There are big bands and bigger ones: Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band — returning to the Times Union Center tonight for a sold-out show — is one of the biggest.
Fabulous in fame and fortune, it’s also among the finest for fun. Bruce by himself is Presidential Inauguration party big, Pete Seeger 90th Birthday Party big. Add the E Street Band, and he’s Super Bowl big. And when they played their local debut show at Union College (Oct. 19, 1974), they sprawled across the Memorial Chapel stage like the Don Ellis jazz Orchestra had a few years earlier.
Ellis’ band was so huge (21 pieces) that when horn players sneaked out the door to run around the building, occupy the front row of the balcony and blast everyone from behind with literally hair-raising effect, nobody noticed that they were missing. Springsteen and company had more hair and energy, and they made a bigger sound.
They were then on their third drummer: Mighty Max Weinberg, who, along with pianist Roy Bittan, had joined just a month before. (Weinberg succeeded Ernest “Boom” Carter, who followed Vini “Mad Dog” Lopez, and Bittan replaced David Sancious.) Violinist Suki Lahav was still aboard then, and guitarist Steve Van Zandt. He would start his decade-long hiatus nearly a decade later, in 1984, replaced by Nils Lofgren (who remains); and Springsteen’s then-future wife, singer and guitarist Patti Scialfa, would join at the same time as Lofgren.
The E Street Band has remained remarkably stable since then — despite lengthy breaks while Springsteen played with what loyal E Street Band fans call “the other band” or recorded solo. During those breaks, saxophonist Clarence Clemons brought his own band to play J.B. Scott’s in Albany and bassist Garry Tallent played with the Delevantes at the Metro after producing their album. They never really broke up, but fans rejoice when Springsteen brings them back together.
Violinist/guitarist/singer Soozie Tyrell joined in 2002 and keyboardist Charles Giordano joined from Springsteen’s Seeger Sessions band (later just the Sessions Band) when Danny Federici died last year, shortly after Springsteen played the Times Union Center with the E Street Band.
Tonight, it will be singer/guitarist/harmonica and piano player Bruce Springsteen, bassist Garry Tallent, saxophonist/percussionist Clarence “Big Man” or “Big Nick” Clemons, keyboardists Roy Bittan and Charles Giordano, guitarists/singers Steve Van Zandt and Nils Lofgren, singer/guitarist Patti Scialfa, and violinist/singer Soozie Tyrell. This is a band built for making a big sound to pump up big sentiments and fill a big place. But it can also conjure small moments and inhabit the lives of people who have only small expectations; and the point is to give them hope.
Recent set lists suggest that tonight’s show will include numerous new songs from “Working on a Dream,” his best album in years. And they’ll play some of the same songs as at Union College nearly 35 years ago.
Huge funk force
Among big bands, few are bigger than George Clinton’s sprawling space-funk circus, these days called Parliament Funkadelic but just as recognizable under either name or as the P-Funk All-Stars. I’d like to see him — he calls himself lead vocalist and referee — cram all these music-makers onto the Memorial Chapel stage. But instead, they’ll all be cramming onto the stage tonight at Northern Lights (Route 146, North Country Commons, Clifton Park): three or four each of keyboardists, drummers and bass players; half a dozen guitarists; a handful of horns; and hordes of singers and dancers.
Why so many of almost everything? (Everything except Clinton: There could only ever be one of him.) They’re almost never all onstage at once, they wander on and off as the spirit moves, even during songs; but their funk force is so formidable that the music never feels thin for a second. Some of them perform in diapers, others will make moves you won’t ever see anyone else ever do, and the sheer mass of sound is like nothing else onstage anywhere.
Doors open at 8 tonight for George Clinton and crew. Tickets are $20 in advance and $22 on Friday. Phone 371-0012 or visit www.northernlightslive.com.
Bromberg goes big
David Bromberg says his band sneaked up on him, as if he had no plans to assemble the vast and versatile juggernaut whose skills and energy helped make him one of the top touring acts on the road, about the same time the E Street Band was earning its reputation.
It may actually be true: Bromberg began his career by being a band, accompanying singer-songwriters with orchestral guitar parts, most notably Jerry Jeff Walker and Bob Dylan. When I first saw Bromberg play, at SUNY Binghamton in the early 1970s, his band was capable but compact, featuring (I think) fiddler Jay Ungar, reeds player Billy Novick and bassist Tony Markellis, the longtime Saratoga-area resident who was later in many bands including Kilimanjaro, the Unknown Blues Band, Trey Anastasio’s big band, No Outlet and Sara Pedinotti’s jazz group.
Bromberg kept adding and changing players — his bands have 30-plus ex-members — building a big and versatile ensemble capable of colliding with any musical tradition, thoroughly knocking it around and walking away in triumph.
Just as with Springsteen’s E Street Band reunions, Bromberg’s fans rejoiced when he resumed performing after a long break devoted to violin-making. He slowly snuck up on working with a big band again, playing last year at WAMC’s Linda Norris Auditorium with a small group.
On Friday at The Egg (Empire State Plaza), he’ll bring his big band, a fluid unit likely to feature multi-string-instrument players Jeff Wisor and Bobby Tangrea, bassist Butch Amiot, drummer Richard Crooks, saxophonist John Firmin, cornetist and trumpet player Peter Ecklund (who sometimes plays here with local jazz and rock bands), trombonist Curt Linberg and singer Nancy Josephson (Bromberg’s wife), who will also open the show with her Angel Band. Click here to read Brian McElhiney’s Bromberg story.
Caffe Lena blues
Like Bromberg early on, bluesmen Mark Tolstrup, Jon Shain and Glen Weiser generally ARE the band, “mobile gestalt units,” as the late, great Warren Zevon called himself — self-contained singer/guitarists. On Saturday, they present afternoon workshops and an evening concert at Caffe Lena (47 Phila St., Saratoga Springs): the Caffe’s fourth annual Acoustic Blues Festival.
Admission is $25 to the workshops: Weiser at 1 p.m. on movable blues chords, strumming and picking patterns and string bending; and Shain at 2:30 p.m. on open tunings and slide technique.
Weiser, Shain and Tostrup all play in the 8 p.m. concert. Tolstrup, with a rousing, heartfelt, virtuoso-level new album “Street Corner Holler” just released — performs with drummer Dale Haskell, who plays on the album along with Tony Markellis, organist Ron Rost, singer Mother Judge, mandolinist Sten Isaachsen and tuba player Dave Sokol. Admission is $18, $16 for Caffe members. Phone 583-0022 or visit www.caffelena.org.
Think the blues won’t work in beautiful, pristine, genteel Saratoga Springs? Think again. First time I ever climbed the Caffe Lena’s steep stairs — I was in high school, this was not recent — I felt I was climbing through the clouds into the exalted and spooky world of bluesman Mississippi John Hurt. His music remains the strangest, strongest, darkest and deepest sounds I’ve ever heard there.
Reach Gazette Columnist Michael Hochanadel at [email protected]
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