Glimpses of greatness in Stills’s uneven show
It is the perpetual question for the aging rock icon: how to perform your classic creations with a damaged voice. Brian Wilson sings Mike Love’s lines instead of his original falsetto parts. Art Garfunkel drops down a key or two on “Bridge Over Troubled Water.’’ Dylan gargles nails.
Stephen Stills, in a wildly uneven show Sunday night at the Wilbur Theatre, simply refused to give in, hanging out there even when he was hitting his notes as regularly as Michael Jordan connected with the curveball.
A Stills crowd has made peace with time’s ravages and cocoons its hero in a warm blanket of cheers. There are no catcalls when songs Stills could once blast out effortlessly (Listen to “Just Roll Tape,’’ for example) sound as if they’re being performed with his mouth full of peanut butter.
These people know that, rough moments or not, there will be at least glimpses of genius. And at those times, they will be grateful to be in the presence of an artist still capable of at least reminding us of his best work. This is F. Scott Fitzgerald during the Hollywood years, distracted and burned out but occasionally producing a short story that makes us think of East Egg.
Because if there is a Mount Rushmore for ’60s singer-songwriters, his mug would be chiseled alongside Wilson, Paul Simon, and Carole King. To list Stills’s greatest work would waste the space allowed for this review.
The fact is, three songs in Sunday night, on “Johnny’s Garden,’’ Stills began to sound much better. By the time he broke off for a mid-evening acoustic set, his voice had warmed considerably.
When he hit a high note on “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,’’ Stills himself confessed: “I’m just as astonished as you are.’’ He rolled through “Southern Cross’’ and blasted out “Love the One You’re With.’’
Not all should be forgiven. You could barely hear Stills on “Bluebird.’’ Somebody should have left Todd Caldwell’s keyboard at the Holiday Inn lounge before setting it free on “Helplessly Hoping.’’ And please, Stephen, under no condition remove and show us your hearing aid before the fifth song. We don’t want to know.
But the show’s finale was one of its peaks. Stills updated the 44-year-old “For What It’s Worth’’ as a blues. His leads were shotgun sharp. He screamed like Big Mama Thornton. And the guy next to me, who had kept up a running narrative all night with comments like “he’s off the rails’’ and “that’s Stephen Stills!’’ let out a glorious scream and stood to salute his hero.
Geoff Edgers can be reached at email@example.com.