In the pantheon of rock and roll’s great backing bands, there are few that can lay claim to being as widely respected as the inimitable E-Street Band. Alongside The Bad Seeds, The Wailers, The Band and, indeed, Crazy Horse, The E-Street Band have proven themselves time and again to be an indispensable cadre, remaining humble in the line of duty and doing their utmost to allow the headline act to shine. They receive few plaudits from the outside world and bask in a slightly more reflective glow, but their contribution is undeniable.
As a solo artist, NILS LOFGREN never reached the heights of the stages he was used to playing alongside Springsteen. Beginning his career with Grin and continuing to release under his own name, he has, over the years, garnered a strong and loyal fan base, evidenced by the near-capacity Philharmonic Hall tonight. Opening the show at the harp, Lofgren proves himself to be a charismatic performer. Shrouded in darkness, his ageing – but just as strong – voice resonates throughout the theatre, complementing his deft harp playing. Performing alongside multi-instrumentalist Greg Varlotta, Lofgren’s show runs through his own musical history, all accompanied with anecdotes that would impress anyone: the time Janis Joplin got him drunk underage; how he shoehorned a polka beat into Southern Man aged 17; and the story behind his impromptu – and now renowned – solo in Because The Night. Though a capable enough songwriter in his own right, Lofgren’s real talents lie behind a guitar. His liberal use of loop pedals, reverb and other various effects belie his lack of backing band and the sound fills the venue. He has a unique playing style, wringing the notes from the neck of his guitar as he dances around the stage with the real joy of a born entertainer. But, whilst we’re on the subject of dancing, it would be remiss of me to ignore the not one but two tap-dancing interludes in tonight’s performance. The show so far has not been without its fair share of mildly odd moments: the Lynchian backing synths, the quasi-awkward namedropping and THAT hat, but all of these can more or less be glossed over by the talent of his guitar work. The tap dancing, however, pushes the show into the twilight zone. Why anyone, let alone a 63-year-old with a hip replacement, would feel the need to inject a tap-dance solo into the middle of a show is beyond me. I suppose in a way it speaks volumes for Lofgren’s capacity and determination for performance though – two qualities he possesses in abundance.