Almost one year ago, on June 18, 2011, Clarence Clemons, saxophone-player extraordinaire for Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, died of complications from a stroke. At that time, I wrote a post in memory of both Clarence and Kevin Kavanaugh, former pianist for Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes (link below) which discussed both men, the bands in which they had played, and the effect of those bands, and their music, on the state of New Jersey and the world as a whole. I posed the question of how Springsteen and his remaining mates would go on without their larger-than-life sax player, and noted the remarkable energy still showed by the band leaders, Springsteen and Southside Johnny Lyon, despite the fact that they were in their early 60’s.
Now, it is clear that neither man is showing any signs of slowing down, at least based on two concerts that this writer was fortunate to be able to attend over the past two months. The shows put on by Springsteen and his E Street Band, and Lyon, with his new group, the Poor Fools, laid to rest any doubt that these Jersey rockers are still capable of entertaining and mesmerizing their faithful for hours on end.
On May 2, Springsteen and the E Streeters played the Prudential Center in Newark. Over the course of two and a half hours, the band played 26 songs, including a mix of the group’s old and new standards, “The Weight”, in tribute to the Band’s Levon Helm, and a version of “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out”, which included a video montage in tribute to Clemons. The E Street Band now features an entire horn section, including Jukes alum Ed Manion and Jake Clemons, Clarence’s nephew, on saxophones. Jake’s playing throughout the concert, including numerous solos, showed that he is more than up to the task of trying to fill his uncle’s shoes, and there is little doubt that the upcoming NJ Springsteen shows in September, one of which I will be attending, will be tremendous as well.
In fact, a concert last week in Italy ran, according to reports, for three and a half hours, making it the second-longest Springsteen show ever, behind only a New Year’s Eve show on Long Island approximately 30 years ago. The indefatigable “Boss” and his band mates just keep rolling on. As he said in the concert, they’ve got some old faces, and they’ve got some new faces. And together, they are making some beautiful music. Hours and hours of it, to the continued delight of the band’s fans.
Last weekend, I also had the pleasure of seeing Southside Johnny and the Poor Fools. Billed as a band of troubadours playing Southside’s version of the American songbook, the five-member band played a show which lasted more than two hours to approximately 350 lucky people at the Tabernacle, an intimate venue in Mt. Tabor, New Jersey. The show featured several songs from Southside and the Jukes’ repertoire, including the following: “Love on the Wrong Side of Town”, “Trapped Again”, “Walk Away Renee”, “The Fever”, “I Don’t Want to Go Home”, and a gut-wrenching, show-closing, and stripped-down version of “Hearts of Stone”. It also included covers of a wide-ranging group of other musicians, including Manfred Mann’s “Mighty Quinn”, which included a verse from Bob Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone”, The Rolling Stones’ “Dead Flowers”, “The Heart of Saturday Night”, by Springsteen and Lyon favorite Tom Waits, Emmylou Harris’ “Beneath Still Waters”, and the Wood Brothers’ “Postcards from Hell”. Numerous blues numbers were also featured, several of which included masterfully-played riffs and solos.
Southside Johnny and I after the concert
All of the band members showed remarkable versatility. Southside played a scorching harmonica on numerous songs, and also played the guitar throughout the show and even played some drums on “The Fever.” Sidekick Jeff Kazee primarily played the keyboards, but also sang several songs and also played the accordion, guitar, and drums. Tommy Byrnes primarily served as a guitarist, but he also spent some time playing drums and keyboards, as well as lead vocals on one song. Bassist John Conte also sang and played both guitar and drums, and Neal Pawley played guitar, mandolin, banjo, drums, and a haunting trombone on several songs.
The shows were, of course, greatly different in crowd size. In my prior blog, I compared Springsteen and Lyon, putting them into the roles of big brother and little brother. These two concerts seemed to verify this comparison – Springsteen playing to about 20,000 people in Newark to Lyon singing in front of 350 in Mt. Tabor. Both men still tell their various stories throughout their shows, and each is supported by a strong backing band. Southside is apparently in the middle of two tours now, one with the Jukes and one with the Poor Fools, playing the smaller venues. Springsteen continues to sell out arenas and stadiums all over the world, and is returning to New Jersey, as noted above, in September. Any of these shows are worth attending – you will not be disappointed.
The Poor Fools Website: http://thepoorfools.com/
The E Street Band's version of "Rosalita" from the 5/2/12 show: