Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Live in Dublin: Bruce Springsteen with the Sessions Band

Da BossAs this miserable summer drizzles on, the nation could do a lot worse than to give itself a quick taste of last winter, and invest twenty yo-yos or so in Bruce Springsteen with Sessions Band: Live in Dublin. It’s well worth the money.

Springsteen has had to carry the mantle of being the future of rock and roll for over thirty years. The remarkable thing is that not only has Springsteen successfully carried that mantle, he’s lived up to and surpassed it long ago. Springsteen has hewn his own place in the history of American popular music, and his Live in Dublin double CD is as significant a record as any he’s released in his career.

Springsteen has never been afraid to follow his own lights rather than commercial imperatives. He’s always been aware of where his music has come from, as evidenced by the regular presence of Woody Guthrie’s This Land is Your Land in his live set in the seventies and eighties. Early last year, after returning to form with the release of The Rising in 2002, Springsteen decided to fully address his folk roots with the release of We Shall Overcome last year, which featured a specially assembled band to showcase Springsteen’s tribute to the folk and gospel records to which he grew up in the sixties.

Marvellous and all as We Shall Overcome is, the band hadn’t been that long assembled. They had six months of hard practice under the Boss by the time they took the stage in the Point Depot in November of last year and were all set to rock the night, which is exactly what they proceeded to do.

The press reaction here was muted, which was a pity; sometimes one wonders if they Irish cultural media are capable of discovering anything that they haven’t been directly spoonfed by Mr Walsh or his ilk. But now Springsteen himself has released a live record of those two shows in the Point, and what a remarkable achievement that release is. For the Springsteen back catalogue, it’s like another face was carved into Mount Rushmore and nobody noticed. No matter; they soon will, and won’t quickly forget.

The single most remarkable thing about Live in Dublin is just how many disparate stands of American music Springsteen gathers and unifies. We Shall Overcome was very much a child of the Pete Seeger folk boom of the sixties; listening to it one could almost smell the coffee, cheap wine and weed. But Live in Dublin gives Springsteen a bigger canvas, and it’s one he has the big band – fifteen musicians – fill to the last square inch with hillbilly, folk, rock and roll, jazz, bebop and that single strand that is uniquely Springsteen himself.

This is a man that clearly thinks a lot about his music, and it shows. He is able to combine musical genres on Live in Dublin that, in their own environments, were mortal enemies. Springsteen looks to his back catalogue – especially Nebraska, interestingly enough – and reinvents such canonical Springsteen classics as Atlantic City and Blinded by the Light. What with Bob Dylan in latter years has been strictly self-indulgence here becomes a complete new lease of life, showing just from how many wells Springsteen has fed his muse.

Open All Night is the record’s tour de force. On Nebraska, it’s another Springsteen-on-the-Highway track. On Live in Dublin, it’s eight minutes of swinging bebop, boogie woogie piano, stellar scat singing from the Sessionettes and an all-around stompin’ and swingin’ good time. Bruce Springsteen is American music. Treat yourself.

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