Live Review: Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul. O2 Academy, Bristol 22 May 2019

“Little who?” I hear you ask…
Little Steven, aka Miami Steve, aka Steve Van Zandt – old friend of Bruce Springsteen, member of the E Street Band, sometime writer and producer for Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, and for some of you Silvio Dante from The Sopranos – or maybe Frank from Lilyhammer. And the man who wrote Sun City.

His solo career has been a bit hit and miss/stop-start – his first album came out while still in the E Street Band, but he left them after recording Born in the USA (which is when and why Nils Lofgren joined the band). I came across his 1984 Voice of America album and loved it from the first (title) track – a great piece of high energy rock. It’s a very political album, as you can tell from titles like Justice, Checkpoint Charlie, Solidarity, Los Desaparecidos, I Am A Patriot. But a great rock album. His other albums came out in 1987, 89 and 99 – at which point he rejoined the E Street Band. He picked things up again in 2017 with the Soulfire album and hit the road with his own band for the first time in a long time.

I missed them when they played in Bristol a year or two ago because we were already booked to see something on the same night. Fortunately they came back and I wasn’t going to miss them this time. Rod Stewart was also playing in Bristol on the same night, at Ashton Gate stadium, but I know where I wanted to be.
He’s the third member of the E Street Band I’ve seen solo now – as well as Nils Lofgren and Garry Tallent. I should have gone to see Jake Clemons when I had the chance!

What do they play? I think of it as 60s R&B influenced but played with a heavier rock sound. Old style “revue” shows get mentioned as well, which figures as there are 15 people on stage – I’ve never seen so many people and so much equipment on the Academy stage, what with SVZ, a guitarist, bass, drums, 2 keyboards, percussion, 5-piece horn section and 3 backing singers!
It has to be noted that all of the band (not the backing singers) were all in splendid striped purple trousers, waistcoats and a quite magnificent display of lurid shirts!

The show was a solid 2.5 hours of bloody loud, bloody good, rock music – to be honest it was probably too loud as my ears haven’t rung that much after a gig for a long time (probably The Strypes at the Bierkellar in 2014, or maybe The Strypes at The Thekla in 2017), and to the extent that I’m going to buy some earplugs.

The band sounded great, really tight, and the horn section gave it a full, rich sound. Guitarist Marc Ribler ripped off some decent solos, as did SVZ, and I thought drummer Rich Mercurio was superb.
The backing singers were great – old-school synchronised dancing and gestures.
The other thing of note was something I consider a bit of a rarity – a percussionist (Anthony Almonte) who did actually add something to the show, very notably during I Am A Patriot.

Having played foil to Springsteen for so much of his career, you forget that SVZ is actually a good guitarist, a good songwriter and actually a pretty good singer – his voice suits his songs well. And he knows how to put on a show.

I’ll be honest and admit I don’t know much of his solo stuff – obviously he played Sun City, there were 3 songs from Voice of America (I Am A Patriot, Los Desaparecidos and (closer) Out of the Darkness, and three songs he wrote with Bruce Springsteen for their good friend Southside Johnny (Little Girl So Fine, Trapped Again, Love on the Wrong Side). The rest were new to me, but all good.

I had a look on Youtube for something to show how they sound, and found these clips from the gig. And there’s this official clip from the last tour.

So in summary, a really good show and well worth checking out if you can. But take earplugs.

Addendum: The setlist is shown on this Tweet from @GreasyLake

Awesome show by @StevieVanZandt – the band is so good. The show is very different to Soulfire. More layered, builds to an amazing crescendo 💜☯️— Greasy Lake (@GreasyLake) May 24, 2019

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