As big a Bruce Springsteen fan as I am — and I've seen the man in concert 32 times — I was not exactly crazy onboard for the Seeger Sessions project when it was first announced last year. I just figured that after a year of Springsteen doing the acoustic thing on the Devils & Dust album and tour, that he'd got the folk bug out of his system. Like a lot of Springsteen fans, I was ready for some E Street Band action.
So, the last thing I wanted or expected in 2006 was what sounded suspiciously at the time to me like another round of Springsteen getting his folk on. To me, it seemed too much like another "vanity project." But when I voiced that opinion over on the message boards at Backstreets Magazine, I was damn near chased out of town by angry Springsteen fans.
Seems some of those folks knew something I didn't. And it turned out, they were right.
One listen to the joyous noise made on the track "O' Mary Don't You Weep," and any doubts I had about The Seeger Sessions were wiped clean off the map. In a gruff voice reminiscent somewhat of a born again Tom Waits, Springsteen summons all the fire and brimstone of Moses himself as he belts out the lines about how "Pharoah's army got drownded" while his gospel army of singers and musicians wail on in rapturous delight.
As my fellow Blogcritic Lisa McKay put it in an email just the other day, "'O' Mary' kicks ass." Yes it does, Lisa.
Live In Dublin, the new concert CD/DVD document from last year's Seeger Sessions tour is worth owning for the inclusion of that track alone. Although this album comes in both CD and HD-DVD only versions, your best bet is to spring for the deluxe version which includes the entire 23 song performance on both the DVD and 2 CDs. This is a concert that needs to be seen as much as heard.
The setlist here runs the gamut from the Springsteen Songbook to the Smithsonian. You get the "Seegerized" versions of Springsteen classics like "Atlantic City," "Blinded By The Light," and "Growin' Up." You also get well chosen covers from the folk tradition like "We Shall Overcome," straight up Dixieland jazz in the form of "When The Saints Go Marching In," and even spirituals like "This Little Light Of Mine."
In performing these songs, The Sessions Band (shortened here from its original "Seeger Sessions Band" moniker) draw from multiple uniquely American music traditions including New Orleans Jazz, Southern Gospel, and even Roadhouse Blues to create a ruckus that is quite unlike anything you have ever heard. In their own way, these guys make every bit the noise with their banjos, trombones, and fiddles that the E Street Band does with their own guitars and drums. Like those legendary E Street shows, the crowd also gets into the act quoting entire song verses in unison. And Springsteen himself appears to be having the time of his life here.
The highlights on this set are too numerous to mention. They include a reworking of Springsteen's "Open All Night" where the stark number from Nebraska becomes a boogie-woogie workout, complete with a mid-section featuring four female vocalists (led by Patti Scalfia) trying to out doo-wop four male vocalists doing their best to keep up. Bruce gets into his best tent-revival preacher's mode here leading the call and response.
"Long Time Comin" from Devils And Dust gets a surprisingly straight treatment here – albeit with a full band featuring horns, fiddles, and the rest. One of the best songs from that album, it sounds great here in a full-on band arrangement which has me whetting my lips to hear it again with the E Street Band. By the time of "Pay Me My Money Down," the crowd is eating out of Bruce's hand, continuing to sing even after the song has ended. The DVD also has an impromptu, uncredited backstage performance of "Cadillac Ranch."
The Seeger Sessions tour never played my hometown of Seattle, making it the first Springsteen tour I've missed since I first saw him on the 1975 tour for Born To Run. Experiencing this great performance on both CD and DVD makes me realize just how great a show I missed. It also shows a side of Springsteen that has never before been revealed.
Live In Dublin really does need to be seen as well as heard.