Tuesday, June 06, 2006

The Boss

Somewhere out there on the horizon is a crossroads where folk, country, western swing, African-American spirituals, Dixieland jazz, and even rock and roll meet. That's where Bruce Springsteen is playing on his Seeger Sessions Band tour, which had its local stop at the Greek Theatre last night. He is clearly having a ball; maybe not having to shoulder the majority of the burden for performing (the Band consisted of 18 people for this show) is a relief for him. His energy and enthusiasm are undiminished, though, as he drove the band (and the audience) through the setlist at high throttle.
He is obviously a skilled bandleader and rehearser, even with such disparate components as a four-piece horn section, 3 rhythm guitarists (other than himself), and two violinists and keyboardists, because the band's timing was impeccable, whether they were stopping on a dime or reaching a crescendo. The songs themselves were half-reconstructed folk tunes derived from all ages of Americana, as filtered through Pete Seeger's (as the title of the album and band establish) or his own imagination (he performed 6 originals, radically reworked to fit the mood and sound of the band, as well).
Highlights (for me, at any rate): 1) A somber but razor-sharp rendition of "Mrs. McGrath", complete with Celtic-esque fiddle playing and singing. 2) A brittle, haunting "We Shall Overcome", sang with incredibly deep emotion by Springsteen, Patti Scialfa, and Mark Anthony Thompson. 3) The unreleased "How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live?", featuring standout horn blasts pyrotechnically punctuating the chorus in a virtuosic display of big band timing and coordination.
Springsteen remains the quintessential showman, but his playing of musical combination of these influences (many unexpected from him heretofore) prove that he wants to show that he understands how his music came to be intellectually as well. He was once labeled one of the many "new Bob Dylans", but he has never drawn upon the musical heritage that Dylan did in as clear or brilliant a manner as this (and he threw in some non-Dylan roots to boot!). Bruce Springsteen has usually been seen purely as a rock icon, leaving those folkies who fondly remember Dylan (let alone those who recall Pete Seeger or Woody Guthrie) as one of their own cold. With this album and these performances, though, Springsteen should be able to finally claim his rightful and deserved place as our foremost artist firmly rooted at that crossroads called America.


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