Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul
Vicar Street, Dublin
23rd August 2019

Tonight was the night Little Steven’s magical musical emporium came to town. For two and a half hours, the Dublin crowd was treated to a pulsating rock and soul revue that has set the bar for energy and entertainment.

The band promenaded on stage lead by the three backing singers with boa fringed parasols followed by the five-piece brass section, in single file, to the sounds of ‘Communion’. The circus carnival before the ringmaster, Mr. Van Zandt entered the ring. When the first song has the crowd baying as if it was an encore, you know you are in for a special show.

Photograph by Sean O’Hare

And special it was. Little Steven last played in Dublin just over two years ago with the same 14-piece band supporting him. The group has grown tighter in that time if that was possible. The band was dressed in 60s psychedelic swirls of purple, greens, and reds. Sequins caught the stage lights in a gaudy display that suggested the 1970s had yet to arrive. This was the set-up, as each member spoke a line that drew a picture of the summer of sorcery, “when life was filled with unlimited possibilities”.

Tales, fables, and parables were to unwind and be told, to join us all together in a rich tapestry of revelry. “Harmony, unity, communion”.

Photograph by Sean O’Hare

It might sound a bit hokey but on the night, it was executed with such panache and vibrancy, that there were few doubters left when the sweat-drenched musicians left the stage, two and a half hours later.

It’s an endless summer night. Liberation’s in the air. I want to say I love you to everybody everywhere. I see the whole gang. They’re all here tonight. They’re making the scene because the time is right.

That seems to encapsulate Steven’s idea of the music he’s making in a nutshell.

It was a veritable festival of funk and fun, as Van Zandt defied his 68 years, and opened up little trinkets of musical bliss. Sounding in fine voice, he also ripped through scorching solos as if they were scales. The trio of singers with sequinned outfits and huge 70s hair, with movements choreographed to a T, expended enough energy to keep a small town lit for a week. Sweet harmonies and sass indeed from Jesse Wagner, Sara Devine and Tania E. Jones, who, at times, threatened to steal the show.

Photograph by Sean O’Hare

But this is Little Steven’s party. Everyone is allowed to express themselves and the fun factor is high, but it is his night. He is not Springsteen’s sidekick and right-hand man or Tony Soprano’s lieutenant. Tonight this is Little Steven’s show! He danced, pirouetted, and soloed, working an already-onboard crowd like the pro that he is.

Ten of the twenty-two songs played were from his new album, yet it almost seems churlish to point this out, as the crowd reaction to each tune was the same. Motown, rock, salsa, mambo, and ballads all were dispatched with a grace and a style, that makes it hard to categorise the band.

Photograph by Sean O’Hare

‘Little Girl So Fine’ a homage to the all-girl groups of the 60s was exceptional, but then it was followed by Little Steven covering Southside Johnny songs that he had written, if that’s possible. ‘Trapped Again’ and ‘Love On The Wrong Side Of Town’ really had Vicar Street bouncing. This is sweet soulful, sensational stuff.

Steven has an easy-going way him as he exchanges banter with the crowd and the self-apparent bonhomie of the band is transmitted to the crowd, who are clearly loving every minute.

Photograph by Sean O’Hare

The Brass section of Eddie Manion, Stan Harrison, Ron Tooley, Ravi Best, and Clark Gayton add so much to the creation of the sound that is the Disciples of Soul. Marc Ribler on guitar is excellent as ever, with such a tight rhythm section Rich Mercurio on drums, Anthony Almonte on percussion and Jack Daley on bass. Which leaves Lowell Levinger, formerly of Youngbloods fame on keys with Andy Burton. All deserve a mention.

The anti-apartheid protest song, ‘Sun City’, so successful in bringing the racist South African government to the attention of the world, is now sung as a victory anthem and a call for greater tolerance. The song clearly has such resonance, in a city where the Dunnes Store strike led to Ireland becoming the first western government to ban goods from South Africa. The chant “I ain’t gonna play Sun City” resounds around the hall with fervour, and is one of the few concession Stevie makes to a political statement. Ending with a typically forward-looking and optimistic ‘Out Of The Darkness’, the band danced off the stage with the music still ringing in our ears.

Photograph by Sean O’Hare

There is talk of a new Springsteen album and tour next year, of which Little Steven will be an integral part. It will play to thousands of people each night. Yet, a large group is missing out on an extraordinarily talented man and his band. Tonight, Dublin witnessed a lot of converts to the Disciples of Soul, and their charismatic leader.