I’ve never seen anything like it: part tent revival, part political rally, part folk sing-a-long, part rockin’ good time. Bruce Springsteen’s performance at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center on Monday night was all that and more. I don’t think the smile has left my face yet, even though I lost my car keys and had to cut short a mini-Saratoga vacation for more clot-boy medical tests today.
Bruce may have called this an “experiment” but it certainly seems to be working. I saw The Rising tour in Buffalo, but the energy, passion and musical gambles in the house last night put even the E-Street Band to shame. All but two songs from the new album were played last night and several Bruce originals were remarkably recast. Go play “Adam Raised A Cain” off the Darkness On The Edge of Town album, a hard edged rocker with Bruce practically screaming several verses. Now picture the song with the guitar riffs translated to banjo! Dig the sultry blues intro to Johnny 99, supplemented with gospel harmonies and pedal-steel guitar. The revamped version of Further On (Up The Road), going from a rock song on The Rising album to an Irish reel on this tour is astounding.
I thought the band’s rendition of “My Oklahoma Home” gives a good insight into what this band and tour are about. The song, a dust-bowl anthem from the 1930’s, started out as pure folk, with just Bruce’s voice and an acoustic guitar. Then the fiddles and pedal steel guitar were brought in, creating a western Swing mood. Finally, the four person horn section checked in bringing New Orleans-style jazz and a much quickened tempo. That’s what the Seeger Sessions band is, a 17 piece collection of fiddles, horns, accordion, pedal steel, piano, banjo, gospel harmonies–all barreling down the road and everyone wondering where they’re going. But everyone is so busy singing along and dancing that we just hold on for the ride.
Not only is Bruce revisiting the many roots and offshoots that encompass the folk tradition, he also brings a serious dose of the political consciousness that has always been reflected in what is, after all, the people’s music. These songs were written many years ago and are testimony to the lives and hard times of ordinary people, often struggling against forces beyond their control. The unfortunate subtext of these songs is that the economic hardship, government incompetence and the pain and loss of war in these old songs are still with us today. The folk tradition also encompasses the desire to speak truth to power. Bruce is speaking out as no other popular entertainer today.