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Little Steven is a man on a mission. Anyone who’s been listening to him in recent years will be aware he’s passionate about musical education, as witnessed by his ‘TeachRock’ programme of free resources for schools, and ongoing support for arts teachers. It’s no wonder, then, that when in concert with the Disciples of Soul, he embarks on a major musical history lesson, which this three-disc collection demonstrates. Recorded live at New York’s Beacon Theatre in November 2019, this set was the culmination of both the ‘Summer Of Sorcery’ tour and three years on the road since the rebirth of the Disciples.

Steven being as busy as ever, this is not his first live document from that recent period of activity; he’d already released ‘Soulfire Live!’ in 2018, covering their first major tour, and presented in a similar format. The main difference then was that the first two discs were drawn from various performances to form a semblance of the live set, whereas here you get a single two and a half hour show, complete with Steven’s between-song comments. Only a handful of songs are duplicated over the 2018 and 2021 releases. The tours comprised a basic and static set each night, but allowed for one or two variations, and so both packages also feature a generous extra disc of bonus tracks, mostly covers, often featuring special guests. Here those include Peter Wolf, Jimmy Barnes, Nils Lofgren, Jake Clemons, Bruce Springsteen and more. The extra tracks are from assorted dates between 2017-2019, including an additional ‘all-star’ mash-up rendition of ‘Sun City’.

Coinciding at the time with the height of the Trump era, Little Steven - ‘citizen of the world’ - makes it clear early in the show that whereas previously his motivation had been to expose political injustice, in 2019 he felt his place was to offer a couple of hours’ respite and refreshment from the madness of the outside world, and so the focus is on entertainment. Always an advocate of solidarity, the opening extravaganza ‘Communion’ sets out his manifesto in a complex arrangement resembling a James Brown or Sly Stone workout. Unafraid to switch gears suddenly, ‘Camouflage Of Righteousness’ is a welcome taste of his much overlooked ‘Born Again Savage’ album, bringing that exploration of hard rock to a satisfying live expression through the versatility of the 15-piece Disciples of Soul, one of the most masterful touring bands around at the time. ‘Love Again’ involves a preamble with a series of spoken passages by members of the band, setting up the idea of various fictional ‘characters’, the cue for Stevie to launch the song proper.

The showcase set serves up all 12 tracks of his fantasy celebration of summer, ‘Summer Of Sorcery’, throughout the night, blended with highlights from the Van Zandt catalogue such as ‘Los Desaparecidos’, ‘I Am A Patriot’, ‘Bitter Fruit’ and ‘Forever’, saving ‘Out Of The Darkness’ for the finale. One notable section is the tribute to Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes, with three of the classic songs donated to them from the 70s: ‘Little Girl So Fine’, ‘Trapped Again’ and ‘Love On The Wrong Side Of Town’. Reinforcing the musical history message, Steven makes a point of recognising more peers and heroes, including support act Peter Wolf (from The J. Geils Band), who joins in on ‘Freeze Frame’ and ‘Sun City’; and current Disciple Lowell Levinger (from The Youngbloods), who plays a keyboard instrumental – ‘On Sir Francis Drake’ – as an introduction to ‘I Visit the Blues’. The band steal an affectionate march on Bruce Springsteen by being the first to offer a live version of his ‘Tucson Train’, before even Bruce ever played it live himself to this day. Stevie may have written the phrase ‘I ain’t gonna play Sun City’, and prophetically that song was rarely played in concert, and not for many years; here it proves its power on stage, as impressive as its studio incarnation.

‘Summer of Sorcery Live! At The Beacon Theatre’ comes in multiple media formats: CDs, vinyl, and Blu-Ray video – something for everyone.

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