Danforth Music Hall
October 9 2017
Ever wait a long time to see one of your favourite bands come to town? Suffered through a protracted wait between tours? It took me about ten years to finally see Joan Armatrading in concert (Nov 11 1995) and it was as magical as I hoped it would be. Witnessing my number one fave guitar player Jeff Beck after about sixteen years on March 24 1999 blew my mind in all sorts of ways.
But those were both "short time" compared to the interminable 30 years it took for Little Steven Van Zandt to return to Toronto as a solo act. And if we really want to get into it, 33 years since he played a head-lining show in town.
So expectations were pretty high.
Promoting his new album Soul Fire (reviewed here ), Steven and the latest incarnation of his Disciples of Soul pulled into the Danforth Music Hall for a long-overdue reintroduction. The set was comprised of a thorough cross sampling from his entire career along with a few curve balls to keep the die-hards on their toes. As with the previous three shows since Tom Petty's untimely, tragic passing away on October 2, Steven kicked things off with an excellent reading of "Even The Losers" from Petty's seminal 1978 Damn The Torpedoes album. I'd seen the footage of this song but in person was an unexpected emotional experience, for me at least. I was upset that Petty was gone but also proud of Steven for paying such a profound tribute to the man.
As soon as this was done, the band tore into the first two songs from his 1982 debut album Men Without Women , "Lyin' in a Bed of Fire" and "Inside of Me". For his cover of Etta James' "Blues is My Business" from the new album, Steven peeled convincing blues licks from a sunburst Gibson Les Paul guitar, an instrument he hasn't used for previous solo tours. Another surprise was hearing "Salvation" from 1999's hard rock album Born Again Savage recast as a soul anthem thanks to the horn section blasting away.
Since the show was occurring on what would have been John Lennon's 77th birthday, we were also treated to a stirring cover of his 1970 classic "Working Class Hero" which had been extensively rehearsed during the 90 minute soundcheck along with Moby Grape's "Can't Be So Bad" from 1968's Wow/ Grape Jam album. Next was a mini-set of reggae tunes featuring the protest song "Leonard Peltier" from 1989's Revolution album (a tune I never thought I'd see performed live, it must be said) book-ended by two tracks from Voice of America (1984) "Solidarity" and "I Am a Patriot".
Another unexpected cover followed, "Groovin' Is Easy" from the A Long Time Comin' album (1968) by The Electric Flag. An outtake from the Soul Fire album, "Groovin' Is Easy" is only available on a limited edition coloured vinyl 7" single.
Steven and the band wrapped the 24 song show up with as strong a trio of songs as they could possibly run through. First, his debut single "Forever" (sounding more authentic than ever thanks to the return of Stan Harrison on flute), the Southside Johnny signature song that Steven wrote, "I Don't Want To Go Home" and finally the rousing 1984 anthem "Out of the Darkness".
Steven has proved that he is still a vital and important artist in his own right. He also remains contemporary, nine of the twelve songs on the new album were played this night. Hopefully seeing him again live on the stage, fronting his own band is something we don't have to wait another 30 years for.
Robert Lawson 2017.