Aoife O’Donovan, a Grammy winning singer-songwriter, performed Bruce Springsteen’s seminal album “Nebraska” to a sold-out crowd at the Turf Club last Friday. The performance was a tribute to one of the most iconic albums of Springsteen’s career and showcased O’Donovan’s talent as a vocalist and interpreter of songs.
“Nebraska” is a stark departure from Springsteen’s previous work. While Springsteen did try to record the album in all it’s loud, crashing, E-Street glory, The demo tapes were instead released as the album – showcasing a more intimate and stripped-down side of his songwriting. The album, recorded on a simple cassette recorder, explores dark themes of violence, crime, and economic struggle – Springsteen’s favorite subjects. Despite its bleak subject matter, the album has been praised over the last 40 years for its vivid and evocative lyrics, which paint pictures of characters trying to survive in a world that has left them behind.
Aoife O’Donovan spoke about how the “Nebraska” Tribute came to be. She was performing a residency at a bar in New York and decided to cover the album in full one night. When the pandemic hit, she performed a living-room performance of the album, and then released it online and on vinyl. It’s since spawned a tour that has gone on to sell out dates across the country – all at the same time Springsteen is on tour.
“I tried to price my tickets to be a bit more affordable than The Boss.” O’Donovan said “Instead of $400, I tried to keep mine around $30.” While there were people in the crowd who saw Springsteen Last month at the Xcel, Aoife’s performance of the album was a fitting tribute to Springsteen’s artistry. Her voice, which has been compared to that of Alison Krauss and Gillian Welch, added a new dimension to Springsteen’s songs. Her interpretations were intimate and nuanced, bringing out the emotional depth of each track just like it’s creator.
She performed the album in it’s entirely, and in order. The albums title track, “Nebraska,” started the night off to a hushed crowd. “Atlantic City,” showcased O’Donovan’s ability to convey a sense of desperation and despair through her singing. Other standout tracks included “State Trooper”, which She said was a song that “Scared the shit out of me as a kid” and “Reason to Believe,” which ended the night on a modicum of hope from an album filled with a mostly bleak outlook.
Judging by the audience’s reaction, O’Donovan more than did justice to Springsteen’s songs. The sold-out crowd remained entirely quiet during the songs, aside from the hum of the air conditoner, hissing of soda-guns at the bar, and the occasional clanging of dishes that even the Turf Club staff seemed to make an effort of muting. “Nebraska” is a intimate, nuanced, and deeply emotional album, and the audience was fully aware of the attention that is needed to listen to it.
When I wrote about Bruce Springsteen’s Xcel show a few months back, I mentioned that while there has been no official announcement, it could be the band’s final run for some of these venues. It’s hard to imagine a world without Springsteen’s music, And what could happen when it’s left in the hands of artists who could miss the mark on their interpretation of it. But Aoife O’Donovan’s interpretation of the album goes above and beyond, and nails the haunting intimacy that is missed in other covers. By the end of the last few songs, I almost forgot it was someone else’s album.
Sometimes if a cover of a song is good enough, it becomes your own. Aoife O’Donovan’s take on Nebraska stays true to the original intention to the album, with a voice that brings it to a generation that may be unfamiliar with it. She does it so well, “Nebraska” may as well be considered her own.