Bruce Springsteen @ M.E.N. Arena

Manchester Evening News, 2006-05-07, by: Kevin Bourke
ANYONE who was expecting to see the full-on rock'n'soul celebration that is Bruce Springsteen with the E Street Band, or alternatively the more sombre soul-searching of Bruce's solo tours, could have been surprised by the joyful noise that filled the M.E.N. Arena.

This was Bruce with the Seeger Sessions Band, largely the band who played with him on his exuberant new album We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions, on which he explores what might yet be called the Great American Folksong Book with a wild, innocent abandon that has more in common with The Pogues than it does with anything in the post-Born To Run Springsteen catalogue.

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We're talking an eighteen-strong band featuring fiddles, banjo, stand-up bass, accordion and a barnstorming brass section here, playing folk songs that are, as often as not, centuries old, all fronted with a testifying fervour by Bruce.

Jumping Jehosophat, was it great, though!

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You'd have had to be sleeping in the ground not to be testifying yourself as, playing for well over two hours, Bruce and the band found both the fun and relevance in tunes like John Henry and Old Dan Tucker, while making the anti-war ballad Mrs McGrath speak as eloquently by implication about the American misadventure in Iraq as it ever did about the Irish Easter Rising.

We Shall Overcome itself was reclaimed from well-meaning tedium to regain its place as "the most important protest song of all time", as Springsteen proclaimed, while Pay Me My Money Down boasted the improbable achievement of making - for a brief time at least - the tuba the most rock'n'roll instrument imaginable!

Marvellously, the band sometimes seemed to even surprise themselves, while the few Springsteen originals in the set were radically recast - Johnny 99 bristled with New Orleans funkification, while both Cadillac Ranch and You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch) were re-born on the bayou as zydeco-flavoured jaunts.

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2006-05-07 The Manchester Evening News Arena, Manchester, England