CD Review of Live in Dublin by Bruce Springsteen with the Sessions Band

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Live in Dublin
starstarstarstarno star Label: Columbia
Released: 2007
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For last year’s We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions, Bruce Springsteen turned his back on a career’s worth of meticulous recordings, assembling a crowd of musicians to pay homage to Pete Seeger with a covers album recorded during a pair of one-day sessions. The results were shockingly, joyously raw, not only compared with the vast majority of every other album released by a major label in 2006, but with the rest of Springsteen’s catalog. For a guy who has spent as many years as he has singing about the redemptive power of rock & roll, Springsteen has always seemed overly cautious about giving in to it in the studio; perhaps giving up his perfectionist’s tendencies was the last Rubicon he had left to cross as an artist. Whatever the motivations, The Seeger Sessions was one of the best albums anyone released last year, and – whether or not the sales indicated it – a statement every bit as in time with the American heartbeat as The Rising or Born in the U.S.A.

The only thing better than hearing Springsteen’s hootenanny on disc would have been hearing them live and in person; luckily for fans, he took the Sessions Band on the road last year, and now Columbia is eagerly priming the product pipeline with Live in Dublin, a two-CD set (also available on DVD) that captures the final night of the tour in all its ragged, howling glory. If fans had a real gripe regarding The Seeger Sessions, it might have been that the record consisted of covers, and covers of dusty old leftist anthems at that; important as the Seeger songbook remains, it’s difficult to make the argument to listeners who only want another Born to Run. Even fans who couldn’t care less about “My Oklahoma Home” or “This Little Light of Mine” will find their wallets sorely tempted, however, by the prospect of hearing radically reworked versions of numbers from the Springsteen catalog.

Reworked, and reworked well: the band jumps right in with “Atlantic City,” reframed here as a saw-toothed, fast-moving blues groove, and it’s off and running from there. Springsteen was a latecomer to Seeger’s songbook, and it shows here – he sings and plays with the urgent enthusiasm of someone who’s just trying to share the experience. He isn’t preaching, in other words, he’s testifying, and it makes all the difference; more importantly, it helps weave his own songs all the more seamlessly along the standards. “If I Should Fall Behind” is reinvented as a slow-building waltz; “Open All Night” as a raucous barnstormer; “Blinded by the Light” as a jagged blunt instrument. The effect is often exhilarating.

If the set has a flaw, it’s simply that, with The Seeger Sessions, Springsteen and crew captured lightning in a bottle, and hearing them after months on the road, the thrill of discovery is necessarily diminished. The band is terrific, the performances are magnificent, and anyone who loves rock music needs to hear them – even if some of the momentum has been lost.

The DVD is essentially the album with video, and whether or not you need to purchase it will depend entirely on how much of a Bossaholic you are; seeing the band in action will likely reduce you to either tears of joy or tears of boredom. Most consumers will probably be best served by this set in their cars, with the windows rolled down and the volume turned up, up, up.

~Jeff Giles