Jazz Fest featured a host of great performances by familiar faces Saturday, and anyone who was nostalgic for Bruce Springsteen's 2006 appearance with his Seeger Sessions band was treated to some deja vu.
Henry Butler, Steve Bernstein and the Hot 9 band put on a swinging set in the Blues Tent, and Allen Toussaint dropped by to catch it after his performance on the Acura Stage. The group played material off its forthcoming debut album Viper Drag, including the bluesy "I Left my Baby" by Count Basie.
In the Economy Hall Tent, Wendell Brunious slowed things down with a poem about New Orleans over hushed music, and then stirred up the audience with rousing renditions of Louis Prima's "Jump, Jive an' Wail," and "Big Chief" a la Professor Longhair with the whistling solo.
One of the more amusing duets from the day came offstage. While rap duo Partners-N-Crime closed the New Orleans Hip-Hop showcase at Congo Square, two sign language interpreters mirrored the song, signing as the rappers cut in over each others lines. They also added what I presume are not standard sign-language moves to give a sense of the beat. They should perform more often.
Bruce Springsteen and the E String Band kicked off their two hour and 35 minute set with "High Hopes," the title track of the band's January release. But after that, the band played a slew of old favorites, including "Badlands," "No Surrender" and "Hungry Heart," which Springsteen had the audience sing in its entirety as he greeted fans in front of the stage.
Former Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello performed with the band, which he's toured with in the last year. And he delivered a blistering and showy solo on "The Ghost of Tom Joad." But other special guests also appeared. Bruce called Ricki Lee Jones on stage for "Jesse James" and she stuck around for several more songs. Later, John Fogerty came on stage and performed "Green River" and "Rolling on the River."
The Seeger Sessions band Springsteen brought to Jazz Fest in 2006 featured at least a dozen musicians, and the E Street Band on stage was nearly as big, and almost orchestral in instrumentation, with a five-piece horn section, a violinist, at times two accordionists, stand-up bass, and assorted percussion, including a cow bell.
Springsteen courted the crowd with memories of the 2006 performance. "One of the great evenings of my life was playing here with the sessions band," he said, leading the E Street Band into some of the same songs, including "O Mary Don't You Weep." He also sang the folk protest song "How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times as These." It was written during the Great Depression by Blind Alfred Reed, but when Springsteen sang it in 2006, he changed some of the verses to fit post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans. (It was included on a reissue of the Seeger Sessions album.) Springsteen also revisited the extended version of "When the Saints Go Marching In" that he closed the 2006 set with, and asked the audience to sing along, which it capably did.
It was an impressive set, and leaves open the question of whether Springsteen will return the favor and appear with Fogerty Sunday (5:30 p.m.-7 p.m. Samsung Galaxy Stage).