The Boss and His Band Make a Joyful Noise at the Greek

The Daily News of Los Angeles, 2006-06-07, by: Glenn Whipp
Bruce Springsteen and his 17-piece ``Seeger Sessions Band'' took the 6,100 members of its sold-out Greek Theatre audience to church on Monday night, delivering a rollicking concert that mixed spirituals and rousing political anthems in equal measure.

The 2 1/2-hour show (the only one on this tour in L.A.) was unlike any the 56-year-old Springsteen has ever performed, and the crowd, which included celebrities like Tom Hanks, responded with nothing short of jubilation, dancing, clapping and singing along to a set list that was dominated by songs from Springsteen's recent album, ``We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions,'' a collection of songs popularized by folk singer Pete Seeger.

The last time Springsteen swung through town with a band that didn't hail from E Street, it was in 1992, when he played with a largely anonymous fill-in band during a three-night run at the Sports Arena.

Fresh from breaking up the beloved E Street Band, Springsteen said he wanted to work with new musicians who would inspire fresh ideas. None of that was on display then.

Now, though, Springsteen has clearly found what he was looking for -- and then some. Monday's concert was among the high points of the rocker's storied performance career, with Springsteen and his ragtag band making a joyful noise that incorporated zydeco, bluegrass, ragtime, Tex-Mex, swing and Southern soul.

At times, Springsteen himself feigned ignorance at what he was about to play. Introducing a radically recast ``Johnny 99'' from ``Nebraska,'' he said, ``Here's a little folk punk.'' Before playing another old song, ``Ramrod,'' he mumbled, ``Tex-Mex, ska, polka, punk-funk ... I'm not sure what this is.'' How about all of the above? (The new boogie-woogie arrangement of ``Open All Night'' had to be heard to be believed.)

While Springsteen and his fantastic group of horn blowers, violinists, guitar pickers and vocalists were adept at skipping between musical genres, they kept a fairly singular focus on the music's message. This was a cathartic cacophony, protest songs and gospel hymns sung for those who have come before and those who are currently dispossessed.

Performing Blind Alfred Reed's Depression-era ``How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live?'' Springsteen added three verses, recasting the song as a commentary on the federal government's failure in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. ``Them who's got, got out of town / And them who ain't got left to drown.'' (Springsteen should put this song -- not found on ``The Seeger Sessions'' -- on iTunes immediately.)

Springsteen also sang a reverent version of ``We Shall Overcome'' (``a song sung so much you start not being able to hear it -- a shame'') and the beautiful Seeger-penned anti-war anthem, ``Bring Them Home (If You Love Your Uncle Sam.)'' (``If you love this land of the free / bring them home, bring them home / Bring them home from overseas.'')

And yet, the main focus of the evening as it has been throughout Springsteen's career, was not on political broadsides, but on community. You could get that simply by looking at the overstuffed stage filled with smiling musicians wearing fedoras, ties, vests and suspenders. (E Street pianist Roy Bittan, who popped on stage for the glorious, foot-stomping main-set closer, ``Pay Me My Money Down,'' was woefully underdressed by comparison.) Or you could get it by the sheer number of sing-alongs that the audience gladly joined in on with gusto.

Mostly, though, you got it through a song-by- song emphasis on inclusion, a statement that people -- regardless of their economic standing -- matter, that we're all in this together, climbing ``Jacob's Ladder'' one rung at a time (Hanks, sitting near the stage, did a great pantomime of this action), each generation hopefully getting a little bit higher than the last. Do I hear an amen? I thought so.



2006-06-05 Greek Amphitheatre, Los Angeles, CA