Steven Van Zandt and Disciples of Soul: back together, just briefly (REVIEW, SETLIST, VIDEOS, PHOTOS)

steven van zandt review


Steven Van Zandt & the Disciples of Soul perform at the Count Basie Center for the Arts in Red Bank, April 19.

Steven Van Zandt performed with Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band at the Prudential Center in Newark, April 14, and took part in the American Music Honors show at Monmouth University in West Long Branch, April 15. His band the Disciples of Soul, which had not performed together since 2019, reconvened to be the house band for the latter, and so he also scheduled shows with them at the Count Basie Center for the Arts in Red Bank, April 18-19. (He’ll be back on the road with Springsteen from late April to December.)


Steven Van Zandt performs with guitarist Marc Ribler and the Disciples of Soul band at the Count Basie Center for the Arts in Red Bank, April 19.

“I think it could be a minute before this opportunity presents itself again,” he said, a few songs into the April 18 show. “You know, we had two weeks off before the European tour, which is 13 too many days for me. So here we are.”

I would have understood if Van Zandt took a casual approach to the Basie concerts (I saw April 18 only, but know that both setlists were very similar). In other words, I would not have been shocked if the band played, say, two hours of songs they know well from past tours. But this was a long show, featuring 26 songs over two hours and 40 minutes. And it included three left-field surprises: “RockNRoll Rebel” (previously performed only a few times when Van Zandt wrote it, 40 years ago) plus “Saint Francis” and “Coulda Been a Politician” (both never performed live before, ever). Plus, he filmed both nights, for release “hopefully by the end of the year,” he said on Twitter, April 19.

That’s a pretty ambitious agenda, for a little off time between tours.

Besides which … any Disciples of Soul show is a major undertaking, anyway. Like the expanded version of the E Street Band that Springsteen is currently touring with, the Disciples of Soul is a big, versatile band, with three backing vocalists and five horn players contributing to its complex, layered sound. There are 15 musicians in all (counting Van Zandt), including two, saxophonist Eddie Manion and percussionist Anthony Almonte, who are also part of this year’s E Street Band tour. (Guitarist Marc Ribler, who is the band’s musical director, and Manion, who is its horn director, undoubtedly took some of the pressure off Van Zandt in preparing the band for the Basie and Monmouth shows).

Van Zandt put the Disciples of Soul on hold from 1990 to 2016. Like all of the shows the band has performed since then, this one included songs Van Zandt wrote and/or produced for other artists, including “I Don’t Want to Go Home,” “Trapped Again” and “Love on the Wrong Side of Town,” all strongly associated with Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes. Van Zandt dipped into protest music with, among other songs, “Leonard Peltier,” which was preceded by him saying that the biggest disappointment of his life has been not being able to get the Native American activist out of jail.

“A World of Our Own,” from the band’s 2019 Summer of Sorcery album, paid homage to the classic girl-group sound, and a trio of songs performed together (“Party Mambo!”, “Los Desaparecidos,” “Bitter Fruit”) included elements of Latin music. And the Summer of Sorcery title track, performed as the first encore, was unlike anything else in the show: an expansive, almost meditative number that evoked the spirit of Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks album.


Steven Van Zandt with singers, from left, Jessie Wagner, Sara Divine and Tania Jones at the Count Basie Center for the Arts in Red Bank, April 19.

Among the rarities … The anthemic, power-chorded “RockNRoll Rebel” was performed as the show’s opening number, and worked well there. “I wanted to grow up and change the world/I knew what I had to be/I had to be a rock ‘n’ roll rebel,” Van Zandt sang. Keyboardist Lowell “Banana” Levinger switched to harp for the atmospheric opening of the melodramatic ballad, “Saint Francis.” And Van Zandt called the humorous, unreleased “Coulda Been a Politician,” built around a Rolling Stones-like guitar riff, a “tongue-in-cheek confession.”

“Coulda been a politician with a bullet-proof limousine/Coulda made a lot of promises, living the American dream … Coulda been a politician, but I work for a living instead,” he sang.

Also, “I coulda been a lawyer, but my daddy taught me right from wrong/I coulda been the reason everything takes too long.”

On Springsteen’s current tour, the Boss is musing about the passage of time and some of his earliest musical connections. Van Zandt did something akin to this by bringing Kay McEvilly — the 92-year-old mother of a bandmate from Van Zandt’s pre-E Street Band days, and Van Zandt’s first manager, all the way back in 1966 — onstage during the encores, to join him as he sang “Soul Power Twist.” “She’s here somewhere!” he had called out, earlier in the evening, when he sang a line that mentioned her by her nickname, Big Mama, in “Until the Good Is Gone.”

“Soul Power Twist” — during which Van Zandt’s wife Maureen and others also took the stage in wild, colorful costumes, to dance — was one of several songs sprinkled throughout the show (“Superfly Terraplane” and “Love Again” were two of the others) that were as simple and fun as Van Zandt’s music is, more customarily, complicated and serious.

“I don’t know if you’ve noticed lately,” Van Zandt said in a spoken-word interlude during “Until the Good Is Gone,” “but outside these walls right here, the world is going fucking crazy. Which is why we gotta … leave all that nonsense outside … all that mishigas, and focus on the common ground that we all have deep down in our souls. ‘Cause the world cannot be more divided than it is right now. But we don’t care because in the end, we’re not divided, we are one beautiful thing. And that thing … is the common ground of music.”


Percussionist Anthony Almonte and the Disciples of Soul horn section.

Here is the April 18 setlist and, below it, a photo gallery and four videos:

“RockNRoll Rebel”
“I’m Coming Back”
“Inside of Me”
“Love Again”
“Until the Good is Gone”
“Angel Eyes”
“Princess of Little Italy”
“Leonard Peltier”
“A World of Our Own”
“Trapped Again”
“Love on the Wrong Side of Town”
“St. Valentine’s Day”
“Party Mambo!”
“Los Desaparecidos”
“Bitter Fruit”
“Saint Francis”
“Camouflage of Righteousness”
“Coulda Been a Politician”
“Ride the Night Away”
“Superfly Terraplane”

“Summer of Sorcery”
“I Don’t Want to Go Home”
“Soul Power Twist”
“Out of the Darkness”

Here is a gallery of photos from the show:

And here are the videos:


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