An all-star swan song with Jeff Tweedy and John Hiatt
“All day, people have been coming up to me and thanking me for stopping,” quips Americana trailblazer David Bromberg from the Beacon Theatre stage at the singer / guitarist’s June 10th farewell concert with his Big Band.
Even on as august an occasion as his final show in a format he’s explored since the ‘70s, he can’t resist the kind of self-deprecating humor that’s always been a part of his appeal. But the hardy turnout of hardcore fans and the support of both special guest Jeff Tweedy and surprise guest John Hiatt underscores the affection Bromberg has earned over the decades.
Just to clarify, Bromberg has previously stated that he’s not ruling out an occasional appearance in some other setting, but at 77, he’s had it with touring, and the Beacon show represents his last hurrah with the Big Band. So he made sure to maximize the opportunity. Not counting guests, Bromberg and his company were a dozen strong, including a three-man horn section and a three-woman backup vocal crew (featuring his wife, Nancy Josephson), and solos were freely swapped around the stage between Bromberg, the horns, keyboardist Dan Walker, fiddler Nate Grower, and guitarist/mandolinist Mark Cosgrove.
Tarrytown, NY-bred Bromberg started out as a sideman on the ‘60s folk scene, backing the likes of Jerry Jeff Walker and Bob Dylan before setting out on his own in the early 1970s. So for all his skills he’s always been the antithesis of a showboat. Part of his gift is surrounding himself with great players and giving them the chance to shine, basking in the glow all the while, and there was plenty of that. And when Bromberg steps up for a solo, there’s an absolute absence of flash, with his visceral feel, thoughtful lines, and passionate phrasing filling the foreground.
Bromberg has been playing what’s come to be tagged as Americana since before there was a name for it, and his home-brewed amalgam of roots influences was on display all through the approximately three-hour Beacon blowout. Unsurprisingly for a guy who learned his licks directly from legendary bluesman Rev. Gary Davis, Bromberg led with the blues, opening the show with the good-time syncopation of “Sloppy Drunk” and the slow-burning “I’ll Take You Back,” the latter operating as a showcase for his free-flowing humor.
The horns and singers sunk their teeth into one of Bromberg’s earliest, most beloved tunes, “The Holdup,” a sort of Mariachi rocker written with George Harrison. Bluegrass and a cappella gospel both got their due on “Dark Hollow” and “Standing in the Need of Prayer,” respectively, before Bromberg was joined by Jeff Tweedy. The Wilco boss sang Bob Dylan’s “Wallflower,” a part of Bromberg’s set since the beginning, as well as his own “Evergreen” and the posthumous Woody Guthrie co-write “California Stars.”
Bromberg then informed the crowd of a second guest he’d been unable to list on the bill due to that artist’s own upcoming NYC show: longtime friend John Hiatt. To the surprised crowd’s delight, Bromberg and band joined Hiatt on a trio of his classics—”Feels Like Rain,” “Soul Turning,” and “Have a Little Faith in Me.”
After all the hubbub, Bromberg brought things down to a whisper with a piercingly poignant, solo acoustic take on the traditional “Delia,” a sorrowful murder ballad he’s been making his own since his very first album. From there on, he slowly increased the heat, hitting a long string of fan favorites, including the quirky, carnival-set stomper “Sharon,” a barnstorming Dixieland take on the Bessie Smith chestnut “Send Me to the ‘Lectric Chair,” and the tongue-in-cheek blues “Will Not Be Your Fool,” famous for Bromberg’s breathlessly over-the-top testifying at the tune’s climactic conclusion.
For the encore, the Dr. John staple “Such a Night” gave Bromberg an ideal opportunity to revel in both the onstage electricity and the palpable ecstasy of the crowd, he and the band amping both up as they went along. They ended by leaving the stage single file, setting down their instruments one at a time until only Gordon Au’s trumpet filled the air for the final few seconds. But immediately afterward, the theater was filled with the sound of about half a century’s worth of love.
I’ll Take You Back
Standing in the Need of Prayer
California Stars (w/Tweedy)
Feels Like Rain (w/Hiatt)
Soul Turning (w/Hiatt)
Have a Little Faith in Me (w/Hiatt)
Key to the Highway
Make Me a Pallet on the Floor
Send Me to the ‘Lectric Chair
New Lee Highway Blues
Will Not Be Your Fool
Such a Night
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