The Boss at MSG

Newsday, 2006-06-23, by: Glenn Gamboa
The Madison Square Garden debut of Bruce Springsteen and the Seeger Sessions Band was like one of those college parties you stumble into where everyone is having a better time than you. Sometimes, you get swept up by everyone else's overwhelming joy. And sometimes, you look around and ask yourself, "What on Earth am I doing here?"

Throughout the two-hour, 40-minute show, Springsteen and his amazing 19-member band were clearly enjoying themselves, offering up an impressive mix of Pete Seeger-inspired folk songs, radical reworkings of Springsteen classics, music history lessons and stump speeches.

"Thanks for coming out and taking a chance on our little adventure," Springsteen said, before launching into the closer "When the Saints Go Marching In" -- which, like many of the night's songs, played against expectations, unfolding as a beautiful, somber ballad showcasing the vocals of Patti Scialfa and Marc Anthony Thompson, rather than a big Dixieland jazz celebration.

The Springsteen "adventure" -- which focused on his "We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions" (Columbia) album, but did not end there -- was something few artists would attempt, especially in arena-sized concerts, and even fewer could pull off.

As many folk artists still do, Springsteen would introduce almost every song by giving its history and then relate it to today. In that way, Springsteen talked about "My Oklahoma Home," written by Sis and Bill Cunningham around 1961 about losing their home in the Oklahoma Dust Bowl, as a way to remember those who are still trying to rebuild after Hurricane Katrina, as was "How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live?"

After talking about how "We Shall Overcome" asks "fundamental questions that have not yet been answered," Springsteen performed the protest song patiently, pausing for accordion and pedal steel guitar solos before ending with six band members surrounding him, all holding onto each other singing in harmony.

It was truly thrilling to see the entire band party on stage during a big band version of "Open All Night," complete with Andrews Sisters-ish "floy floys" and boogie-woogie piano solos, and the Cajun stomp of "Pay Me My Money Down," which ended with a New Orleans-styled parade off the stage.

However, those high points made the stumbles all the more noticeable. The dreary "Erie Canal," which Springsteen called one of the best "mule appreciation" songs, seemed to bring the show to a dead stop. And Springsteen's shoehorning of his gorgeous ballad "If I Should Fall Behind" into a rushed, awkward waltz became almost painful.

And, at times, it was odd that this folk revival, a tradition built on call-and-response and audience participation, was more subdued and less communal than a show from Springsteen and the E Street Band.

Nevertheless, Springsteen and the Seeger Sessions Band succeeded in bringing some great folk songs alive for new generations and having themselves a great time doing it.

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2006-06-22 Madison Square Garden, New York, NY