Max Weinberg seems to have it pretty good. While best known as the man who has spent the last 42 years behind the drum kit for Bruce Springsteen’s mighty E Street Band, even Weinberg’s side projects are the type of gigs most musicians would kill to be a part of. He’s played with everyone from James Brown to Meat Loaf, fronted big bands and served as both band leader and on-air sidekick for Conan O’Brien for 17 years on NBC’s “Late Night with Conan O’Brien.”
So it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that Weinberg has found yet another project to busy himself with while not touring with The Boss. That project goes by the name Max Weinberg’s Jukebox, a four-piece rock band that plays classics from the ’60s and ’70s. And the best part? The audience gets to pick the setlist.
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“It’s not a concert, it’s a party,” Weinberg says of his show, which comes to The Landis Theater in Vineland 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 18. “At a normal concert the band plays their songs and hopefully they play the song you wanted to hear, but sometimes they don’t, and that’s how this whole concept for Max Weinberg’s Jukebox came about. Because we’ve all had the experience of going to see a band and they don’t play the song that you want to hear. So the concept for this is that the audience picks all the songs over a two hour period — and it gets pretty pandemonium-like in there,” Weinberg laughs as he describes the concept for his new show.
To those wondering how this all works, flanking each side of the stage is a revolving list of more than 300 songs to choose from, all of which Weinberg’s band can play at a moment’s notice. Members of the audience can request any song at any time, and may even get a chance to chat about it with Weinberg himself.
“I’ve limited the venues to about a 1,000-seat capacity, so it’s a really intimate, and I do a lot of talking and interacting with the audience, as well. I’ll go around from the front row to the back and physically ask people what they want to hear,” Weinberg says. “Someone may pick a song from the scroll and I will ask them what memory it brings back. It could have been something they heard at their prom. It’s a very intensely interactive experience for both the band and the audience.”
Though many of the songs featured may be nearly half a century old, Weinberg is adamant about keeping the original feel of the music intact.
“The thing with this material is that, while none of it is new, I approach it with a great deal of respect. We try to give a real accurate representation of how the song first came across the airwaves. We do everything from The Beatles ‘If I Fell’ to AC/DC’s ‘Highway to Hell.’ It’s a very esoteric setlist.”
This is anything but your typical Saturday night casino show.
And just to address the 800-pound elephant in the room: yes, they have more than a few Springsteen songs on the list to choose from.
“We play a half a dozen Bruce songs. They tend to be picked on a rhythmic basis. People like to get their air drumming out! And when you have the guy right there who played on the record, it provides a certain sense of closeness to that record.”
Since we are on the subject of Bruce, Weinberg gives us a little nugget about what his favorite recurring moment is onstage during a Springsteen concert.
“I love playing all the songs, but there’s a wonderful moment for me at the beginning of ‘Candy’s Room’ — because we don’t play it that often. The song starts with the high hat, and there is a gasp of recognition from the audience that is actually fairly audible. So my fantasy is that suddenly it’s ‘Max Weinberg and the E Street Band’ because I’m the only one playing at that particular moment in the song.”
From everything he describes, attending a Max Weinberg’s Jukebox show serves as a way for both the band and the fans to relive the good times and visit the music of classic artists from rock’s golden age — both living and deceased. That might not seem like the most groundbreaking concept for a rock show, that’s just fine with Weinberg.
“I’m certainly not trying to change the world, I’m just trying to help people dance all over their problems for a couple of hours.”