rockin’ all over the world
After St. Louis, all we could wonder was: How is he going to top this at the last show? And wondered if we weren’t in a situation where the penultimate show would end up being greater than the last show (see: Giants 03 and Shea 03). What could be left in the soundchecked-but-not-played pile? What could be soundchecked between STL and KC that would surprise us all? What could the great setlist compiler come up with to close out this tour, this year, this very difficult year?
I will sound like the totally jaded New Yorker that I am if I say that while St. Louis still felt like a city, Kansas City felt like we had crossed over some invisible border. People dressed different, talked different. Maybe it wasn’t so much a border than the fact that there were actual Kansas Citians all around us at the gig, unlike the night before, where everyone was from somewhere else (and even the natives were actually from across the river). It felt like we were in another country. I liked that, but I’m not sure I liked that for the last show.
All of which came into play with the opening number. It took us more than a few seconds to sing the song to ourselves and realize what it was, half the people in the pit also went through the same delayed reaction (and if you say you didn’t, you’re lying – only because NO ONE IN THEIR RIGHT MIND WOULD HAVE IN A MILLION YEARS PULLED THAT SONG OUT OF THE RARITIES PILE). It was like GS night 10 in 03, when the stadium was full of anticipation for the start of The Last Area Show…
…and he came out and went into “Cynthia”. I don’t care how rare it was. It killed all the momentum. And, I have to gently say that the one-two punch of “Ricky Wants A Man Of Her Own” and the aforementioned “Cynthia” did just that in KC. Before the show started, we were playing “guess the first song” with the couple from Iowa sitting behind us. Votes for “10th Ave” or “Where The Bands Are” from them, “My Love Will Not Let You Down” from us, a buddy of his phoning in for “Good Rocking Tonight” (which we know had been soundchecked in St. Louis so totally within the realm of possibility). I’m sorry, you can’t call me jaded or ungrateful here. These songs would have been a wonderful addition somewhere in the middle of the set. But as an opener, they set an odd, uneven tone.
I note during “Radio Nowhere” that I finally know each and every word by heart. Good timing.
“Out In The Street” and “Hungry Heart” – even given how much I love “Hungry Heart” these feel a little like pandering, like we’re throwing a bone out to the crowd.
“Spirit,” and I start to feel the disconnect here, sitting in section 108 side-stage, about 20 rows up. When we pulled these tickets in the on sale, it seemed like the greatest thing in the world, to not have to wait in line and deal with GA for this show (and judging by how crowded things were down on the floor, we looked like geniuses). But just like “Thundercrack” doesn’t work outside of Asbury (no, not even in Secaucus, or in NYC for that matter), “Spirit” is a stretch in the hinterlands in 2008. I don’t think enough people remember it any more. At least tonight you could really feel it (in a manner of speaking), especially with Obie front and center, kissing Bruce like only a lonely angel could.
Saturday night I was angry at ‘Spirit’ being ruined by the 9 year old. In KC I started bawling while Bruce and Obie were going at it, because Obie’s presence sealed the deal. I know he told us later, but until the moment I saw her in the pit, it still felt like, maybe, this wasn’t The Last Show. That there was no real significance to this being the last arena show of the tour. I kicked myself in STL to stop reading into every gesture, every glance, every look. Obie being there was a huge reality check.
*I like Obie being there. I really like that some people really, really hate her being there. I don’t know her, of course, aside from the history, but I love that she is still valued and she still rocks out and goes crazy and has a grand time. I love that after all this time, she does not stand at the back of the pit, arms folded, too jaded to clap along or raise her arms during “Born To Run”. And that she shakes her head when he is being silly and goofy but still loves it all so very much.
So the sign thing. I skipped Giants, because I do not like Bruce in the stadiums, and never really have. I skipped BITUSA in the stadiums for that very reason. I made an exception for Rising at GS because I worried it would be the last time (and then of course made the same exception for Shea two months later). But that doesn’t change the fact that the crowd sucks and is full of people who talk through the show and are there to kind of spend some time in the same physical space as Bruce Springsteen. It’s not an experience I enjoy (or am willing to pay $100 for) so I just didn’t go.
That meant, of course, that I missed what had happened with the signs. I kind of sort of heard what was going on in Europe but until you see the sign buffet spring into action, you don’t quite get it. In KC, I was murmuring that there didn’t seem to be any signs, and what on earth would he do, but when that drum beat started, suddenly there were HUNDREDS of them down front, springing up like Kansas sunflowers in a field. Some we recognized from the night before (“Held Up Without A Gun” held by the PJ fan with the stickman screensaver on his phone, “Serenade” on the sign with an apple). A whole flurry of photocopied signs for – get this – “Stolen Car”.
[IF YOU ARE GOING TO LAUNCH A SIGN CAMPAIGN WHY ON EARTH ARE YOU GOING TO DO IT FOR WHAT IS POSSIBLY THE MOST DEPRESSING SONG IN THE SPRINGSTEEN CATALOG? Many years ago I discovered that if I listened to “Stolen Car” on the way to work in the morning, I was in a crappy, crappy mood for the rest of the day. No, seriously, what were you thinking? That it was a song that no one else in their right mind was going to request? THERE’S A GOOD REASON FOR THAT.]
We were heartened by Bruce specifically taking a LOHAD sign – but we know that so much of the sign request is theater, and it’s a bit, and we like the theater and the bit – at Giants he took signs for songs that were on the setlist already, for example – so we don’t mind. But it did get our hopes up a little. That song should have come back.
In a million, trillion years, I would have put “Ricky Wants A Man Of Her Own” on a setlist before I would have predicted that Max Weinberg was going to sing “Boys”. And doing research for my bs.net piece after the show, I wondered for 3/4 of a second if it wasn’t rehearsed, because if you go through Beatles setlists, they often did “Boys” in a medley with “Kansas City,” and the Beatles DID play KC, and and and yes, well, the logic ends right about here. It was awesome. Max was great. Watching Bruce coach Max was great. Watching Gary, Roy and Steve shaking their heads at the hijinks was great.
I was happy that Soozie got her moment in the spotlight, started crying when she started crying, and took odds via text message as to when the rumor vultures on a certain web site would start mongering.
“Cadillac Ranch” was fun, even though it felt, again, a little bit like pandering, and then “Working On The Highway” comes along, allegedly from a sign. The night before in STL, while we were waiting for the show to start we were talking about the signs with everyone sitting around us. One guy had a IT’S MY FIRST SHOW, PLAY WORKING ON THE HIGHWAY which made everyone roll their eyes. Random guy from SoCal behind us scoffed, “There oughtta be a test. It’s like the person who brings a sign for ‘Badlands’. Pay attention, man!”
I felt like Bruce looked up at that banner commemorating Garth Brooks’ 9 sold out shows and felt like he had to play certain songs. Maybe that’s not fair. Or maybe I just don’t like freaking “Working On The Highway” and feel it’s a waste of a spot in the setlist.
“Candy’s Room” into “Gypsy Biker” into “Youngstown” was fantastic, even if “Youngstown” was the same beer run song it was on Rising. I felt that the “Livin’ In the Future” rap was a little rushed and not focused, but the boyfriend disagreed, that Bruce brought every single point he had ever made back into it. I still feel the delivery was too casual. But despite that, from “Gypsy Biker” up into “Badlands,” the set was a bulldozer. Thematically charged, articulate, compelling, the entire theme of the Magic tour powerfully illustrated. If you sat through that and didn’t get it you weren’t listening, or didn’t want to – which is also okay. It is totally okay to sit there and just rock out.
Going from that song cycle into the encore was another moment to bring a lump into your throat, with “Sandy” dedicated to Danny and Terry. Unfortunately, this was another disconnect moment. People don’t necessarily know who Terry is and may need a little reminding about Danny. The people in front of us, during the “she won’t set herself on fire for me any more” line yelled, “PLAY FIRE! PLAY ANYTHING BUT THIS! IT SUCKS!”
[“This is what happens when you end the tour away from home,” the boyfriend noted. While I don’t disagree, I’ve had worse, or at least just as bad, happen to me at CAA in the past.]
But the message was clear again: “Sandy” into “10th Ave” into “BTR” into “Rosie” : those four songs tell you everything you need to know about THIS BAND. Not just Bruce, but THIS BAND. And this night might just be the last time you see this band together again onstage.
“American Land” remains a convenient bathroom break and has not improved in the slightest from the start of the tour.
“Save The Last Dance For Me” was lost on the crowd, but its entree into DITD was great and what the crowd needed.
One more, we begged. We pleaded. We knew there had to be one more, but in one more jaw-dropping move, bringing out “Rockin’ All Over The World” for the first time since 1993 – still can’t believe we didn’t get it on VFC – was wonderful. And perfect. it tied everything all together in a nice big red bow for E Street Nation and gave everybody else a fun song to dance to that was easy to sing along to by the second verse.
One more, we try again. One more! we cry. We beg, for real this time. But it’s almost midnight (the 8:50 start once again not fair to people who have to drive 183 miles back up 35 to Iowa on a Sunday night, although we now understand there might be very real reasons for it – still a problem) – one more, though – one more?
The band is bowing, and waving, and bowing to the other side, and waving all around. Even after they leave, we are still cheering. One more. This can’t be the end. One more. It’s not really over, is it? The show just started, right? There’s another show to go to next month, right?
Bruce comes back out from the tunnel, guitar in hand, waving at us again. The boyfriend is stubborn, insists that the crew isn’t clearing yet, it isn’t over, even though houselights are starting to come on.
And then they come on for real, the PA plays “Radio Radio” by Elvis in a move I insist is deliberate, and the crew swarms the stage to break it down. I know I cannot watch because I will dissolve for sure, so we make our way out. Everyone around us is convinced at this point that we are certifiable, and won’t even make eye contact. We like this.
We argued about the set the whole way back to the hotel, the boyfriend insisting it had to be taken in concert with the night before, me arguing that the people who drove 180 miles from Iowa for their one show a tour don’t get to put it into a set with the show the night before and that Bruce has never operated like that, every show had to be the best and greatest because 99% of the people in the crowd only get one show. With hindsight I am calmer about it now, because 99% of the people just came to see Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, and only the 1% of us are judging it on last show qualities, on the potential for being the last real E Street Band show ever (although one could gently argue that was back in Boston last November). As a standalone Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band show, it was a fine show, a great show even. it just wasn’t St. Louis, but unless you were at St. Louis, you’re walking out happy (if not a little cranky that it ran so late).
We hung out for two days afterwards, seeing baseball and eating barbeque and going to the Negro Leagues Museum and getting our pictures taken at the corner of 12th and Vine. There is an edge of sadness hanging out in town once the circus has left, though, that both of us just didn’t talk about. Especially when this circus in particular might not ever be back again.
Postscript: If you’re going to cheat your way into the pit, don’t give me attitude about being in ‘a zen place’ when I make a snide remark about someone else getting their fourth or fifth wristband. Although nothing is as bad as the people who pay their way to get up front, still. There is a special place in hell reserved for you.
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