Revolution #51, June 18, 2006

Check it out: Bruce Springsteen with the Seeger Sessions Band

“Good evening, sinners,” Bruce Springsteen says as he takes the stage in cities across the country accompanied by 17 musicians (including a Dixieland horns section, a banjo, two fiddlers, a steel guitar, upright base, accordion, and a washboard) of the Seeger Sessions Band. The concert, featuring songs from Springsteen’s latest CD, We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions, includes elements of everything from zydeco to bluegrass to ragtime, Tex-Mex and southern soul—often in one song. All delivered with the intensity of a regular Springsteen rock show. One concertgoer called it a “wall of folk.”

Springsteen’s got a lot to say right now about the direction this society is going in, but he lets these songs, some written over 100 years ago, do most of the talking. “What I bring to this music is a sense of urgency,” Springsteen told a reporter. “It’s like I’m saying to people, ‘You’ve got to listen to this music right now, right in the moment.’ That urgency is my service to these songs.”

A highlight of the show is Springsteen’s version of a Depression-era blues song, “How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live,” written by Blind Alfred Reed. Springsteen kept the first verse of the song and wrote three new verses, speaking to the devastation in New Orleans.

Springsteen also performs several songs that speak to the war in Iraq. He followed his own ballad, “Devils and Dust” (“I got my finger on the trigger/and I don’t know who to trust”), with the 19th century Irish anti-recruiting song “Ms. McGrath,” about a son who gets his legs blown off by a cannonball fighting for the British empire.

But don’t get the idea that the concert is a downer. Bruce (and the audience) is clearly having fun from the moment the concert starts until the very end. He has people on their feet dancing and singing along. Like the best of Springsteen’s music over the years, these songs have the power to rise above any particular issue and inspire and move the audience, to bring hope to even the most desperate conditions.

I got family scattered from Texas all the way to Baltimore

And I ain’t got no home in this world no more

Gonna be a judgment that’s a fact, a righteous train rollin’ down this track
Tell me, how can a poor man stand such times and live?

[The Seeger Sessions Tour continues through June. You can watch videos from the tour online at]

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