Longtime drummer for the Boss, Max Weinberg is putting audience in charge
By MIKE COTE New Hampshire Union Leader
Max Weinberg's Jukebox performs tonight at Tupelo Music Hall in Derry in a show that lets the audience pick the set list from more than 200 classic rock songs. (COURTESY)
If you go...
WHO: Max Weinberg's Jukebox
WHEN: 8 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 2
WHERE: Tupelo Music Hall, 10 A St., Derry
INFO: tupelohall.com or (603) 437-5100.
As drummer for the E Street Band since 1974, Max Weinberg is used to his boss — the Boss — calling out songs in the middle of a show that aren’t on the set list. It’s just part of the job.
For Max Weinberg’s Jukebox — coming to Tupelo Music Hall in Derry tonight — Weinberg and his four-piece band invite the audience to call the shots. Fans can choose from a video menu of more than 200 songs that include Beatles and Rolling Stones classics, and some of Springsteen and the E Street Band’s biggest hits. Over the years, Weinberg has performed many hits with the artists who originated them, including James Brown, Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, BB King, Tony Bennett, Ringo Starr, John Fogerty, Steve Winwood, Sheryl Crow and Isaac Hayes.
While Weinberg has played giant arenas all over the world with the E Street Band, he hasn’t given up playing high school gyms. One of his recent private gigs was at St. Francis de Sales Catholic Academy in Belle Harbor, N.Y.
It was like transporting back to 1965, he said.
“It was quite a lot of fun. And, of course, when you play drums in a high school gym, anybody sounds like (the late Led Zeppelin drummer) John Bonham because the drums sound so big,” Weinberg said recently from New York City on a rare day off.
Whether he’s performing to 50,000 people with the E Street Band at Gillette Stadium — as he did last year as part of “The River” tour — or for 500 people at Tupelo, Weinberg never alters his style.
“I play the same in a room with two people as I do in a stadium of 200,000,” he said. “My attitude is intensity, commitment, energy. I guess it’s kind of what I bring to the drums as an individual after playing drums for 60 years.”
With the Jukebox, Weinberg and his band are playing venues that top off at 1,000 seats — places that offer an intimate setting with the audience.
“The concept is all request, all the time. The audience picks the set list completely,” he said. “It’s been a lot of fun because it’s all songs that I grew up with in the ‘60s and the ‘70s. It’s on a revolving video scroll. And I dare say that anyone in the audience who comes to these knows every song.”
In addition to his work with Springsteen, Weinberg spent 17 years leading the house band and being a comedic foil for late-night TV host Conan O’Brien. You can hear how much Weinberg picked up from that experience in the smooth delivery of his speaking voice and his ability to tell a good story, which he attributes to spending a lot of time with writers.
The video scroll sounds like something borrowed from late-night TV, a “Stump the Band” segment. Weinberg doesn’t get stumped easily, but occasionally a song derails the Jukebox.
“The band can play anything, but we were momentarily stunned by the Queen song, ‘Bohemian Rhapsody,’ which is very complicated,” Weinberg said with a laugh. “But we’ll have a shot at everything. We have in the repertoire over a hundred Beatles songs. We do play a couple of choice Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band selections.”
The show is a tribute to the music Weinberg has been playing since his first picked up a pair of drum sticks at age 6.
“Basically what I’m presenting is a party and a look backward into this golden age of rock songwriting, the three-minute single. That is something I’ve always enjoyed doing — going to play, sitting in with Top-40 bands,” Weinberg said. “It could be at a wedding or a bar mitzvah or anywhere someone says, ‘Hey, I know you’re a drummer, right?’ And I’ll go and sit in. And that’s the drummer’s job, to be able to play any song.
“And if you don’t know the song you have to be able to fake it.”