Bruce Springsteen and the Seeger Sessions Band
at the Greek, June 5
Dressed like Pa Walton, Bruce Springsteen greeted the sold-out crowd — “Good evening, heathens and sinners!” — then broke into an exhilarating “John Henry,” from We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions, his new album of well-worn folk tunes (many made famous by Pete Seeger). Performing these old gems with the 17-piece Seeger Sessions Band, Springsteen is finally playing the part of the Pentecostal preacher that he’s been rehearsing for decades.
This was the Bruce Springsteen show for people who hate Bruce Springsteen. There were no lyrics about cars, or any part of a car. No screen-door slamming, either. Just old-timey American work songs, many from the early 19th century — the ones some of us learned in fifth grade — with a few drastically reworked Springsteen originals thrown in. All of it was wonderful. The Seeger Sessions Band, costumed like extras from Showboat, is spectacular: Playing every instrument found onboard the Niña, the Pinta and the Santa Maria, the group presents a living patchwork museum of American musical history: washboards, zithers, banjos, piccolos, accordions and horns aplenty. And I’m pretty sure the trombone player was wearing spats. Spats! And when was the last time you heard a tuba solo at a rock show? Stagewise, the chandeliers and elegant lighting hinted that the Boss may have aspirations toward the Great White Way for his next phase.
The infectious traditional “Oh Mary Don’t You Weep” got the crowd dancing (while Tom Hanks’ gigantic forehead — bobbing a few rows ahead — threatened to obscure half the stage). “Johnny 99” was retooled as a hootenanny, while “Atlantic City” became a gospel number (!). Highlights, though, were the songs from the new album, especially the jazzy swing of “Jacob’s Ladder” and the Irish folk tune “Mrs. McGrath.” E Street keysman Roy Bittan sat in on “Pay Me My Money Down,” which caused the Boss to visibly swoon.
Bruce really wanted the crowd to sing along, and since many of these songs are essentially nursery rhymes, he got his wish, big time. Surprisingly, nobody yelled “Born to Run.” Next time, let’s hope he adds some matinees to the schedule so we can bring the whole family.