could handle other people’s material just as well as his own. Another highlight is “Special Care,” another guitar/organ dominated tune in the style of previous band Manassas.
The acoustic side is just as engaging, where Stills tears his way through a convincing “Change Partners” from his second solo album, a rousing medley of “Crossroads/You Can’t Catch Me,” and a tender cover of Fred Neil’s “Everybody’s Talkin’”. The thoughtful “4 + 20,” originally released on 1970’s Déjà Vu, is given an emotive airing, before the LP concludes with another number off his second solo record, the obscure “Word Game,” a white-blues workout Stills was often famous for at the time.
Stephen Stills Live is a vital document in Stills’ oeuvre, since there is so little official evidence of the guitarist’s stage performances outside his work with CSNY. Let us hope that in the near future a more comprehensive representation of Stephen’s live shows from the ‘70s, especially his period with Manassas, a sorely overlooked period if there was ever one, will be given the full attention it deserves. Why Stills seems reluctant or perhaps unwilling to revisit the tapes is bizarre to say the least, considering the quality of the shows themselves. One thinks that an archives series is long overdue.