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The songs of Bruce Springsteen are seen as sacred texts, these are what Roddy Hart has decided to take on as the theme of the eighth year of Roaming Roots Revue. With special guests such as Craig Finn of The Hold Steady, Lisa Hannigan, Karine Polwart and Ryan Bingham, there is no doubt that the songs are in safe hands, with artists who are directly influenced and inspired by The Boss.
Hart and his band The Lonesome Fire (monikered “The Wee Street Band” for the evening) open the show, warming the crowd up with an excellent rendition of ‘Growin’ Up’ before being joined by the first guests of the evening, Kentish Town duo The Rails. Following the now customary format of Roaming Roots, the first set gives the acts the chance to perform their own material, and The Rails use this opportunity to play ‘Call Me When It All Goes Wrong’. Clearly indebted to Springsteen, it is a fine slab of rock and roll and the audience respond favourably.
Oscar-winning singer-songwriter Ryan Bingham follows, giving the band a break to perform ‘South Side of Heaven’ solo. Having performed at Saint Luke’s the night before, he already has some fans in attendance and his stripped-back performance is stunningly beautiful, evoking the spirit of Springsteens own Nebraska record.
Scottish music royalty follows as Karine Polwart takes to the stage. Surprisingly, this is the first time she has performed at Roaming Roots Revue, and she takes advantage by performing the wonderful atmospheric folk of ‘Ophelia’. Cult hero Jonathan Wilson is given a glowing introduction by Hart and the melodic ‘Living With Myself’ is given caring treatment by the Lonesome Fire.
A “bonus Bruce” is offered to the crowd in the form of Temperance Movement frontman Phil Campbell. Invited back after a show-stealing performance last year, he dons an acoustic guitar to perform the title track of Springsteen’s most recent offering ‘Western Stars’. Campbell’s raspy vocal captures the essence of the track and is appreciated by the megafans in attendance.
The bar is raised even further as folk hero Lisa Hannigan takes to the stage. The band take another deserved breather and Hannigan requires no assistance in captivating the room with a wonderful ‘Fall’. Her vocal range is astonishing, and she wows the packed audience with subtle ease, easily cementing herself as the highlight thus far.
The last guest to be introduced is Hold Steady frontman Craig Finn. Dubbed by Hart as one of his favourite songwriters, the American performs a stunning ‘Magic Marker’ from his most recent solo record I Need A New War. Given extra pompous by the brass section, Finn flings his arms and manically throws himself around the stage like a man possessed. Finn remains onstage to perform ‘Jungleland’, which closes the first set on a high note. Explaining that Springsteen helped him to realise his “dream of yelling poetry at people was possible”, his musical output, both in his band and as a solo musician, is the most directly influenced of any of the performers this evening, and the glee on his face is evident as he performs the music of one of his heroes.
There is palpable excitement for the second set of uninterrupted Springsteen material as Roddy Hart and the Wee Street Band emerge for a grandiose ‘10th Avenue Freeze-Out’. They welcome back Jonathan Wilson for a mellifluous ‘Brilliant Disguise’ before Celtic Connections organiser Donald Shaw joins them for ‘Highway Patrolman’. Choosing to play what is, by all accounts, a deep cut from Springsteen’s back catalogue is a bold move, but the result is a wondrously intimate ballad which shrinks the vast expanse of the Concert Hall to the smallest of clubs.
The Rails return for an otherwise by-the-numbers ‘Because The Night’, which is rescued a terrific solo by guitarist James, after which he takes the lead on an emotive ‘Racing In The Street’, complimented by dreamy harmonies from his bandmate Kami Thompson.
After a show-stealing performance in the first set, Lisa Hannigan is warmly welcomed back onstage and as the opening chimes of ‘I’m On Fire’ ring out, there is an approving murmur from the audience, before also performing ‘Tougher Than The Rest’. Again, Hannigan proves herself to be the star of the show. Taking on two of The Boss’ most loved songs is no mean feat, but to make them her own with such ease is an exceptional talent. On the former, her intricate vocal captures the essence of the song and the latter is simply outstanding.
She moves onto backing vocal duty as class clown Phil Campbell lightens the mood. Shorn of a guitar, he is free to chicken-strut around the stage, giving it big licks to an uplifting ‘Hungry Heart’ to the delight of the audience who gleefully howl the catchy chorus along with him. Campbell shows off his vocal chops on ‘Darkness On The Edge Of Town’ which suits the frontman down to a tee, his raspy, howling vocal evoking the original spirit of the legendary classic. Craig Finn then reappears onstage for his second Boss track of the night, with early Springsteen hit ‘4th Of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)’. Finn is one of the great modern storytellers, and the overwhelming warmth of his delivery is tailor-made for a track of which the songwriting style has clearly influenced his own.
Karine Polwart is welcomed back to the fore and takes the opportunity to explain the influence Springsteen has had on her. She jokes that she raced to claim her song choices as soon as she was asked to perform, and her first choice was ‘The Ghost Of Tom Joad’. An anthem which remains as relevant today as it was when it was written, Polwart delivers it with vigour. Following it up with a rousing ‘The Rising’, complete with mass singlalong, it displays the unity required in these uncertain modern times with Polwart happy to lead this joyous celebration.
With the audience now riled and in full-on Springsteen mania, Ryan Bingham regales them with the most enviable Bruce story of the evening. After being invited to a performance of Springsteen On Broadway, he tells of how he was taken backstage to meet the man himself. With no hint of brag, he remarks of his surprise as his hero instantly recognises him and tells of the common ground they share for having both won an Oscar. It is only appropriate that Bingham performs ‘Streets Of Philadelphia’ before he is joined by Phil Campbell and The Rails for a spirited ‘Atlantic City’, with Bingham pointing his microphone to the audience who howl along the final refrain of “meet me tonight in Atlantic City”.
As we enter the final straight, bandleader Hart takes centre stage for ‘Land of Hope and Dreams’ which lacks any emotional punch, but order is restored as the two most energetic performers of the evening, Phil Campbell and Craig Finn, take lead on a thundering ‘Born To Run’. As soon as the intro comes crashing in, the seating sections are on their feet and the communal spirit of E Street Band gigs is in full effect. Gordon McNeil is tasked with taking on the iconic saxophone solo and he delivers it with gusto which would make Big Man Clarence Clemons proud. All this evening’s performers take to the stage for a terrific final fling of ‘Badlands’ and ‘Dancing In The Dark’. The former in particular is cacophonous rock and roll, with the Wee Street Band giving it everything they have left.
As the busy stage clears, Roddy Hart returns for one final singalong. He is accompanied by pianist Andy Lucas for a stripped-back ‘Thunder Road’, in the same style as The Boss himself favours to perform it. It is the perfect conclusion to a wonderful tribute to one of the greatest musicians of all-time, in honour of his 70th birthday.
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