“can you hear me? can you hear me?”
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
Rehearsal Show #2
Convention Hall, Asbury Park, NJ
24 March 2009
We’re at an odd juncture in E Street history. Bruce decided that 2009 was the year he was going to finally get the world to see that he has the best band on the planet. That he was going to try to bring back everyone who jammed the stadiums for BITUSA, and corral a new audience to boot. You and I have previously discussed this. I understand why he is doing this, and I am fine with it. (Not that it matters if I’m not, but I get it. I honestly do.) He wants everyone to come out and see his band play. This is not about money, if it was about money there would be sponsors and VIP packages and a gazillion other things that are uglier than anything he has ever done.
So you have this whole group of people who marched out after the Super Bowl and bought tickets to the shows and sent the record to #1 on the Billboard charts, and then, on the other hand, you have the rest of us. The people that were there before BITUSA, and the people that never left. We have been there in good times and in bad. The problem is that a man cannot serve two masters, and that is what tonight’s set performed at “Beautiful Convention Hall in the fabulous resort city of Asbury Park, New Jersey” was trying to do.
I love the rehearsal shows, because they are rehearsals. Some are more polished, some are leaning towards a train wreck. It’s the only place you’d have ever seen Clarence Clemons onstage playing bagpipes (Rising – no I did not get to see that). So I accept the worn sports and rough edges and in fact welcome them. But the early reports of closed rehearsals that I skimmed did not seem promising, and apparently last night, the set was all over the place. Tonight, he was trying to put a theme together, string the songs into an arc, the pacing was okay, but the choices were not good and many of the performances were far below the usual E Street standards, even for a rehearsal.
The set started well, and when it went into the middle combination of “Working On A Dream” into – “Seeds” (don’t worry, more on that), into “Johnny 99” into “Ghost of Tom Joad” – hey, I recognize that. It makes sense. I want to know where the HELL “Seeds” has been for the past FOUR tours, where its absence was obvious and glaring. It’s fine now, but it would have been far more pertinent then.
“Joad” into “Good Eye” – the song written to replace the bullet mic version of “Reason To Believe” – was actually pretty good. “Darlington” was actually bearable, with Bruce and Stevie mugging at Patti during the “Girl, you’re looking at two big spenders” and Patti sitting on Bruce’s lap for “take a seat on my fender”. (She made the face that I would imagine a woman married to Bruce Springsteen would have to make, the ‘oh dear lord you are the goofiest thing ever. and right now you’re all sweaty’.)
And then, ladies and gentlemen, the trainwreck known as “Waiting On A Sunny Day” descended upon us, and the train went off the rails. There is no reason for Sunny Day. It should be banished. Retired. Made obsolete. Relegated to a closet and the door bolted shut behind it. It is the “Shiny Happy People” of the Bruce Springsteen catalog, and if I see anyone walking around with a goddamn sunflower during the door, it will be decapitated.
This was followed by what was probably the worst version of “The Promised Land” I have ever heard. It was lethargic, sloppy, and had no energy whatsoever. What’s more, Bruce knew it. Maybe the crowd full of guest list folks didn’t help – I’ve never seen a less enthusiastic crowd in Asbury, ever – or maybe the song is just done and needs to be put in a closet for a while. He had to go over to Clarence right before the last harmonica break to try to get some energy and refocus. He wasn’t faking the whole “brotherhood” thing there, it wasn’t an act, it was him going to Clarence because he had lost the emotional thread of the song.
“The Wrestler” was great to hear in Asbury because it will die a painful death in the arenas. This was followed by “Kingdom of Days” and then “Lonesome Day”. The arc from TPL to “Lonesome Day” is there. I get it. I just don’t like it. “Lonesome Day” did not need to come back.
Max’s son, Jay, came out to drum for “Lonesome Day,” “Radio Nowhere,” and BTR. The whole brouhaha over this is worthy of another post. I understand that we need someone to fill in. However, this is not like Zak Starkey filling in for Keith Moon. He’s a good drummer but he’s not Max. (On the other hand, it took Max a long time, and 8 years of Conan 4 nights a week, to become the Max Weinberg that joined the Reunion Tour.) You start to count people on stage and there were moments where the new people were starting to outnumber the E Street folks. Again, a post for another day.
BTR ending the set is fucking great. However, aside from “Seeds,” my moment for tonight was the first encore, a stunning rendition of Stephen Foster’s “Hard Times Come Again No More”. For this, everyone came to the front of the stage, including the two new backup singers (oops, forgot to mention those. I’m not as upset as other people are; he wants a choir, he can’t go out with a choir, but if he was going to take on two new headcount for the tour, BRING THE GODDAMN HORNS), and it wasn’t Disneyfied or Seegerized or anything but just a stunningly rich, beautiful, mature, performance. And I think,this, *this* is the kind of thing I want from Bruce Springsteen in 2009.
However, it is not the kind of thing that the people who bought tickets after seeing the kneeslide on the Super Bowl are going to want to see. So I give it all of three shows before it gets killed in favor of – hey, you guessed it! – “American Land”.
“Dancing In The Dark” has to be retired. “10th Avenue” is something I never get tired of hearing, but the thought of it in the encore as “the Super Bowl song” made me gag. “Land of Hope And Dreams” made a wonderful return, and should be THE LAST SONG OF THE SET… except that it wasn’t. Oh no. Once again, the tastes great-less filling pablum that is “American Land” reared its ugly head. Even Adele was singing and clapping along.
And then it was over.
Bruce just needs to put his mind to what he’s trying to do: He’s trying to tour the new album, he’s trying to cater to the new fans, and then he’s trying to do the thing he’s been doing all along, talking about hard times and social justice. Is this the post-Bush tour? Is it the “Working On A Dream” tour? Is this the “Hey, Superbowl fans!” tour? The set is trying to do all of this and it’s not doing it well. I am curious to see what happens in the first few shows of the tour.
I know, I am spoiled, I am greedy, I am lucky, but I have always expected the best of this man and this band and I’m not about to stop now.
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