Review: ‘Buffalo Springfield’

"Hi, we're Buffalo Springfield … we're from the past," Neil Young declared, three songs into his reunited band's Sunday evening set.

“Hi, we’re Buffalo Springfield … we’re from the past,” Neil Young declared, three songs into his reunited band’s Sunday evening set. The statement was delivered with a playful sense of irony, but also with a nostalgic enthusiasm that would characterize much of the group’s energetic performance. In fact, the famous bandleaders — Stephen Stills, Richie Furay, Young — seemed to simply revel in revisiting the music and collaborators of their earliest years. The aging singer/guitarists traded solos and traversed the stage with reckless abandon and the crowd responded ecstatically, meeting its hometown heroes with an equally raucous reception.

Though its legacy has been largely overshadowed by the subsequent work of its founders (CSNY, Neil Young, Poco, Manassas) Buffalo Springfield marked an important sea change in the evolution of popular rock and roll. Though initially drawing from many of the same inspirations as the Byrds — Brit pop and Americana — Buffalo Springfield would quickly grow into a more idiosyncratic sound that helped usher in a wave of psychedelic music framed in folk-rock structures. Famously dysfunctional, the band only lasted for two years in the mid-’60s, recording three albums — most notably 1967’s “Buffalo Springfield Again,” a dense and varied recording, brimming with imaginative arrangements and pristinely-constructed songs.

Sunday’s set list drew from each of the three records, evenly splitting vocal duties between Furay, Young and Stills. Out of the three singers, Young’s trembling tenor held up the best, retaining all the clarity and earnestness of his halcyon days. As was the band’s custom in the ’60s, Furay took the lead on a number of Young-penned tunes, infusing the strange narratives with a clarity and efficiency that showcased Young’s ability to write pop hooks clearly capable of competing on a mainstream level. Standouts included the exuberant blue-eyed pop of “On the Way Home,” the jarring time-signature shuffle of “Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing” and Young’s pastoral masterpiece “Broken Arrow.” On the latter composition, drummer Joe Vitale punched holes into the song’s acoustic skeleton, adding startling dynamics to the otherwise minimal arrangement.

Part of Buffalo Springfield’s legend as a live act lays in the famously combustible guitar interplay between Stills and Young, and the two dynamic soloists did not disappoint. Both employed a rugged blend of distortion and sharply sustained notes to create an abrasive and utterly entrancing musical effect. The raw power of the two players was undeniable; Stills with his more technically-sound, blues-inflected runs, and Young with his childlike bursts of noise and jagged, repeated riffs.

The dueling guitars really opened up during the band’s encore, which included the top-10 hit “For What It’s Worth” and Young’s own “Rockin’ in the Free World,” which capped the set with an appropriate blend of hubris and unabashed enthusiasm. For a group of industry vets, they seem to have recaptured and reconnected with a youthful magnetism rarely seen on “reunion tours” of this magnitude.

Opening country duo Gillian Welch and David Rawlings brought impeccable harmonies and intricate Appalachian-styled guitar to a collection of intimate folk songs.

Buffalo Springfield

Wiltern Theater; 2,200 capacity; $250 top


Presented by Live Nation. Performers: Richie Furay, Steven Stills, Neil Young, Rick Rosas, Joe Vitale. Also Appearing: David Rawlings and Gillian Welch. Reviewed June 5, 2011.
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