THE LAST STAND, Part 2 : Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, Giants Stadium, 10-3-09
Night 3: 3 October, 2009
Born In The USA
It is a time for true confessions.
Confession: when I originally learned I was going to have to sit through Born In The USA twice I was less than thrilled. I deliberately never saw BITUSA in the stadiums; I saw it in the arenas, and had no desire to go to a blimp nest. As I told Peter Buck when I interviewed him for Backstreets during the VFC tour, we both got caught in Giants Stadium traffic (him in the tour bus, me in a car with friends) on our respective ways to R.E.M.’s performance at the Capitol Theater in Passaic in August of 1985. I had negative interest in going to a stadium to hear music I cared about. (I only reneged on this policy years later when I thought the statute of limitations might get invoked at some point.)
But I was with friends who never had the chance to see BITUSA in the stadiums, or for whom BITUSA was their first Bruce Springsteen experience. It was a Saturday night. It had stopped raining. We didn’t hit the lottery but we had grabbed a pretty good spot in the front GA section. I was willing to let go and see what Bruce could manage to do under these circumstances. Maybe the songs would gain some life and freshness in context the same way they did with Darkness.
Confession #2: Believe it or not, I do not own and have never owned Born In The USA on CD. I have multiple copies on vinyl, and I have a couple of mp3’s I bought of key songs. I never bought it on CD and have never felt a need to have it on CD. As someone who had just walked out of college in 1985, I heard these songs, all of it, on overkill. It was on every car radio that drove by (well, that and “Trapped”). You heard it at the beach. You heard it on MTV. People who laughed at you for liking Bruce Springsteen years earlier were suddenly calling you up for advice on how to get tickets to a concert. This is all longhand for me saying that I haven’t listened to BITUSA as an album since I can’t remember when.
I have to tell you, it was all pretty awesome to finally see my first Born In The USA stadium show.
First of all, it is so obvious how well this band is rehearsed. There might be a slipped lyric or a bum note but there is no residual sloppiness or the kind of lackluster performances we saw at one point during the Magic tour. The band is unbelievably sharp and it makes a tremendous difference when they are hitting the songs with continual crispness and attention. Because the band is together, Bruce doesn’t have to lose focus by needing to actively conduct them. They are firing, as they say, on all cylinders.
Second of all, you are hearing the songs without the wedding cake layers of synthesizer, you are hearing them with a better sound system, and you are hearing them being played by a band that has 25 years’ more practice under their belts. I’m not saying that they sucked in the 80’s, I’m just saying that they’re better now. (I for one would have liked the reappearance of certain props from BITUSA. I’m sure they’re sitting in a warehouse somewhere and there are enough children to recruit to help out with these roles.)
Third: I know people who went to those shows back in the day and were absolutely miserable. People were waving flags and yelling and screaming and just NOT LISTENING, and Bruce is trying to do Nebraska sets a million miles away. While there was no shortage of asshole behavior Saturday night (c’mon, this was Giants Stadium on a Saturday night. And while we’re here, can we please GET RID of the audience camera shots? We do not need a camera walking around the GA pit shooting fans dancing. This is not TRL. My friends in the 300s were all, “I’m really glad the screens are there but I don’t need to see people who have better seats than I am, I want to see THE BAND.”), people were very, very into this show. Just as this was the BITUSA stadium show a whole lot of the audience never got to have (judging by the massive presence of bandannas wrapped around heads), it was also the BITUSA stadium show Bruce never got to have. It was less about spectacle and more about the music.
(I realize of course that I am writing this about a show that has fireworks shooting off after the introduction of the E Street Band.)
The songs in order worked their magic again. Decades of memories attached to the song. Things I hadn’t thought about for years. It was easier to be patient as a diehard with most of them when they weren’t jammed into the flow of an otherwise great show.
And then there was “Bobby Jean.”
I wish I could tell you that it was different for me but it was not. People I was with did not feel the same way, so I will admit to being a snob or just never getting behind the sentiment of that song. (Or, more likely, there are emotions and memories attached to it I care to not acknowledge. Some things are not going to be confessed in here.) Bruce broke composure for “I’m On Fire,” which was okay, because we really couldn’t expect for him to try to do it straight as a married father of 3 teenagers in his 60’s. (He did try, but the expressions on the nymphets at his feet – and good for them! – made me crack up.) This was all okay, because it was BITUSA: it was the big stadium record, not the dark moody introspective record. Lights and video screens in certain moments were completely in context precisely because of that. While I have complaints about “Badlands” and I know people had some complaints about moments in Born To Run, you can’t really lodge those same complaints against the BITUSA show.
But then there were the songs that absolutely worked and were total powerhouses – the title track, “I’m Going Down,” “Glory Days,” “Downbound Train” in context was fantastic. “Cover Me” was unbelievable, like it was reinvented. I sang along to “Darlington County” with zero sarcasm, and found myself more touched by the reference to the World Trade Center than I have ever been – I have always, always been glad that he never took it out, but proximity and connection made it stronger than ever. Couldn’t muster it for “Working On The Hightway” but it, too, was a fine performance.
The audience sang their lungs out, from the diehards at the front to the Europeans on either side of us to the people all the way in the back and at the very top. Everyone was standing. Everyone was singing. Everyone had their arms in the air and was ready to be part of this gigantic sing-a-long at Giants Stadium. Bruce was visibly surprised by the strength of the response, and equally visibly touched. When we got to “My Hometown,” he wanted us to sing for ourselves as much as for him, he wanted us to sing along as reward, as a thank you.
And then it finished, and once again, introductions, the band having to go over to Clarence because he was lost in his little Clarence-world, and then it was back to business as usual. Luckily, “Sunny Day” wasn’t the transitory reward song dumped on us, which alone was cause to celebrate. But the performance was definitely the feel-good moment of the summer.
I will write about everything else in the show when the shows are over. But I will say that it was this night that made me decide I needed to see Born To Run live, so I am making another unscheduled journey to Secaucus on Thursday.
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