Stephen Stills, who gave a great performance on Sunday night, knew it was funny to be playing a junior high school auditorium, and he didn’t let the audience forget it. Yet even when joking around, Stills revealed traces of the passionate seriousness of his generation. “Chemistry class is cancelled today,” he told us. “They blew up the lab.” Wearing a truly elegant Hawaiian shirt (replicas were available for purchase in the lobby-for $100!), Stills gave the sold-out Luke crowd exactly what it was looking for, demonstrating in the process the fact that, as he said in giddy self-satisfaction after one particularly goose-bump-inducing moment, “there’s life in the old boy yet.”
The evening was divided into two sets, the first largely acoustic, while the second featured Stills’s small rock band and huge electric guitar sound. The acoustic set began with “Helplessly Hoping” and navigated through several more (“Change Partners”) or less (the “Blind Fiddler Medley” from 1991’s Stills Alone album) well-known numbers before settling into a thrilling solo assault on the epic “Suite Judy Blue Eyes.” This was the night’s best choreographed moment, as the band crept onstage and began playing along for the final verses without interrupting Stills, who gets as much sound out of an acoustic guitar as any player on the planet. The feeling Stills can put into a line as simple as “oh babe, have mercy” is truly inspiring. His voice is like a crack in time that lets brilliant shafts of ’60s sunlight through.
And, as he showed very thoroughly in the second set, Stills is no slouch as a guitar player, either. With a great rhythm section that included a very CSNY-esque Fender Rhodes piano and veteran Joe Vitale on drums, Stills pounded out stellar versions of “For What It’s Worth,” “Woodstock,” and an encore of “Dark Star.” While these arrangements relied more on funky backbeats than the split-second changes of the original recordings, the guitar work in particular was inspired, and LOUD. The mostly middle-aged crowd left with more ringing in their ears than they have probably experienced in several decades. And they sure looked happy about it.