LYNN – Stephen Stills and Judy Collins met 50 years ago, and embarked on a fiery two-year romance that eventually fizzled out.
Stills, already reeling from the breakup of his band Buffalo Springfield, immortalized their relationship in “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” a heartfelt pledge of love that was the centerpiece of Crosby, Stills & Nash’s landmark debut LP.
Earlier this year, the two iconic singer-songwriters released an album together and are on tour, sharing a stage for the first time.
Thursday night, the pair performed in front of a jazzed-up near-capacity crowd at Lynn Auditorium. The show was consistently entertaining and, for the most part, a success.
The vocal skills of Collins, 79, radiant in a purplish gown, are relatively unchanged. Her sweet mezzo-soprano can still fly into that high range when needed. In fact, she sounds better now than the last time I saw her, at Great Woods in the 1980s.
Stills, 73, has slimmed down. His singing voice, too, is a bit thinner these days. A few times it seemed to leave him altogether. No quibbles about his guitar playing though; he’s a monster, and seemed to have a different guitar for nearly every song.
The duo, on stage together for most of the show, opened with a cover of the Traveling Wilburys’ “Handle With Care” and CS&N’s “You Don’t Have to Cry.” The three-piece band overshadowed the singers, whose voices weren’t always in synch.
Four of the first six songs came from the new album, with the highlight being a cover of the title song, “Everybody Knows.” Leonard Cohen, the song’s writer, and Concrete Blonde have the definitive versions, but this wasn’t bad.
Stills shined brightest when he cranked up the guitars. Neil Young’s “Long May You Run” rocked with abandon, as did a blistering version of CS&N’s “Southern Cross.” A cover of Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” was sluggish and uninspired; Stills’ voice could barely be heard above the din.
Folk diva Collins fared much better. She earned the night’s loudest ovations with a splendid cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides, Now” and a stunning a cappella reading of her own “Maria,” a timely subtle protest song about Dreamers.
Collins also scored with “Chelsea Morning,” another Mitchell song she turned into a hit, and the gorgeous Sandy Denny/Fairport Convention folk song “Who Knows Where the Time Goes.”
The main set ended with two Buffalo Springfield standouts. An electric “For What It’s Worth” evolved into a loud, cathartic sing-along. “Bluebird” followed, with Stills and bassist Kevin McCormick being total berserkers, attacking their axes for an extended period, as would a ticked-off Neil Young.
Of course, the evening concluded with “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes.” The voices of Stills, who manned an acoustic guitar, and Collins meshed perfectly. The crowd stood, clapped along and smiled widely.
Collins did not sing “Send in the Clowns” or “Someday Soon.” Stills did not sing “Helplessly Hoping” or “Love the One You’re With.” This fan would have enjoyed hearing those tunes.
Bill Brotherton is the Item’s Features editor. Tell him what you think at [email protected]