Little Steven And The Disciples Of Soul – Dublin, Vicar Street – 22 June 2017 Print E-mail
Written by Mark Ashby and The Dark Queen   
Monday, 26 June 2017 05:00

“Stop the world for a minute…”


It had been quite a while since the Über Rock team had ventured down south to the Irish capital: with day jobs to hold down, the four-plus hour round trip for midweek shows is often unfeasible, and, to be brutally honest, nothing had really tickled our fancy in the interim period since our last visit. But, with the inimitable Stevie Van Zandt playing his first solo shows in what seemed like absolutely forever, and with a resurrected Disciples Of Soul, the temptation to right that particular wrong was too much too resist…


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This gig was originally intended to take place in Cork, in the far south-western corner of Ireland, but was subsequently relocated to Dublin – presumably due to the band’s touring schedule. For us, and many others, it was an advantageous move: not as far to travel, for a start! And, I have to admit, Vicar Street just happens to be one of my favourite venues: well laid-out, it doesn’t feel claustrophobic even at its fullest, you can see all the onstage action from every corner, and the sound and lights are superb. OK, at €11 for two pints it’s a tad expensive for drinks – but at least every seat on the balcony has a ledge to set them on!


With a 14-piece band, including a five-man brass section and three female backing singers, even SVZ struggles to make his way onto the usually magnanimous Vicar Street stage, having to duck as he does so. But, make it he does, resplendent in a long leather dust coat and his trademark bandana and kicking off with the fuck-rock title track of his new album, ‘Soulfire’ – like this tour, his first in nigh on two decades. And, for more than a minute, the world does indeed stop; in fact, outside the confines of this room, it, and all its dramas and troubles, ceases to exist for the next 240 or so of them.


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Now, it has to be admitted that there did seem to be some initial bewilderment among (a very) small section of the crowd: those who perhaps did not know Little Steven outside of The E Street Band or, indeed, The Sopranos. But, there are more than enough diehard fans – some who have travelled hundreds, and even thousands, of miles to join in tonight’s experience, for Van Zandt to know that he is among friends, albeit long lost but newly reacquainted ones. This is evidenced when he takes a pause for breath after the third song, ‘Among The Believers’ (not a truer statement in this instance) and he is met with shouts of “we missed you Stevie”: this in turn leads to some good-natured banter with the faithful – including the obligatory crowd-pleasing pop of Dublin being “one of my favourite towns in the world” (although he does seem to actually mean, as he refers affectionately to the city several times during his between-song chats).


He also talks freely about the new album and his return to studio after such a lengthy hiatus, explain how it was all about “re-introducing myself”, not on to himself and his audience, but to the music on which he grew up and which shaped him into the artist he has become today. This is reflected in the choice of covers selected for both the album and the lives shows – and the two do not necessarily correlate. His rendition of Etta James’ ‘The Blues Is My Business’, complete with trombone, piano and saxophone solos before SVZ himself delivers a blistering masterclass in fretboard wizardry, is rich, lush and vibrant, while later his extended interpretation of James Brown’s ‘Down And Out In New York City’, with its flute and horn-led jazz workout, is affectionately rendered.


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Van Zandt’s pedigree as a songwriter in undeniable, stretching back, as it does, almost five decades. And he fully explores his back catalogue, going right back to the early days of Southside Johnny And The Astbury Dukes (in whom he first forged that lifelong bond with Bruce Springsteen), with his tale of finding ‘Love On The Wrong Side Of Timee’, reworked to terrific effect on the above referenced new album, around which most of the set is understandably built. He then slows things right down to deliver a mini-sermon about the soul and the importance of being connected together in “a world that is getting crazier every day” – a gospel-tinged interlude (coupled as it is with ‘When The Good Is Gone’) which epitomizes his journey of self-rediscovery.


As the set moves along two things come to the fore… The first is that he is a generous musician, treating the rest of the band with the respect of a true professional, as is epitomized by the trumpet solo in the middle of the cinematic tribute to Ennio Morricone, ‘In The Line Of Fire’, and giving them their own space to deliver their personal gospels at various interludes during the show. He also comes across as a very humble man, one who feels blessed with the talent he possesses and happy to share it and the accompanying joy.


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With the set now having entered its second hour, Stevie forsakes the guitar and changes the mood totally to talk about doowop and its place in the history of the development of rock ‘n’ roll: of course, it’s the prequel to ‘The City Weeps Tonight’, one of the standout moments of ‘Soulfire’: bathed in a single spotlight, SVZ almost succeeds in recreating that spirit of “a bunch of guys, and gals, standing on a street corner” – well, as close as you in front of a room full of almost 1,000 people!


Another knack SVZ possesses is that to switch moods as easily as flicking a switch, and so it is that the distinctively coiffured Lowell ‘Banana’ Levinger, erstwhile piano player with a band who had a massive influence on Van Zandt’s musical education, The Youngbloods (an whom SVZ introduces as “infinitely too talented to be playing with us), steps out from behind his keyboard to pick up a mandolin and join the front of stage spotlight for the romp that is the rootsy ‘Princess Of Little Italy’.


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Then it’s all change again, as SYZ declares “ah, here’s an idea” and strikes up the reggae skat of ‘Solidarity’.   But, for me, this is where the set fell apart somewhat, as the following trilogy of interconnected and politically charged songs – ‘Solidarity’ itself, ‘Leonard Peltier’ and ‘I Am A Patriot’ – while retaining a relevance their author could not have foreseen, dragged and sounded out of place, especially with the momentum the set had developed. May people obviously disagreed with me, given the rousing applause at the end of this section, but just as many kept their arms folded in bemusement.


Fortunately, the tempo was once again increased for the final section of the nigh on two-hour main set, with the rocky ‘Ride The Night Away’ and the Latino fiesta of ‘Bitter Fruit, before the set turns full circle with the souled-up funked-out pimped-up rock ‘n’ roll swagger of ‘Forever’. As the band takes their final bows, it’s not hard to notice that drummer Charley Drayton is holding a bag of ice around his right write: what a trouper, playing through the pain with a smile constantly on his face!


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But, it’s not quite over yet… there’s one more nod to his prodigious, and prestigious, back catalogue left in the SVZ arsenal – and, of course, it has to be the closest thing an artist who has never had a hit single (in the commonly accepted definition of the term) can come to in a “greatest hits” selection: ‘Out Of The Darkness’ (which actually reached number eight in the Norwegian pop charts when it was released back in 1984) does seem slightly out of place in the context of what has gone before, but is imaginatively reworked to suit Van Zandt’s more mature sound, and is an affectionate homage to his past, as well as a joyously nostalgic finale to this joyously nostalgic evening.


Little Steven And The Disciples Of Soul may have stopped the world for more than a minute, but for the time in which he did, it was one helluva better, friendlier and more redemptive place.


PHOTO CREDIT: All photos © The Dark Queen/Uber Rock. See our full gallery of photographs HERE.


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