five reasons: springsteen in milwaukee

Bruce Springsteen
Bradley Center, Milwaukee, WI
7 August 2005



Springsteen at the pump organ, slow and somber, the music familiar but still unrecognizable, and then:

The runway rushed up at him as he felt the wheels touch down
He stood out on the blacktop and took a taxi into town

And there is the initial intake of breath when you realize what the fuck he is singing, that jolt of adrenalin, and then you squelch it all as quickly as possible because you want nothing to distract you from the experience of the song: “Shut Out The Light,” one of the first Vietnam experience songs. These songs strike me, hard, even though I have no connection beyond generational (well, barely). I thought I had never heard it before but setlists prove me wrong (1985).

The wild card songs. They come out of nowhere, sometimes you’ll get a clue as to what inspired them later on during the show — Bruce will mention an article or an event or a name; this time, all we get is: “This is a song for a soldier.”

While many of Springsteen’s songs have undeniable cinematic qualities (and oddly enough many of them will appear tonight), this one was always in my top ten, I have a movie that runs inside my head every time I hear it. The carefully chosen images portray a thousand words in one line.


Mr. Springsteen at the grand piano, which has for me lately become a more eagerly awaited event than picking up the Esquire. A little nervous laughing banter, and then —

no. fucking. way.

“Frankie,” which has been played a grand total of three times in the last 26 years. Now, to be fair, I was there one other time (8/9/99), but that doesn’t diminish the impact. “Frankie” full band exemplifies everything that annoys me about the song (I feel it is too overblown or free-jazzy in parts), but “Frankie” on piano and F harp is a motherfucking masterpiece, probably because we’re hearing it the way it was written (well, maybe). As a result of this performance, this song is moving into Column A. It was lilting, the tune carrying you lightly through the narrative, and sparse enough that you could paint the pictures in your head – there was room for them without the E Street Band stumbling through the song along with him (it is a complex song to play, and it not appearing on the frequent flier lists, of course it’s not going to be perfectly polished — I understand all of this. But it does suffer as a result.)


The brand-shiny-new white Gretsch (can anyone help me with a model or a vintage?) which Himself was clearly loving, posturing like a boy with a new toy (it’s three or four shows old, so I guess that’s exactly what it is), mixing Elvis with Scotty Moore, Eddie Cochran with Mike Ness, singing “Ain’t Got You,” the only Tunnel song I got this night (compared to, oh, half of freaking Nebraska — not that I’m complaining, wait for it).


The man is so completely underrated as a singer that it makes me crazy sometimes, but he is usually working so many different angles onstage that the voice sometimes gets overlooked. And this is why he wrote “Back In Your Arms” (okay, one of the reasons at least, we have him on record at Somerville), but it’s rare that he can just let the voice SHINE, which is what happened to night, honest-to-god goose-bump inducing, white-knuckle moments when that voice was red velvet cake, pure hot buttered soul, and your heart just melted. (I have no idea what effect this has on the men, however.)


All of the above aside, I would honestly have considered the trip a blinding success if all I’d gotten was “Open All Night”. No, there are no epic stories about getting pulled over in Hightstown for going “suspiciously slow,” but there’s enough attitude in the song – and FUCK! it’s THE SONG! – to make it a standout. I did not do BITUSA in the stadiums so despite how large it looms in my legend, according to my accounting — I HAD NEVER HEARD THIS FUCKING SONG LIVE UNTIL TONIGHT!

Well, I had the carburetor, baby, cleaned and checked
With her line blown out she’s hummin’ like a turbojet
Propped her up in the backyard on concrete blocks
For a new clutch plate and a new set of shocks
Took her down to the carwash, check the plugs and points
Well, I’m goin’ out tonight. I’m gonna rock that joint

Early north Jersey industrial skyline
I’m a all-set cobra jet creepin’ through the nighttime
Gotta find a gas station, gotta find a payphone
This turnpike sure is spooky at night when you’re all alone
Gotta hit the gas, baby. I’m running late
This New Jersey in the mornin’ like a lunar landscape

Now, the boss don’t dig me, so he put me on the nightshift
It’s an all night run to get back to where my baby lives
In the wee wee hours your mind gets hazy
Radio relay towers, won’t you lead me to my baby?
Underneath the overpass, trooper hits his party light switch
Goodnight good luck one two power shift

I met Wanda when she was employed
Behind the counter at route 60 Bob’s Big Boy
Fried Chicken on the front seat, she’s sittin’ in my lap
We’re wipin’ our fingers on a Texaco roadmap
I remember Wanda up on scrap metal hill
with them big brown eyes that make your heart stand still

Well, at five a.m., oil pressure’s sinkin’ fast
I make a pit stop, wipe the windshield, check the gas
Gotta call my baby on the telephone
Let her know that her daddy’s comin’ on home
Sit tight, little mama, I’m comin’ `round I got three more hours, but I’m coverin’ ground

Your eyes get itchy in the wee wee hours
Sun’s just a red ball risin’ over them refinery towers
Radio’s jammed up with gospel stations
Lost souls callin’ long distance salvation
Hey, mister deejay, woncha hear my last prayer
Hey, ho, rock n’roll, deliver me from nowhere

If you knew how many live versions of “Open All Night” I had on my iPod you would have me committed. No, it’s not “Jungleland” or “Backstreets” or anything of that caliber, It’s dumb, I know, I shouldn’t even compare it to hearing “Shut Out The Light” or “Frankie” or anything else in the set, but the fun side of Bruce is just as important as the grand cinematic epic storytelling, dark brooding tales of the dark side, side of Springsteen, at least for me. All the classic images and lines that ring true if you’ve ever driven the NJ Turnpike late at night, “wee wee hours” paying tribute to Chuck Berry (this song is a homage if I ever heard one), and then that anthemic last verse tying it all together: “Hey, ho, rock n’ roll, deliver me from nowhere!” yelled out, arms raised high, the people behind us who didn’t know anything but BTR and BITUSA (I overheard them anxiously whispering, “Maybe we should have bought the last two records before tonight,” earlier) convinced at this point that we are certifiable.

So: five reasons, out of a few dozen for this show alone, five reasons that try to, kind of explain all the reasons I do this, at least the ones I can articulate to the uninitiated. Five reasons that explain why, if airfare wasn’t up to $1000, and it wouldn’t take us three days to get there by car, despite all previous declarations to the contrary — you would so see us in Portland and Seattle and Vancouver on Wednesday and Thursday and Saturday.

Ah, hell, you still might.