American Babies Joyfully Do Springsteen Like a Boss

Posted on Thursday June 2nd in

American Babies :: 2016.06.01 :: Brooklyn Bowl

American Babies :: 2016.06.01 :: Brooklyn Bowl
If you’ve heard Tom Hamilton do “Atlantic City” with American Babies, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, or another band he’s associated with, you already know why he’d be a strong choice to lead a Bruce Springsteen tribute. Hamilton isn’t about making this music seem stilted. This is Bruce we’re talking about — broken heroes and last-chance power drives, not museum pieces meant to be delicately admired. In Hamilton’s hands, a Bruce tribute became a hot night at the bar in the true spirit of Springsteen and the E-Street Band, with the rock and soul in these songs pushed to the forefront and the woodenness that can sometimes dog tribute shows nowhere to be found. It was fun as hell, and, yes, of course they did “Atlantic City”— it was the fourth song and a burner.
American Babies :: 2016.06.01 :: Brooklyn Bowl

Hamilton fronted the group but didn’t hog the spotlight — it was three songs in before he even picked up a guitar — and hauled in some like-minded contributors to joyously help perform the music. Along with his American Babies corps were keyboardist Erik Deutsch, a horn section consisting of Clark Gayton, Kevin Batchelor, and Paul Vercesi, and, for a handful of songs each, Jackie Greene on guitar, vocals, and harmonica, Ross James on guitar and vocals, and an unannounced guest, Katie Jacoby, whose majestic violin turned “The Ghost of Tom Joad” into one of the 100-minute set’s highlights.

American Babies :: 2016.06.01 :: Brooklyn Bowl
But then, this was a take-your-pick night in terms of highlights — everyone had a shit-eating grin and none was wider than Hamilton’s. After leading the group through “The Promised Land,” “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out,” “Spirit in the Night,” and “Atlantic City,” he turned over lead vocals to Greene for “Badlands,” an appropriately spooky “The River,” and a rollicking “Rosalita” that had the whole crowd jumping. From there came darker-toned shifts into “I’m on Fire,” the aforementioned “Tom Joad” — in which Jacoby squared off with Babies guitarist Justin Mazer in a spirited round of head-cutting — and, with James, a hard-charging “Dancing in the Dark.” James ably led the group through “One Step Up” before Hamilton returned as frontman on “Hungry Heart.” Then came Raina Mullen, who’d been an ace in the hole all night on harmony vocals, to sing lead on “Because the Night,” followed by the anticipated “Jungleland” finale, Big Man–style sax solo from Vercesi and all.

Photos courtesy of Pat Tabb

There were no obscurities or creative interpretations — that would have missed the point. You could feel the fun from the stage, with musicians in good-time-Charlie mode obviously having a good time. “Bruce Springsteen does this for four hours a night!” exclaimed Hamilton at the end of the show, clearly awed by that superhuman energy but also looking like he and the band had another few hours left in the tank. Next time?
—Chad Berndtson | @Cberndtson



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