There was certainly every reason to be pessimistic going into Stephen Stills' Saturday night solo concert at the Salt Palace.
It had been years since Stills had had a hit record, and the last couple of solo albums, while they were critical successes, were commercial bombs. And that says nothing for Stills' rather lackluster live performances on recent Crosby, Stills and Nash tours.All of which has led to rumor upon rumor that Stills' abusive lifestyle and temperamental personality had stripped the master of his creative genius.
So Saturday night's concert had disaster written all over it, right? Some may have expected that, but when the house lights went down Stephen Stills just happened to deliver one of the finest rock 'n' roll shows in years.
Best of all, Stills did it on his own without the distractions of sharing center stage with Graham Nash or David Crosby or Neil Young. And when that spotlight was on Stills and Stills alone, he played with a passion and conviction rarely seen in these parts - certainly a passion not previously seen from Stephen Stills in the last decade.
Stills opened the show with a jazzy version of "Love the One You're With," pausing only long enough to shed his glasses and sports coat (no green Army jacket this time around) before attacking his acoustic guitar for a spirited "Change Partners."
From the outset, Stills put to rest any and all rumors that his heart was no longer in it anymore, and some 10,000 or so - most of them well into the same middle age as the performer - roared their endorsement of the rejuvenated Stills.
Not all of Still's show was devoted to golden nuggets of yesteryear. His "That Girl" from the "American Dream" album was warmly received, and the current CSN&Y single "Got It Made" had old-timers dancing in the aisles like star-struck teen-agers.
After dismissing his backup band, Stills again pulled out his acoustic guitar and deftly delivered an inspiring solo rendition of "Teach Your Children." It may not have had the perfect vocal harmonies of the CSN&Y original, but it was still a certifiable winner. An acoustic version of Greg Allman's "Midnight Rider" was equally as passionate.
The backup band returned for an energy-packed conclusion that featured the Buffalo Springfield classic "Bluebird," Stills' trademark "Dark Star" and finally "For What It's Worth," done with an amazing blues-rock twist that injected new life into the 20-year-old protest anthem.
The responsive crowd brought Stills back for a solo acoustic version of "Daylight Again," which had everyone singing the strains "Find the cost of freedom" as Stills accompanied them on guitar. Stills had indeed become one with his audience and the audience with him. The final song, "Southern Cross," was sheer joy.
Stephen Stills could have delivered a mediocre concert and people may have believed all those rumors. But he chose to deliver a brilliant performance that had all the exuberance of a master with a lot of creative life left to give.