Summer ends on a Laid Back note with Bruce Springsteen in Holmdel
A couple of years ago, the recently deceased Gregg Allman founded the Laid Back Festival. Allman’s presence was heavily felt last night at the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, both spiritually and musically. When all was said and done, the final night of Summer 2017 could not have been better scripted.
The night began with Allman's stalwart Jaimoe and his Jasssz Band. Their vibe set the perfect tone and immediately put Gregg Allman top of mind.
Frontman extraordinaire Peter Wolf and his crack band took the stage next. Wolf, a continuous ball of energy, reached deep into both his storied songbooks from his days fronting The J. Geils Band and his stellar solo career. In recent years, Wolf has turned to the Blues, and was able to drive that point home during his set to perfection.
In the 70s, it seemed to me that every show that I attended at the Spectrum in Philadelphia featured The J. Geils Band on the undercard, of course finally, achieving headliner status. When Wolf and company completely nailed an insane version of “Musta Got Lost,” and it was clear that the Woofer Goofer can still own any stage that he chooses to.
Laid Back? Not so much.
When it was announced that Little Steven & The Disciples of Soul would begin their 2017 U.S. tour to support Van Zandt’s brilliant “Soulfire” album on their home turf, interest in this show went up a notch. And for good reason. Stevie only knows one way to bring it, and is as savvy a showman as there is.
While because of the Festival setting their set time may have been scaled down, the musicianship certainly wasn’t. Hearing Shore classics like “Love On The Wrong Side Of Town” and “I’m Coming Back” augmented by the blistering five-man horn section (featuring Jersey heroes Eddie Manion and Stan Harrison) was close to perfection. The 15-piece unit fired on all cylinders throughout their allotted performance time.
The “Soulfire” album has allowed Stevie to delve deeper into the Blues more than any other portion of his career. This was especially helpful when he decided to honor Gregg Allman by covering the ABB classic “It’s Not My Cross To Bear,” which was completely sublime.
But this was New Jersey, and a hop skip and a jump away from Van Zandt’s hometown of Middletown. So there was Peter Wolf to center stage, and Stevie and the Disciples ripped into a sick version of “Freeze Frame,” the title cut from the only J. Geils album ever to reach No. 1 back in 1981.
Did I mention sick? Laid Back? Not so much. Still in New Jersey? You bet.
Now the whole time, Bruce Springsteen had been taking in the show from a seat in the lower part of the Arts Center. To the surprise of absolutely no one (um, social media anybody??) now he’s at center stage, standing side-by-side with his best friend and blood brother. Springsteen, looking tan and fit and ready to stand under the neon lights, is clearly thrilled to be in the house.
They launch into “It’s Been A Long Time” and all is well. The crowd is going bonkers, the band is on fire and the moment is forever captured. Next up—“Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out.” Does the crowd go bat shit crazy when The Big Man joins the band? You know it. Stevie takes the lead vocal, and they hit the harmony home run that we’re all so familiar with.
Laid Back? I’m gonna say no.
I wouldn’t have survived college without Jackson Browne’s albums in the mid-late 1970’s, especially “Late For The Sky.” He takes the stage and immediately references Gregg Allman, acknowledging that he’d hoped to have been there at the show.
How do you follow Bruce Springsteen and Steve Van Zandt in New Jersey on a stage in their backyards, for God’s sake? You dig in and have at, starting off with “You Love The Thunder,” which remarkably was performed/recorded 40 Septembers ago on that very stage for Jackson’s “Running On Empty” album. Untold amounts of karma are in full effect.
Browne’s remarkable career is well represented throughout, and as with the others, a shorter set leaves out some chestnuts, but all of the important ground is covered. Gregg Allman covered JB’s “These Days” on his “Laid Back” album, so you knew that Jackson would go deep on this occasion. He did not disappoint.
He talked about Allman and then went into what was the night’s greatest performance, choosing to cover Allman’s “Melissa” from “Eat A Peach.” It was emotional and breathtaking and perfect in every possible way. It is a moment that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.
But we can’t possibly be done yet. Given the collective histories of all involved.
For years, Jackson Browne has been covering Little Steven’s “I Am A Patriot.” He jokingly said that he now feels that the song is his own. His versions have always been that good. So, the extra mic is set up, and here’s Stevie on stage to share his song with his friend, and they play a version for the ages.
In recent interviews Van Zandt talked about writing the song for his “Voice Of America” album in 1984 because of the uncertain political climate of those times. He makes the point now that the times are certainly not uncertain—that what you see is what you get.
At this point, the night can only end with Bruce Springsteen at center stage. He and Jackson Browne go back to the early 70s and coffeehouse days. They’ve both been there and done that, much, much better than most. Jackson talks about writing the song that they're about to play with his late buddy Glenn Frey of The Eagles when they were young and hungry.
Once again, he invokes Gregg Allman. And they begin to play “Take It Easy.” They’ve performed this song before, back in 2004 at the Beacon Theatre the night after Bruce inducted Jackson into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Blood Brothers to be sure. The song morphs into “Our Lady Of The Well,” which gives Browne’s guitarists, as well as Springsteen one final chance to stretch out their guitar legs, which they do all so well. Laid Back? Maybe. But’s it’s pure rock and roll.
Summer 2017 at the Jersey Shore winds down. Once again we had the good fortune to be a part of music history. The best part is that you never know what’s coming next.
Also on New Jersey 101.5: