Last fall when Bruce Springsteen released a deluxe edition of his "Seger Sessions" "experiment" from the previous spring, I praised that album for adding a DVD that gave fans even just a taste of the tremendous, rollicking live show that he had put together with his Sessions Band and adding at least three terrific songs that Springsteen "crafted" as the tour rolled along and expanded, but were not recorded at the time of the original album's release. Yes, grateful I was for extras, but I noted at the time that even the original version of the "Seger Sessions" felt like a warm up to the asskicking live show that hadn't happened yet. And after I caught the tour when it plowed through my town, I was floored and all the more convinced that a live album was necessary to truly capture what Springsteen was trying to do and show us with this detour from his rock career. When the "American Land" edition was released, like I said, grateful as I was for the bonuses, I wrote in my Amazon review that they should have just foregone that release and gone the full-nine giving fans a true, mammoth live CD and DVD.
Well, too bad it took them a few false starts to get it right, but finally we have a definitive version and document of just how terrific an experiment this album and tour turned out to be. In fairness, it is possible that the record company, management, fans and even Bruce never expected a fluke gathering of musicians at his farmhouse studio playing traditional folk music to evolve into THIS.
Indeed, the tour itself evolved from what was already an emotional highpoint when it began at last year's New Orleans Jazz Fest into a big sweeping rock show that just happened to have more horns, fiddles and banjos than the average rock concert - and a truckload more emotion and pure joy too. Anyone who feared some weird, moonshine-swiggin' hoedown or a grumpy acoustic lament on our times from Bruce and this band... well, let's just say you missed a whale of a show. It is difficult to put in to words just how great a time was had by all at these shows - even being a huge Springsteen fan, I had my doubts going in - but from the moment he took the stage... well, he TOOK the stage. Everyone in the room realized immediately they needn't worry, and they may just experience something more (and better) than they ever had from a live concert. Just goes to show, I guess, we should never doubt Bruce when he has a passionate idea; he will take it all the way and turn it into something jaw-dropping.
So if you missed it, or you have just been waiting to relive it, here comes "Live in Dublin," a DVD and 2-CD document of the tour from its finale in Ireland last fall. Now I could gripe that these live albums and DVDs never quite capture just what it is truly like to be at the actual show, there are a handful of songs the band played throughout the tour that are inexplicably absent here (the phenomenal take on "Rag Mama Rag" and the encore staple hard-driving swing-meets-ragtime version of Bruce's "You Can Look But You Can't Touch" are obvious, glairing omissions, and "John Henry" is absent here despite being played every show), or say things like the DVD relies too heavily on close-ups rather than presenting the concert as the spacious, wide-open and lose jam session it was, or there are too many quick camera cuts, but why bother?! I only mention it because no doubt someone will. And I mention it so I can simply dismiss it. No, it is not like being there, but one would be hard pressed to find a better next-best to the real thing than these releases. And kudos to Columbia for releasing the concert on both the CD and DVD. I am always buying concert DVDs and wishing I could burn them just to have the audio. I hope this is a beginning of trend: Release a live DVD, make sure there is an accompanying live album.
Highlights, IMO, include the rousing opener "Atlantic City," the always passionate "O Mary Don't You Weep," "If I Should Fall Behind" is transformed into bar-closing waltz and becomes an emotional promise of love in its husband and wife duet, "Highway Patrolman" finally gets an actual melody behind it, making its lyrics all the more beautifully heartbreaking, "How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live?" may be the best thing to come out of this tour, as it is one of Bruce's best songs, "Mrs. McGrath" predictably resonates well in Dublin, and "Open All Night" has been the show stopper of the tour. Here it is still a blast - ragtime, swing, jazz and blues, and Bruce's rapid-fire vocals all crash into one another and result in this exhilarating amalgam - but this is not the tightest or best take on this song I have heard. It's a minor quibble, but a shame since, personally, this was the song I was most excited to have. But with the DVD, being able to view the performance of the song, rather than just listen to it, the experience is made better. Ditto the whole show. Bruce's - and the band's - energy is such a pleasure to behold you won't be able to resist the urge to get out of your seat. "Long Time Comin'," a terrifically well-written, country-tinged track from "Devils and Dust," feels even more at home here and "Blinded by the Light" is reworked into something so curious, you will listen to it over and over again. "This Little Light of Mine," "American Land" and "Love of the Common People" all transform Bruce into that rock and roll preacher fans know and love and point to as rhe reason why he is perhaps the best live performer on the planet. Each of these tunes, as performed, are so joyous they are almost religious in their musical-redemptive energy.
Anyone who has been listening to their non-Bruce-fan friends scoff since this admittedly curious departure for Springsteen was announced just over a year ago and have yet to give it a chance may want to throw this release at them and tell them to be ready to eat their words. It's hard to imagine anyone who would take this in and not be able to appreciate the vibrant artistry and talent on display here, regardless of their feeling towards Bruce or this type of music.
Sometimes true greatness is simply undeniable.