Max Weinberg, the drummer from Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, brought his “jukebox” show to the GE Theater at Proctor’s Friday night. Supported by the New Jersey band “The Weeklings,” he played a light show of classic rock tunes which the audience requested from a list. The songs were quick and uneventful. There was little effort to inspire, or educate, only to cover the songs with competence and move to the next. For many this seemed enough, for the audience appeared to enjoy the give-and-take of the show’s structure.
The show started with songs like “She Loves You,” “Fortunate Son,” “Mr. Tamborine Man,” and “Drift Away.” The Beatles songs offered the best moments, particularly the stand-out “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” which singer and guitarist John Merjave nailed with his all-in style. Ironically, Springsteen songs might have been the frailest. Everyone knew their parts, but nothing brought them together. Particularly “Thunder Road,” which left a big hole in the finale without the saxophone.
The band found a groove on “She’s the One,” and Weinberg varied his drumming a bit here—working the tom-tom sounds and moving off his hi-hat and snare, but it still fell short. “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out,” the first Springsteen song they played, also never found the groove that enabled the song to endure all these years.
For the budding or working drummer hoping for insight, there was little to none Friday night. Weinberg is a minimalist who sees his primary role as a beat keeper. He has the discipline to lay down a four-four beat and stay there, a patience and skill few young drummers display. With Springsteen, that was Weinberg’s job. Friday night—given that it was his band and his show—we could have used a little razzle-dazzle, a few extra fills, a semi-reckless trick or two. Perhaps, in this day of ego drumming, the tradition of keeping basic time for the band is the lesson.
To his credit, he is 67-years old and hit the drums with force all night, displaying a stamina few have at that age, or any age. Like his famous “Boss,” he was the hardest worker on the stage.
It also would have been nice to hear a few war stories from his Springsteen days, or a fun anecdote. He gave us a small-drip’s worth early in the night: Springsteen played 33 songs per show, on average, and typically changed half of the setlist each night.
Weinberg emphasized the importance of tempo for each song, noting before Neil Young’s “Cinnamon Girl” that it was critical not to play it too fast, or too slow. That seemed interesting and we waited to watch him cautiously count off the song. But then he took out his metronome and let the machine determine for him the beats per minute.
There were some fun outlier tunes that fell outside the expected Beatles category. The Ramone’s “I Want to Be Sedated” was pretty cool, as was Elvis Costello’s “Pump it Up,” and David Bowie’s “Jean Genie.”
Weinberg engaged the audience through the entire show. After every four songs – which he called a “four pack” – he went out to a section, asked four audience members for a request, played them, then went to a new seat section for four more.
In the end, it was a positive, family-fun, well-intentioned show. Still, given his fortunate and incredible experiences—years as the band leader of NBC’s late night shows, and Springsteen’s time keeper—you would hope for something special, something you can’t get from anyone else. That didn’t happen.
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