First Midwest Bank
Ampitheatre; Tue 13
That working-class hero they call The Boss has been riding the freedom train since the mid-’70s, when writer-producer Jon Landau got the anthemic performer hooked on the populist Americana of Woody Guthrie and John Ford’s 1940 film The Grapes of Wrath. Somehow, though, Springsteen’s current tour—which celebrates songs made popular by another cultural icon, folkie fellow traveler Pete Seeger—isn’t merely an excuse to break out the banjo and indulge a few cornball choruses of “Froggie Went a Courtin’.”
His latest, We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions, is more purposeful: Its traditional ballads, many shot through with Irish lilts and embellishments, work as protest at a time when popular musicians are finally voicing more opposition to the Bush administration. Could “O Mary Don’t You Weep” sound like anything but an antiwar statement these days? That Springsteen also hired a new array of mostly unknown players to join him also gives the music a looseness and a rootsy vibrancy that may remind fans of the earliest E Street band days.
Tears flowed in the audience when the outfit headlined the recent New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, the choice of a Springsteen original (“My City of Ruins”) signifying the tragedy of Katrina, and a Mardi Gras staple (“When the Saints Go Marchin’ In”) the redemptive joy that follows a New Orleans funeral. Fans of Springsteen’s big-beat fare will have to wait for next time, as he scatters only a few originals in the set. But anyone hankering for a hootenanny had better get in line.—Steve Dollar