The Boss, E Street Band deliver spirit-rousing show
NEW ORLEANS — Closing the first weekend of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band’s two-hour and 45-minute show Sunday was triumphant.
Springsteen’s concerts have long been communal experiences, gatherings attended by thousands of fans who feel as if they’re on a first-name basis with the Boss. His “Wrecking Ball” tour stop at the Jazz Fest pushed the experience into the spirit-rousing realm of religious revival.
“Anybody here back in 2006?” Springsteen asked the massive audience at the festival’s Acura Stage. Springsteen, of course, with his Seeger Sessions Band, played the first post-Hurricane Katrina Jazz Fest.
“New Orleans has a strong city spirit,” Springsteen continued. “This is a song about the things you lose that never come back, but it’s also a song about things that can never leave you.”
His reference to loss and the months after Katrina segued into “My City in Ruins,” a song from his post-9/11 album, “The Rising.”
“Come on!” he shouted to the crowd in a preacher’s stance. “Rise up! Come on! Rise up!”
Springsteen and his E Street Band followed up by sampling decades of his great songs, knocking them out to the people, often with just his iconic 1, 2, 3 count from one song to the next.
For Springsteen’s “Wrecking Ball” tour, he and the E Street Band sound even mightier than usual. Their already powerful numbers are expanded by the backup vocalists, viola, accordion players and the four-piece E Street Horn Section.
The horn players include saxophonist Jake Clemons, nephew of Clarence Clemons, the original E Street Band member who died in June 2011. Jake Clemons even stepped up to play solos his uncle once played.
Along with such instantly recognizable anthems as “Born To Run,” “The Promised Land” and “Dancing in the Dark,” Springsteen and his troupe performed several songs from the recently released “Wrecking Ball,” including the classical Springsteenian “We Take Care of Our Own.” References in the song’s lyrics to New Orleans, its shotgun shacks and the Mercedes-Benz Superdome drew cheers.
Songs from Springsteen’s “We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions” album made the set, too. During one of them, “O Mary Don’t You Weep,” the E Street Horn Section left their bandstand to come out front for a traditional New Orleans jazz-style jam. It was a perfect choice for the place and time. Later, Springsteen interjected an acoustic rendition of “When the Saints Go Marching In” into one of his “Wrecking Ball” songs, a hip-hop spiritual called “Rocky Ground.”
New Orleans’ own Dr. John sang and played piano with Springsteen during his guest performance of a local classic, Chris Kenner’s “Something You Got.” Springsteen and E Street guitarist Steven Van Zandt seemed to love every second of it.
Dr. John essentially opened for Springsteen with his afternoon set on the Acura Stage. As usual, he looked sharp, dressed in a brown-striped suit, a shirt with orange stripes, his customary necklaces and another of his cool hats, which he likely got at Meyer the Hatter off Canal Street.
One of New Orleans’ recent Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees, Dr. John achieved another milestone with his latest album, “Locked Down.” Produced by rock star Dan Auerbach of the Nashville-based Black Keys, it’s the highest charting album debut in his 50-plus years of recording.
In front of an audience that surely was filled with thousands of Springsteen fans, Dr. John and his Lower 911 band, aided by a five-horn section and local keyboardist Jon Cleary, got a good reaction when they played his rock-oriented “Locked Down” songs.
He also dipped into his classic New Orleans songbook, playing the percussion-happy Mardi Gras Indians song “My Indian Red” and his late friend Earl King’s engagingly altruistic “Make a Better World.”
Young local rapper L.G. Meyer made a guest appearance for Dr. John’s parting number. Like the singer-pianist’s work with Auerbach, it was another of his collaborations with a much younger artist that worked.
Following Saturday’s tribute to Wardell Querzergue, the late arranger-conductor who framed so many hits from New Orleans, musician friends of Alex Chilton, the late singer, songwriter and principal of the Box Tops (“The Letter”) and Big Star, performed his songs at the Gentilly Stage. Originally from Memphis, Chilton for years lived under the radar in New Orleans, where he died in 2010 at 59.
The tribute’s singers and musicians formed what amounted to a local supergroup, featuring Susan Cowsill, solo artist and member of the Cowsills, Dave Pirner from rock band Soul Asylum, singer-songwriter Alex McMurray, Cowsill’s sister-in-law, Vicki Peterson from the Bangles, and René Coman, bassist with the Iguanas. While rehearsal for such events tends not to be extensive, Chilton’s songs sounded great in their hands.
“How fun,” the tambourine-banging Cowsill said. “It’s great to be alive. (We’re) sending love to Alex Chilton.”