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Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Bruce Springsteen: Live In Dublin

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: LIVE IN DUBLIN (2007)

1) Atlantic City; 2) Old Dan Tucker; 3) Eye On The Prize; 4) Jesse James; 5) Further On (Up The Road); 6) O Mary Don't You Weep; 7) Erie Canal; 8) If I Should Fall Behind; 9) My Oklahoma Home; 10) Highway Patrolman; 11) Mrs. McGrath; 12) How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times And Live; 13) Jacob's Ladder; 14) Long Time Comin'; 15) Open All Night; 16) Pay Me My Money Down; 17) Growin' Up; 18) When The Saints Go Marching In; 19) This Little Light Of Mine; 20) American Land; 21) Blinded By The Light*; 22) Love Of The Common People*; 23) We Shall Overcome*.

Apparently pleased with the vibes, results (and sales?) of We Shall Overcome, Bruce took The Seeger Sessions Band on tour — and not just anywhere on tour, but all the way to The Point Theatre in Dublin, to show these Irish sissies what a real man's reel really sounds like. The Irish sissies did not mind, and gave The Boss a truly international welcome. Probably feeling sancti­fied about getting to sing tura-lura-lura-lay smack dab in the heart of tura-lura-lay country and getting away with this, Bruce released the proceedings as a live DVD and a live album — not just «another live album», but a special one.

The obvious problem here is that The Seeger Sessions Band, as you might have guessed, mainly plays songs from The Seeger Sessions — all of that album is reproduced here with the exception of ʽJohn Henryʼ (too political?), ʽShenandoahʼ (too intimate and dirge-y?), and ʽFroggie Went A-Courtin'ʼ (now THAT I consider the crime of the century — depriving worthy Dubliners of a passionate, rabble-rousing, ball-breaking ʽFroggie Went A-Courtin'ʼ? What were they thinking?). Naturally, with the exception of a few extended jam bits, these songs sound mostly identical to the studio versions, which were produced less than a year ago, and it's not even a question of adding «live spirit», because The Seeger Sessions were themselves imbued with live spirit. So the enthusiastic roar of the Irish crowd may add a little adrenaline, but on the whole, when it comes to «paying me my money down», most people will think twice before paying twice for more or less the same thing.

The gimmick of the record is that, in addition to all the traditional songs, Bruce sneaks in some of his own material, rearranged... nay, rewritten in the same format, and then it all depends on what you think of the idea. Personally, I think it sucks. Perhaps he thought that he had no choice — the people wanted to hear at least some of his own songs, yet they would obviously sound strange wedged in between the old folk classics, so he just had to reinvent them as «pseudo-old folk clas­sics». But who needs an ʽAtlantic Cityʼ shorn of its hooks and recast as a speedy, but utterly generic bluegrass romp? Or ʽBlinded By The Lightʼ losing the verse-chorus contrast and reduced to a mumbled vocal delivery set to a relentless ska beat? Or ʽFurther On Up The Roadʼ turned from a dark, grizzly blues-rock number into a happy highlander anthem, with flutes and accor­dions and bagpipes (okay, no bagpipes... but there should have been bagpipes)?..

As a one-time experiment, this may be amusing, but artistically, this is a dead end: Bruce may have succeeded as an interpreter of traditional old-school songwriting, but as an imitator, he does poorly even when compared to Woody Guthrie, let alone all those nameless ballad writers whose legacy has outlived their identities just because the legacy meant so much more to people than the identities. Likewise, he does not fare that well when he takes old songs with well-established forms and tries to recast them into something completely different — his multi-vocalist take on ʽWhen The Saints Go Marching Inʼ, remade as a soulful acoustic ballad, is plain boring. Besides, what's up with having a fully formed brass section, capable of hitting up that New Orleans sound in no time, and not doing ʽSaintsʼ the way it should be done? Shouldn't he be old and wise enough now to stop with these «confound-all-expectations» childish games? Come on out and decide, Mr. Springsteen — is it «give the people what they want», or is it «the artist bows down to no public pressure»? You've been having it both ways at the same time for so long now, it's become downright irritating at times.

Anyway, it's not as if I did not enjoy Live In Dublin — it's just that, on the larger scale of things, it feels like a conjectural appendix to The Seeger Sessions. Or you might turn it around and say that the Springsteen vibe really only shines to its brightest extent in the context of an arena, in which case The Seeger Sessions will be merely a warm-up prelude to the mass epiphany of Live In Dublin. But viewing both as equally important would be quite illogical, and I, personally, choose the former — it's more concise and compact and it lacks any failed self-experiments. The only track I'd gladly salvage from here is ʽOpen All Nightʼ, which I didn't even recognize at first, an old Nebraska number completely redone as a rollickin' / rip-roarin' honky-tonk number with a bedazzling piano part. Put it as a bonus track onto The Seeger Sessions and that's all we need.

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