E Street Band guitarist Stevie Van Zandt likes to make the most of any downtime when he’s not gigging as Little Steven with The Boss. Van Zandt earned acclaim as a television actor, playing gangster Silvio Dante in “The Sopranos” and refining the style as Giovanni “Johnny” Henriksen on “Lilyhammer.” Since 2003, he has helmed influential radio program “Little Steven’s Underground Garage.” Van Zandt also has a top-notch solo band called Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul, which performs at Copernicus Center on Monday.
Little Steven has learned a thing or two while helping to drive one of the world’s premier bands at Bruce Springsteen’s side. The Disciples of Soul cut no corners where it counts. Van Zandt’s sprawling band is augmented by brass, soulful background vocals and a hard-hitting rhythm section. “Soulfire” includes Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes’ “I’m Coming Back,” a rafter-raising New Jersey anthem. “Out of the Darkness” is a soulful song of togetherness from 1983’s “Voice of America” album. Both songs will thrill any E Street fan.
“Soulfire Live!” drops strong hints of what to expect at Little Steven’s show, blending new songs, favorites from Little Steven’s ‘80s output like “Bitter Fruit,” and plenty of affable banter with the crowd. Van Zandt opens up about his politics on the live album, punctuated by songs like the buoyant “Solidarity” and reggae-flavored protest piece “Leonard Peltier.” Ultimately, he eschews party politics and rallies behind the sentiment of “I Am a Patriot,” declaring his allegiance to freedom.
Still, Little Steven doesn’t preach at people who are just out for a night of great American rock ‘n’ roll.
“In the old days, I’d be bringing the politics with me,” he says on “Soulfire Live!” before launching the spirited “Blues Is My Business.” “In this current environment, we’re better off bringing you two hours of escape from the politics.”
Jeff Elbel is a local freelance writer.