By Joyce Bassett
E Street Band drummer and late-night television bandleader Max Weinberg brings his four-piece band to the GE Theatre at Proctors Friday night.
But he’s not bringing his drums.
A typical tour stop for Weinberg goes like this: He arrives at the airport, rents a car, drives himself to the venue. The venue provides the drums. Weinberg sets them up and tunes them. He eventually is joined by three musicians — two guitarists and a bass player — and his band rocks the house, playing a different set list every night.
“It’s not a concert, it’s a party,” Weinberg said in a phone interview.
Max Weinberg’s Jukebox reflects a combination of his nearly 45 years with Bruce Springsteen’s E Street band and 17 years as a talk show sidekick to Conan O’Brien.
“The audience picks from 350 songs that happen to be my favorites,” Weinberg explained.
Here’s how it works: On a screen behind the stage is a scrolling list of tunes from the ’60s and ’70s, a few from the ’80s and “a nice sampling” of Springsteen hits, he said.
“These are the songs that I listened to as a kid,” Weinberg explained. “Everything from the Beatles to the Stones to the English invasion and the Beach Boys. If you are over 40 or so, that would have been the soundtrack of your life.”
What makes the show truly unique is the interaction with the audience. He tells stories from his years with Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees the E Street Band as well as stories about growing up and playing the drums in the golden age of rock ‘n’ roll.
Weinberg was on Broadway way before Springsteen was on Broadway, playing in the pit band for the musical “Godspell.” It was that and his vast experience as a drummer — he started playing professionally at age 7 — with many different bands and playing a variety of styles, that landed his dream job with the E Street Band.
“As a young drummer — I mean really young — you gave the bandleaders what they wanted to hear the way you could do it. I was a local novelty act, kind of a wedding and bar mitzvah guy down in Essex County, New Jersey,” he said. “So by the time I met Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band I had been playing for 16-17 years at the time. Every kind of job you can think of. So I had a lot of versatility particularly for a guy my age.”
He joined the E Street Band in 1975 by responding to an ad in the Village Voice newspaper. He didn’t know the E Street repertoire from song to song like some of the job applicants, but he knew how to give a bandleader like Springsteen what he wanted to hear.
“I was always a band guy. I never was at all focused on becoming sort of a session musician. I always wanted to be in a band and I was always in bands. Several at once when I was a kid. I enjoy the camaraderie and, of course, with the E Street Band I hit the triple jackpot,” Weinberg said.
He has created several bands that have kept him busy between E Street tours. When Springsteen broke up the E Street Band in 1989 he briefly gave up drumming. But a chance meeting with O’Brien led to an audition and he entered the world of late night television.
It is that experience has helped him develop the performance style the audience will see during his Jukebox show.
“I have a lot of fun. I’ll be 68 my next birthday and I look for opportunities to play the drums. That’s what I do, I play the drums. I love playing with Bruce and the E Street Band but there are never any long-range plans in that regard. So I keep myself busy with the little groups that I have,” Weinberg said.
Weinberg — often noted as the E Street historian among band members — looked back at E Street concerts in the Capital Region, especially the early shows in the ’70s.
“In the ’70s we always would open our tours at the Palace in Albany. I’m not quite sure why, but it’s a great place. A terrific place to perform,” he recalled.
He also has a connection to upstate through his 2016 purchase of property on Lake Placid with a view of Whiteface Mountain. The house is coming along — a little slower than he expected.
He is very familiar with Lake Placid. Both of his children — his son Jay and daughter Ali — played hockey and he would travel with their youth hockey teams to compete in the annual CAN-AM tournaments held at the Olympic rink on Mirror Lake.
“We went there probably six years in a row, both my children played and we’d drive up from New Jersey. It was always a phenomenal weekend we had up there. We really enjoyed it.” he said.
Jay Weinberg is a drummer for the heavy metal band Slipknot. As a freshman in college, he filled in for Max — who was busy with his Conan O’Brien gig — for several shows during Springsteen’s Working on a Dream tour in 2009. Jay Weinberg stole the show when he made his tour debut on drums at Times Union Center, according to then-Times Union music critic Michael Eck.
“He did an incredible job filling in for me. He was only 17 when he did that. Pretty incredible,” Weinberg said.
Unlike the nearly 4-hour E Street shows, Weinberg’s Jukebox party will be about 90 minutes of 25-30 two-minute records.
“Reaction has been great everywhere,” Weinberg says of the show, which he has performed about 120 times since 2017. “Some places we perform a ton of Beatles, some places a ton of Springsteen. We have a healthy smattering of Led Zeppelin and AC/DC … people always leave with a smile on their faces.”
Joyce Bassett is a news editor at the Times Union. Check out her Springsteen blog at https://brucespringsteenserenade.wordpress.com