Comfort Fare and Flat Notes in Stills Show


Stephen Stills wasn’t shy about giving the House of Blues audience what it wanted Saturday night: He kicked off the show with his 1970 hit “Love the One You’re With” and continued dishing up familiar fare from his early Buffalo Springfield work, the Crosby, Stills & Nash (and Young) catalog and his long solo career.

But the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and his backing quintet didn’t pander completely to nostalgia, offering a few new tunes during the 90-minute set. Such freshly minted numbers as the Cajun-flavored rocker “Back Home” were politely received, if not greeted with the same enthusiasm as such Stills classics as the waltz-like ballad “Change Partners.”

While the material reflected Stills’ various enduring influences--folk, funk and Latin--the band mustered only a low-key energy and even less emotional depth. Worse, however, was its lackluster foray into blues, including Stills’ own halfhearted stab at the Paul Butterfield Blues Band’s “Born in Chicago,” which had already been butchered by opening act Jim Belushi.


At one point, a handful of people in the audience sang an impromptu “Happy Birthday” to Stills, who turned 53 on Saturday, but the veteran songwriter hardly dwelt on it, except to joke about aging. Still, the occasion did make you think about how things change.

Stills’ voice, which has never been more than serviceable, showed the ravages of time. More distressing, however, was how casually he allowed one of his finest moments, the 1967 Buffalo Springfield hit “For What It’s Worth,” to be stripped of its power.

Granted, the song, written about Sunset Strip showdowns between flower children and cops, has already been used in a TV commercial, but it was depressing to witness its own author dumbing it down, turning the hushed, tension-filled original arrangement into a bouncy, slick sing-along devoid of weight or meaning.