10/14: In The Darkness, I Hear Somebody Call My Name
When I am writing these things in the car on the way home or at 2am on a work night it doesn’t seem like such a good idea, but I am very grateful I have the opportunity to cover these shows on this tour.
Darkness on the Edge of Town was the record where my fantasies of seeing Bruce Springsteen live began. I wish I could tell you that I remember vivid details of my first show (1978, New Haven, CT), but I would be lying. I remember that I was there, and a loud guitar and a spotlight on a stage, but the rest was one giant overwhelming blur of sound and emotion. I don’t remember if I decided if it matched my fantasies, but it must have met some kind of expectation, given that I am still here, 30 years down the road.
I was 14 going on 18, or at least that was what I fervently wished for. It was the summer when everything seemed to move in slow motion. There were places to go and things to do and I was trapped in a suburban bedroom, where I had to endure the indignity of asking my father to buy me my copy of Darkness or face waiting weeks before I could get to Discount Records under my own power. My dad (like everyone’s dad) made some crack about the guy on the cover looking more like a gas station attendant than a rock star. (It was about as bad as asking him to acquire This Year’s Model for me.)
Darkness in Giants Stadium should have been horrible, but it was surprisingly effective. Then again, I had the luxury of being in the front GA section — I am sure that had I been sitting in section 118, there would have been a guy from Toms River yakking to his buddy about car parts or lawn care or something else equally inconsequential during “Streets of Fire.” But Darkness in an arena, in what is arguably the arena for that album, was on a completely other level, no matter where you were sitting.
The intimacy of the surroundings undoubtedly enhanced the experience for everyone involved, band and audience. The band’s performance — already excellent at Giants Stadium — was stronger, more together tonight at the Spectrum. Perhaps it was the engagement and attention transmitted by the crowd; perhaps it was just the ghosts swirling around the room. Bruce’s guitar solos were sharper and more focused, the colors richer (although I still don’t understand why he gives Nils the “Prove It” solo!).
I was most moved by the songs I least expected to grab me by the throat. “Something in the Night” doesn’t lack in pathos, but it was absolutely riveting. In fact, the whole sequence from “Adam” to “Something” to “Candy’s Room” to “Racing in the Street” was nothing short of spellbinding. Once you get through the big-stadium-anthem-ness of “Badlands” (just once I would like him to let it be, just to see what happens), you are in the thick of it. If you were there in real time you would be fighting off emotions and memories in order to just be able to stand there and FEEL IT. And Bruce was absolutely feeling it last night at the Spectrum as well. We get so used to him running all over the stage for everything, but it was more like those old black & white photos you remember, the spotlight on him and the rest of the stage dark. By the time “The Promised Land” emerges like a long lost friend, you are grateful for the respite it provides.
There is nothing in the world that will prevent a Bruce Springsteen audience from running for beer or the bathroom during “Factory,” and while it might teeter on the edge of blasphemy, frankly I cannot blame them. It is only three minutes, however, but it is the three minutes that stand between you and the piece de resistance, “Streets of Fire”. Maybe I have just built this one up in my head too much, but I still felt like something was just the tiniest bit off in the performance. It didn’t seem like Bruce was centered, it felt like the pace was a tad too fast. His voice, as at Giants Stadium, was in brilliant form, hitting the soul growls right on cue, and redeemed whatever perceived flaws there might or might not have been.
“Prove It” remains the biggest surprise for me in the album sequence, feeling fresh and exciting and something to look forward to, and the title track as well has regained new life. “Darkness on the Edge of Town” can plod or sometimes cause a setlist to come to a thundering stop. In the album sequence, it regains majesty and place again.
It is rare when the past lives up to the present. Darkness on the Edge of Town at the Spectrum — along with the blistering set that bookended it — managed to do that and more. I couldn’t get to the Spectrum on that tour — you probably couldn’t, either, for any number of reasons. Last night, we all got there.
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