Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Number Six Live in Dublin

#6 Live in Dublin – Bruce Springsteen with the Sessions Band - 2007

“They died together a hundred years ago they’re dying now, the hands that built this country we’re always trying to keep down”

There’s a now famous amongst Boss fans occurrence that supposedly ignited the songwriting that lead to The Rising after the World Trade Center attacks. A fan shouted out to Bruce in Jersey:

“We need you now.”

So Springsteen, as the story goes, wrote many of the songs for and recorded The Rising. For me this is a difinitive representation of where he kind of went off the tracks and lost his voice this decade. Springsteen became too aware of his relationship with his audience and in a way became subservient to it. He joined political campaigns, lent his songs to causes and intead of being his own voice that reflected America’s voice he simply tried to be America’s voice.

Devils and Dust, a really good record evokes this. For me this record would have been a high consideration for this list except for that title track. I like the song Devils and Dust fine but it smells of this need to be that voice and is way away from the other songs on the album. This is kind of how it continued, a lot of great stuff mixed in but overall not so much.

He toured relentlessly with the E Street Band securing his incredible live rep. The shows were grossly expensive however and speaking from a fan’s point of view excluded a lot of the long time fans who had shared his journey with him.

Now all of this poo-pooing is simply to put in context / elevate and lift my pick for number six of the decade, Live in Dublin. In the midst of this kind of lost decade Springsteen absolutely got it right, found his voice, and was exactly what the arc of his career projected him to be.

On a whim, after recording one track for a Seeger tribute album, Springsteen gathered area musicians to his house in New Jersey and recorded a number of folk tracks popularized by Pete Seeger. You read that correct, the man who spent months recording the song Born to Run, freewheeled a session with the results being the 2006 release We Shall Overcome – The Seeger Sessions.

Imagine if you will being a Boss fan coming home and hearing the opening banjo on Old Dan Tucker… Pure energy and joy, unexpected and exhilirating. There wasn’t a hint of sobering purposefullness, just flat out playing to play. As a Springsteen fan it was thrilling as hell.

In the All Music Guide review of We Shall Overcome Stephen Thomas Erlewine writes:

“Springsteen has made plenty of great records, but We Shall Overcome is unique in its sheer kinetic energy; he has never made a record that feels as alive as this.”

In another favorable review Noel Murray with The Onion’s A.V. Club concluded with this statement:

“…and while this record remains absolutely likeable, it still sounds too much like the soundtrack for a concert that hasn't happened yet.”

Prophetic indeed as Springsteen went on the road backing this record with a 478 piece band titled simply enough The Sessions Band. There were singers, horn players, fiddle, pedal steel, piano, penny whistle, banjo etc…

Live in Dublin is We Shall Overcome supercharged, a two CD tour de force of working songs, traditional folk songs, field songs, and originals. It is in my opinion the best live recording Springsteen has released uncannily capturing the energy of a Springsteen show.

What I repeatedly find so remarkable about Live in Dublin is how much it displays the force of Springsteen. Many songs that in their original context (as recorded by Seeger or other folk musicians) come off as shallow and hokey, are given immense depth and power by these performances. I’m talking Eerie Canal, Old Dan Tucker, This Little Light of Mine, no one and man I mean no one else performing now could convince you of the sincerity of these standards like Springsteen does on this.

In these songs lies the voice that has seemed so forced recently. This is the American voice, a tried and true songbook of the American experience.

There was an eerily comparable feeling when I was watching the DVD release of the best of the Johnny Cash show. One of the performances pulled is of Pete Seeger performing Worried Man Blues with his banjo. It starts with Seeger solo and in his way he is getting the audience to sing along, then… THEN the band starts up and Cash comes in from off screen and everything changes… the depth and sincerity of the song explodes. No longer is it a sing-a-long but a sermon, something you’d better shut up and listen to.

Just like Cash, when Springsteen is at his best he brings that type of power and never has this been more on display on record than Live in Dublin.


  1. Old 97's - Drag It Up

    The guys are great alt-country heart-on-the-sleeve goodness. Great lyrics, rockin' melodies...

    "You're a bottle cap away from pushing me too far
    Well the problem's getting big and it's a compact car
    So I won't feel so bad I did all I could do
    Now I'm on wounded knee and we're at waterloo"

  2. #6 Dwight Yoakam- Blame the Vain (2005)

    This guy just delivers consistently good and thoughtful country records. He's also- as you pointed out- accessible to the masses. I've always loved his voice, but I really love his arrangements , both musically and vocally.

    Favorite songs on this record, cause I'm a sucker for the cheesy talking in a song, "Intentional Heartache", "Does It Show?", "She'll Remember".

  3. I've a few things to say here, and not all of them are in regards to your number six album.

    I really like your comments on the "we need you" comment. It's a great story that certainly fits into Bruce's mystique, but I believe you're right in that he kind of got trapped into this persona that no one can live up to. As one magazine put it, Bruce has become "America's favorite uncle". Writing for The Rising, in retrospect, was an impossible task. Bruce made a valiant effort, but there are problems. There are some amazing songs on there, though as you've stated before, it could be improved, for starters by simply by trimming of a few of the songs.

    But an example where I believe Bruce shined in his new de facto role was in the song "Devils and Dust". Social commentary is usually done best not by taking sides, but in simply presenting a situation and letting it be. Bruce has written about war before, but usually by talking about the after effects (e.g. "A Good Man is Hard to Find", "Shut Out The Light", "Born in the USA"). This song moves the setting to the battlefield, and what might go through a soldier's mind. A soldier's duty is simply to follow orders, not to try and understand the bigger picture. The enemy may look the same as his allies, everyone seems suspicious, he's young and has live munitions at his disposal and he's so jittery that he jumps at his own shadow. He has the potential to affect (and take) lives without understanding his immediate situation. He's a just a cog in a wheel moving in an unknown direction, and you've got that fear of the unknown lurking, a la "Roulette". I love how Bruce addressed this.

    But on to Live in Dublin. It's a very interesting choice indeed. I like your description of the songs being supercharged. I am curious however about how the Springsteen originals come across to you, as you didn't mention them. Do the Session-ified versions of his own songs fit next to the Seeger related songs? This comes up because it's something that the studio album (We Shall Overcome) doesn't have to deal with this. One wonders how the concert would have been with only the cover songs. Then again, I do genuinely get a kick out of hearing Patti and the Sessionettes singing "zuu zuu zuut zuu ya zuuya" on "Open All Night".

    In your Ryan Adams writeup, you mention the 5 song EP that came with Gold. Similarly, there's an EP for Live in Dublin that contains 5 more songs (all Springsteen's). Any thoughts on this little extra?

  4. I know what you're saying about Devils and Dust it was hard to explain, my problem is that it doesn't seem to fit on (ironically) Devil's and Dust..

    Bruce has about 8 version of every release now it seems. I think his altered originals fit in real well with the vibe of the songs performed and the flow of the show. An exception is Long Time Coming... Man that is just straight off the record but How Can A Poor Man, Waltzified Should I Fall Behind and American Land are highlights. All of it together has a cohesive populists feel. I struggled with it being this or We Shall Ovecome but in the end Live in Dublin just felt right.