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Concert Reviews:
Ambition = Excellence at Springsteen's DTE Show

Of the Oakland Press

Posted: Sunday, June 18, 2006

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INDEPENDENCE TOWNSHIP -- There were a lot of things Bruce Springsteen's concert Saturday night at the DTE Energy Music Theatre was not.

It was neither an epic E Street Band rock 'n' roll extravaganza or one of his intense solo outings. Springsteen didn't play any of his hits and, in fact, covers outnumbered his own songs three to one.

In short, it was unlike any show Springsteen's ever done -- and that was the best news of all.

Rooted in the spirited folk music of his latest album, "We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions," Springsteen's two-hour and 35-minute performance (his first every at DTE/Pine Knob) with his 16-piece Seeger Sessions Band expanded the album's creative scope into a re-defined kind of rock show -- one that knitted together rootsy instrumentation (acoustic guitar, banjo, fiddles, accordion, washboard) with tight blues, gospel and folk arrangements for a joyous exposition that pumped with the kind of fierce energy and contagious physicality that's defined Springsteen shows over the past 35 years. Just without the electric guitars.

But, he informed the crowd of just over 8,000 as he vamped into "Jacob's Ladder," the Seeger Sessions ensemble was also "on a mission...We want to raise you up. We want to praise it up..." It was a little bit revival show and music appreciation class and a whole lot of hootenanny, tackling some serious issues and somber storylines without losing the life-affirming celebration at the heart of the performance.

Springsteen and company added to the "Seeger Sessions" canon with the Civil Rights spiritual "Keep Your Hands on the Plow," the anti-war anthem "Bring Them Home" and "How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live?," for which he wrote new verses referencing the lingering devastation in post-Katrina New Orleans. ("It's given so much to us (that) it's worth a national effort to put the city on its feet," he said.) Before "Mrs. McGrath," an Irish anti-war lament that dates back 1850, Springsteen noted that "they had to write these then, and we still gotta write 'em now and that's a shame."

But such political commentary was kept brief and to the point. "We'll let the music do the talking," he said before "How Can a Poor Man..."

And the music spoke volumes, from thumping renditions of "John Henry," "Old Dan Tucker," "Erie Canal," "Pay Me My Money Down" and "Rag Mama Rag" to re-invented versions of several Springsteen songs. "Cadillac Ranch" received a New Orleans-style gospel blues treatment, while "Atlantic City" cranked with rootsy ferocity. A Celtic flavor graced "Further On Up the Road," "Open All Night" was turned into a jump blues and "Ramrod" became a polka.

Springsteen -- whose wife and bandmate, Patti Scialfa, was absent on Saturday -- dedicated a melodically faithful version of "Long Time Comin' " to his 15-year-old son Evan, who he joked "stayed up 'til 10...that's 10 a.m. Pretty good." Even then came on stage to bring his father a fresh guitar for "Mrs. McGrath."

Springsteen was also a generous bandleader, cueing the large band from solo to solo and even letting singer-guitarist Marc Anthony Thompson (aka Chocolate Genius) take a few lead vocal spots. It was, all told, a bold exercise in fearless artistic ambition, and what Springsteen called his "little adventure" paid big dividends for both performers and audience.

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