— Brooklyn Bowl, Dec. 20, 2017
Little Steven took the crowd on a history lesson at the school of rock, taking on genres, adding horns, an unmistakable voice, songwriting and guitar chops to the mix that blew off the confines of his E Street Band side-men. He worked the 11-piece Disciples of Soul like a rock ‘n’ roll Don flexing their musical chops into overtures of doo wop, reggae, seaside rock anthems, garage rock, blues and the cinematic themes found in Blaxploitation and Ennio Morricone’s spaghetti westerns.
His show at Brooklyn Bowl was a two-hour blowout of horns, loud guitars and barroom bounce kept in check by three background singers, who added a soulful vibe to the mix that featured songs from the new record, Soulfire. Steven introduced the night claiming, “tonight’s about sanctifying your soul,” and adding that “the power to heal and soothe the soul thru the power of music will be addressed tonight,” in comparison to past tours when he wore his politics on his sleeve.
This time around the messages were addressed in song on numbers from the ‘80s when Steven was a pissed off rocker taking on the policies of Ronnie Reagan on albums like Freedom No Compromise. On “Bitter Fruit,” “Leonard Peltier” and “I Am a Patriot,” the band became a reggae fused jukebox of syncopated beats and rhythms.
They opened with Tom Petty’s “Even the Losers,” setting the tone for a night of redemptive rock. On “Blues is my Business” Steven let it rip as he paid homage to the Chicago Blues on a Gibson Les Paul. He introduced “Down and Out in New York City” from James Brown’s Black Caesar soundtrack as some dicey, Shaft-style wah-wah slid under some sleazy, urban funk and the souls sisters evened out the score with some soothing background vocals.
Electric Flags “Groovin is Easy” took us back to the garage where it all started. “Princess of Little Italy” was a folksy number from his first album, Men Without Women — “that you can buy at the flea market for a buck down the block” — and featured Youngblood’s guitarist Banana on Mandolin and a weeping accordion.
He introduced “Standing in the Line of Fire,” written for Gary U.S. Bonds in homage to the great composer of those Clint Eastwood westerns, Ennio Morricone. Steven put his guitars reverb and whammy on 11-plus as the tone got twangy and you could almost hear that eerie Fistful of Dollars whistle in the background.
Things got festive on the Ramones “Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want To Fight Tonight)” that he dedicated to Joey Ramone as brother Mickey Leigh made his way towards the stage from the crowd with his hand held up high to the punk legend. He thanked Southside Johnny for keeping his music alive for 20 years while he was “Playing a f****n Gangster,” then counted down the Asbury Jukes anthem, “I Don’t Want to go Home,” leaving everyone on a party high. Little Steven closed the night on a cautionary note adding, “Let’s stick together and we’ll find our way, ‘Out of the Darkness,’” from the 1984 album, Voice of America.