2006-04-20, Convention Hall, Asbury Park, NJ

Seeger Sessions Tour
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Notes

Rehearsal show. Approximately 2 hours.

Eyewitness accounts

Were you there? Write about it!
2006
Brian wrote: Picture walking into an Old West saloon or 1920?s speak easy and seeing a nearly 20-piece band crowded on the stage while the dancing girls and flappers are off catching their breath. That?s the experience of watching Bruce Springsteen and the Seeger Session Band perform, only, in this case, you hope that the girls have become otherwise occupied and the musicians remain as the evening?s entertainment.

Springsteen and his seventeen (!!!) bandmates? first public appearance Thursday night in Asbury Park opened with a raucous ?Oh Mary Don?t You Weep? from the forthcoming album ?We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions? and it was as if the powder keg blew following the slow burning fuse of the ?Devils & Dust? tour. The fans that attended those solo performances and sat in respectful near-silence have now been rewarded with an invitation to kick up their heels at the local barn dance.

Springsteen was in fine spirits, seemingly buoyed by the wave of noise generated by the almost exclusively acoustic accompaniment - an electric bass guitar did sneak its way on-stage at times during the show. From Marty Rifkin?s superb pedal steel playing to Charles Giordano?s poundings on an upright piano that could have been lifted from Netcong?s Wild West City, the band?s energy allowed Springsteen to overlook the first rehearsal show?s few technical glitches, once even joking that disaster had been narrowly averted.

What was more striking was the sense of joy exuded by the band. Comprised largely of extended friends and relatives (even Cousin Frank made the cut), the Seeger Sessions Band seemed nearly overwhelmed by the crowd?s enthusiasm. Immediately following the opening number, Springsteen and guitarist/vocalist Marc Anthony Thompson had a whispered exchange and one sensed it was something along the lines of Bruce saying ?I told you so.? Later, a reluctant Greg Liszt was all but pushed to the front of the stage during his banjo introduction to ?Old Dan Tucker? before cracking a smile as the fans cheered. It was a humorous moment but one that will likely disappear from future shows as these players find their stage legs.

I will admit that I initially cringed upon the announcement of a Pete Seeger inspired folk album. If Springsteen wanted to do an album of covers, why not some classic country (Johnny Cash or Hank Sr.) or early rock? Not folk. Not Seeger. But, through the wonders of the internet, the sneak peek preview had me thinking maybe Bruce had something here. Seeing the songs performed live, as would have been the only way to hear them when most were originally composed, confirmed that belief.

The rollicking opener was followed by an equally boisterous ?John Henry,? whose story of man railing in the face of "progress" could have been penned by Springsteen. And it didn?t take long for an actual Springsteen composition to join the set list as the re-worked ?Johnny 99? was the show?s third song and first of six of his own tunes to be performed Thursday, including a countrified ?Adam Raised a Cain? that outpaced the over sung original.

The vast musical troupe did slow things down occasionally to gather its strength and these moments provided the set?s only missteps. After the crowd surprised Springsteen by shouting back the responsorial in ?My Oklahoma Home? (again apparently courtesy of the internet preview), he strapped on his harmonica, doused the stage lights and sang a largely unaltered version of ?Devils & Dust.? Later, the up tempo ?Jacob?s Ladder? was followed by a droopy ?We Shall Overcome? (to borrow from American Idol, the vocal was a little pitchy).

After nearly two-and-a-quarter hours, the show closed with ?When the Saints Go Marching In.? An opportunity to end with a Dixieland romp was unfortunately missed as the full complement of horns ? the always welcome Jukes members Eddie Manion, Mark Pender and Richie ?La Bamba? Rosenberg and, on tuba, Art Baron ? stood largely idle throughout the mournful dirge. Instead of the big finish the show deserved (think Disney World?s ?Country Bear Jamboree? minus the little bear tooting on the cider jug), this version of ?Saints? ended the evening on a somewhat somber note.

While some left the show disappointed (one attendee called the event ?an abuse of power?), those willing to imagine that the floor of Convention Hall was covered in sawdust left with a smile on their faces.

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