Little Steven and The Disciples

Little Steven and The Disciples, London, November 2017

At 8pm on the first Saturday in November, when much of London is at Bonfire nights, in the warmth of a pub or watching reality TV, there is a queue that stretches from The Roundhouse near Chalk Farm tube station bending all the way to near the Camden arches. Mostly of a certain age, the crowd are in snake-like but disciplined line to see what transpires to be Stevie Van Zandt giving out a live performance that energetically trawls through what he terms the history of “rock and soul.”

On stage Little Steven is joined by at least fourteen disciples for a big band sound that kicks-off with a Tom Petty cover, Even the Losers, followed by the title track of their 2017 album, Soulfire, a call to musical arms. Later Stevie explains he was persuaded to reconvene the band for a performance on a Bill Wyman curated event last year. Soon enough the band recorded Soulfire, leading to this tour.

The album includes covers including Etta James’ Blues is my Business and James Brown’s Down and Out in New York City, which are both pulsating live, and also afforded great introductions. With the latter, Stevie sets the context of the influential sound that came as a by-product of Blaxploitation films, one of many times in the evening, his love of music comes out in the style of engaging story-telling.

In the back-and-forth tour of music through the years, there is also a lesson on doo wop, with an introduction, like much of his musical career, that recognises that politics and art cannot be separated. This comes through in some of his older tunes too, including Solidarity, the anthem for the common person.

Other highlights of the night included music inspired by westerns, a dedication to his wife Maureen (Angel Eyes), and his own cinematic folk song Princess of Little Italy. Adaptations of music he wrote for Southside Jonny and the Asbury Jukes feature both on the Soulfire album and in the set, with Love on the Wrong Side of Town, co-written with Bruce Springsteen, a pleasant ear-worm for days to come after this gig.

And it was a Bruce Springsteen and E Street Band gig in London five years previously which led to a walk-on cameo for Paul McCartney, and a reprise of Saw Her Standing There, the Beatles song they were jamming on at Hyde Park when the sound was memorably and shamefully cut on a Saturday evening in summer.

After McCartney exits Stevie is still fulsome in his praise of English music in the sixties as a factor of he and his ilk becoming musicians rather than “real life Sopranos.” Such was Van Zandt’s impact as Silvio in The Sopranos long after he first formed The Disciples, for many that staring part in what was the pinnacle of the new dawning of the golden age of television will be his greatest legacy.

But this live tour through musical history is a reminder of his own Soulfire; it has come out in recent years with the E Street band, perhaps most notably in his beautiful harmonising with Springsteen in Here She Comes Walkin’, the introduction in the live reworking of I Wanna Marry You on the 2016 River Tour. But it is now also in his TV work as he has taken the reigns with an original score for Lilyhammer.

Music is his radar. And may the next Little Steven and The Disciples tour give us a bit of nineties indie thrown into the eclectic mix.

MG

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