*Blurry photo taken by your intrepid blogger on an admittedly inferior phone
Well, Kansas City, you missed an amazing concert last night…
I had the rare pleasure of seeing a couple of old friends last night. The first, was my old college roommate, Drew who came up to Kansas City from Wichita to see Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul. I’ve been a fan of Little Steven since my early days of listening to Bruce Springsteen, so it felt like I was seeing another old friend by seeing him. This was, amazingly, my first time seeing Little Steven as a solo artist. Unfortunately for the rest of my home town, only about three or four hundred other folks were in the 1700 seat theater. It’s a shame, because last night’s show as a full-on rock and roll, soul revue.
Little Steven is out on the road supporting his last album, Soulfire (LP Review: Little Steven’s ‘Soulfire’ A Triumphant Return To His Solo Career). While many people either know Little Steven from his gig as Bruce Springsteen’s longtime friend/sidekick and 2nd guitarist, or from his acting stint on shows like “The Sopranos” or “Lilyhammer,” Little Steven has a much richer history. He wrote songs, played guitar and produced the early Southside Johnny And the Asbury Jukes albums. He wrote and produced music for Gary U.S. Bonds back in the late 70’s, early 80s which was nothing short of a resurrection for Bonds. Soulfire was a great album where Little Steven went back and revisited some of that material he’d written for other people but never recorded himself. In the early 80s Little Steven also launched a solo career of his own, while Springsteen put together Nebraska. I consider his first two albums to be essential listening, Men Without Women and Voice of America.
The man must be doing this tour for the love of music. It certainly came across that way. He had, including himself on guitar, 15 people on stage. There 5 horn players and three back up singers. Marc Ribler was on guitar, Jack Daley on bass, Rich Mercurio on drums, Anthony Altamonte on percussion. He had not one, but two keyboard players, Andy Burton on the Hammond B-3 and Lowell “Banana” Levinger on synths/piano and mandolin. Everybody played their asses off. Each of the horn players came to the front of the stage at one point to play a solo. The sound was perfect.
Little Steven started off with the Arthur Conley cover, “Sweet Soul Music” and it was the perfect song to set the tone. Last night was all about soul. Little Steven who talked often about teachers and our need to support them (his big philanthropy is TeachRock which provides teachers with resources to teach music), said at one point, “tonight’s show is about the history of rock and roll…which just happens to be my life story.” I like to think I know a lot about music… not like Little Steven.
After “Sweet Soul Music” the band broke into “Soulfire” the title track from Little Steven’s latest. I had forgotten what a great lead guitarist Little Steven was. Often he and Marc Ribler would meet center stage for a guitar dual. And I don’t recall a show where I saw that many beautiful, vintage guitars. After “Soulfire” they hit us with the great Southside Johnny song (written by Little Steven and on Soulfire) “I’m Coming Back.” It was rock and roll Nirvana. “The Blues Was My Business (And Business Is Good)” was epic. I think everybody solo’d during that one. I was worried, since the crowd was so sparse that he’d cut the set list down, but he played almost the whole set he’s been playing elsewhere… he omitted an Electric Flag cover they’ve been doing, “Groovin’ Is Easy” but played a full 2+ hours. Little Steven veered away from his more political music and stuck pretty closely to the music from Soulfire and his first record, Men Without Women than say, “Voice of America.” It fit his message of coming together in the sanctification of rock and roll, soul.
It wasn’t all horns and soul. A track I wasn’t familiar with, “Salvation” rocked hard, all fuzzy guitars. It was like watching a local garage band made good. “Down And Out In New York City” was funky goodness. “Princess of Little Italy” was one of the rare quieter moments with Little Steven flanked by Burton on accordion, and Ribler on guitar. It was a beautiful reading of that song from his debut solo album. Little Steven even took the opportunity to thank Southside Johnny for keeping his music alive at one point, before the great “Some Things Just Don’t Change.” He did a beautiful doo-wop track, “The City Weeps Tonight” that blew me away.
Little Steven was charismatic on stage. At times funny, at times heartfelt especially during speeches about how we needed to leave all the craziness outside (the theater) and come together in celebration of music. Music is the only religion I understand.
Afterwards, Drew and I ended up in a little bar named Julep that has more whiskey than I can count. We toasted Little Steven, drank a few tumblers of dark, murky fluids and told stories of the old days. It was just a perfect evening. If you’re out there and you get a chance to see the Disciples of Soul… do yourself a favor, buy the ticket.
Thank you Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul for a wonderful rock and roll, soul education last night!