MAGIC: Première partie

State of the Union: Two nights on the Magic Tour

NIGHT 1, REHEARSAL SHOW, Continental Airlines Arena
Friday, September 28, 2007
“E Street Boot Camp!”

This is the first tour since I’ve been back east that I’ve missed the Asbury rehearsals, which was nail-biting regretful until this show popped up on the horizon. It was downright surreal to walk into the expanse of CAA and find it 10 percent full, to stroll across the floor and assume a spot at the stage with no effort at all whatsoever. Multiply that when the band walks onstage.

Once again, these 9 (okay, 10) people are together and there are things that happen when they are together that just do not happen any other time. The only other connection that goes back further in my life is my family.

The new songs are still in need of work and growth, they are still Bruce’s, the band does not own them yet, but that’s just a function of time. It is nice to genuinely like the new album, and not have to pretend, or count the minutes until an old song is presented. The raw spots and the scars are interesting to a geek like me, the evolution is always fascinating, which is why I love the early shows. And the early shows are key for something like the acoustic version of “Town Called Heartbreak,” because by the time I see it on Philadelphia one week later, has morphed into a full band version, much to my dismay.

My first reaction when they started the song in Jersey was for my jaw to hit the floor, and then, immediately: THEY NEED TO DO MORE OF THIS. It was real and honest and adult, and the performance spoke volumes about their relationship. I liked it because I knew it would piss off many, many people who consider the E Stret Band stage to be their personal sacred ground. “Fuck the sacred cows” is what my notes say from that night. In any event, by the time we get to Philly, it wasn’t what it was a week ago, and that’s too bad; now it’s just another song in the set. However, that may prevent the inevitable beer exodus this way – which is simply not preventable no matter how hard Bruce tries.

You would think a 3/4 empty CAA would be devoid of the legendary Jersey yakkers, the people there to see and be seen, but alas, they were not, and wanted to chat behind us for all of the new songs. The advantage to the empty CAA was that they took the hint after a few glares, and moved somewhere else just before I was about to walk over and explain to them that we paid for our tickets.

What I didn’t know, and wasn’t expecting, was the finale of “The American Land,” which would be like stopping at McDonald’s for a Quarter Pounder after a delightful meal at your favorite steakhouse. He’s got this thing about the encore, and the type of crowd participation that has to be there for it to be successful, but – he HAS it already. Either work up a new song, get a cover or work up an E Street version of the song (and not just a juryrigged Seeger Sessions version). The only time I want to see two accordions onstage is if Wild Billy is in the house.

Afterwards, I’m trying to piece together the story arc, and pieces of it fit – “Radio Nowhere” into “Ties” into “Lonesome Day” makes sense, “Livin’ In The Future” into “Promised Land” into “Reason To Believe” also makes sense. But it’s the last five songs of the set where the theme is about as subtle as the proverbial flying mallet: find me someone who can’t follow BITUSA into “Devil’s Arcade” into “The Rising” into “Last To Die” into “Long Walk Home” into “Badlands”? The previous five songs are nicely summed up in the last five lines of that song in case you didn’t have a lyric sheet at home.

NIGHT 2: Wachovia Center, Philadelphia, PA
Saturday, October 6, 2007


I wasn’t even supposed to be here today.

No, seriously. Despite the fact that I haven’t seen Bruce in Philly since Tunnel of Love aside from VFC, I had never made it to the city of Brotherly Love for a show in recent times, and this time we had to skip it due to a baseball playoff calendar that got yanked out from under us. The tickets were offered to us on Thursday, and we took it as a sign we should go.

For this show, we were in the first row behind the back pit barrier, almost dead center, somewhere I never get to stand, which made up for missing the pit by one person. And night two in Philly will make up for just about anything, the band coming out and careening into “Night” as an opener, before heading into “Radio Nowhere.” As much as it irritated me when I first heard it, it’s growing on me now and it fits nicely. The crowd is starting to know the songs, and I forget that most people haven’t had the album for a month already.

The story arc feels more scattered tonight, and I can’t believe BITUSA is out of the set, although the set closer seems to be cast in stone now. The “Darkness” interlude feels like just that (Friday night they got the one-two punch of “Candy’s Room” into “She’s The One” we had at CAA). It’s making more sense, but not enough yet. Then again, we’re on show number 6.

The Philly special: the inevitably delightful “Incident on 57th Street.” And, the thing is, knowing that it’s coming isn’t going to detract the experience for me. At CAA we were sidestage enough that I could read the setlist perched on the monitor board, and it didn’t matter. I liked knowing that “She’s the One” and “Candy’s Room” were coming, because I could enjoy hearing them instead of spending the first three minutes freaking out that they were being played. “Incident” is a Philly setlist chestnut, thanks to Ed Sciaky (of blessed memory).

When “Incident” started, I wanted to extract myself from my spot against the back barrier and go find a spot in the back of the arena so I could just kind of hug the song and the moment to myself. “Incident” is instant bliss, you cannot help but be transported, it patches the cracks in your soul for a little while and makes you whole. The last time I heard “Incident” was on a crazy 24 hour trip to Montreal from Seattle where I took a non-Bruce friend and sat behind the stage and even though there was no way she could completely understand what it meant to hear “Incident,” the song and the music and the audience reaction made it easy for her to get it. Imagine “Incident” at your first Bruce show.

On the note of sacred cows, let’s discuss the reinvented “Reason To Believe.” This didn’t surface until the CAA rehearsal, and is the best of both worlds, the Devils & Dust bullet mic and amped distortion, with a hard rocking blues version sandwiched in the middle. It makes you wake up and pay attention and remakes the song completely. The bullet mic instead of an acoustic guitar lets him be physical and move around the stage, and the one thing I liked about the Seeger Sessions band was that he had the ability to dance around and shake his ass. (Note how I said “the one thing”. I saw one Seeger Sessions show, plus the Good Morning America gig, and I was quite fine with that. Still am, for all the noise I made about needing to see ‘the phases of the evolution of Bruce’s career.’ Feh.)

I was pleased “Living In The Future” retained its full pre-song rap about the woes of America even on the Today show, and while the boyfriend thinks the “What are we going to do about it? We’re going to sing about it, right now,” has to go, I think that’s the critical message here. Bruce already tried direction action in 2004. This time around he’s going to do what he does, which is sing about it, a fine tradition that goes back to “What can a poor boy do/cept to sing for a rock and roll band” because sleepy America is no place for a Street Fighting Man, either.

I expect to hear “Thundercrack” in Asbury because, well, that’s where you can find 2000 people who are pleased as punch to stand in place for 8 minutes and 28 seconds (usually longer live) and participate in a call and response that is much needed, and is an essential component of the performance. One could argue that “Thundercrack” could be brought out at any special Springsteen moment (say, the last night of Devils & Dust in Trenton). Pulling it out at CAA kind of made sense, because it was a benefit and a rehearsal and we’re still in Jersey and there are likely to be some of the usual suspects present.

But hauling out the angel from the innerlake on the road is a decision I am a little concerned with. Even on Saturday night in Philly, getting the pit to chime in when they needed to was a little tentative, and I have no idea what it was like in the back of the house because I don’t know anyone who sits in the back of the house. And Bruce needs to be concerned about what the back of the house is going to do for 10 minutes during the encore. I like the fact that he’s willing to slay another sacred cow by taking it out of Asbury, and I like the idea that he’s trying to set it up as special and rarely played (but let’s lose the ‘never played’ intro, dude, because anyone can go to your web site these days and find out that it was more than a bit of poetic license). Time will tell what happens with this chestnut.

So if you got an encore that consisted of “Thundercrack,” “Born To Run,” and “Dancing in the Dark,” wouldn’t you go home happy, sated, delighted? Of course you would. Why we needed “American Land” thrown in for good measure made it feel like the party guest that overstayed its welcome. Where is “Seven Nights To Rock” when you need it?

Still to come:
3 & 4, MSG
5 &6, BOSTON