Monday, 12 February 2018

Buffalo Springfield: Five Landmark Concerts and Three Key Cover Versions





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FIVE LANDMARK CONCERTS:

I don't know about you, dear reader, but so far this book/website has seemed awfully studio-bound: yes there are the odd live albums dotted round in the discographies but a touring life was usually as important if not more so to our AAA artists. Even we can't go through every gig they ever played however, so what we've decided to do instead is bring you five particularly important gigs with a run-down of what was played, where and when and why we consider these gigs so important, along with one particularly good one that summed up the band's setlist during their live peak (or one of them, anyway). Think of these as a sort of 'highlights' covering from first to (in some cases) last, to whet your appetite and to avoid ignoring a band's live work completely!
So far in our books we've covered a band who were very different lie and in the studio (The Beach Boys), a band whose live days peaked before people began recording them (The Beatles) and a band who started off very much as a studio band (Belle and Sebastian). With Buffalo Springfield, though, they were always predominantly a live band, with early fans still speaking in awe about just how great they were in their heyday. Frustratingly almost nothing of this heyday exists: only three gigs survive in any form, all of them scruffy and only the 'farewell' one from May 1968 featuring Neil in the band. However even down on their luck and trying to bed in new guitarists you can hear the sheer promise in the Springfield's live work in both their June 1967 Monterey and August 1967 Huntingdon sets referred to elsewhere in this book. We have records too of what some other key gigs would have sounded like and what took place at them. So here are five notable Buffalo Springfield gigs that will be first in the queue if they ever invent a time machine...
1) Where: Troubadour Club, West Hollywood When: April 11th 1966 Why: First Gig Setlist: Unknown
Buffalo Springfield were so unknown and un-regarded when they made their first appearance that they played not in the main hall of Hollywood's Troubadour Club but the smaller front room known as the 'folk den' that barely contained more people than were in the band. Traditionally only acoustic bands were allowed to play there in case they interfered with the more 'important' sets going on round the back and were mainly kept for informal jamming between friends, but the Springfield sneaked in some amps and played electric for the night. Not many bands get 'discovered' their first night out, but that's more or less what happened this first night. Byrds bass player Chris Hillman was in town and liked checking out the new talent in the acoustic room - he was particularly into bluegrass and saw many players perform in that style. He happened to be around when the Springfield struck up their set lists (we don't know what it consisted off, but many of the songs from the debut album seems likely - apart from [13] 'For What It's Worth' which won't get written till the Summer). Chris was excited and told his bandmates about this great new band he'd found. Only David Crosby was interested enough to go back to a second gig at the same venue though and declared himself unimpressed - only after a lot of urging and not many other options did Hillman get his band and management's permission to make the Springfield The Byrds' opening act during a week's residency at the band's 'second home' The Whiskey-A-Go-Go Club in Los Angeles. Stills, for one, never forgot the debt and gave Hillman a job in his band Manassas long after he'd split with The Byrds. By most accounts the Springfield were scratchy and raw and undisciplined that day - they had, after all, only been together as a 'band' a number of weeks with Dewey particularly new to the group. But already brilliance could be seen in the band's faltering first steps, enough to convince not just a Byrd but most of the handful of people in the room that a great band was about to be born.
2) Where: Melodyland, Anaheim, California When: September 2nd-3rd 1966 Why: Busy gig! Setlist: Unknown
Nine months on and everyone is talking about the Springfield, one of the biggest must-see acts in town and already hard at work on their debut album. But everything about this band was accelerated including the bad luck, which came in spades across two very eventful gigs remembered for all the wrong reasons and which offer some kind of idea about what pressures the band was under. On the afternoon of September 2nd Bruce is busted for drug possession for the first time and taken away to a local Californian prison awaiting deportation (he'll sneak back into the country shortly after, only to be busted again in a much more serious way in January 1967). The band have to bring in bass player Jim Fielder at short notice, teaching him the basics of the songs - as the recently departed bass player with Frank Zappa's Mother Of Invention he happened to be the most suitable and experienced player in town. The band somehow get through the gig without needing to cancel and turn up for a second one the next day which was said by those there to be a horrid show - Stephen and Neil got fiercely competitive after some disagreement backstage, Dewey got 'mouthy', Jim panicked and poor Richie got trapped in the middle trying to keep the band afloat. To top things off Neil suffered one of his first public epileptic seizures, collapsing on the floor towards the end of the gig. An annoyed Stills, who thought he was doing it for attention, stormed off stage while Neil's mum Rassy who happened to choose that gig to attend  rushed up to the stage and tried to get the security team to let her up (Neil, who had a most complex relationship with his mother, was said to be more mortified at being seen like that in front of her than the sea of fans). Stills calms down when he hears Neil's condition is serious enough to see him hospitalised and some of the band (perhaps all of it?) later go along to visit him during his recuperation. Buffalo Springfield are then forced to take the rest of the month off, allowing time for Bruce to return and Neil to heal, just at the point when they most needed to be in the public eye.
3) Where: Monterey Pop Festival When: June 18th 1967 Why: Biggest Gig? Setlist: [13] For What It's Worth [15] Nowadays Clancy Can't Even Sing [40 > 35] Rock and Roll Woman > Bluebird [36] A Child's Claim To Fame [27] Pretty Girl Why?
Buffalo Springfield only ever played one music festival and Monterey should have been their 'big' chance to shine - even before people realised just how many people were attending (and how many groups would become famous thanks to their performances here like Otis and Janis and Ravi Shankar) it was easily the biggest gig the band had played up to that point. So imagine the band's disappointment and fury when Neil Young quit virtually on the eve of the performance (for the second time - the first being on the eve of 'The Tonight Show' for American Television which would have given the band their second biggest audience!) Neil's defection was so late in the day he even appears in the highest profile in the souvenir programme commemorating all the bands that played. In his place the band hire Doug Hastings, who must have been overawed after being plucked from session musician obscurity to play the gig and David Crosby, who plays with the band partly as a 'favour' to his new pal Stills and partly to upset his own band The Byrds, who are at loggerheads with each other on and off stage (Sadly Crosby stays quiet, so we don't get to hear what his harmonies might have sounded like with the others, whilst his guitar is shrill and loud and a bit of a nuisance according to Richie!) The other Byrds weren't happy and considered Crosby to have played a far better set with the Buffalos and put in more time and energy than with them - not true, but only because Crosby kept quiet (way to go Neil, you pretty much broke up two American institutions on the same day!) By contrast with their more famous pals the Springfield come off rather well if a little bit shaky. They are introduced by Monkee Peter Tork ('Let's give them a great big fat round of applause, my favourite group, The Buffalo Springfield!') which doesn't go down that well with the crowd in the early days of the they-don't-play-their-own-instruments-because-shock-horror-they're-actors Monkee backlash. However 'For What It's Worth' is perfect for the with-it hippie crowd, 'Clancy' fits in well with the poetic folkie vibe of the festival, a preview of 'Pretty Girl Why?' a full year before it's appearance on record goes down well and a stunning unintended jamming medley of two new songs ('Rock and Roll Woman' into 'Bluebird') is nicely psychedelic, even if it takes some quick thinking by Dewey to prevent the first song from fading away by announcing a segue into the second. None of the band's footage made it into the original 1968 'Monterey Pop' film by D A Pennebaker, 'Worth' and 'Clancy' can be seen on the 'Complete Collection' DVD and audio footage of the first four songs exist and was broadcast in Radio One's 20th anniversary documentary of the festival (and can be found on Youtube).
4) Where: Sports Arena, Long Beach When: May 5th 1968 Why: Final Gig Setlist: [35] Rock and Roll Woman [36] A Child's Claim To Fame [15] Nowadays Clancy Can't Even Sing [39] Good Time Boy [25] Mr Soul [60] Una Mundo [13] For What It's Worth [40] Bluebird
By May 1968 it was clear that the writing had been on the wall for sometime. Neil was desperate to start a solo career (he returned - for the fifth time - to fulfil the last run of shows), Stephen had already met Crosby and Nash and was hatching plans for world domination and Richie and Jim Messina were already talking about creating Poco. Fans weren't surprised when the end came but they were still sorry: the band had done so much in such a short space of time and everyone there on stage and off recalls this gig being a little surreal. Was it really the end? Did they really men it? Yes as it turns out and it will take over twenty years for more than two of the band get together again (and forty to appear in public together). Sensing this was to be a historic occasion, somebody taped this show from the audience at the band's request (possibly roadie Dickie Davis, the guy 'pretending' to be Bruce on several publicity shots) and extracts from it turned up at the end of disc one of the Neil Young Archives' box set. It reveals a scruffy band, clearly high on...something and playing more for fun than passion. The show is a good summary of the band's career though, interrupted by several mis-haps and poor sound (include a false start on 'Rock and Roll Woman' after two minutes when the audience floods the stage to cries from the emcee that 'you'll have to get back - the Buffalo Springfield will not perform unless you get back to your seats!') The band are oddly quiet all night too, barely talking to the audience between songs (a shock after the very chatty bootlegs of the 1967 gigs). For all that, though, the band sound tighter than they did across 1967 with Neil now back in the band and making his presence felt. This gig is most interesting as the only chance to hear a live version of 'Mr Soul' with Neil on lead and it's much angrier and rockier than both the album cut and the exploratory blues of the 1967 vintage. 'Uno Mundo' is the other winner, with a harder rockier sound away from the brass sound. The band end with a mammoth messy twenty-two minute version of 'Bluebird' which goes everywhere including Cream-style jamming, the riff from [20] 'Leave' again and even a snatch of Ravel's 'Bolero'. It's been fun, but the band are distracted and already itching to do other things.
5) Where: Bridge School Benefit, Mountain View, California When: October 23rd 2010 Why: First Reunion Gig Setlist:  [46] On The Way Home  [35] Rock and Roll Woman [36] A Child's Claim To Fame [19] Do I Have To Come Right Out And Say It? [14] Go And Say Goodbye [58] I Am A Child [61] Kind Woman [18] Burned [13] For What It's Worth [15] Nowadays Clancy Can't Even Sing [40] Bluebird [25] Mr Soul 'Rockin' In The Free World'
Buffalo Springfield had nearly reformed several times down the years (Bruce and Dewey's 'unofficial' version aside), with several rehearsal gigs held in private (including several where Neil characteristically didn't show - one of them even when it took place at his house!) However the band always vowed to get back together again someday and they finally did in 2010 for the first of a run of eight dates. Sweetly the band's big much-talked-about comeback came not at some sell-out arena but at the Bridge School Concert charity shows organised by Neil's then-wife Pegi to aid children with cerebral palsy (including the Young's son Ben). It was a good humoured show, with equal space given over to Stills, Young and Furay and much gleeful chatting between songs just like the old days. The band were a little rusty it has to be said and the backing band (chosen by Neil) was a far cry from the raw sophistication of the band in their heyday, but it was great to have the band back at all and the set listr was a good mixture of basically the three different variations on the setlist the band played between 1966 and 1968 with a few extras thrown in. An encore of Neil's 'Rockin' In The Free World' was the only post-Springfield song and the only thing that didn't really fit. 'On The Way Home', never performed by the band live though Neil did it several times and sometimes with Stephen in CSNY, makes for an especially good opening number being effectively where the band left off ('I won't be back till later on - if I do come back at all'). The vibes in thew room were all good, the band played another seven well received shows in 2011 and promised a full tour - which like so many Springfield things was a good idea that never quite happened.

THREE KEY COVER VERSIONS:

Sometimes when artists pick up that musical baton they pay tribute to their heroes by covering their favourite songs. Here are three covers that we consider to be amongst the very best out of the ones we've heard (and no we haven't heard them all - do you know how many AAA albums out there are out there even without adding cover songs as well?!) There are, of course, a million and four versions of Buffalo Springfield's best known song 'For What It's Worth' doing the rounds, performed by everyone from The Searchers (whose excellent 1972 cover we'll write about anew in our future Searchers book) to The Muppets (who turn the song into an ecological plea very much after the Springfield's heart!) We've decided to restrict this list to what we consider the 'best' version (after the original and CSN/Y's of course!) and then move on to two lesser known covers of two lesser known Springfield tracks. Actually I'm most amazed to learn quite how many Springfield covers there are for such a 'cult' band - you can see a list of all 37 at http://www.whosampled.com/Buffalo-Springfield/covered/ (and only 19 of them are 'For What It's Worth'!)
1) Bold [13] For What It's Worth ('Bold', 1969)
'Bold' are a short-lived band who only ever made one album (of which this is by far the best song) before splitting up which is a tragedy. Often compared to the Buffalo Springfield (and well worth digging out), they share similarly-eclectic-but-mostly folk tastes and a similar groovy rhythm section-with-harmonies sound. Their funky take on 'For What It's Worth' is wildly different to the thoughtful original though, sounding more like Santana, with a flying bass part and some thrilling noisy drumming of which even Dewey Martin can only dream of. By the end the song has turned from quiet protest into mass singalong with a glorious extended coda based around the chorus 'Hey Jude' style. Nothing can top the original of course, but this gloriously rocking version comes as close as anything could.
2) The Carpenters [15] Nowadays Clancy Can't Even Sing ('Offering' aka 'Ticket To Ride' 1969)
The Carpenters gamely try to cover what's possibly the least Carpenters-like cover they ever made (and indeed arguably the least suitable Springfield song they could have chosen!) Brother Richard and Sister Karen have a knack of making everything they try, however weird, come out as pure Carpenters however and so it is here as Richard turns Neil's song of, umm, whatever it's about into a cod lounge jazz track. Oddly it kinda works: the track gains from an added keyboard swing and an unexpected chord shift when the pair hit the word 'singgggg' and go all blissful unexpectedly. The strings are kind of schmaltzy, more Mantovani than Nitzche, but kudos for the ambition of attempting the song at all - and not censoring the word 'damn' (indeed, both siblings sing at this point to emphasise the word!)
3) Yes [37] Everydays ('Time And A Word' 1970)
In which Stills' bluesy earthy 'Everydays' gets a prof-rock makoever akin to [41] 'Broken Arrow!' Stretched out to six minutes, with multiple repeats of the word 'day' and shimmering keyboard-string instrumentals between each verse, this is almost unrecognisable as the same song. Especially when the song goes way out west in the solo, becoming a noisy chugging rocker punctuated by blistering guitar bursts and a manic organ part. If this is 'Everydays' then the narrator's heading for a nervous breakdown! Formed pretty much instantaneously with the death of the Springfield in the Spring of 1968, this is from the Yes' second (and weirdest) album when they were primarily a noisy covers act (this was almost their only 'ballad'!) The band had already covered David Crosby's Byrds song 'I See You' on their self-titled debut; sadly we're still waiting for the Nash and Young covers!




A Now Complete List Of Buffalo Springfield Articles Available To Read At Alan’s Album Archives:


Dewey Martin Obituary and Tribute: http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2009/02/dewey-martin-tribute-special.html

Non-Album Songs http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2015/01/buffalo-springfield-non-album-songs.html
Surviving TV Appearances 1967-2010 http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2015/01/buffalo-springfield-surviving-tv.html
Solo/Live/Compilation albums (Including Poco!) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2015/01/buffalo-springfield-live-albumssolo.html

Five Landmark Concerts and Three Key Cover Songs https://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2018/02/buffalo-springfield-five-landmark.html




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