Bruce Springsteen joins Little Steven and Disciples of Soul at epic Paramount Theatre concert


Steven Van Zandt and Bruce Springsteen, singing together at the Paramount Theatre in Asbury Park, Saturday night.

“Where’s my brother from another mother?” said Little Steven Van Zandt, glancing around the stage of the Paramount Theatre, Saturday. It was the start of the encores of Van Zandt’s first New Jersey show with his Disciples of Soul band in decades — a huge event for New Jersey rock fans, even without any special guests — and, adding the hoped-for cap to an already remarkable event, Bruce Springsteen walked out and joined him for the evening’s two encores.

First was “It’s Been a Long Time,” the Van Zandt-written song that he, Springsteen and Southside Johnny sang together on the 1991 Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes album, Better Days. Van Zandt performed without a guitar, sometimes draping his left arm around Springsteen’s shoulders as they sang. (Southside Johnny was unable to complete the reunion, as he had a show of his own this night at William Paterson University in Wayne.)

It’s a song about old friends getting together after a long time apart, which was a bit ironic, since Van Zandt and Springsteen had performed together on the same stage, just one night ago, at the Upstage Jam concert. Both shows were part of the weekend-long Asbury Park Music and Film Festival.

While the Upstage Jam was a unique kind of appearance for Springsteen — a public jam session with many other musicians, mostly on rock classics by other artists, honoring the ’60s and ’70s club where they all got their start — this one was more like business as usual. Two electrifying duets, with a Chuck Berry cover, “Bye Bye Johnny,” following “It’s Been a Long Time.” Springsteen even played a Telecaster guitar rather than the Les Paul he played, possibly for nostalgic reasons, on Friday. (He played a Les Paul during the Upstage era but only rarely since.)

Guest trombonist Fred Wesley poses with Disciples of Soul members, in this photo posted to Facebook by Ed Manion. From left are Stan Harrison, Ron Tooley, Earl Gardner, Wesley, Manion and Clark Gayton.

The show had another special guest, too: trombonist Fred Wesley, the longtime James Brown sideman, who joined the band for their cover of Brown’s “Down and Out in New York City,” and momentarily swelled the number of musicians onstage from 15 to 16.

As the size of the band indicates, Van Zandt’s resurrection of the Disciples of Soul is a major undertaking, not a casual side project. It’s a dynamic, versatile unit, capable of creating a big wall of sound and following Van Zandt wherever he wants to go. Saturday’s show was notable, among other things, for its musical diversity, including blues (“The Blues Is My Business”), reggae (“Solidarity”), soul balladry (“Some Thing Just Don’t Change”), a Motown classic (“Can I Get a Witness”), doo-wop (“The City Weeps Tonight”) and the band’s own catchy 1982 single “Forever” (a minor hit that should have been a major hit).

Though Van Zandt didn’t talk much about politics, he did perform many of his politically tinged songs, including “No More Party’s” (sic), “I Am a Patriot,” “Bitter Fruit” and “Leonard Peltier,” in addition to “Solidarity.”

The band will release a new album, Soulfire, on May 19 — it puts out a new one “every 20, 30 years,” Van Zandt joked during the show — and will tour Europe this summer. No other United States dates are currently confirmed.

The theme of Soulfire is “me doing me” — i.e., it contains many songs that Van Zandt has written for other artists, through the years. Saturday’s show naturally included many of them, such “I Don’t Want to Go Home” and “Love on the Wrong Side of Town” (both made famous by Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes), anthems such as “Ride the Night Away” and the title track, and the catchy retro-rock homage “Saint Valentine’s Day.”

The show’s first two songs seemed like statements of purpose: “Soul Fire,” which its exhortation to “spread your wings and start to fly”; and then “Coming Back,” in which Van Zandt sang “I’m coming back for what’s mine/I ain’t gonna let nobody stop me this time.”

Backing vocalists Jessica Wagner, Erika Jerry and Yahzarah St. James sang on every song throughout the evening, and helped to sweeten Van Zandt’s somewhat gruff vocals (he makes up in character, though, what he lacks in power or purity).

As an interlude in “Until the Good Is Gone,” Van Zandt reminisced about the Upstage and showed, with the help of the rest of the band, how the kind of simple riffs musicians came up at the Upstage, just to fill time, could grow into an actual song.

For years, Van Zandt has championed his love of garage-rock through his Underground Garage radio show and other projects. Saturday’s Disciples of Soul demonstrated a commitment of a slightly different sort, though — to ambitious, larger-than-life rock ‘n’ roll, almost orchestral in its scope, distilling everything Van Zandt has learned in his 50-year career into a mere two hours and 15 minutes.

Friday’s Upstage Jam was an epic show, celebrating a scene in which Van Zandt and Springsteen played a large part. Saturday’s show was epic in another way, showcasing the vision of a legendary Jersey musician in a way that it had never been showcased on a Jersey stage before.

Not bad for a single April weekend.

Here are some videos from the show, posted by Mitch Slater, Sammy Steinlight and Marty Jablow. Below them is a setlist.


“Coming Back”
“Inside of Me”
“The Blues Is My Business”
“Love on the Wrong Side of Town”
“Until the Good Is Gone”
“Standing in the Line of Fire”
“Some Things Just Don’t Change”
“I Played the Fool”
“St. Valentine’s Day”
“The City Weeps Tonight”
“Down and Out in New York City” (with Fred Wesley)
“Solidarity”/”400 Years”
“Leonard Peltier”
“I Am a Patriot”
“No More Party’s”
“Bitter Fruit”
“Ride the Night Away”
“I Don’t Want to Go Home”
“Can I Get a Witness”

“It’s Been a Long Time” (with Bruce Springsteen)
“Bye Bye Johnny” (with Bruce Springsteen)

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