To some, Bruce Springsteen is a dad-rocker, but to his fans he’s so much more. Now The She Street Band have found a whole new side to The Boss.
Every Bruce Springsteen fan has been on their own personal journey with the Boss, beginning with a defining moment when his music first gripped them. For me, it was at Glastonbury 2009, when – through the heavy fog of several all-nighters in a row – he reached across the crowd of thousands and pierced me straight through the heart. For Jody Orsborn, bassist of The She Street Band – the world’s first all-female Springsteen tribute band – it was at Wembley Stadium in 2016.
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In the grand scheme of Springsteen’s 40-plus years on stage, these were twilight performances from the now 68-year-old Boss. We missed those intimate, legend-making shows in the American north-east from the 1970s, backed by longtime collaborators The E-Street Band – the kind of shows that prompted music writer Jon Landau to proclaim Springsteen as “rock and roll future”; we also missed those epic three-hour stadium sets of the 80s, which popularised Springsteen as a bandana and muscle shirt-wearing dancer in the dark.
Both Jody and I are relative late starters. But as Jody tells me, “It’s hard to get him earlier – it’s like when you’re older these songs now make sense.” Jody’s right; you need a couple of broken hearts behind you to really fall for Bruce Springsteen.
“I always liked him,” says Jody, “but growing up in the States, the Springsteen you would normally see was that Born in the USA, stadium rock-Springsteen. I liked the songs but I didn’t really understand him beyond that. It took until my early twenties to hear some of his other stuff and see this whole other side. Every album you hear is so different, but an incredible look into love, relationships, emotions, life and interesting stories. But I’d never seen him live.
“I’d read a lot of him, his politics, and his philosophies. I really respected how he says if he’s not giving the best performance of his life every time you see him, then he questions why he’s still doing it. That’s such a refreshing thing. I’ve seen most of my rock idols, and most of them are terrible to see live now! I saw Bob Dylan but he was this tiny little thing in the middle of the stage. It could have been anyone sitting there! It thought ‘I love this person and this person’s music, but I have no connection to what’s happening in front of me’.
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“I really wanted to see someone whose live performances are ‘the thing’ and who cares that much about the music and the connection with the audience.”
Of course, this is something Springsteen fans know, the thing that sets him apart from every other rocker still gigging well into their twilight years: it doesn’t matter how old The Boss gets, or how far behind him those original gigs with the E-Street Band are, he just gets better and better. The show at Wembley in 2016, part of The River tour, was no exception – energy, charisma, and anthems all the way.
“It was the best experience ever,” says Jody. “It wasn’t just about him and the band, it was about the audience, the environment, and the most infectious feeling. I wanted more of that. I guess it was life changing because I started this group and have gone this whole other route…”
Indeed, Jody wasn’t waiting for The Boss to come back around on another world tour. Instead, she put together The She Street Band: Lynn Roberts on keys, Mara Daniele on rhythm guitar, Isabel Lysell on lead guitar, Yasmin Ogilvie on sax, Calie Hough on drums, and Clare McGrath on glockenspiel.
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The idea of an all-female Springsteen covers band creates a fascinating dynamic. For some, the fundamental appeal of The Boss – and part of the reason, I suspect, for his status as one of the all-time great dad-rockers – is his raw, unabashed masculinity: lyrics about putting in a 12-hour factory shift, or tearing up the highway in a giant American car; the grit in his voice, as he sings about loves lost and opportunities missed; songs that pore over the responsibilities of being a man; his glistening biceps bursting out of those sleeveless plaid shirts (seriously, Springsteen’s biceps in the 80s were the absolute business); the fact he could swing around both a sledgehammer and telecaster with equal manly power, the kind that mere mortals such as myself can only dream of.
But has The She Street Band set out to subvert Springsteen’s inherit masculinity?
“There’s very masculine energy to some of the songs,” says Jody. “But so many of the songs are universal, so something like Brilliant Disguise – which is a relationship song – can be seen from the other side. It does subvert it a bit. A lot of what we hear is from the man’s side, but women have these thoughts and questions too, and we don’t get to hear a lot of those stories in the same way. There’s something interesting about that coming from the viewpoint of a woman, how it changes the story. It’s like you’re hearing the other side to the story.”
But interestingly, there’s not one voice in The She Street Band, there are several.
“There’s no one singer because we’re not just trying to be Springsteen,” says Jody. “We wanted it to be communal. That’s the thing about the band, each of the members is incredible, but also each person slightly represents a different side of Springsteen.
“One of us folky Springsteen, one is broken-hearted Springsteen, one is party Springsteen, one is rock Springsteen… I think I’m all-American Springsteen! It’s interesting because each girl brings her own understanding of the song.”
The band played its debut gig in The Moth Club last April, but is set to return to the stage this Friday February 16 for a special Valentine’s Boss-bash, Springsteen Is For Lovers, at The Grand Clapham. Joined by DJs from Bruce-inspired events company Hungry Heart, it should be a banger. Especially if their first gig – a sellout smash – is anything to go by.
— The She Street Band (@shestreetband) February 9, 2018
“When we started there was no expectation,” says Jody. “I just thought, ‘I love these songs, they’ll be fun to play with some amazing girls.’ With our first gig, we hadn’t played in front of anyone before. We had no idea what to expect. Would people think this is stupid? Would they think, ‘Who are these girls?’
“But when we got there, we couldn’t get to the stage because it was so packed. We had to fight our way through. We ended up in this little side room before the show and looked at each and said, ‘Oh my god, what have we done?’ As soon as we walked out there was this swell of insane energy.”
Kicking off with Thunder Road, The She Street Band got the kind of reaction Bruce himself would have appreciated.
Put on your denim baby and darlin’ fix your black leather, muscle shirt & bandana up right! Cause there’s a party, honey, way down beneath @TheGrandClapham lights #dresscode #dresstoimpress #springsteenisforlovers #partynextweek pic.twitter.com/E6fcC5muX3
— The She Street Band (@shestreetband) February 7, 2018
“Everyone was singing along that big counter melody in Badlands,” laughs Jody. “They do that with Bruce, so when they started to do it with us… it was awesome.”
Though a Valentine’s gig does suggest plenty of Springsteen love songs, Jody assures me there will be some classic Bruce belters too. “When people come to hear Springsteen songs they’ve come to party!”
I have to ask the obvious question: does Jody have a favourite Springsteen song to bash out live?
“I love Born to Run,” she tells me. “It’s such an incredible song to play. It’s a challenge – it goes to so many different places. But it’s just such a tune! When it kicks back in with 1, 2, 3, 4! and the crowd hits it too… that’s what we’re all doing this for, right?
“It’s not about us trying to be Springsteen and feeling like rock stars for the night. It’s about the audience, it’s about us, it’s about all doing this together.”
For tickets to Springsteen Is For Lovers visit here
Follow The She Street Band @shestreetband