E Street Band guitarist Little Steven Van Zandt says the group is “absolutely an ongoing concern” that plans to continue working once its summer tour concludes. “From here on in, it will be new stuff, and we’re in the active band cycle of album-tour-album-tour — I hope forever,” the artist tells Billboard.com.
Fans can expect some surprises when the E Street Band returns to the States, beginning July 15 in East Rutherford, N.J. Although he notes that the band’s current show is still based on last year’s Columbia album “The Rising,” Van Zandt says, “It’s a very different show than the one we started with.”
On the road, Bruce Springsteen is continuing to prove “a master of spontaneity. The other night, he called out a song we haven’t played in 18 years. He did that the first time we did the ‘Detroit Medley,’ he just called it out. And we hadn’t played it or rehearsed in 18 years.
“Thank God that either [bassist] Gary [Tallent] or [keyboardist/pianist] Roy [Bittan] remembered that it started in the key of B, which I would have never come up with,” he says, laughing. “So, from there, it just kind of played itself, and he arranged it as we went. We did a different arrangement than we used to, so it’s just calling out chords as we played it. It was a lot of fun. But that’s the kind of things that keep things fresh and interesting.”
Van Zandt says that one of the highlights of the past three years he’s spent playing with Springsteen came during a recent European tour. “We weren’t sure how people were going to react,” he says. “It was obvious in America, and it became obvious in Europe that our audience was coming to hear the new album. So the first time they started singing along with the new album, [the title track of] which is of course the first song of the set, it was a special moment that kind of confirmed everything you had hoped — that our audience isn’t built on, or depending on, nostalgia.”
Van Zandt says he is also looking to expand his syndicated garage-rock show, “Little Steven’s Underground Garage” at radio and TV and possibly even launch his own record label.
When it launched in April 2002, “Little Steven’s Underground Garage” was on 20 radio stations. Now, 112 outlets nationwide broadcast the two-hour program, which features often obscure tracks by everyone from the Rolling Stones, the Animals and the Kinks to the Hives, the Ramones and the Crystals.
Van Zandt says he wants to turn “Underground Garage” into a TV show resembling the live-performance, late-’60s programs “Hullabaloo” and “Shindig!”
“I would have live performances by these new bands, as well as some of the older bands that are still around doing this real garagey rock’n’roll,” he says. “I would show old video clips, I would have interviews with a lot of interesting people that nobody talks to from the ’60s that are very much around and vital and just being ignored.”
He’s already had some discussions with VH1 about the project, and plans to create a pilot for the program over the next year.
The radio show would continue, but Van Zandt is hoping to find a station that would allow him to try the music played on “Underground Garage” as a full-fledged, 24-hour-a-day format. “I’m just trying to fight to the point where at least these new rock’n’roll bands can make a living,” says the guitarist, who also plays mobster Silvio Dante on “The Sopranos.”
“I have a bit of celebrity capital at the moment, and these things come and go and rise and fall,” he says. “You decide what you want to spend it on, and, to me, [‘Underground Garage’] was worth my time and my energy. I think what we’re on the verge of is a rebirth of rock’n’roll, nothing short of that. And all it needs is a little encouragement, and that’s what I plan on spending my time doing.”