review: bruce springsteen @ nissan pavillion

Have you ever been to a concert by an artist with a sizeable catalog of hits, only to find that the artist isn’t playing them on his current tour?

Furthermore, have you ever been happy about that fact?

Welcome to Bruce Springsteen’s “Seeger Sessions Tour,” where Bruce tips his hat to the founding fathers of American folk music: the rail workers and cotton pickers, the abolitionists and the labor movement, Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger. On his latest album, Springsteen plays a set of songs made famous by Pete Seeger.

And during his two-and-a-half hour show at Nissan Pavillion on Sunday night, he played most of that album, plus a selection of other traditional folk songs. He only dipped into his own catalog twice, including a retooled version of “Cadillac Ranch” that featured fun interplay between Bruce, his fiddle players, and his talented horn section and drew inspiration from Elvis’ “Mystery Train.”

But the most poignant songs in his set were the anti-war songs, which rang most true on the eve of Memorial Day. He called these songs ones “that are so familiar that you begin to forget them,” yet they remain a part of who we are. Indeed, “We Shall Overcome” and “Bring Them Home” brought forth waves of applause from the already-receptive audience, who were up and dancing from the first number and seldom sat during the entire show.

Such was the draw of the Seeger Sessions Band, a 17-piece “ragtime band” that painted an intricate sonic tapestry behind the songs. Drawing from musicians with disparate roots – jazz players from New Orleans, bluegrass pickers from the Ozarks and Blue Ridge Mountains, New York session musicians and family members – Springsteen seemed in awe of their ability to blend, play with each other, and just plain rock. Indeed, the audience was in awe of this ability, many having seen “The Boss” perform with The E Street Band and expecting something far less cohesive.

But that’s not the Springsteen way, and this viewer was left most impressed. The whole concert had the feeling of a gospel revival, from the opening “good evening, sinners” from Springsteen, to the raucous solo breaks, sing-alongs, and stories told between songs. It was almost enough for me to feel like I’d discovered religion – not an easy feat. Even the transition into the encore set was incredibly energetic, with the audience continuing the sing-along of “Pay Me My Money Down” throughout the set break, in a style that I’m accustomed to hear with European concert audiences, not U.S. audiences. Such was the power of this show.

All told, the show was a rousing success, and one that will likely improve with each successive performance. Springsteen worked his band and the crowd to a frothy fever that stayed well after the last notes of “Buffalo Gals” rang forth from the Nissan Pavillion stage.

(Note: a lot of shows on this tour aren’t sold out – I bought my lawn ticket the morning of the show – so there’s no excuse for missing this excellent artist and his multi-talented band.)

Standout Songs: “We Shall Overcome,” “Bring Them Home (If You Love Your Uncle Sam),” “Old Dan Tucker,” “Cadillac Ranch,” “Erie Canal,” “Pay Me My Money Down,” “When The Saints Go Marching In”
Grade: A