Boss' hard work at 'Seeger' show pays off

The Plain Dealer, 2006-06-19, by: John Soeder
Bruce Springsteen liked what he heard.

"Well done!" he told the audience Friday night at Blossom Music Center, after his update of the 19th century square-dance hit "Old Dan Tucker" turned into a raucous sing-along.

"You've prepared yourselves," said Springsteen, 56.

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This was his first-ever performance at the Cleveland Orchestra's summer place, a picture-perfect setting for Springsteen's latest undertaking. He's on the road with an extraordinary 16-piece band to promote "We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions," an album of traditional songs popularized by folkie Pete Seeger.

"John Henry" got the evening off to a galvanizing start. Springsteen manhandled his acoustic guitar and playfully wielded an invisible hammer.

The organic musical accompaniment included accordion, banjo, fiddles, pedal steel guitar and a saucy four-piece Dixieland horn section. Gospel, folk and blues dominated the program, which proved every bit as exciting as Springsteen's legendary rock 'n' roll gigs. We're talking about a hootenanny on steroids, complete with remarkable give-and-take between the musicians and 6,000-plus fans.

During the Dust Bowl ditty "My Oklahoma Home," every time Springsteen hollered "It blowed away," the crowd roared back: "Blowed away!" Concertgoers also chimed in with gusto on "O Mary Don't You Weep," "Erie Canal," a transcendent "Jacob's Ladder" and other numbers. Springsteen & Co. fed off the audience's energy and vice versa, creating a feel-good chain reaction.

Half the fun was trying to identify some of Springsteen's own radically transformed songs. "Atlantic City" was reborn as a dark two-step, "Open All Night" became a jump-blues showstopper and "Ramrod" got a polka makeover. The soaring "Long Time Comin' " was a highlight, too.

Amid all the toe-tapping, there was no mistaking the sociopolitical messages of some tunes, including the Celtic-flavored "Mrs. McGrath" ("All foreign wars I do proclaim / Live on blood and a mother's pain") and the anti-war anthem "Bring Them Home (If You Love Your Uncle Sam)."

Accompanying himself on 12-string guitar and harmonica, Springsteen dedicated a solo rendition of "Into the Fire" to Lance Cpl. Edward Schroeder II and the 3rd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment of Brook Park, which has lost 48 members in the Iraq war. Originally inspired by the events of Sept. 11, 2001, the song lent itself to a poignant new interpretation.

"I need your kiss," Springsteen sang, slipping briefly into a chilling falsetto. "But love and duty called you someplace higher."

More than 2? hours after it began, the marathon concert ended on an uplifting note with "When the Saints Go Marching In."

"Thank you for coming out and taking a chance with us," Springsteen said.

Hats off to him for continuing to challenge himself and his fan base. The payoff was one of the most entertaining shows this consummate performer has ever given in these parts.

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2006-06-16 Blossom Amphitheatre, Cleveland, OH