MAGIC, PART 2.
Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band
Madison Square Garden
October 18, 2007
Wednesday night was spent in a drop line that was ultimately disappointing. Given the ginormous drops of Hartford and even Philadelphia – Philly! – MSG should’ve been a piece of cake. Wait in the line, put in the time. When security came out around 8:30 – when we were about 50 people from the front of the line – to tell us there would be no more tickets, we went home, grumbling, praying for a setlist full of things like the world premiere of the “My Lover Man” into “Reno”, followed by “Mary, Queen of Arkansas” and Bruce being so enamored of the crowd response to “Out In The Street” that he did it twice in the set, a la U2 and “Vertigo.” We didn’t miss much, and kept hoping that the usual “second night is the best night” truism would hold.
Night two we were ticketed and said our blessings to the drop line as we walked by them on our way into the Garden. Once inside and on the floor, it was crystal clear why there was a miniscule drop: the guest list. After a while, we stopped counting the passes that were initialed BS and JLM and the gazillion people who were likely sponsors or advertisers for Stevie’s Underground Garage, and that’s before Sony and the attorneys and the accountants and the random corporate whoevers, like the investment bankers to our left that had no less than 16 seats, all together, 4 rows of 4 seats. If you think that sounds like your worst nightmare come to life, let me assure you that it was and it wasn’t: for the most part, they STFU, and their worst offense was taking photos of themselves being the High Fiving White Guys with their iPhones. No, I’m not kidding.
I haven’t talked about the calliope yet. I love that it’s a tribute to Terry, but I think it needs to be the last thing on stage as the band leave, and not the first thing we see. It does not fit and without the audience knowing that it’s a tribute to Terry, and understanding who, exactly, Terry was, again, it makes no sense.
Am I the only one who wishes Bruce would come out with Nils and do “Open All Night” into “Radio Nowhere”? I know it’s obvious, but opening with “Radio Nowhere” is already the superhero of obvious.
“Night” in the #2 slot and it’s clear that Bruce has found his groove 9 shows in. The set is baked. This is where I’d like to talk about the imposter who looks unmistakably like Sugar Lips Miami Little Steven Van Zandt, the guy singing harmony and playing guitar – wait, let me try that again – PLAYING GUITAR. The curmugdeons always gravely insist that Patti’s guitar is not miced, blah blah blah, when in reality it was Steve’s guitar that was low in the mix most of the time. During Reunion, we were just glad he was back onstage. During Rising, we expected a little bit more, but were okay that it was mostly color he was providing up there. This time around, if he hadn’t plugged in and practiced – well, most of the fan base still wouldn’t care, but his presence onstage would start to be a joke.
“Lonesome Day” and now it’s my turn to talk about Clarence. When Rising finished, we all talked in low, hushed tones about how tired he looked, how bad he looked, and the fact that the Big Man is easily 10 years older than a group of guys who are already in their 50’s. It did my heart good at CAA and in Philly and now, again, here, to see him owning the stage not just by right but by active claim, to own it energetically, for him to be the Big Man.
“Gypsy Biker” is stronger but still needs work. “Magic” is the chatterbox song, but no one seems to be leaving the arena yet, which is some kind of miracle. The energy level is odd, and flat. I know we had the investment bankers in large number but to my right the entire 100 section from the front of the stage onward seems to be sitting on their hands, here we are now, entertain us, while the other side is going apeshit.
“Reason To Believe” is still a powerhouse. It’s funny to watch the audience – a little confused at first, with some recognition of the technique (not the song) from anyone who saw Devils & Dust, and then when the band careens into the bridge and that “La Grange”-ish knockoff, there’s a cheer that’s almost as loud as would be later for a certain setlist rarity, proving my point that the high fiving white guys that make up 80% of a Springsteen audience are suckers for any 8 bar blues riff. It’s a delight, though, to see them successful wrangle a Nebraska song into something that still fits the song but also fits the setlist, unlike that trainwreck known as Johnny 99 on the Rising tour.
“Candy’s Room” into “She’s the One” and all I can offer as theory about the Darkness slot is that it’s the sex slot. Magic is such a dark record, none of the other relationship songs would really fit into the set.
“Living In The Future” is next, complete with Bruce testifying about all those great American attributes:
“The Jersey Shore!”
“The Bill of Rights!”
The two of us cheer loudly and lustily, revealing ourselves for the colossal dorks that we are.
“C’mon! The Bill of Rights has got to get louder applause than cheeseburgers, I’m sure.”
“Damn, people? New York City?”
*cheer*, mostly because they’re cheering New York City, even though most of the people in the room probably have zip codes from outside of the five boroughs.
“What else do we love? The Statue of Liberty!”
“Technically in New Jersey of course…”
“Great,” I say to the boyfriend. “I see where this one is going.”
“It’s not in New Jersey any more.”
“Thanks, you tell him that.”
Bruce: “The NY football teams, the Jets and the Giants!”
All I can think is: Wow, we’re really going to reprise the MSG Reunion tour rap for ‘Light of Day’? Because, you know, no one was at those shows, no one bought the record, no one bought the DVD or saw it on PBS.
All of this was forgiven, however, with this excellent addition/clarification:
“Now, because of the color of your skin, or your circumstance, or your religion, you may feel that these things don’t have much effect on you. But all of these things are an attack on our Constitution, which means they are an attack on our very selves. On who we are, and our moral authority, and the pride that we have when we get to stand up and say, we are the Americans. So this is a song about sleeping through things that shouldn’t have happened, but happened. So we’re going to do something about it right now – we’re going to sing about it! It’s a start, the rest is up to us.”
Memo to Mr. Springsteen: if you’re going to put your face up to the camera and sing right into it, please 1) take some lessons from Mr. Hewson about how to do it correctly, and 2) GET BIGGER VIDEO SCREENS. If you are going to charge $90 for the 400 level seats, they shouldn’t need binoculars to see the screens.
“Are there any lovers out there tonight?” “Tougher Than The Rest” is something I never get tired of seeing, and on this tour, in the “Patti spot,” it’s touching, and appropriate. I love watching Bruce and Patti up there playing guitar together, and if I say something about shades of Johnny and June all sorts of folks will keel over at the sheer blasphemy of it, but it IS, and it’s nothing but wonderful, and I’d like to see the two of them do a tour, together, with his stuff and her stuff and stuff they both love.
“As I was saying to the folks last night, patti’s got a new record out, on sale at the concession stand, along with some lovely t-shirts, and a new line of E Street Band sexual toys. What we use in the comfort of our own home, you, too, can use in the comfort of yours. Go on out there and check it out.”
It’s kind of refreshing that he’s still a horndog at age 58, isn’t it?
The stage darkens, and Bruce starts with “This is a special dedication tonight to an old friend of mine,” and my first thought is OH MY GOD PLEASE LET IT BE ED NORTON, because the last time Ed Norton made a setlist request it resulted in “The Promise” and “Incident” and “For You” at the Staples Center (and suspicion is high that the “Ed” getting recent setlist dedications is the same one.). I’ve got the world’s tallest men in front of me, so I don’t have a 100% clear vantage at all times, so when the boyfriend grabs my arm and murmurs, “There’s a double bass onstage, and there are only two songs that feature a double bass,” my mind immediately goes to the one song I am still chasing, and I clench my hands and pray hard and also pray just as hard that the bozo crowd doesn’t ruin whatever this is going to be.
Bruce starts talking about his friendship with Peter Boyle, which is touching, and completely random, and when he dedicates the next song to him you know that it’s not going to be some random Seeger Sessions song that they reworked with the double bass, fooling us all. And I know that they soundchecked “Jungleland” and I know it’s been on setlists, but if you expected to get “Meeting Across The River” into “Jungleland,” let me get your stock tips, too.
I have seen them before, too, and when the boyfriend was giving me random tour updates I was all, “Well, sure, okay,” but it’s not like it’s on my active list, and if that sounds jaded, it’s because there are only so many tours left and so many songs I still need or want to hear, and the magic required to invoke Meeting/Jungleland isn’t exactly around in droves. It doesn’t mean that I didn’t stand there with my eyes closed, willing myself to absorb the song in through every pore of my body. I didn’t want to watch this one on the screens, and didn’t want to do the swaying-back-and-forth-on-tiptoes thing required to give me a vantage of the stage. And – Meeting! It’s a favorite for me, because the lyrics are so sparse but yet so vivid, completely economical but yet paint a complete picture in your head. Their impact has not lessened one iota since the first time I listened to Born To Run, sitting on my purple carpet in my purple room, back against the door, Radio Shack headphones on, album open to the lyrics on my lap.
Of course, there was no guarantee that they would go into “Jungleland,” and when the first notes sounded, it was the sound of 18000-some people being relieved and delighted and excited and every other possible emotion. Even the ones that didn’t get the exact, precise significance of this song being on the setlist still know that it’s “Jungleland” and it’s a fucking great song. And for the rest of us, it’s, well, “Jungleland,” and I realized that until you are standing there listening to it you don’t realize how deep it will hit you, how profound the experience truly is, especially in New York, especially at MSG. It makes you feel alive and sad and enlightened and brave and the same tumult of emotions I felt the first time I heard it, mixed with some level of OMFG, JUNGLELAND, and Jungleland with the boyfriend for the first time. The investment bankers look bemused and kind of stop with the high-fiving for a little while, because they are surrounded by people who are clearly enraptured and they don’t know why, and suddenly seem a little sheepish more than anything. For me, it is the rallying cry of the tribe, and the rallying cry of my tribe, and who I am, and who I chose to be the first time I heard that record and let the words paint the pictures for me. I have tried to write about “Jungleland” for years and have always fallen flat on my ass each and every time. It is the ultimate example of one of Bruce’s key traits, the ability to raise the mundane to the sacred.
We get like half a second to catch our breath before being thrown into “You Can Look But You Better Not Touch”, which is odd, and bemusing, and I grumble that if they were going to trainwreck us like this they could have done “Crush On You” or “Held Up Without A Gun,” but with the next song it’s clear, because “Devil’s Arcade” becomes the beer run song, and he didn’t want that to happen immediately after “Jungleland.” Okay.
I’ve discussed the end of the set before, and while I think it holds up thematically, I think there is still too much sludge there, that there is probably another order in which to present those songs. And “Badlands” as the set closer is fine, but “Last To Die” or :”Long Way Home” would be equally strong IF THEY WERE MOVED TO THAT POSITION because they would have no choice but to become strong enough to close the set.
Before I go and trash the encore again, let me say that I liked “Thundercrack” being there, and that it works in the back of the house, that people paid more attention to it than they did to the Magic material, and there are enough random people to keep it moving energetically. So I hope it makes it through Chicago and Minneapolis and everywhere else. But the rest of the encore is just a trainwreck. I don’t[ care that Bono thinks “Girls In Their Summer Clothes” is the hit of the record, get it out of the encore. And dude, Brian Wilson called.
Waiting for the floor to empty out after the show, the boyfriend looked on the floor and found a $20 program lying there, discarded by someone. We happily picked it up and gave it a good home, only to discover that it’s probably the worst program ever. It’s a glorified, overgrown Magic cd booklet, and my word, we are heartily tired of Danny Clinch.
Walking home after the show, I couldn’t escape the feeling that 1) the set is baked and 2) the band is baked and 3) I am not sure how many more of these I need to see. I know I was thoroughly disappointed by the energy level at MSG, which is part of the problem, but was not all of the problem. I am concerned that it’s going to start being like D&D where people were chasing shows in ridiculous multiples because Bruce was cracking open the back catalog and you’d sit through a set for one or two miracles, but it wasn’t like the rest of the set was evolving or expanding as the tour went on. I don’t see the place in this setlist for the band to expand or evolve; on Rising, you had things like “World’s Apart” and “the Fuse” where they had to find a way to enliven and develop the material or it would have had to get killed from the setlist. There are songs on Magic that could serve that purpose, but the songs on Magic are also not as challenging for the band as the Rising songs were; Bruce already admitted he wrote the Magic songs with the band in mind.
The encore has got to be reworked. i know bruce likes American Land, but the energy it’s generating is artificial and forced, they’re relating positively to the music because it’s some kind of macho Irish jig and it’s an excuse to jump on chairs and act like fools after 2 1/2 hours. I don’t mind the party encore, but I also kind of still want the serious encore, too, and this is where I’ll talk about how some ways I feel Bruce shortchanges the set – the band introductions seem like an afterthought, for example, and while I don’t need an 18 minute 10th Avenue to accomplish that, the introductions for a 9 piece band are necessary and a tradition I do not want to lose in 2007 just because we’re trying to keep the show shorter. On the other hand, there are parts of the show that could be tightened up – the instrumental end to Radio Nowhere, for example, doesn’t need to play out to the very last note, and there are other parts of the show where things could be tightened up for economy of time and space and attention.
The encore is high fructose corn syrup, empty calories. As much as I like “Thundercrack” getting out of Asbury, I think that it’s a random catalog pull and not, let’s treat the rest of the world to something special. The encore is not solid, it’s not constructed with the same detail and care as the set is, it’s everything jammed together into 30 minutes and there is no City of Ruins or other anything thoughtful to inspire you or make you think. I understand that we’re done with City of Ruins and If I should Fall Behind but there’s a missing gravitas that is not doing the audience any kind of favor. It’s unfortunate. I’m thankful I have the Boston shows before we move onto the stadiums, because I can’t see this problem being solved there. And let’s remember, the stadiums got City of Ruins too, it’s not a case that the stadiums can’t take the serious encore.
Ultimately, who knows. It’s just a rock and roll show, 12 shows into the tour. Maybe it all works just fine for everyone in the audience except for the trainspotting geeks like yours truly. It’s a dirty job, but someone’s gotta do it.
Coming next: Boston
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