There was something for every kind of Stephen Stills fan at his performance Tuesday night in The Egg’s Hart Theatre.
From electric, to acoustic, to Crosby, Stills and Nash (and Young), to Buffalo Springfield, to irreverent covers of Tom Petty and Bob Dylan, Stills touched upon it all before a packed house.
He and his quartet — drummer Joe Vitale, bassist Kenny Passarelli and keyboardist Todd Caldwell — hit hard for two hour-long sets, all the while keeping things loose and fun.
Stills started his first set out on a strong — and rocking — note, though it took a few songs for his vocals to warm up. He played four songs with his band to kick things off, including “Helplessly Hoping” and “Johnny’s Garden.” By the time he strapped on his acoustic for “Ruby Tuesday,” he seemed fully warmed up, just in time for the band to take a breather.
He played the rest of the first set solo, but still got plenty of bite to his sound on a ripping version of “Treetop Flyer.” The set then gave way to a few covers. His “Girl from the North Country” added a new dimension to the old Bob Dylan favorite.
Throughout, Stills was relaxed and very casual, cracking jokes about the Tea Party movement (not without a bit of bile in his voice) and about himself. When audience members began shouting requests between songs, he quipped back: “I told you — I’m deaf!”
He closed set one with his epic “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” interweaving bits of The Beatles’ “Within You Without You.” Any vocal hiccups from earlier were quickly forgotten as he admirably tackled the falsettos and vocal volleys throughout the mid-section, to rabid applause from this crowd. When the band rejoined him for the final salvo, he hit the first truly massive high point of the evening, with many in the crowd giving the quartet a standing ovation.
Stills wasted no time rocking out in the second set, charging out of the gate after a short intermission with a ripping version of “Woodstock.” (“That was a little fast,” he quipped after, “but we were excited.”)
That excitement permeated the rest of the evening, throughout strong versions of “Southern Cross” and Buffalo Springfield’s “Rock and Roll Woman.” The laid back vibe also continued, with Stills sitting behind a piano and giving his best barroom growl on “Old Man Trouble.”
For the rest of the set, the band members kept their heads down and plowed through snarling rocker after rocker, including Petty’s “Wrong Thing to Do” and a drawn out jam on “Make Love to You,” which gave Passarelli a chance to shine on organ. “Carry On” was another highlight — “I haven’t played that song in 10 years,” Stills said, sounding a bit shocked.
Singer-songwriter, CSNY protégé and former U.S. Marine Josh Hisle opened with a short set of bluesy folk, quickly winning the already packed theater over with his dexterous playing and heartfelt vocals. His best was “Stay Home,” a ballad extolling the virtues of enjoying freedom over fighting for it. He mostly stuck to politically and socially conscious material — his one love song, “I’m Still in Love With You,” was a bit maudlin in comparison, but still enjoyable.
“Call My Name,” which he dedicated to Stills, featured his best guitar playing, and the audience hooted its approval — plenty riled up for the evening’s main event.
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