Sunday, August 26, 2007

UPDATE: More Music This Fall

My previous post about upcoming music releases came off the top of my head, so in the few days hence I've realized a few omissions. Here are a few more albums I'm looking forward to:

Pearl Jam, "Immagine in Cornice"/"Picture in a Frame" DVD (Sept. 25)
This portends to be a true documentary, the first behind-the-scenes look at Pearl Jam since 1998's "Single Video Theory," which documented the recording of the band's classic fifth album, "Yield." Since then, PJ have released several excellent concert DVDs (my favorite: "Touring Band 2000"), but the trailer looks like this could provide a look at the band fans have never seen. Exciting stuff.

The Hives, "The Black and White Album" (Oct. 9)
Though their albums only last about a half-hour, it still takes this Swedish punk/rock outfit a long time to come up with a new album, so that means they're usually good. Judging by lead single "Tick Tick Boom," it sounds like not much has changed, and that's a good thing. I'll be seeing these guys in a small club the week after the album comes out, and can't wait since I've heard they're an awesome live band. We shall see.

Flight of the Conchords, new full-length album (January 2008)
So January technically isn't the fall, but I wanted to put a plug in here for this New Zealand folk/comedy duo who have one of the best shows on TV right now. Their eponymous HBO series (sadly coming to a close soon, but thankfully renewed for another season) is dry wit at its hysterical best. Bret and Jemaine play themselves as wide-eyed naive moron musicians trying to make it in New York City. The hallmark of the show occurs about twice an episode when the guys drift into inner monologue, portrayed as an aside music video. YouTube is full of "Conchords" clips if you're curious, and the band just released an EP, "The Distant Future," with Song of the Year candidate "Business Time." Like Tenacious D without the raunch, I can't recommend the Conchords and their show highly enough.

Bruce Springsteen, "Radio Nowhere"
And, last but not least, "Radio Nowhere" is the lead single off Springsteen's new album and it hit the web this past week. I love it. Maybe I've just been listening to too much Gaslight Anthem recently, but "Nowhere" sounds like the closest Bruce is ever going to get to writing a punk song. No, I'm not saying it IS a punk song, just that it gives off that vibe—call it the most "modern" he's ever sounded, if you like. A straightforward rocker akin to "Further On (Up the Road)" from "The Rising" (a song that's only gotten better with age), I especially love the little hitch he puts in his voice at the end of several lines. Ironically, given the hubbub about Springsteen recording with the E Street Band again, this doesn't sound much like an E Street sound to me, despite a scorching sax solo from Clarence Clemons; it's more like extra-brawny solo Springsteen. Regardless, this bodes well for the new album.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Armchair Box Office Quarterbacking Isn’t for Everyone

Including me. Back in January I took a stab at predicting this summer’s box office totals and came up almost completely wrong through and through. In review, here are a few things I learned:

1. “Spider-Man 3” benefited more than I expected from being first out of the gate.
2. It seems ridiculous that $300 million-plus is somewhat disappointing for “Pirates 3,” but Disney might have been better served leaving the final (?) installment on the shelf for another year to let demand build a bit.
3. Michael Bay is the luckiest director in Hollywood. I gave “Transformers” a B- right after I saw it, but upon further reflection that was probably too high. Bay really trashed those characters and the movie was a C+ at best (yes, in my mind there’s a big difference between those two grades). He did, however, manage to ride Gen-X nostalgia, good trailers, a midweek Fourth of July holiday (which basically meant a full week that acted like a weekend), and generally positive we’re-just-glad-it’s-not-a-sequel reviews like mine to a monster payday. No one—and I mean NO ONE—thought just four months ago that this movie would best “At World’s End” by summer’s end. It’s still a mystery to me.
4. Even Pixar can’t make rats that cute. I’m still a bit stunned, though, that “Ratatouille” is having to scratch and claw its way to $200 million—the studio's lowest domestic gross in nearly a decade (1998's "A Bug's Life" made $162 million). It will be interesting to see if Pixar changes course at all in the future because of this.
5. People will come. Sequel fatigue and a crowded schedule may have hampered the end runs of several movies, but the opening weekends were still gigantic right through to the end. The fact that “Simpsons” and “Bourne” both raked in $70 million to open was surprising; I thought the moviegoing public might be worn out by then, but the films were good and people love the respective characters.

All in all, summer 2007 was excellent as summers go. I went to the theater more in the past four months than I probably had in the previous year and a half—and not out of some sort of pop-cultural obligation, but because I actually—shockingly—wanted to see these flicks (well, except for “Fantastic Four,” but even that was still a fun 90 minutes). And I didn’t even get to “Die Hard” or “Rescue Dawn”!

So here’s how my summer shook out, in order of preference (click on the titles to read my reviews):

1. “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix”—This movie had it all.
2. “The Bourne Ultimatum”—James Bond may be reinventing himself, but he can’t hold a candle to Jason Bourne. Paul Greengrass delivered yet another excellent film that cements the Bourne trilogy as one of the best in movie history—forget limiting it to just the spy genre. The car chases got all the hype, but my favorite scene was the close-quarters fight in the Tangiers hotel; it’s arguably the best combat sequence I’ve ever seen. Damon was once again perfect (and Oscar-worthy, even though that will never happen) and the script kept me leaned forward and engaged all the way through as it seamlessly weaved the conclusion in and around the first two movies (impressive considering it was composed almost on the fly). I had two complaints: David Strathaim’s CIA administrator was too much of a cliché (with some painful lines of dialogue, to boot), and the conclusion was a tad underwhelming and politically jingoistic after three movies’ worth of buildup. It’s not that I didn’t like the final reveal (even if it does make America look like the bad guy—what else is new?), but it wasn’t handled with the same deft dexterity as the rest of the film. What a shock: A message overwhelming the craft. Still, “Ultimatum” is the epitome of what an action thriller can and should be. Grade: A-
3. “Ratatouille”—Brad Bird rules. Much funnier and eye-popping than even I expected.
4. “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End”—Screw the whiny critics who couldn’t follow along. This movie was gutsy and glam all at the same time.
5. “Spider-Man 3”—The rare occasion where superb action sequences make up for a wordy script.
6. “The Simpsons Movie”—The fact that this movie even made it to the big screen amidst the enormous pressure put on the writers is an achievement in and of itself. The fact that it’s flat-out hysterical is truly something. I guess those who haven’t seen it by now aren’t likely to anytime soon, but I still don’t want to give anything away—there’s even a laugh-out-loud joke before the movie even begins. The movie’s sizeable central flaw was the lack of screen time for key supporting characters. I realize Springfield is populated with literally dozens of fan-favorites, but you have to figure out a way to get Mr. Burns and Ralph Wiggum more than one or two lines apiece. You just have to. Still, there are so many jokes packed into this film’s 90 minutes I’ll probably have to watch it two or three more times to catch even most of them. Grade: B+
7. “Ocean’s Thirteen”—Matt Damon had a great summer. Thankfully he and his boys seemed to do more actual work this time around than partying.
8. “Transformers”—See above. Please let someone else direct the sequel. Michael Bay doesn’t even like these characters.
9. “Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer”—Better and funnier than I expected.

It’s sure going to be hard for Hollywood to top itself next summer, but hopefully the studios will space tent poles out a little more to give us all a little breathing room. Then again, this summer is probably going to be the most lucrative on record and next year we’re due for the return of Indy, Batman, and the kids from Narnia, so you can always count on Hollywood to run something into the ground—this time it may be the ticket-buying public.

Good Music (Hopefully) for the Fall

Eddie Vedder’s solo album/soundtrack for “Into the Wild” (due Sept. 18) is just one of several new releases I’m looking forward to this fall. Here are a few others to put on your calendar:

PJ Harvey, “White Chalk” (Sept. 24 in the UK, no US release date yet)
This is the visceral British singer/songwriter’s first album in three years, a follow-up to a slightly subpar “Uh Huh Her.” The latter was an album that turned out to be less than the sum of its parts. While it was a return to her minimalist and harsh early days and featured several good songs, the overall impact was lackluster. “White Chalk” is supposedly yet another dramatic shift, this time a piano-based album. Haunting first single “When Under Ether” can be heard here.

Dashboard Confessional, “The Shade of Poison Trees” (Oct. 2)
Founder/frontman Chris Carrabba is supposed to be returning to his roots on his band’s fifth full-length. Early buzz says this is an acoustic album, which would mean a shift away from the electric pop/rock of the past two albums. It’s unclear if this will be just Carrabba and a guitar like 2000’s “The Swiss Army Romance,” or a full-band version circa 2001’s “The Places You Have Come to Fear the Most”—or maybe a mix of both. “Poison Trees” hits just more than a year after “Dusk and Summer,” an album that certainly didn’t blow me away when it came out but has actually aged rather well. As I said in my review of that album, I’m still curious to see how Carrabba’s songwriting will change now that he’s in his early 30s. The band has been in a bit of a downturn this past year, so this could me a make-or-break album.

Bruce Springsteen, “Magic” (Oct. 2)
Springsteen’s 50s have been good to him, because this has been some decade for the Boss. “Magic” is the first Springsteen album to feature his beloved E Street Band since 2002’s excellent “The Rising,” but it’s not like the guy’s been idle. In 2005 he dropped “Devils and Dust,” a better-than-decent solo record, then followed up last year by reinventing himself with the tremendous folk/rock album of Pete Seeger covers, “We Shall Overcome.” Now he’s back again with the group that helped make him a legend, and that is, of course, cause for celebration. More exciting to me is longtime manager and confidant Jon Landau’s pronouncement that “Magic” is not overtly political. Hooray!

“Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock” (Oct. 21)
This is the third full installment in what during the past year has become my favorite videogame franchise of all time. And in true rock-star fashion, No. 3 promises to be bigger, louder, and (hopefully) better than ever. Just one look at the confirmed tracklist has my fingers twitching and my foot tapping in anticipation. This game has built from the ground up just like a real band—the original started building buzz in 2005, leading to the sequel’s big hit last year. Now momentum is building to a crescendo and “Guitar Hero” has become so successful the producers have the clout they need to get original tracks of some truly epic songs. I’m particularly aflutter over the idea of playing AFI’s “Miss Murder,” The Smashing Pumpkins’ “Cherub Rock,” the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage,” The Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black,” Metallica’s “One” (how on Earth will that even be possible?), and, of course, “Even Flow” from Pearl Jam and one Mr. Mike McCready.

Finally, there’s a great deal of chatter about a massive box set from Ryan Adams also out this fall. No official release date yet so it’s a believe-it-when-I-see-it situation, but if it does come to pass it could be special. I’ve heard upwards of seven discs (at least) that would include cuts diehards drool over. I’m not inclined to slobbering over every scrap of Adams material, but I certainly would be interested in plowing through this material.

Monday, August 20, 2007

It’s a Muuuusical Journey: My 15-year love/hate relationship with Pearl Jam

I can’t point to any specific date when Pearl Jam became my favorite band, but it had to be somewhere in the “Vitalogy” era of 1994/95, because it was full-on obsession by the time “No Code” came out in summer 1996.
So over the past decade I’ve had plenty of time to continuously refine how I respond to a band so diametrically opposed to my political beliefs. I’ve written about that other places (here and here), and that’s not the point of this entry. This past month has merely reminded me with vivid clarity the dichotomy that exists between me and the five liberals from Seattle whose music I tend to adore and admire.
Let’s start with Thursday, Aug. 2, the day PJ played a fanclub-only show at Chicago’s small Vic Theatre as a warm-up for their headlining gig at Lollapalooza a few days later. One of the reasons I continue to follow, support, and love Pearl Jam is their commitment to loyal fans like me, an M.O. that goes way beyond any other band their size—or just about any size, for that matter—and continuously proved through their visceral live performances. One look at the Vic setlist will tell you this was a unique show, as the rundown eschewed the hits for a lineup existing almost entirely of rare and/or lesser-known cuts. Even for a band that never plays the same set twice, this performance was an exception; they knew who they were playing to, and they tried to provide what they thought diehards would really like. And, of course, they were right, judging by message board traffic, anyway. I’m not necessarily a rarities freak and as an outsider looking in the setlist seems a little awkward; but the attempt is the key—these guys have been treating their fans right for more than 15 years. And, of course, I would have loved to see that show.
So that brings us to Lolla a few nights later, which was webcast live via AT&T’s Blue Room. I was overjoyed to discover the show would be broadcast—for free and in its entirety—because it meant getting to see the band perform without having to visit O’Hare and stand amongst thousands of sweaty, smelly bodies.
The set was an absolute barnstormer, as PJ powered through hit after hit in a mass-appeal show. There was a bit of a dustup the day after, though, when the band discovered a snippet of its performance was “censored” during the simulcast. It is standard practice during “Daughter” for Eddie Vedder (the lead singer, for the one person in a million who might not know) to vamp his way through an extended jam, pulling out lines from other songs. On this night he chose Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall, Part II” and substituted a couple lines to jab at President Bush (“George Bush, leave this world alone”). The line didn’t make it out over the web, though, because apparently the one person manning the broadcast’s “dump” button edited it out.
Just why the line was cut still isn’t exactly clear. When fans let the band know what happened, Pearl Jam started crying “Censorship!” and AT&T quickly apologized, saying it’s not the company’s policy to censor political statements, only excessive profanity. I can understand being a little irritated, but the band, as is their wont, used the edit as a way to pound home once again the “free speech is under attack” mantra Eddie has been spewing for the better part of a decade. Nevermind the fact he performed several other politically-charged songs at other times that evening—one protesting an oil company, and two others the war in Iraq. None of these were edited in any way.
To this longtime fan, Pearl Jam came off looking ridiculously thin-skinned and diva-esque, as the band usually does when engaging in this type of “commentary.” I’ve heard more of these snippets than I care to recall over the years, and except for rare occasions Eddie usually sounds like a drunken buffoon. If you’re going to protest, do it the right way by playing Dylan’s “Masters of War” (which is always excellent when they do it) or “Worldwide Suicide” (which they DID play and was NOT edited). I shook my head and chuckled at the quips during the show; the post-show drama pissed me off a bit. Give me a break: You have been engaging in anti-Bush rhetoric since 2000; everybody knows how you feel, and no one’s shutting you up, even if we wanted to. Yes, it was a stupid thing to do, but it was one guy, pushing one button, at the end of a very long weekend, who may have just thought—personally—that he was sick of Eddie’s crap. We’ll probably never know, but the Internet continues to bring us more unfiltered music than ever—heck, anybody in the whole wide world could log on and listen to Eddie protest the war. It was one line. Get. Over. It.
Of course, nothing helps me get over incidents like this than what drew me to the band in the first place: Their music.
Right around the time of the Lollapalooza show, I also discovered a batch of Pearl Jam demos/alternate takes/unreleased tracks that showed up online the last week of July. Included in this collection is “Puzzles and Games,” the antecedent of “Light Years” from 2000’s “Binaural.” Now, I really, really like “Light Years,” but after hearing “Puzzles,” I have trouble understanding just what the band was thinking when they moved away from this sprawling, swirling, epic potential classic. “Light Years” retains some elements of “Puzzles,” but—to these ears—it just doesn’t measure up to what “Puzzles” could have been—we’re talking “Corduroy” or “In Hiding” here. I’m thrilled to have this rough cut, though.
And as if that wasn’t enough of a pleasant surprise, today started streaming what I’m tentatively calling Eddie’s best vocal performance on record—ever. Yes, I know what that says—go listen to it. The song is “Hard Sun,” a cover of a rock/folk song by little-known Canadian singer/songwriter Gordon Peterson. It hails from the soundtrack to “Into the Wild,” a film directed by Sean Penn, who asked Eddie to write songs for inclusion in the movie.
What this means is that we finally have ourselves an EV solo record. If the rest of the effort sounds even close to “Hard Sun” … well, I can’t let my hopes get that high just now, but this is one of the strongest reactions I’ve ever had to a Vedder song. His voice is simply perfect on this track—thick and deep and vibrant and soaring. He wraps it around and through the melody without a trace of strain; it gave me goosebumps the first time through and instantly reminded me of his fabulous lo-fi cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “One Step Up” from the pre-PJ days (oh, and that’s Corin Tucker, formerly of Sleater-Kinney, on background vocals, which only sweetens the deal that much more). I could use this song as Exhibit A for why I love this man’s music so much (as if these weren’t enough). I’m now about as excited for this album as I’ve ever been for a Pearl Jam record.
So there you have it: The ying and yang, highs and lows, embarrassment and pride, distaste and excitement of a month being a Pearl Jam fan. What will next month bring?

***The batch of demos can be downloaded here***
***A lesser quality version of “Hard Sun” can be found at***

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Music Reviews: Summer 2007

Ryan Adams, ‘Easy Tiger’
Is it possible for an album to be too good for its own good? If so, then it’s fitting the prototype for such a paradox should come from the untamable Ryan Adams and his new release, “Easy Tiger.”
The record’s quite amazing in that its 13 tracks offer an effective snapshot of the many different facets of an artist who’s issued nine albums since 2000—and in less than 40 minutes, much less. The results certainly seem a clear sign that the recently-sober singer/songwriter has a newfound focus. This is the sharpest Adams has sounded since his 2001 breakthrough “Gold,” and lead single “Two” is a pitch-perfect pop/rock ditty that would have been right at home on that record. “Goodnight Rose” and “Everybody Knows” are reminiscent of the rockabilly shuffle from 2005’s glorious “Cold Roses,” while “Halloweenhead” is as good (or better?) a dirty rock song as anything on 2003’s “Rock N Roll,” an album full of dirty rock songs. And “Oh My God, Whatever, Etc.” offers up the quiet intensity found on Adams’ 2000 breakthrough classic “Heartbreaker.”
These songs comprise the first five on the record; unfortunately, after that Adams takes the foot off the gas, to the album’s detriment. Don’t get me wrong: There isn’t a bad song on “Easy Tiger,” but there is a definite downshift in momentum for the remainder and he’s never quite able to recapture the wide-open energy of the album’s opening sequence. Highlights from the second half include bluegrass ballads “Pearls on a String” and “These Girls,” as well as “I Taught Myself How To Grow Old,” the mellow set-closer that could have been straight out of the sessions for 2003’s “Love Is Hell.”
Again, “Easy Tiger” certainly is a strong effort from Adams—the best since “Cold Roses.” But it’s just a bit too quiet for my liking. Ironically, an alternate take of “Whatever, Etc.” floating around the Internet offers exactly the type of uptempo vibe I’m talking about—for a track that works perfectly well as a quiet, contemplative number. Too bad he didn’t test that tack with a couple others, but, as usual, Adams confounds as much as he inspires.
Grade: B+

Feist, ‘The Reminder’
One of the year’s most highly acclaimed albums didn’t exactly live up to the hype for me, but that’s no surprise given my aversion to “indie” music.
Leslie Feist’s sophomore solo album, “The Reminder,” reminded me why I don’t particularly care for the genre. It’s too precious, too pretty, too cute, too perfect, and too restrained. That being said, the style works better for women than men; where guys like Sufjan Stevens or Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard come off sounding wimpy, the quiet atmosphere suits Feist’s silken voice much better. Still, even on this album’s breakout hit, the undeniably catchy and fun “1 2 3 4,” I wish she’d just let it rip a little more.
Naturally I’m drawn to “The Reminder’s” more romping numbers, and there are plenty of goodies here, including “I Feel It All,” “Sea Lion Woman,” “Past in Present,” and “My Moon Man.” After “1 2 3 4” in the ninth slot, though, the record drips to a close through four barely distinguishable mopey tracks.
“The Reminder” brings up another interesting issue, though: Songs in commercials. U2 took a hit from many back in 2004 for appearing in an iPod promo featuring their new song “Vertigo” (the commercial was awesome, by the way—better than the “official” video they shot for the single). The “sellout” hubbub was squelched somewhat when it came out the band didn’t take any money for the ad; since rock and roll on the radio is basically dead, U2 saw the iPod ad as a new way to reach new fans. And it worked, of course, as “Vertigo” and the album it’s found on “How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb,” were huge hits.
Some never forgave them, though, for appearing in a TV spot, but it’s interesting now to see the Irish supergroup was, yet again, ahead of its time. Look no further than Feist and Wilco—the latter allowed Volkswagen to use cuts from its new album, “Sky Blue Sky,” in various commercials. And I would never have bought Feist’s record (“1 2 3 4” didn’t wow me that much) without hearing “My Moon Man” on a recent Verizon spot. I don’t know if Feist or Wilco took the money or not, but I can’t say I blame them for following in U2’s footsteps—they are in the business of selling records, and these commercials give them way more exposure than they ever would have gotten on their own. I admit hearing the Wilco songs on a car commercial is off-putting (I tend to switch them off), but I guess these are the times we live in. Listening to their respective albums, I don’t think of Feist or Jeff Tweedy as compromising any of their artistic integrity, and it’s not like the commercials splashed their names all over the screen (which U2 did, actually). It is no doubt a tricky line to walk, and will be an interesting trend to observe in the future.
Anyway, back to “The Reminder”: I give it a B+

The Gaslight Anthem, ‘Sink or Swim’
I don’t actually buy much music from iTunes (other than hard-to-find b-sides, for which the online provider is brilliant). But the digital store does play a very important role in my musical decisions, as I constantly use its 30-second preview feature when investigating potential purchases. This isn’t a full-proof method, of course—sometimes those 30 seconds can sound better than the band actually is, and other times it’s not nearly enough to get an adequate sense of a band.
And then there are those times when I know I’m buying the album from the first five seconds.
Such was the case with The Gaslight Anthem, a New Jersey punk/rock band I’d never heard of until it was recommended to me earlier this summer. It only took the first few bars of opening track “Boomboxes and Dictionaries” to know I was buying this record. When I finally got to hear the entire thing, it didn’t disappoint.
The Springsteen influence is undeniable, and not because the band hails from the Garden State; “Sink or Swim” is populated with common-man manifestos in the Boss tradition, with songs about driving all night, listening to the radio, and “jukebox Romeos” who “dance with the girls with the stars in their eyes.” Frontman Brian Fallon’s gravelly voice also hints at Springsteen along the way, and the Boss’s galloping, epic musical style a vital part of the Anthem’s core. On the surface, the band is more like a mix of Hey Mercedes, the Dropkick Murphys (without the bagpipes), and New Jersey legends The Bouncing Souls (reviewers also cite punk rockers Against Me!, but I can’t confirm as I haven’t listened to them).
There’s only one subpar track on the whole record, the annoying “Red in the Morning,” but that single flaw is more than made up for by the fact that every other song basically rocks your face off. And “Sink or Swim” scores extra points for its closer, “Red at Night,” an artful homage to “Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key” from the Billy Bragg/Wilco collaboration “Mermaid Avenue.”
This is a stunningly mature debut for a band that’s only been together for a couple years. I can’t wait to hear what’s next, but The Gaslight Anthem certainly have set the bar high.
Grade: A
Note: Last I checked, “Sink or Swim” wasn’t available at major retailers. To find it, go to the band’s web site, where there is information on how to purchase the record. There’s always iTunes, I guess, but I still prefer the real thing.

Gasoline Heart, ‘You Know Who You Are’
It’s nice to see we’ve gotten far enough away from the seminal modern rock acts of the ’90s that new bands can be legitimately influenced by them, as opposed to the cashing-in hack clones that populated much of the late-’90s and early part of this decade (that’s you Creed, Nickelback, 3 Doors Down, and oh so many others).
Florida-based Gasoline Heart is as good and straightforward a new American rock band as you’re likely to hear. Their sound is a mix of Tom Petty and the lighter side of Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters (think “Betterman” or “Learn to Fly”), while lead singer Louis Defabrizio’s voice sounds like a perfect blend of Petty and Dave Grohl. It’s also worth noting “Who You Are” was produced by Steve Albini, who was responsible for Nirvana’s swan song classic, “In Utero.”
This album actually came out last August; it’s been one of my favorite records of the past year, but for some reason I never got around to writing about it despite a bevy of quality tracks—“All the Way” and “Steam (A Well Dried Up)” are particular favorites, but there’s really not a bad song on the whole thing. “Who You Are” doesn’t break any new ground, but it might just be revolutionary for reminding you of what traditional American rock and roll has to offer. Another awesome debut.
Grade: A-
Go to (the band’s label web site) to download a few free tracks—including the aforementioned “Steam” (you have to register first, though).

Bruce Springsteen with the Sessions Band, ‘Live in Dublin’
And to think I almost didn’t buy it.
When this two-disc live compilation was announced, I wasn’t overly excited because the Seeger Sessions songs that appeared on last year’s stellar “We Shall Overcome” were recorded almost live anyway.
Then it hit me: Duh, there are Springsteen originals on here, too, dummy! Like, say, a little ditty called “Atlantic City” that just happens to be one of my favorite songs of all time, Springsteen or no. “Further On Up the Road” continues to climb that list, as well; this “Rising” rocker was remade beautifully by Johnny Cash on last year’s posthumous “American V,” and it gives me goosebumps here, too. And there’s no need to even comment further on the awesomeness that are “Open All Night” and “Blinded By the Light” in their Sessions Band incarnations.
Not to be outdone, the songs from “Overcome” offer new quirks, too. They’re all even more raucous, fun, and freewheelin’ here; Springsteen’s stompin’-and-hollerin’ enthusiasm comes through just fine, and the crowd is even mic’d nicely.
My only complaint is the track list, which is expected, I guess, considering this is an official Boss live compilation and that’s ALWAYS the complaint. I fail to understand why “Highway Patrolman,” “Long Time Comin’,” and “Growing Up”—three cuts that vary little from their original versions—made the record while more dramatic reworkings of “The River,” “You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch),” “Bobby Jean,” and “Johnny 99” were left on the bench. And even worse is leaving off “John Henry,” one of the best tracks off the Sessions album.
That said, “Live in Dublin” remains an excellent collection documenting Springsteen at a new artistic height.
Grade: A-