Stephen Stills - guitar, vocals; Donnie Dacus - guitar, vocals; Joe Lala - percussions; Jerry Aiello - keyboards; Russ Kunkel - drums; Kenny Passarelli - bass, vocals
Following the collapse of Manassas and prior to the monumental 1974 reunion tour of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Stephen Stills hit the road with one of the hardest rocking bands he ever assembled. Stills was arguably at his peak as a songwriter, with a wealth of strong material in his performing repertoire. He retained the services of Manassas percussionist, Joe Lala, but otherwise recruited a whole new aggregation of talented musicians. To provide his trademark lead guitar interplays, he brought in Donnie Dacus, a talented guitar player who would play a major role on the studio sessions for his Illegal Stills album and later become the lead guitarist for Chicago. Session man, Jerry Aiello fleshed out the sound on keyboards and the rhythm section featured the Section drummer, Russ Kunkel and bassist, Kenny Passarelli, fresh off a stint with Joe Walsh's band Barnstorm. Stills handled all of the lead vocals, with Dacus and Passarelli adding impressive harmonies.
Two of the most memorable nights of the tour occurred on March 8th and 9th, when Stills and the band took to the stage of Chicago's Auditorium Theatre. These two shows were recorded by the King Biscuit Flower Hour for this broadcast later in the year. Additional material from these same two performances would be assembled for the Stephen Stills Live album release the following year. Only three songs are common to both the KBFH broadcast and the live album, which makes this recording serve as an expanded view of an under-documented time in Stills' career. Performing full-blown electric music as well as solo acoustic material, what makes these performances so intriguing is the song selection. Not only is this an eclectic mix of some of Stills' best work up to that point, but he also performs several compelling covers, all of them impressive.
The recording begins in full electric mode, with one of the finest blues Stills ever wrote, "Black Queen." A highlight of his first solo album and a staple of his set during the acoustic sets on the 1970 CSN&Y tour, this is an entirely different animal here. Stills provides blazing wah-wah infused guitar over the band's deep bluesy groove. They next put a hard-driving spin on the classic "Wooden Ships." The recording quality is inferior to the rest of the material, but the performance is extraordinary. Stills handles both vocal parts between the warring soldiers in the opening lyrics, somewhat blurring the dramatic effect, but Dacus and Passarelli provide excellent harmony vocals in all the right places and the hot jam that ensues toward the end is superb. The first electric portion concludes with a fantastic pairing of the Manassas song, "Jet Set (Sigh), with a cover of Joe Walsh's classic "Rocky Mountain Way." These two numbers have obvious similarities and the pairing features an inspired arrangement that emphasizes the infectious groove of "Rocky Mountain Way" throughout. Here Stills plays some of his most biting lead guitar work with Dacus providing sizzling slide guitar accompaniment.
The three song solo acoustic portion of this set is outstanding. Not only is Stills' acoustic guitar work exemplary, but his voice is in fine form, sounding a little more world-weary than earlier in his career, but still strong, clear, and full of emotion. This portion begins with a delightful reading of "Blackbird," a classic Paul McCartney song from the Beatles' White Album, that Stills tells the audience he wishes he wrote. However, the highlight of this solo acoustic set is unquestionably his performance of Fred Neil's "Everybody's Talking." One of the most poignant songs of the 1960s, immortalized by Harry Nilsson's signature recording for the Midnight Cowboy movie soundtrack, Stills' love for this song is obvious. He has rarely sounded more emotive and the performance is absolutely beautiful and rewards repeated listening. He closes the acoustic portion with a fine reading of his own "4 + 20," a classic from the Déjà vu album. These numbers feature some of the finest acoustic guitar work of Stills' entire career.
The recording concludes with the band back onstage and Stills switching to electric piano. "49 Bye Byes" vacillates between the relaxed bluesy feel of the verses and the bubbling up tempo jams between, accentuated by Aiello's organ work. Following the second round of vocals, the band takes off into a cooking jam. This segues into an impressive percussion solo between Lala and Kunkel that doesn't rely on flashiness, but rather genuine interplay and communication between the two. After a few minutes, this solo suddenly ends to massive applause. Following several seconds to catch their breath, Kunkel and Lala, who now switches to congas, begin developing a new rhythm. The band joins in beginning an entirely different improvisation. When Stills starts singing the lyrics to the Buffalo Springfield classic, "For What It's Worth," the music cleverly morphs to support his vocals, ending the recording on a nostalgic note.