Live in Dublin – Bruce Springsteen with the Sessions Band
“We rocked…but we didn’t win.” That’s how Bruce Springsteen apologetically explained his last concert tour, as part of the Rock the Vote contingent that tried to stir up enough electoral votes to sway the presidential election in 2004. He then laughed, in the self-conscious manner that seems unbecoming for someone who can make an arena seem like a club show yet is charming in its “Yeah, I’m a rock star but I’m still a dork” sort of way.
Yes, after George Bush's 2004 victory, it’s not surprising that Springsteen needed cheering up. Hell, we all did! Without running too far away from his career-threatening participation on Rock the Vote — the next step by someone who performed at the No Nukes concerts in ’79, consistently champions homeless, food bank and veterans organizations at his shows — embracing material once sung by folk artist/activist Pete Seeger seemed like a logical move for the analytical musician. He had already gone through the serious singer/songwriter mode on 2005’s Devils & Dust, and a series of mesmerizing solo performances. Now, it was time to make good on the words etched on Woody Guthrie’s guitar, “This Machine Kills Fascists.”
Last year’s album, We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions, surprised many. Who the hell goes Old School Americana six years after the cash-tastic aura of “O Brother Where Art Thou” faded? Springsteen did because he’s got enough clout and dollars and cents in his bank account to not give much of a damn. Or to reference Bob Dylan in a Rolling Stone interview discussing his cover albums “Good As I Been To You” and “World Gone Wrong,” he just does what he wants to do.
While We Shall Overcome could easily have been described as a “modern day hootenanny,” it was live when the 17-piece ensemble with acoustic instruments at the ready fully breathed life into the material. Dubbed the Seeger Sessions Band, it took the intimate, living room approach on album to a gale force power onstage. Springsteen inhabited his preacher guise to whip up the crowds who took to numbers like “Old Dan Tucker” and “Pay Me My Money Down” with all the passion generally given to E Street Band regulars like “Badlands” or “Thunder Road.” And he clearly enjoyed the contributions from this new group of players, with a grin that couldn’t be wiped off as various members received their moments in the musical spotlight.
On Live in Dublin, Springsteen with the Sessions Band — a slight name change that reflects the material moving away from strictly Seeger-related compositions to include Springsteen originals and other covers – recreates the experience of lifting sad hearts up from their doldrums, and reminding everyone that music can pump up the spirit, becoming a uniter not a divider that one can trust.While it remains a bit odd hearing the dark Springsteen penned songs from Nebraska, it’s not far removed from the original intent heard on “Atlantic City” and the blood-is-thicker-than-duty tale of “Highway Patrolman.” “Open All Night” and “Blinded By the Light” are among his tunes that work minus such attachments. With its shift of focus from a couple’s pledge between Springsteen and his wife, Patti Scialfa to a community personified through the band members’ voices, “If I Should Fall Behind” represents the best of these arrangements.
The tour took place after New Orleans was allowed to drown and Springsteen attaches new lyrics to “How Can a Poor Stand Such Times and Live” to this travesty. A solemn “When the Saints Go Marching In,” sung by Sessions member Frank Bruno, then becomes the city’s eulogy and promise of resurrection.
Those reading this are familiar with the magical quality that occurs when audience and artist lock together in a rare force of Group Mind — the power instilled in the songs and their message, the talent of the musicians and their performance mated with the audience’s exuberance brought on by sight, sound, lyrics and melody. The two-CD set does a mighty close job of mimicking the evening’s emotional give-and-take.
The album ends with “We Shall Overcome,” the American Civil Rights Movement standard for dogged perseverance in the face of injustice. As finger picked guitar notes provides a gentle foundation, the musicians’ voices band together to offer a final reminder that victories aren’t achieved easily or immediately. It’s a stirring lesson for (possibly) rough roads ahead.