Yes, Bruce Springsteen made a guest appearance at Little Steven & the Disciples of Soul’s album release concert at the Paramount Theatre in Asbury Park, May 8. But I have mixed feelings about mentioning that first here, because the concert would have been quite remarkable even without that, and I don’t want Steven Van Zandt’s accomplishments to be overshadowed.
Summer of Sorcery, which was released on May 3, is an excellent album, and even better when the songs are heard live. And I can say that definitively, because Van Zandt performed every song on the album in Asbury Park.
That’s right, every song. It may be the first time that a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has released a new album and then played the whole thing in a concert. Usually, you might get two or three songs.
But Van Zandt and the Disciples of Soul performed all 12, as well as 12 other songs. (Actually 23 if you count “On Sir Francis Drake,” played solo by pianist Lowell Levinger as an introduction to “I Visit the Blues”; Levinger wrote and recorded this song in 1969, when he was a member of The Youngbloods.)
Van Zandt’s emphasis on new material worked for several reasons.
First, obviously, he has spent much of his career with Springsteen, so he doesn’t have a huge number of songs from his own past albums that he absolutely must perform at every show. The first incarnation of the Disciples of Soul came together in 1982, but the band was dormant from 1989 to 2016, so in a certain sense they’re still a fairly young band.
Second, the Summer of Sorcery songs work well together, as a celebration of and a tribute to the rejuvenation that summer represents: “The thrilling tingle of unlimited possibilities,” as it was put during a poetic introduction to “Love Again,” recited by various band members and serving as a kind of theme statement for the entire evening.
Third, these are not the kind of songs you have to spend a lot of time with, before liking, as they’re very catchy and mostly written in familiar styles: “A World of Our Own” evokes ’60s girl groups, “Superfly Terraplane” nods to Chuck Berry, “Vortex” echoes elements of the Blaxploitation soundtracks of the ’70s, and so on. (A notable exception is the epic title track, which can’t be easily put into any category.)
Van Zandt also, of course, dipped into the past for gems such as “Forever,” “Love on the Wrong Side of Town,” “Trapped Again,” “Out of the Darkness” and “Bitter Fruit.” And the large (14-piece) DOS band, which has been pretty busy since 2016, was definitely tighter and more ferocious than they were at previous shows I’ve seen by them.
So, finally, to get to Springsteen … yes, of course, it was wonderful to see him in such an intimate setting, hamming it up on “Tenth Avenue Freeze-out” (on which he changed the “Big Man joined the band” line to “Little Steven joined the band”), singing parts of the anti-Apartheid anthem “Sun City” with soul-stirring emotion, and adding to the good-time vibe of “I Don’t Want to Go Home.”
He performed the same three songs at Van Zandt’s other record release concert for Summer of Sorcery, May 4 at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills, Calif., so no one was exactly shocked to see him at the Paramount. Still, there have been lots of times, over the years, when unannounced guest appearances were expected and didn’t come to pass, so it’s always a treat when they do.
Also making a guest appearance at the show, during the encore performance of “Soul Power Twistin’,” were Van Zandt’s wife Maureen and six other dancers, including his 92-year-old superfan, Bea Slater, who got a big cheer from the crowd.
No more New Jersey concerts are currently scheduled for the band, but they will perform at the Beacon Theatre in New York, Nov. 6. Tickets go on sale May 10 at noon, with pre-sales already started. Visit ticketmaster.com.
Here is the show’s setlist. Songs from Summer of Sorcery are in bold. Below the setlist are some videos from the show. Thanks to John Wooding for the photo above, and to Sammy Steinlight and Mitch Slater (Bea’s proud son) for posting the videos to YouTube.
“Camouflage of Righteousness”
“On Sir Francis Drake”/“I Visit the Blues”
“Little Girl So Fine”
“Love on the Wrong Side of Town”
“A World of Our Own”
“I Am a Patriot”
“Summer of Sorcery”
“Soul Power Twistin’ “
“Tenth Avenue Freeze-out” (with Bruce Springsteen)
“Sun City” (with Bruce Springsteen)
“I Don’t Want to Go Home” (with Bruce Springsteen)
“Out of the Darkness”
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