A gig with bongo, flute, trumpet, trombone and saxophone solos, delivered in the context of a street party atmosphere, is offering something truly different. A busy and buoyant crowd packed into the O2 Forum to experience Little Steven’s ‘Summer of Sorcery’ tour and was transported away from a grey evening in London to a bustling carnival, celebrating love, unity and summer warmth.
There were fifteen musicians and singers on stage, including a five-piece horn section, and they threw themselves into the show with gusto, performing with smiles, laughter and a simple, infectious joy. Together, they produced a wall of sound, drawing on the crowd’s energy and bringing Little Steven’s vision to life in glorious technicolour. The show leaned heavily on songs from the new album, Little Steven’s first new material for twenty years. After a strong start, in which the band got the party started with such songs as ‘Communion’ and ‘Party Mambo!’, there was a succession of four powerful tracks, each building on the last, starting with the sing-along, dance-along ‘Love Again’.
Next, Little Steven introduced ‘Education’ with heartfelt thanks to teachers of all kinds around the world because: “the future is in their hands…and for all the crap I put them through!” He’s a charismatic speaker, no surprise after years spent acting in ‘The Sopranos’ and ‘Lilyhammer’. In ‘On Sir Francis Drake / I Visit the Blues’, Little Steven delivered a screeching solo on his pale-blue and white Stratocaster (there was a new guitar almost every song). After that, the three wonderful backing singers danced with abandon on the energetic ‘Gravity’.
In the middle of the evening, the band played a three-song tribute to Southside Johnny and the Asbury Dukes, which was well-received by the audience. The mini-set included ‘Love on the Wrong side of Town’, which was written for Southside Johnny by Little Steven and Bruce Springsteen. Other notable highlights included the driving rhythms of ‘Superfly Terraplane’, ‘Sun City’ and ‘I Am a Patriot’, in which Little Steven spoke about the differences between nationalism and patriotism. The show came together in ‘Summer of Sorcery’, the title track of the new album, a sprawling fantasy that celebrates the idea of the first summer you feel love and life and the endless possibilities ahead of you. The two and a half hour set closed with Little Steven noting that these: “…are dark times for civilisation,” before launching into an impassioned ‘Out of the Darkness’.
Various members of The Disciples of Soul took centre stage during the evening, playing with flair and precision. The flamboyant show was undoubtedly cheesy at times; it might be hard to see past this if you came expecting something else or if that’s not your thing but, if you were able to enter into the party spirit, then this relentless fusion of musical styles – soul, funk, Latin and good old rock ‘n’ roll – had you smiling and dancing throughout. If the coming summer is anything like this…then it’s going to be hot.