Live in Dublin by Bruce Springsteen with the Seeger Sessions band documents the final show of the group's long tour in support of the album that took them across the U.S. and Europe. Along with performances from the album itself, the show is peppered with Springsteen's own tunes. The deluxe double-CD contains 23 songs performed by a 17-piece band that includes a full horn section, backing chorus, numerous guitars, dobro, banjo, keyboards, accordion, field drums, sousaphone, euphonium, pedal steel, fiddles, standup bass, and more. The most prominently featured members of the band include Soozie Tyrell, Marc Anthony Thompson, and, of course, Patti Scialfa (who all offer wonderful duet performances). This recording stands in sharp contrast both musically and emotionally to the studio offering. We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions was recorded by a band that captured immediacy and intimacy: there is a certain raw savoir faire resulting in a bristling kind of joyous energy that only a large group of musicians unfamiliar with one another can provide. Springsteen's a perfectionist; some of the rough edges left on the studio album are a welcome surprise. Here, many of those same songs -- many of which come from out of history and time -- are performed by a band that became a spit-shined, polished, and utterly professional unit. Live in Dublin offers dazzling versions that have been honed and sharpened. This is a long way from Pete Seeger and his solitary banjo playing singalongs for folk festival audiences all over the globe; and yet, somehow not. But there is something more detached about this show -- and the video doubly enhances that studied feeling -- though its sheer musicality and virtuosity is a wonder. The horn charts are brilliant; there is room in some of these tunes, such as "Erie Canal," for old New Orleans jazz-styled soloing and interplay; the mannered time keeping is captured not only by drums and bass, but by the chorus' vocal phrasing. The show opener, "Atlantic City," is radically rearranged; it's now a near-monotone blues song. In this way it resembles the kind of re-tooling that Bob Dylan often gives his songs live to keep them interesting. Other tracks from Springsteen's catalog on the first disc include "If I Should Fall Behind." This one is done -- at first -- as a tender 19th century waltz between Scialfa and her husband. Then it transforms itself seamlessly into a communal sing, and in this way becomes a different song altogether, less intimate, but perhaps more profound. The pedal steel guitar treatment in "Highway Patrolman" is enhanced with upright piano, multiple acoustic guitars, and pedal steel. Springsteen's new version of Blind Alfred Reed's "How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live" premiered at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in 2006. It's complete with added lyrics that highlight the plight of Hurricane Katrina survivors; here it remains raucous and forceful. "O Mary Don't You Weep" is more fully a gospel tune here, its dynamic is over the top. "Jacob's Ladder" (a Seeger original) closes disc one. It's a wild Dixieland cum gospel romp with full-on horns (including Sousaphone), popping field snare, and bass drum. Tyrell's great violin break -- sometimes it seems as if she "gets it" in terms of the historical nature of these songs better than anyone else in this band -- and wide ranging call and response chorale are a breathtaking finish.
"Long Time Comin'" from Devils & Dust opens disc two, and this reading is a far more compelling one. Like "If I Should Fall Behind," it's so much bigger than the songwriter. It belongs not only in this mix, but in the way it's performed to the culture as shared experience. It's followed by an overly long, radical redo of "Open All Night" executed as a late-'50s rock & roll song with a very polished Andrews Sisters-styled female scat, before a male chorus engages them in call and response. It sounds more like something from Pump Boys at the Dinette , or, better yet, Guys and Dolls. It's a way of kickstarting a crowd for the second set; and no matter what one thinks of it musically, it works to that purpose. The Western swing (think Asleep at the Wheel) pedal steel solo and Sam Bardfeld's fiddle solo kick it into high gear, not to mention Springsteen's own acoustic guitar solo; and as has been proven thus far, the horn charts are spectacular. The accordion, fiddle, and brass driven "Pay Me My Money Down" is an entirely new reading of the traditional number. Its easy Cajun-esque 2-step and chorus-line-chorus structure is the loosest and most spontaneous-sounding thing on this entire set. There are great surprises for anyone who didn't see this tour with the inclusion in the set list of both "Growin' Up" and "Blinded by the Light," from Springsteen's debut album (the latter is a bonus cut). The former begins as a solo acoustic tune with a new melody and becomes a string and horn driven, skittering country song. The latter, with a Latin rhythm, Cuban son structure, and minor key signature, is a new song entirely. In addition, Springsteen's inventive folk song treatment of "When the Saints Go Marching In" is here, as is the singalong gospel number "This Little Light of Mine." This, as the official close of the show, is a crowd-pleaser and a barnstormer. The chorus vocals are simply stunning. The band just burns as a unit, and for a moment or two, it feels as if the charts have been burned and they are on the wire without a net. Two other bonus tracks are included (they were recorded for the original Seeger Sessions offering but not included on the final CD). They are Live in Dublin takes of John Hurley's and Ronnie Wilkins' "Love of the Common People" and "We Shall Overcome." These feel like they add something to the sense of heritage that initially gave birth to the Seeger Sessions project. "We Shall Overcome" is a defining moment here. Introduced by Springsteen as: "This is the kinda the song that got us started here, so uh..."; it's a soft-spoken element of surprise that closes the entire release with a moving and even spiritual sense of dignity. It is also the only song here that doesn't feel like a number Springsteen has remade in his own musical image.
For many listeners, this will seem like a wild celebration, yet all the polish and glimmer this band displays -- perhaps unavoidable after such a long run playing together -- feels very different, not distant so much involved in the song as in the performance. It feels like a recording that doesn't resemble the songs of the "people" any longer, but more like another live -- and far more musically adventurous -- Bruce Springsteen record. Not that there is anything wrong with that at all. It simply means that what was mercurial and puzzling and sometimes even maddening about The Seeger Sessions as an album feels defined and perhaps even actually finished here. Not just the in the sense of the band being at the end of a tour, either; it could be, perhaps, the end of a phase in his career (the jury is out on that for now), but more likely, that with Live in Dublin, something is lost as well as gained: it feels as if all of these songs as performed on this set -- not just the ones Springsteen penned -- have now become part of his catalog rather than part of his repertoire. While these songs have been part of a standard repertoire for many artists and front porch singers, they've never felt "owned" by anyone before now. Here, Springsteen owns them. [In addition to the double-CD version is a CD/DVD deluxe version that was filmed in high definition. Containing all 23 performances and a choice of Dolby Digital Surround or PCM sound, the bonus track performances are included as a separate chapter, along with a replica of the set list.]
All Music Guide - Thom Jurek