WITH THE SEEGER SESSIONS BAND
May 27, 2006 / Boston, MA / Tweeter Center
(Formerly Great Woods, Mansfield)
By Robert Gillis – published in the Boston City Paper June 2006
After a ten-city European tour, Bruce Springsteen and the Seeger Sessions Band returned to the US and started their tour here in Boston (well Mansfield) at the Tweeter Center (which will always be Great Woods to most of us around the area). Despite its 19000+ seats, the venue was intimate.
Much of tonight’s show was devoted to the well received, well reviewed new CD, ‘‘We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions.”
We were blessed with a beautiful night for this outdoor amphitheatre concert. Bruce shouted out, “Are you ready for a picnic?” as the night began.
And what a view we had for the picnic — our tickets were in the pit — meaning you stand for the entire show, and my wife Sue and I arrived in time to be exactly one person behind the stage. In other words, I could touch the stage. Never, ever have I been this close!
This was the night! The night I get to shake hands with Bruce Springsteen … To tell him how much his music has meant to me for twenty five years! To thank him for always being there!
Dream, baby, dream.
Well, I missed the chance, because Springsteen only made one walk over to our area of the stage (the tease!) and although I was a little disappointed, I go over it pretty quickly. I shook Soozie Tyrell’s (Springsteen’s longtime violinist) hand. I made eye contact with Springsteen’s wife Patti Scialfa and she smiled at me. She is so beautiful. I saw how Bruce and Patti looked at each other — so in love. I saw the smiles and nods and nuances of each band member. I saw John Landau, Springsteen’s manager and longtime friend, watched from the side. It was incredible.
I was touching the stage, witnessing a phenomenal show. I haven’t seen such a happier, relaxed Springsteen, since, well, ever. I was in Heaven.
Springsteen’s newly formed 17 piece Seeger Sessions Band is not at all what one might expect from a Springsteen show … No “Born to Run,” “Badlands” or “Thunder Road.”
How to describe the show? It was combination of folk, jazz, blues, 1930s music, and a rambunctious backyard picnic. A hootenanny. A hoedown. A joyous fiddling festival. A sing-a-long. It was wild!
As odd as this might sound, we Springsteen disciples trust our idol, and he does not disappoint. One reviewer said, “Bruce instilled a boozy, rambunctious atmosphere that infected [everyone].” Another reviewer said, “Exhilarating and beautifully ragged set of traditional Americana.”
I say, it was one of Springsteen’s best ever and a hell of a party. This was not a show of quiet contemplation and acoustic music. Sure, there were messages and political undertones to many songs, but it was all delivered with so energy and FUN. I’ve seen Bruce 15 times before tonight; I have never had so much FUN at one of his shows.
Bruce opened with a the classic railroad song ‘‘John Henry,” and I couldn’t get over how close I was to the band. Next was “O Mary Don’t You Weep” which is almost hypnotic: “Pharaoh’s army got-drown-dead, O Mary don’t you weep.”
Next was a tune from Springsteen’s Nebraska catalog, “Johnny 99,” which got reworked into a bouncy New Orleans parade street beat with a lot of drumming. The song seemed a perfect fit for the cast of characters in the Seeger songs.
Next up was “Old Dan Tucker” and EVERYONE was standing at this point. “Eyes on the Prize” was a little quieter. Next came a song Springsteen said is probably, “Complete Bull$hit,” “”Jessie James.” Still a fun song. So many smiles and so much laughter on the stage. These guys and gals are loving this.
The next selection was an interesting reworking of “Cadillac Range” that sort of morphs into “Mystery Train.” Very cool. Springsteen called the next song, “One of the few love songs written to a mule” and broke into “Eire Canal,” written in 1905. This one is another that’s made to be a sing-a-long: “Low — Bridge, Everybody Down! Low — Bridge, we’re coming to the town!”
“My Oklahoma Home” just blew me away (this is when Patti smiled at me). “If I Should Fall Behind” had a decidedly country “twang” to it, Patti’s vocals were powerful. “Mrs. McGrath” is an Irish protest song that seemed as applicable to today’s times as when it was written.
Springsteen then started talking about New Orleans and the devastation that still remains from Hurricane Katrina. He spoke of the failures of the government organizations to help the people and the President’s failure as well adding, “I don’t want to kick a man when he’s down.” Springsteen called New Orleans “scared ground” for musicians saying that the Jazz and Blues genres were born there. People tend to move on to the next thing and forget how bad some of the area still is, and that one half the population of New Orleans is gone. He then broke into ‘‘How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live?” adding three new verses of his own.
He introduced the story of “Jacob’s ladder,” where God kept giving Jacob challenges and he added he had no idea what it meant.
As an intro to: “We shall overcome,” Springsteen explained that this was the song that started this “Happy Accident” (meaning the band, the CD, the show) and the consensus was, “That sounds pretty good, let’s try more of the same.”
He called for quiet, and when it didn’t come, he added his now legendary, “No really, shut the f__k up,” quickly adding with a laugh, “We appreciate your support.” He got his quiet and the band’s rendition of “We shall overcome” was haunting and beautiful.
It took a while for me to even figure out which song was next because it’s such an oldie: “Open all night,” combined with “Pay me my money down.” I was trying to figure how to explain this one and all I could come up with is the frantic piano playing of “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown.”
“We’re gonna rock this joint!” Springsteen yelled. The crowd went crazy, singing “Pay me my money down” until all the band had left the stage, except Baron (who was encouraging the audience to continue while thumbing into the tuba) and drummer Eagle, both of who Springsteen playfully (and parentally) explained that it was time to come inside.
For Memorial Day, Springs
teen sang the poignant “Bring Them Home.” The crowd was cheering in agreement: If you love this land of the free / Bring ’em home, bring ’em home / Bring them back from overseas.
One of my all-time Springsteen favorites, “Ramrod,” was almost unrecognizable as a “Mexican” polka tune! It’s funny how you can forget the words to a classic song like Ramrod because you’ve never heard it played like a “Mexican Polka.” Next came sort of a throwaway, “You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)” and a beautiful “When the Saints Go Marching In.”
And it wouldn’t be a Springsteen Boston show without “Dirty Water.” Instead of the full-blown rock version we experienced both nights at Fenway Park, this “Dirty Water” (with friend Peter Wolf on hand once again) was also retooled into a blues/jazzy hybrid and riffed into “Buffalo Gal” and Peter dancing with Patti.
What an incredible evening. Bruce Springsteen was clearly having the time of his life, and for me, it was one of the most unusual Boss shows ever, and absolutely one of the best.
It was one hell of a backyard picnic!
Setlist: John Henry/O Mary Don’t You Weep/Johnny 99/Old Dan Tucker/Eyes on the Prize/Jesse James/Cadillac Ranch/Erie Canal/My Oklahoma Home/If I Should Fall Behind/Mrs. McGrath/How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live?/Jacob’s Ladder/We Shall Overcome/Open All Night/Pay Me My Money Down
Encore: Bring Them Home (If You Love Your Uncle Sam)/Ramrod/You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)/When the Saints Go Marching In/Dirty Water (w/ Peter Wolf)/Buffalo Gals (w/ Peter Wolf)
In addition to Springsteen on vocals, guitar and harmonica, the US tour dates for the Seeger Sessions Band will comprise the following lineup: Sam Bardfeld (violin), Art Baron (tuba), Frank Bruno (guitar), Jeremy Chatzky (upright bass), Larry Eagle (drums), Charles Giordano (accordion, keyboards), Curtis King (vocals), Greg Liszt (banjo), Lisa Lowell (vocals), Eddie Manion (sax), Cindy Mizelle (vocals), Mark Pender (trumpet), Marty Rifkin (pedal steel guitar), Richie “La Bamba” Rosenberg (trombone), Patti Scialfa (vocals), Marc Anthony Thompson (vocals) and Soozie Tyrell (violin).