It has been several years since Little Steven brought his 14-piece Disciples of Soul band to Toronto with original music and hints as to why quickly surfaced at his Summer of Sorcery tour stop at the Danforth Music Hall.
Playing to a third-full venue clad in Springsteen merch – the “other band” – Little Steven and his big band of all-star touring musicians (among them, mainstays with Lenny Kravitz, Cyndi Lauper, John Mayer, Diana Ross, Mick Jagger and, of course, Bruce) would not be deterred as they jammed through a two and a half hour set heavily featuring the group’s most recent album, Summer of Sorcery.
Taking the stage in matching outfits that could best be described as “pirate psychedelic chic”, the cast followed Little Steven’s lead and swerved through genre after genre – soul, blues, funk, latino (somewhat randomly) and, of course, classic rock with a distinct New Jersey flavour.
Little Steven was all over the place singing, dancing and conducting his stellar backing band. The overall presentation, however, was outsized yet lacking in focus and bordering on self-indulgent with the bandleader and his flanking bass and guitar (and yes, a keytar) taking turns putting their stamp on what was otherwise an impressive team effort.
Horns, keyboards, percussion, backup vocals, bass and guitar fired on all cylinders but the band lacked the liveliness to convince the audience they were all in rather than mailing it in. An introductory dialogue involving every member of the expansive supporting cast touted futurism and diversity only to be diverted by Little Steven making 1950s and 60s references, lamenting music streaming and telling tired jokes that grounded any attempt to elevate the show.
As a reviewer one generation behind the target audience for this show, it is difficult to pinpoint why Little Steven, touring as a respected musician with classic rock pedigree to be envied and supporting a well-received album, had such difficulty drawing the faithful. In a way, the restlessness that has defined Steven Van Zandt’s prolific career was on full display to the extreme. The result was a big time retro concert packed into an intimate venue had immense potential but ultimately could not break from the past to live up to a modern standard.