Springsteen on Jimmy Fallon, 3/2/12
Back for night two.
Monday was calm and uneventful, today was security checks and lists being oversold (okay, not oversold, but overcommitted). Many band bench ticket holders were placed in the audience proper, while the bench itself ended up filled with shiny youthful boys and girls of the correct demographic for the show (and the demographic Bruce is trying to reach, hence committing to the show), but who looked confused during the entire set, when they weren’t doing ‘white boy tries to dance to hip hop’ hand gestures…But I get ahead of myself.
Bruce and the band being the only guest tonight was, I thought, going to make the entire “waiting to see the band” thing much less painful. I was looking forward to not sitting in the audience through comedians or actors I didn’t care about, figuring it would all go much faster tonight…but it didn’t. I love the “Thank You” notes bit normally, but tonight it just seemed to kill the OMG WE ARE GOING TO SEE BRUCE buzz in the audience. I wish he could have worked the band in, have Stevie come out and do a bit, something to liven it up.
The Neil Young & 80’s Bruce bit this time was LMFAO’s “Sexy and I Know It,” which was hilarious and a million times better than the idiotic “Whip Your Hair” bit during Bruce’s previous visit. It’s a better song (for a pop song, I’m not holding it up against “Like A Rolling Stone” or something) and it was just a better opportunity for comedy that was fun and not embarrassing or making Bruce seem like an old dude.
The interview was a little bit of a letdown. I wish there had been something of substance there, even the tiniest little crumb, but, again, the demographic, and it’s not Charlie Rose, so they show photographs of Bruce (responding “I had a girlfriend” at some of the more questionable Lynn Goldsmith poses, which was hysterical to those of us who knew the backstory), and then he tells the story of how him and Steve got thrown out of Disneyland for violating the dress code (the part I didn’t know: they also got asked to leave Knott’s Berry Farm for the same reason, live exhortations to the contrary besides).
The funniest part was the zipper on Bruce’s leather jacket getting stuck. When he came out for the interview and went to sit down, he tried to open it and couldn’t, and spent the first part of the interview clearly uncomfortable in it. When they cut to commercial break, he tried to get it open, and couldn’t. (Cue women in the audience yelling, “I’ll help you.”) The wardrobe mistress came out with one of the stylists and worked on it, and finally got it open. During this time, Jimmy is providing play-by-play and the Roots are also vamping a soundtrack. Bruce dances around at the end. (You’ll see that part on the show.) Also worth mentioning was the quote “It’s impossible for Bruce Springsteen to dress down too much.”
And then, finally, it was the moment we had all been waiting for. We knew it was going to be three songs; luckily, we had no spoilers while waiting on line (apparently some of the pages were telling people waiting what had been played, for reasons that escape me completely). The band bench audience members were sorted into their spots, and that’s when I made the unfortunate mistake of turning my head to see the prompter. In my defense, I was freaked out by the presence of Tom Morello’s roadie, wearing his guitar (complete with ARM THE HOMELESS graffiti). I had seen Questlove’s tweet earlier in the day, displaying both a horn section and Mr. Morello, and so that wasn’t news (or I might have fallen off the band bench). I spent years bemoaning the fact that I’d never get to see Morello with Bruce, or electric “Ghost of Tom Joad,” unless I went to LA for a show–and then I got the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and now, tonight, 10 feet away from me. (I wasn’t a big Rage fan and I certainly didn’t care about Audioslave but I’ve always loved Morello’s work, kind of the way I adore Johnny Marr but had no use for the Smiths. [Postcards please, usual address.]) The thing that I always love the most is the shit-eating grin on Tommy’s face whenever he’s onstage with Bruce, and the love and respect afforded him in return.
So tonight there were no backing vocalists, but instead the entire five piece horn section was in place, and we had four guitarists. Soozie was there to add backing vocals and violin. The horns came out and to their credit, looked up and acknowledged the band benchers. Garry even admonished everyone to get excited. Steve gave everyone Steve-type looks. I noticed that Charlie Giordano doesn’t have sheet music, but instead has all of his handwritten scores on an iPad. Garry had a new hat, and I had a hard time finding Nils with all the people on that stage. It was tough to watch everything and everybody. And it was loud, louder than it seemed on Monday night (although my colleague informs me that it was just as loud on Monday). It is just so odd to be in the middle of the band like that. Your heart just pounds a little faster.
I’m not a fan of “Death To My Hometown” on the record; not to give away my entire thought process since I still have to publish an album review, but I feel like the Celtic styling is just a tad artificial. However, tonight Bruce sold me on the song. The horns make it soul-tinged, there’s no penny whistle in the high register, and the awkward phrasing of the vocals disappears because it doesn’t fit. He also just plain old sold the song with the performance, too. I’m going to have to find another bathroom break number.
I wasn’t expecting “Jack of All Trades,” at all, I realize Morello’s presence should have made that an obvious choice but it’s still a ballsy one for live television. Again, this band is rehearsed so tightly, it’s intricate and difficult to deliver, and yet they didn’t falter once. Watching Bruce keep time for himself was a beautiful thing to see. He’s clearly determined to put it into the live set.
We knew the third song was going to be something old, but didn’t know what until we heard a familiar riff, and Bruce singing “Ohhhh ohhh ohhh…” to which I would respond “Everybody form a line” in my sleep. We knew the last song was going to be with the Roots because it had been announced earlier in the show, but what an inspired, amazing, perfect choice to do with them. Captain Kirk traded places with Stevie and my heart started to beat a little faster; if there was anyone else qualified to work that Stax/Volt groove, it would be Kirk Douglas.
[SIDEBAR: I do not understand people who don’t want to see Bruce work or perform with the Roots. I love the members of the E Street Band like they’re my older brothers, but even with that do not understand why Bruce collaborating with other amazing musicians is some kind of blasphemy. Even Garry Tallent has gone on record to say that the only thing he objected to during the 92/93 band era was that Bruce wasn’t writing new material with the new band, that he was playing the old songs with the new band. Furthermore, Bruce LOVES the Roots. He was dancing to them during the commercial break on Monday, and it was clear from the interaction between all of the musicians, all of the hugs and handshakes with every member of the Roots and every member of the E Street Band, that there’s nothing but respect there.]
And then Bruce went over to the Roots’ riser, and half the band followed, and then the horn section followed, and then Jimmy Fallon was up there with a cowbell…and Bruce waved at the audience that wasn’t on the band bench to come on down. He had indicated that he was going to do this earlier, but I thought he was kidding, and I think security wasn’t sure about it, because there was a delay, and Bruce kept waving at the crowd and finally there they came, down the stairs, filling the space on the floor, the PA’s and security forming their own line so that people weren’t climbing up onstage with Questlove (because I guarantee you someone would’ve). Garry remained behind with Max and Roy and Soozie, and at one point during the second reprise put his bass down and just started clapping along instead.
It was the best rock and roll moment on live TV that I can remember since Pearl Jam and Neil Young doing “Rocking In The Free World” on the ’93 MTV awards. Maybe there were others that I can’t think of right now, but it was that level of joy and chaos and energy and well-played, kick-ass rock and roll. The fact that I can say that about someone I’ve been listening to since I was 11 years old, and mean it, is just amazing to me.
They’re happy. They’re rehearsed. The songs are solid. The spoilers I’ve heard from the rehearsals (and by ‘heard’ I mean ‘people have told me’ not that there’s mp3’s floating around somewhere) make me feel like he’s trying hard to remake the show, while not going off in the direction of, say, Tunnel of Love tour staging and choreography. I’m looking at the list of shows I have tickets for and thinking, How can we add a few more?
It’s a good problem to have.
Long live the E Street Band.
p.s. I did yell “SIGN TOMMY UP FOR THE E STREET BAND” as they walked off the stage at the end of the night. He heard me!
p.p.s. My esteemed colleague’s report of the evening over on his blog, for a more measured perspective.
p.p.p.s. If you like my Bruce posts, why not check out my novel, B-sides and Broken Hearts?
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