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finding trancendence: springsteen rehearsal shows

Posted on 25 April 2005 by Caryn Rose (8)

Paramount Theater, Asbury Park, NJ
22 April, 2005

My expectations for this show – what little there were – were joyously blown to smithereens the second it began. After Bruce greeted the audience (invoking the Tom Joad rules), a rhythmic backing track came through the PA. He stood centerstage, silhouetted in the spotlight, crouched over and began to play vicious searing blues harp, and began to sing– okay, it was more like a testifying, shouting blues, processed through a distortion effect that echoed the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. It took several lines of the song until I realized he was singing “Reason To Believe” because the song bore no resemblance whatsoever to the original version on Nebraska – but yet it would have fit Nebraska perfectly in that it was haunting and possessive and impactful and utterly mindblowing. I was absolutely transfixed and astonished and delighted.


So when he picked up the acoustic guitar and stood center stage and began to sing “Devils & Dust,” the unconventionality and surprise of the first number meant that you were already viewing the performance through another lens whatsoever, and all bets were off for the rest of the night. Almost every song was a highlight, a gleaming jewel in the crown that was this performance. “Long Time Coming” was as triumphant and joyous as it should be, “For You” as heart-wrenching. I’m not a huge fan of “Part Man, Part Monkey” but used as a political platform and performed in a psychobilly style that Lux Interior of the Cramps would have applauded, it was kind of hard not to like it.

“Further On Up The Road” never realized its potential as a rocker; it usually ended up plodding on the Rising tour, and when it started to be cut from the setlist, no one really minded. I think he’s found the answer in the acoustic version, which had no pacing or plodding problems. The other new songs held up more than admirably; I do wonder if “Reno” will last in the set simply because he seemed to have trouble getting the rhythm just right (and not for any other reason. It’s a good song.) “Maria’s Bed” was sweet, and “The Hitter” felt more comprehendible than it does on record.

But, of course, the two real Moments in the show, two once-in-a-lifetime chances, are the ones that will stay tucked in my heart. The first one came out of nowhere, a mention that it was a favorite of “Mr. Lan-DO” and that some guy had yelled it out the night before — nothing could have possibly prepared the audience for the third performance ever of “Real World”. If you only know this song from the record, I don’t blame you for saying “so what” – if you ever heard it live, on the bootleg from the Christic Institute benefit shows in 1990, then you know that it is almost another song entirely.

I wanna find some answers
I wanna ask for some help
I’m tired of running scared
Baby let’s get our bags packed
We’ll take it here to hell and heaven and back
And if love is hopeless hopeless at best
Come on put on your party dress it’s ours tonight
And we’re goin’ with the tumblin’ dice

Those words were written pre-therapy, at least 15 years ago, even before his first child was born, when Bruce was just starting to realize he had questions that needed answering. And the best of his work since then, in my opinion, has been the exploration of these very grown up, very adult issues, of having “run way out of road” (as he referenced it at the Somerville shows in 02). He sang it like he meant it in 1990 and in 2005, there is a whole other layer of understanding and joyful acceptance, having lived it for more than a decade. The performance – Bruce at the grand piano – playing with strength and proficiency, an instrument that he has worked at for years and always feels slightly less than competent at. Some of the best moments in concert over the past five or so years have been when he sits down at that piano and is able to find the same connection with the instrument that he does with the guitar, when everything flows and he can let go and his voice is sure and his playing matches it and everything just soars above and beyond and for one moment or two you have found sheer fucking transcendence.

Which is how it was for “Real World” last Friday.

And while that alone would have been more than enough, he had to sit down and play a song on solo piano that he has never ever played on solo piano, and give away more than a few secrets about how it was written (and I love this stuff more than the average bear, I realize this): how there were originally two versions, one with a girl and one without. Bruce related how Obie (long-time veteran Springsteen fan) said, “I like the one with the girl,” and that when he played it for Steve (Van Zant), that Steve said that he liked the one with the girl because that’s what happens in real life. You can have the boys’ club for a while (“And we’ll ignore the homoerotic tendencies,” Bruce joked, causing me to erroneously write down “Backstreets” in anticipation — long-time Bruce fans will get that joke) but then one day, the girl comes along, and it changes everything.

I don’t even know that I have the words to adequately describe hearing “Racing In The Streets” on piano. It is such a dramatic song that sometimes I wished there wasn’t so much music behind it, so I could concentrate on the words and absolutely feel the emotion in the lyrics pure and unadulterated. On piano, it was like that moment in The Wizard of Oz when the movie switches from black and white to Technicolor, the story felt bigger and a thousand times more vivid in my head. All I could wish was for time to stand still at the end, wishing that we had one of those endless rising codas that happened from time to time on the Rising tour (never got to see it, only hear it), because I never wanted it to end. The fact that he can continue to imbue songs from 30 years ago with such genuine emotion — whether or not it’s the same emotion that was there when he wrote it is irrelevant — is equal parts magic and artistry. But mostly magic.

There is a sense of calm and self-awareness, mixed with a healthy dose of humor, reflected from Bruce onstage in the past year, starting with Vote For Change, and most evident both at Storytellers and Friday afternoon in Asbury Park. It’s clearly the product of someone who has lived and examined his life, most likely the fruits of both the therapy he went through in the 90’s and just plain old living and getting to his particular decade.

The show is powerful, relevant, enjoyable, challenging. It won’t make the fans coming to hear “Thunder Road” very happy, but for those of us who want to see Bruce continue to grow and take chances and evolve, this tour has surprisingly turned into an important part of Springsteen’s musical history instead of just a footnote.

SETLIST:
Reason To Believe
Devils & Dust
Youngstown
Lonesome Day
Long Time Coming
Silver Palomino
For You (Piano)
Real World (Piano)
Part Man / Part Monkey
Maria’s Bed
Highway Patrolman
Reno
Racing In The Street (Piano)
The Rising
Further on Up the Road
Jesus was an Only Son (Piano)
Leah
The Hitter
Matamoros Banks
Waiting On A Sunny Day
Bobby Jean
Promised Land

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8 Responses to “finding trancendence: springsteen rehearsal shows”

  1. Stan says:

    Once again Caryn your words perfectly capture a magical afternoon in Asbury Park, an afternoon that I think many of us may be calling “legendary” in the years to come.
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts.
    Stan

  2. dbf says:

    “this tour has surprisingly turned into an important part of Springsteen’s musical history instead of just a footnote.”

    why “surprisingly”?. isn’t each live tour chapter in the man’s musical history significant, good or bad, high or low, loud or quiet, etc……?

    dbf

  3. clr says:

    not by default, no.

  4. dbf says:

    We can disagree on the default part for now, but what about this tour being significant is surprising? I am not trying to be difficult, but am at a loss on this one Caryn.

    When an artist of his stature sets out on the road by himself (again) at a time when he could easily be home coaching little league games, its significance and the attention it commands is undeniable. As long as he is relevant (which should be as long as Bruce is making music), and is compelled to hit road — where his magic and power and promise have been most acutely and inarguably transcendent — we have significance.

    None of this should be read that this tour or record or anything else for that matter, should be taken for granted. (see, notable westerberg review above). Bruce himself would surely neither ask for nor expect that. All of it must be earned. But its significance should be no surprise.

    For me, its as simple as when the likes of a Townsend or a Springsteen make an artisitic decision, we pay attention to its signficance (by default)

    dbf

  5. clr says:

    I think we may be arguing semantics, which is not particularly interesting to do, but just because you decree that everything an artist does is “significant” doesn’t make it so. You’ve stated your opinion articulately but I don’t particularly agree.

    I’m not trying to say I’m Bruce Springsteen, but as an artist, not EVERYTHING I do is significant. For example, I don’t know that this Westerberg tour is “significant” (half of one good show doesn’t suddenly render the outing genius). It’s part of his career and it may or may not be notable, but a musician recording a record and going out on tour is just the artist doing their job. That is what they do, they make art. As a result, the years that Bruce *didn’t* create are imho more ‘significant’.

    Townshend’s made a lot of releases in the past couple of years and I don’t call their very presence significant. Townshend acknowledging and embracing Lifehouse? Significant. Releasing the Sadler’s Wells shows? Not a big deal in my book. Deciding to release live albums? Significant. But what he released – again, not necessarily so.

    Bruce Springsteen and an acoustic guitar onstage isn’t by default significant unless he somehow MAKES IT SO. He did.

    This is a matter of opinion; I respect yours, but I don’t agree with it.

  6. dbf says:

    Caryn

    While I am probably past beating this to death, let me at least send off one more on this. Completely agree to disagree. The fact that we can do so without insulting one another is what makes this healthier than, say, RMAS.

    Sematics, it is true, but you are a writer and I am a reader, so semantics does still matter to us both. To be clear, I don’t for a second, blindly, think anything that the Townsends or Springsteens do is always earth shattering, but for me, it is still always significant, if not great. I think I was most struck by your “surprise” about the weight or significance of this tour. I was so moved on a nightly basis with the last solo tour and have been spellbound by the first sounds of this effort as well. {If Matamoras Banks doesn’t crack hearts into little pieces every night, I am turning in my pass}

    Lastly, the Westerberg thing is exactly my point, which is to say his artistic moves are still significant to me, even if not muscially what it once was. Anyway, enough babbling on this for now. The Westerberg review (I was out of town for the show) is depressing since I fear we are in the October (if not November) of his desire.

    Lastly, you are right about the Heartless Bastards. That record thumps

  7. clr says:

    I guess what I didn’t articulate well, or rather, didn’t want to distract from the rest of the review with, was the fact that I was not thrilled when he decided to get rid of the original tour concept, or even take Nils and Soozie out. Bruce + acoustic guitar is not challenging imho, and you know of my continual quest to get him out with a band much like the one Dylan has, a bunch of hot, sharp musicians who will, again, CHALLENGE him.

    I also wasn’t thrilled with D&D as a song and i was quite worried that, well, this tour would be boring. Or, at least, not Bruce pushing himself to his edge. The version of Reason to Believe as an opener blew that concept out of the park.

    So, again, surprising. Surprising it wasn’t a rest stop but rather a historical marker. That’s all. And I still think we’ll disagree on this one, that’s all.

  8. dbf says:

    C

    Fair enough. Now as for a bit of agreement to start the weekend, I, too, would love to see Bruce front a band of the likes Dylan has had for the last decade or so…..seeing Bruce smoke through a few of his own and a few from some others would be a mighty fine ass shakin’ time….have a good weekend

    D