One of popular culture’s favourite right-hand men has recently stepped back into the solo spotlight. Forget Springsteen and ‘The Sopranos’, ‘Little’ Steven Van Zandt is back in town with a new album and tour. He brought a troupe of soul stars with him, too, as The Disciples Of Soul made a righteous racket at the O2 Academy in Liverpool. By Alan O’Hare.

Everyone else is playing at it.

While the likes of Liam and Noel Gallagher trade insults on Twitter, Taylor Swift takes a couple of years to put a record out and Jimmy Page looks back more than UK Gold, ‘Little’ Steven Van Zandt just gets on with things. New album released, ongoing radio show, producing newcomers and legends alike and touring with the legendary E Street Band; you name it, Van Zandt does it. Often more recognised in the UK for his acting career and stellar work in ‘The Sopranos’ and ‘Lilyhammer’, Bruce Springsteen and Tony Soprano’s right-hand man has decided the time is right to place the spotlight back on his solo music.

Van Zandt has released six albums over thirty years as a recording artist – with his latest, ‘Soulfire’, being the catalyst for his first tour with ‘Little Steven & The Disciples Of Soul’ in a long time. It’s a great decision. The 15-piece soul revue cook up a storm and are playing to packed places all over Europe and the US. The troupe arrived in Liverpool early to play a brilliantly-received surprise ‘Beatles-only’ covers set at The Cavern Club yesterday afternoon, but the real action took place up the hill at O2 Academy in the big room last night.

They were in the pocket. What a band… with five horns, two keyboard players, three backing singers, loud guitars and soulful drums, Van Zandt has put his money where his mouth is for this jaunt. Sure, ticket prices were expensive, but everybody left Hotham Street feeling they had their money’s worth. Songs from ‘Soulfire’ dominated – all classic beats, big riffs and full-throated vocals – but it was the older material that felt truly special on Van Zandt’s first solo tour in a long time. ‘I Am A Patriot’ and ‘Bitter Fruit’ even got a reggae vibe going on a night filled with genuine sweet soul music, while new Morricone-esque epic ‘Standing In The Line Of Fire’ was a highlight, too. There was doo-wop (‘The City Weeps Tonight’ was gorgeous), rock ‘n’ roll and old school rhythm and blues and the pace never let up all night.

Van Zandt acknowledged that his music used to be a lot more political than he presents it now, but with Trump tweeting his every hiccup, he feels the need to just pick up his guitar and play. It’s working, because the Disciples Of Soul make a righteous noise and the singer is flying… we all talk about how great his best mate Springsteen is at 6o-odd, but ‘Little’ Steven played hard to a rapturous reception for over two hours last night. “Listen to the man sing his song, I don’t want to go home, I don’t mind if it takes all night long, ’cause I don’t want to go home… “ – it’s only rock ‘n’ roll, but he lives it.

Pic by Sakura