When Manfred Mann’s Earth Band takes the stage, they open, not unsurprisingly, with Bruce Springsteen’s “Spirit in the Night.” The Earth Band formula is quite simple. Take a lesser known Bob Dylan or Springsteen track, substitute some of the many verses with a very long guitar or Moog synthesizer solo (or both), return to chorus, and repeat. The result, while perhaps not genius, is nonetheless surprisingly engaging.
By the time they are done, the score is 4–3 for Bruce vs. Bob (out of a total of 13 songs played). The Dylan choices are interesting, ranging from the obscure hymn “Father of Day, Father of Night” to their number one version of “The Mighty Quinn,” incidentally released years before a Dylan version emerged.
Revved up like a deuce
The Earth Band grew out of sixties pop group Manfred Mann, best known for metaphysically titled hits such as “Do Wah Ditty Ditty” and “Hubble Bubble.” However, the band was seen as somewhat effeminate at the time and was apparently routinely beaten up when touring Ireland. South African bandleader Manfred decided on a tougher approach (yes, Earth Band is tough) in the ’70s, turning to prog rock and making a debut with his current band in 1972. The band’s name reflected his growing ecological concerns (how’s that for tough?) and copies of its fifth album in 1974 even came with deeds to small plots of land in that hippie haven, Wales. While failing to make much of a dent in Wales, the album became a minor success in Norway. In early 1977, the band entered the big time with a Billboard number one version of Bruce’s “Blinded By the Light,” which led them on their current path.
Everybody’s gonna jump for joy
Another Earth Band staple seems to be to drop rock history quotes into their versions. For instance, we get a verse from “House of the Rising Sun” in Bruce’s “Dancing in the Dark,” Dylan’s “You Angel You” concludes as Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song” and most bizarrely, “Smoke on the Water” makes an appearance in “Quinn.”
The vocalist, not having very much to do in the long instrumental parts, periodically leaves the stage, while Manfred himself, in a fedora hat, looks cool, plays well and sings blandly. An attempted sing-along to the chorus of Bruce’s “For You” comes to naught, but “Blinded By the Light” gets a great response and all goes well from there. The audience acts as a choir to the chorus of “Doh Wah Diddy” and rises out of its seats for the set closer, “Quinn,” although the ‘repeat the noises the singer makes’ bit hasn’t really been interesting since Cab Calloway.
All in all, Earth Band is well worth seeing and deserves its place in the rock family tree, although one might be forgiven for viewing them more as distant cousins than favourite sons in the vein of Bob ’n’ Bruce.
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