zero and blind terry

the last dance: end of the devils & dust tour
sovereign bank arena, trenton, nj
22 november, 2005

The last show of the tour. I could wax rhapsodic; I could pontificate about the significance of the Devils & Dust tour as it pertains to Springsteen’s career; I could try to place the tour in some kind of continuum as per my own fandom.

But really, it all comes down to this:

“Zero and Blind Terry.”

This is my I-will-never-hear-it-in-a-million-years song, the song he has never played, and most likely, would never play.

“Hey, maybe you’ll win the GA lottery tomorrow.”
“Right, and Bruce will open the show with ‘Zero and Blind Terry’, too.”

So when he sits down at the piano after “Long Time Coming,” the wild card slot, and announces he’s about to play something he’s never played–I would like to say I jumped up and down in glee when the first notes were played. No, it was more like shock, a weird sense of deja vu — Am I really here watching this or am I in some dreamscape?— and it was only the simultaneous intake of breath from two fans behind me that brought me back to earth and made me realize that I’d have to get another punchline.

And then, in what I would like to imagine was a delicious sense of continuity on Bruce’s part, he segued straight into “Backstreets,” which was in my opinion THE moment of the evening. Not that “Backstreets” was conspicuously absent on the tour but it was hardly a frequent flier and it was always beyond transcendent when it did show up. Tonight, no exception, bones stripped bare, just Bruce and piano, yet just as grand and majestic as any full band version.

The Link Wray tribute as an opener was wonderfully raunchy, and made me wish he would go on tour and PLAY THE FUCKING ELECTRIC GUITAR ALL THE TIME. [See: previous references to suggestions for future backing bands.] “Fire” on bullet mic worked, distorted vocals, a touch of prerecorded melody behind it. “It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City,” top ten in my personal pantheon, not so much; part of the melody of that song is the way the words roll off each other and that was hidden behind the wall of distortion. (And I am a *big* fan of the distortion, don’t get me wrong.) It turned it into a talking blues, which wasn’t working for me until I imagined it as a Dylan talking blues, which, of course, it already was.

“Song for Orphans” was a non-event for me — sorry, I had to say it — but in the excitement over that I had totally forgotten that “Drive All Night” could still make the setlist. And it did, heart-stoppingly, gloriously, the emotion still heartfelt, but tempered, aged like good whiskey. You still believe that he would drive all night just to buy you some shoes. I think I even like it better now, the declarations have power without the (sometimes) overblown histrionics this song has exhibited on past tours. I know full well that that is part of its legend, but we are all older now, and if it didn’t ring true the performance would have been pathetic and just plain sad.

A passel of nieces and nephews and cousins and aunts and uncles and all the Springsteen children come out onstage, jingle bells in hand, and yep–it’s that time of year. The Christmas season is officially open with my first public hearing of “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town.” That song started to mean Christmas (okay, as much as Christmas can mean to a Jewish girl from Connecticut) in my early teens and nothing has changed. If I heard it in August I’d feel the same way.

And then, one more time, “Dream Baby Dream,” and it’s over, finished, done. It is not so much sad as quietly wistful, the same way the changing of the seasons can also make you ache a tiny bit, simply over the passing of time.

(At least we’ll never have to hear “Reno” live, ever again.)