Hang Up My Rock and Roll Shoes
HSBC Arena, Buffalo, NY
22 November 2009
Greetings From Asbury Park
I am still trying to find the words to talk about Buffalo. I walked out of the venue Sunday night feeling drained yet exhilarated. I wasn’t bouncing off the walls, dying to start processing and analyzing and taking the show apart, the game of connect the dots, the simple act of keeping the feeling of the show alive by talking about it. It was a quiet, solemn walk to the parking lot, a complete contrast to the emotional explosion that happened inside the HSBC Arena. Two days later, I am wistful and nostalgic and ruminative. I am also over-sensitive, exhausted and emotional. Greetings played on the iPod on the way to work has me unexpectedly crying down 7th Avenue.
I wouldn’t have been able to tell you in advance that I was going to get teary-eyed during the album performance – The River, sure, Wild & Innocent and “Serenade,” guaranteed. But Greetings? Sure, I loved Greetings, and spent hours playing the record with my head pressed up against my speakers, trying to get all the lyrics to “Blinded” & “Bus Stop”. But “Growin’ Up” began and the waterworks were non-stop, absolutely non-stop. Maybe it was a metaphor for the whole tour. Maybe it was a metaphor for my entire life. Maybe I was just tired. I mean, it was the fifth song of the show and I’m going to start crying NOW? Seriously? I am not someone who is buying all this doom-and-gloom, end-of-E-Street talk. But oh yes, I am standing there, crying harder and harder and harder as the song goes on. Too many lines I can quote you that should be tattooed around my wrist, not to mention my freaking domain name (which, to a geek, is in effect a virtual tattoo).
And then the second verse ended, and Roy keeps playing the refrain, and it suddenly dawns on me – OH GOD PLEASE DO IT PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE is what actually came out of my mouth at that moment – and in the darkness, spotlight on him, just like you remember or you fantasized about – he’s going to start telling a story, for the first time in a very long time.
And here is the story about the Student Prince, and the broken door, the legend we all know. And he’s telling it like it’s a story we all already know by heart, with enough detail so that if you haven’t heard it before, it still makes sense. And he talks about the rain and the wind and the door flying down the street, and the moment of fate that changed everybody’s life. I say ‘everybody’ and I mean it, because if you are reading this your life has been changed by this music on some level.
Bruce says, “I saw this shadow, and I thought to myself… ‘King Curtis? Nah… Junior Walker? Nah…’ He walked up to the stage and said–”
Clarence: “I wanna play with you.”
Bruce: “What could I say? I said ‘sure’.”
Clarence plays a riff on the sax.
“At the end of the night, we just looked at each other…”
The two of them nod knowingly at each other. And then, as though they had rehearsed it a thousand times, they oh so casually strike the pose from the cover of Born To Run.
[I think about how he had to plan this in advance, and think about what it was like when Bruce walked into Clarence’s dressing room and said, “Hey, C, how about we do a little shtick during ‘Growing Up,’ just like the old days,” and wonder if they rehearsed it a couple of times, and if they kept a straight face while they were rehearsing it…]
If it is possible to laugh hysterically and cry hysterically in absolutely equal amounts at the same time, that is what I was doing. Exactly. Completely. And standing there saying, I can’t believe they just did that, the biggest inside joke in front of 20k people, some of whom got it and some of whom didn’t and others who just thought that Bruce and Clarence were being cool and then others like the two guys in the row in front of us, two people over, who, judging by the expressions on their face the entire night, probably stood there thinking that this was the hokiest thing they had ever seen in their entire lives. It is priceless. It is memorable. It is a moment affirming my membership in the clan. I cannot believe that just happened.
It’s only the fifth song of the night.
I should back up and mention that the place was going absolutely apeshit from the first note of “Wrecking Ball”. They were standing up on every level, even at the back, almost every person, almost every seat. This was not a show for which ‘sell out’ was defined creatively, this show was SOLD OUT. Every seat was full and there were signs on every single level. “Hungry Heart” almost blew the roof off the venue. People kept their mouths shut (or just went to get a beer) during the quiet songs far more than they did at MSG. People of Buffalo, I am grateful to you for this.
“Lost In The Flood” was utterly stunning, returning to its original arrangement. People say, “Oh, ‘Lost In The Flood,’ he never plays it,” but he has played it and even me who doesn’t go to that many shows has seen it like four times. Even with that, let me tell you that it defined epic, that the hair was standing up on the back of my neck. People knew this song, people knew every fucking word. I suppose if I was rational I could analyze this song as just more over-the-top, playing with the rhyming dictionary excess from the early days of his career. It is a song I never ever thought I would hear. It was thunder and lightning and the charge of the fucking light brigade raining down upon the stage Sunday night.
“The Angel” surprised us all. The rearrangement was compelling and the performance was completely unexpected, just Bruce and Roy, and it worked. People talked but for an arena, this was quiet. This was not Madison Square Garden during “Wild Billy” or “Stolen Car”. (Again, thank you Buffalo.) I would like to see this song rerecorded. (And if you’re wondering about “Mary, Queen of Arkansas,” it had the misfortune of course to come after “Growin’ Up” and I was largely recovering, but I will tell you that it did not get any better. It is still a terrible, terrible song.) “Spirit” into “Saint” was so much fun it should have been illegal. It was the E Street Band that most of us never ever got to see, those two songs in a row. Bruce running behind the stage for “Spirit,” trying to get everyone in the crowd into it, and then just sliding into the performance of “Saint,” the words rolling off his tongue. (Yes, I know about the teleprompter; he still has to deliver the performance.)
There was no acknowledgment of the album upon its completion, just Bruce putting on an acoustic guitar and going into (you guessed it) “Sunny Day”. “Sunny Day” is when I sit down. It is when I take a drink. It is when I run for the bathroom. It is when I catch up on the notes I didn’t want to take during the previous 10 songs. Honestly, I needed the break right about then. It was unexpectedly overwhelming. If I talk about the quality of the performance, I don’t want to make it sound like I think the E Street Band phone it in on a regular basis – but there are nights and then there are nights. Tonight was clearly going to be one of the latter. Before you try to assert that this was guaranteed, I will point to the other last-night-of-tour shows that were somewhat subdued or not all that.
“Promised Land” comes back, and then, there is Kevin walking out with a birthday cake and we are singing Happy Birthday to Miami Sugar Little Steven Van Zandt. We had hoped for “I Don’t Want To Go Home” and there was a big sign behind the stage for “Having A Party,” but instead, we got “Restless Nights,” which was ABSOLUTELY FUCKING AWESOME and makes you want to bang your head against the wall that they never tried to do this before. (Bruce even said as much when it was done.) “Surprise, Surprise” was next and, well, marked another song off of my ‘never heard’ list.
“Green Onions” cued the signs, and OMFG DID EVERYONE IN THE FUCKING VENUE BRING A SIGN? No seriously. Some of the signs were thoughtful, some were silly, some were just plain stupid (although the TURN ON YOUR LOVELIGHT guy was nowhere to be seen). We yell at him to take certain signs as though he can a) hear us or b) give a damn about what we wanted him to take. We have done this all tour, we see no reason to stop doing it now. He takes signs, he yells down the stairs for someone to start getting lyrics on the prompter. Him and Stevie start kicking through the signs and discussing what they’re going to play.
I was bitching all weekend that I didn’t want to get “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town”. Before you call me a Grinch, I just don’t see what the hell is so special about “Santa”. I am not only old enough to remember when the single first came out, I sat next to the radio for hours with my tape recorder just so I could get a copy of it for my very own. But that was when it was a RARITY. It stopped being a rarity years ago, and I was viewing it as a waste of a song on the last night of the tour when there were so many other possibilities. And that there were so many other excellent Christmas songs that Bruce could play instead of freaking “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town.”
Like, say, “Merry Christmas Baby.”
My current fantasy for the next two years while E Street is on hiatus is this: The Bruce Springsteen Rhythm and Blues Revue. Sam Moore, Darlene Love, Gary US Bonds, some other people I haven’t thought of yet, a horn section, Roy, Charlie, and I haven’t figured out the rest of the band yet, but there’s gotta be a killer guitar player so that Bruce can just concentrate on singing and shaking his ass. This is my fantasy because, clearly, he has so much fun singing those songs and when he gets to be Jackie or Otis or the second coming of Sam and Dave, he is on his best behavior, he is on his A game. Exhibit A, Higher and Higher; Exhibit B, “Merry Christmas Baby.” It was like those 2003 Christmas shows when he had that jacket on and was working the stage like Jackie Wilson during “So Young And In Love”.
[Fantasy #2 is Bruce going out with Curtis and Cindy and a few more vocalists to form a small gospel choir for a mostly acapella tour of gospel classics. Yes, I have a rich fantasy life.]
Stevie is gathering signs. Someone had an enormous light-up Santa hat and got it down to the stage. Someone else had a folk art-y portrait of what was probably supposed to be Bruce and Santa Claus for “Santa”. He is collecting these from the crowd and positioning them around the stage. “Merry Christmas Baby” starts to end and Bruce signals for it to go around one more chorus. He calls out for more jingle bells; Soozie and Clarence oblige. He calls for it again, which results in Roy playing “Jingle Bells.”
And then they go into “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” and it was the best goddamn version ever. I am singing along like it is my most favorite-est song in the ENTIRE WORLD. The entire venue is singing along at the top of their lungs. It was like the biggest Springsteen party in the world at that moment, one big red balloon of holiday cheer floating over Buffalo.
Bruce picks up another sign. It shows up on the camera and I grab the boyfriend’s arm so hard I am afraid I am going to hurt him.
“No… he’s NOT going to do that.”
“Oh, my god.”
“No, he is just fucking with us. He is NOT going to play it.”
Bruce talks about these guys who follow him around – “they’ve GOTTA be Italian” and here is a sign – from ‘Ciccio & Ciccio’ – for
HANG UP MY ROCK AND ROLL SHOES
Yeah, he’s just fucking with us. No WAY that gets played.
There is some fucking around onstage, while they are clearly finding the lyrics and putting them on the prompter – we can see this because we are sidestage in our usual favorite view of right behind Roy, and one of the techs has a prompter in his equipment case, and there are no lyrics there for quite a while – and then they come up and Garry is trying to tell Bruce what to play (because if Garry W. Tallent is in your band and you want to play a random Atlantic Records single fro the 50’s, you should be asking HIM the chords) and people are flashing hand signals for the key like they’re in some kind of E Street gang and I still think he is not going to do it, no way, not on this planet, not in this lifetime, he’s going to find a way to get out of it and play something else.
Um, no. He is actually going to play it.
I’m not even sure how I know this song as well as I do; it has nothing to do with Bruce – by the time I owned a boot with this song on it, it was something I knew – someone else must have covered it that I’ve forgotten about. But it’s not anything I ever thought I’d hear. I’m not one of those people who thinks that it’s a good idea to show up with a sign for a song that Bruce has either never played or played three times and expect that he’s going to say, “Wow, gee, I feel like playing [insert name of obscure demo with title of questionable accuracy] tonight.” However, I dearly thank these Italian nutjobs for making an enormous sign for this song because it will remain one of the highlights of my concert-going life.
The boyfriend and I have never ever discussed this song, really. There is a lot of Bruce Springsteen discussion in our house, probably more than is good or healthy, but what do you want from two people who met on the boardwalk in Asbury Park one winter during the Christmas shows? It kind of looms large in our legend. We are singing this song as though our lives depended on it; he blows out his voice during this song. I am sure the people near us thought we were completely and totally batshit. They are not entirely wrong. We are in Springsteen Fantasyland right now, people, at least my version of it. Random rock and roll covers pulled out of the long-dormant memory banks of the guys who used to play four sets a night of covers on the Jersey Shore. Stuff they love. Stuff they listened to. And, tonight, of course, it is history and declarative statement wrapped into one incredible moment.
While I realize “Boom Boom” isn’t any kind of super rarity or tour premiere, I never got to see it – my Tunnel of Love shows were too early in that tour – and at this rate, I am wondering if someone perhaps has a “Have Love, Will Travel” sign somewhere down there, let’s get it out and have a matching set. It would certainly match with the current prevailing theme. However, I am actually glad that did not happen because I would have exploded into a little puff of smoke. “Boom Boom” was enough – especially when he audibled into “My Love Will Not Let You Down,” and – as the boyfriend put it when he called me about Baltimore (a show he attended but I did not) – Bruce started to get “all summational”. “My Love,” “Long Walk Home,” “The Rising,” and then, of course – “1-2!” and “Born To Run”.
My thing during BTR has been the same for a couple of years now, where I look around the crowd to find the person for whom this is the greatest moment EVER. I love this. I have talked to people who have said things like, “I think of BTR as Bruce’s gift to rock and roll” and I love that this song means so much to so many people. It is still one of my favorite moments ever in the show, it is the moment I want to show to people who have never seen Bruce live before. Now, I know some frequent fliers who get all jaded about BTR, and I think that is just stupid, to be honest. I know, everyone has their own trip and all, and I can make fun of a lot of things Bruce does (we have an ongoing joke with our group of Bruce friends about going to Home Depot to buy some spirit, but they were out, so we bought some paint instead, all from the WOAD rap) but YOU DON’T MAKE FUN OF BORN TO RUN. No seriously. If BTR is too silly or hokey or corny then you need to step back and take a fucking break and stop going to so many concerts.
BTR Sunday night was different, because while it always gives me a lift, and I always sing along, Sunday I took a step back. I watched, I listened, I tried to float above it a little bit to see it from the outside. It is always tremendous to me, it is always inspiring, it is always an unbelievable moment.
“I want to tell you the story about the band,” Bruce says with particular emphasis, and walks around the entire stage several times to get the crowd’s energy up -as though the needle wasn’t already veering into red – for the intro to “Tenth Avenue”. This is striking, because he has already told us one story, and then told us the story another few times during the course of the night. Nothing tonight was solemn – it might have been deadly serious, but none of it was funereal. This was further affirmed with “I’ll Work For Your Love” coming back into the set, with a specific dedication from Bruce to the crowd – and then the message was signed and sealed with “Thunder Road”.
I am not thinking that I might never see this again. I am not thinking that this could be the last time. I am realizing that this is all very deliberate, that this is not what Bruce wants this night to be. They have been very careful to deflect the messages of THE END that the press seems entirely too eager to seize upon or exploit and tonight he has done the same thing with the setlist, with what he has said, with what he has played.
I still wish he would find another song he could use to introduce the band besides “American Land”. Almost every song took a rest this tour – even “Badlands” and TPL – but aside from “Born To Run,” the only song that has been there consistently every single goddamn night is “American Land”. This song is just lightweight and pointless and so completely non E Street and please let it go away next tour. “Mary’s Place” would have been better than the eternal reign of “American Land”.
DITD, Rosie, Higher & Higher. While I think it is time to retire “Rosalita,” I will never ever EVER get tired of the latter. I am still in shock that the song came out. I am still in shock that I was there when the song came out, that I went to Philadelphia twice in two weeks, running down 95 like it was nothing as though I was still in college or something. I will point to everything I said above about the Bruce Springsteen Rhythm and Blues Revue, and how much fun he has playing this material. It is a song that has always meant a great deal to me, but now has a whole other layer attached to it.
The band is out front; one more, we are hoping, we are praying. We are not ready to go home yet. We are not ready for it to be over yet. Will we get “The Last Carnival”? Where is “Blood Brothers”? Instead, he brings out the song that he closed the Kansas City show with last summer, the offering he gave us that they weren’t done yet – “Rocking All Over The World”. There is relief in my heart at this. It’s a great song and an awesome cover and I’ve always loved Bruce’s version and I am glad that this is the tone we are ending on.
The song ends, and the band gathers up front to take their bows. Bruce walks around the stage, making eye contact. At one point tonight he had pulled a THANK YOU sign out of the audience – let’s not get excited or take credit, there were literally dozens of different formats and flavors and sizes of THANK YOU signs out there – and was visibly touched. Then there was the IT’S ONLY ROCK AND ROLL .. BUT IT FEELS A LOT LIKE LOVE banner, which was from the first row in our section (which is why I didn’t see it until he took it) – which, of course, was from Danny’s eulogy.
Danny. We wondered how he could ever do Greetings without Danny; we wondered if he would even consider it; we wondered how he would introduce the guys who played on the record when, well, you know. The guy who’s had that PHANTOM sign you must have seen at the shows was there when the album was finished, waving it in tribute. When we walked out of the show and could finally speak again, we wondered if “Blood Brothers” didn’t get played because Danny wasn’t in the band any more, or if it was because Bruce truly does not believe the band is done yet. I think it was because he was determined that tonight not be a wake or a dirge. It was the retelling of the stories, the retelling of the legends, the stories we all know, but the ones you keep alive by telling them over and over again. It was affirmative, it was celebratory – and this wasn’t from denial, it was from choice. Frankly, I had a better feeling Sunday night than I did walking out of Shea Stadium in 03 or Kansas City in 2008. I don’t know if that means anything, but I’d like to think that it does.
This tour found me in a position I didn’t anticipate, where I more than doubled the amount of shows I had originally planned to attend. It is the luck of living here, as well as the luck of being gainfully employed, but it is also because of the plain and simple fact that this band was kicking ass and taking names. The show was anything but boring or predictable, a complaint that kept more than a few veterans away from the Giants run. The power of the E Street Band at the end of 2009 lived up to the hype Bruce set at that Super Bowl press conference: the band was playing better than it ever had. It was a hallmark, banner year for this band, with unbelievable moments every time you turned around. It was literally an embarrassment of riches. I got to see all six albums. I saw both performances of Darkness (and also got stuck with three BITUSA nights). We got to do all of this at what is still an affordable ticket price, compared to his contemporaries. I could go on, but I think you get my point.
Start the tour savings account now. Because this party ain’t over yet.
Visit the entire Flickr set from the show
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