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Review: Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Madison Square Garden, March 28, 2016

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This was my fourth show on this 2016 outing for Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. (As a matter of principle I am not going to call it “The River Tour” because that already happened.) This was the reschedule for the snowed-out show back in January. I was curious how the show would play this far into the tour and if there would be a special treat since it was a makeup gig. I was hard side stage behind Charlie, picked up on the original drop for this show and acquired from someone who could not make the rescheduled date.

Bruce was in an excellent, jovial mood. He played to the back often and even acknowledged the fans up on the Chase Bridge seats in the rafters. The crowd also was engaged and energetic and the overall crowd energy was a million times better than the first Garden gig. They were loud. They sang in all the right places. The joint bounced from “Meet Me In The City.” You remember why you love seeing Springsteen at the Garden on nights like this.

But surprisingly and disappointingly, I can’t say the same about the E Street Band Monday night. The performance was loose in a casual way, not in a relaxed way. They were wound tight as a spring at the beginning of the tour, and with good reason, this was a hard performance to pull off. But there was none of that precision this evening. There were many missed notes, as well as far too much feedback in the goddamned PA for an organization of this caliber. (More on this later.)

Things didn’t pull together until “Point Blank,” probably because they couldn’t have executed the piece otherwise, it demands attention. But that said, it was excellent. Bruce stood facing Max, eyes closed, until Roy reached that last crescendo and then Bruce’s hand came halfway up his chest, he opened his eyes, and conducted the band into the song. It was magnificent. (I had several friends at the show tonight who had never seen Bruce before, and I texted them when the song was done to say, “And that’s my favorite part.”)

I was hoping that the strength of the performance would get things back on track but it did not. There’s always a problem around “I’m A Rocker” for reasons that escape me; I kind of get the beer run during “Fade Away” (I mean I don’t, but I do). Speaking of “Fade Away,” both it and “Stolen Car” (of all things) felt rushed, of all things. There was just no groove, you know? E Street has a groove and they could not find it tonight.

Regarding the sound, I know I wasn’t out front but my ticket cost exactly the same as those that were and the sound was not good tonight. I always figure it’ll get better if it’s rough at the start but it just got worse throughout the night. By the time we were at “I’m A Rocker” I could hear Charlie but only very faint Bruce vocals. Bruce made a joke during “Ramrod” that I could not hear because of the sound. At the start of the tour I was willing to say, “Well, Bruce pulled this together so fast, they didn’t have time to get it together, etc. etc. etc.” But at this point, and at these prices, there is literally zero excuse for poor sound at a venue they have played at countless times.

I am happy to report that after many informed reports from the West Coast of Bruce’s voice not being at its best, it seemed fine tonight, but I did note that there were parts of “Point Blank” that he chose to speak-sing rather than just sing. He had some scarf-like contraption wrapped around his neck and tucked under his shirt but I can’t tell you for sure if that was for his throat or just his often questionable sense of fashion.

There were good things tonight: “Point Blank.” “I Wanna Marry You.” Bruce and Patti shooting each other little smiles all night. “Brilliant Disguise.” “Ramrod,” where he saw his mother dancing in the seats–Adele Springsteen has more energy than I do on a weeknight–and he went over to dance with her, and do the butt shake together. I was a crabby curmudgeon about the people waving their phones during “Drive All Night” but by the second sax solo it became something magical, one of those spontaneous moments that elevated the crowd and the band and the performance.

But the real magic tonight was when Bruce announced, “This is something special for New York” and we heard the chords for “Meeting Across The River.” In that moment something shifted and there was that amazing feeling you get in that particular room, that space where so much history has happened before. Everyone was excited; everyone was at attention. And in that moment I was a 14 year old kid again, listening to that record through my headphones, imagining that some day I’d get to see it happen, and wondering what that would be like. I imagined it for what seemed like so long before I got to see it happen, and when it happened, it just didn’t seem possible that I was witnessing something that I’d dreamed and imagined, something so wonderful, even more wonderful than I had imagined it to be.

And “Jungleland.” “Meeting” finishes and we all know what’s coming next, but the fact that we all know makes that instant of anticipation before the first note that much more intense. Bruce asks, “As we take our stand,” and we answer–we shout–we affirm: “DOWN IN JUNGLELAND.” You pump your fist. You play air piano (no? just me?), you root for Barefoot Girl, you shout about the poets, it becomes a form of incantation, of remembrance, of offering, of prayer.

And at the end, you stand there, fist aloft in tribute matching Bruce holding the guitar in salute, and wonder how you got to be so lucky.

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You’re wonderful. Give me your hands. 

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I went down to Lafayette Street last night, a thing I never would have done had the man not left us. But I heard about the tribute from a friend that lived downtown and felt the need to pay my respects. 

It is an insanely generous thing that this is being allowed, that the landlord and the neighborhood and the adjoining business owners* and the cops and the city are letting this happen. It won’t last forever, but it is happening right now, when we need it, and that is enough. 

*American Apparel did feel the need to add “Condolences to the friends and family of David Bowie” to their window right where it edges over the tribute site. Fair enough I guess. 

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David Bowie Was A New Yorker

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David Bowie never waited for the light to change before crossing.
David Bowie could finish the Friday crossword.
David Bowie wouldn’t lean on the pole during rush hour.
David Bowie ate a slice folded, walking uptown, without getting any of it on him.
David Bowie knew you never asked the cab driver if they would take you to Brooklyn, you got in and gave them the address.
David Bowie could play the Law & Order drinking game about his neighborhood.
David Bowie bitched about Time Warner.
David Bowie watched In The Papers.
David Bowie called it Sixth Avenue, called it the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, and it as far as he was concerned, it was always going to be the 59th Street Bridge, no matter what meshuganah name it was given.
David Bowie sighed and moved to the end of the car when he heard, “It’s showtime!”
David Bowie knew that blueberry is not an acceptable bagel flavor.
David Bowie walked on the other side of the sidewalk when the dude with the clipboard asked him if he cared about the environment.
David Bowie took his coffee regular.
David Bowie always stopped and gave directions to lost tourists. (Except when they asked how to get to Ground Zero.)
David Bowie waited on line, not in line.
David Bowie exited the bus through the rear.
David Bowie knew that Battery Park City is not Tribeca, even if it shares a zip code.
David Bowie believed that Pizza Rat was real.

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Springsteen & U2, World AIDS Day Concert, Times Square, December 1, 2014

I still haven't found what I'm looking for. Sing it New York! #springsteen #u2

It seemed like the most improbable New York thing, this 3pm announcement as I come out of a meeting that U2 are performing — with Bruce Springsteen! — in Times Square a few hours from now. I text friends. I make up setlists on Twitter. I go through an executive presentation until 5:40, at which point I say, “Can we wrap this up? Bruce and U2 are playing in Times Square, I need to get a move on.”

I walk out to a chilly rain, which did not figure into my plans. I buy one of those obnoxious saran wrap tourist ponchos at Duane Reade, and get on a subway. I am counting on being smarter and stealthier than your average concert attendee, but by the time I make my way up to 52nd Street and then down Broadway—all the side streets were cut off—I was not entirely sure that I would be able to pull this off. Now that I think about it, there was probably a way to make it up to my friend who was just a few rows from the stage, but I found a good place in the second barrier, just behind a tall dude, but in front of an area that had to be kept clear for the camera crane. I had an unobstructed view of the stage and that was fine with me.

Luckily, with advertisers and a webcast, things need to run on time, and sure enough, we are informed that we are going to start in 15 minutes, then 9 minutes. They announce the list of artists, and we cheer appropriately (or inappropriately, in the case of Chris Martin). We sit through someone from Bank of America and then Bill Clinton (who managed to drop a Hillary reference), and I’m watching the Edge’s guitar tech standing there holding a guitar that looks suspiciously like the Edge’s Explorer, not expecting Larry, Adam and Edge to walk onstage right after that. Unfortunately they are also joined by Chris Martin, who proceeds to butcher “Beautiful Day.” He is wearing a tshirt that reads “SUBSTITU2” which is actually pretty funny, but I still actively despise him. “With Or Without You” is my least favorite U2 song, and I take notes and amuse myself by texting a friend who is uptown at Bob Dylan about how painful this is.

But then there is a moment where the collective noise being made by the three gentlemen in U2 not-so-gently reminds me that they are on that stage, and they are making that noise that only they can make, and I am lucky to be here listening to it.

I have nothing against Carrie Underwood but did not find her songs particularly interesting. The NYU kids behind me, who were super-excited to see Kanye, kept remarking how great her voice was. But then the second-best moment of the evening took place, as Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr. came out to introduce Kanye West. Larry’s voice BOOMED, “NEW YORK, GIVE IT UP FOR KANYE WEST!” with a grin so big you could have seen it all the way up to 57th Street.

The crowd absolutely came alive to Kanye more than any other artist during the course of the evening. Hands in the air, dudes jumping up and down…and all of those people made their way out of the front as soon as he was done. Kanye was sharp and I enjoyed his set.

Kevin Buell is checking a mic stand and so I know who is next on that stage, although I guess if I’d looked at a clock or something I would have figured that out, or even simple process of elimination. But I’m kind of glad I had that external cue, because when Edge, Larry and Adam came back out, put on instruments, and Mr David Evans began to strum the unmistakable opening notes of “Where The Streets Have No Name,” the world stood still.

The opening of “Streets” is like that, you know? It’s that gentle arpeggio, that cascade of notes, that deceptively calm moment before the storm. It’s the sparks from the second you light the fuse, the opening hiss as the bubbles begin to escape from a bottle of champagne. Jump Jump Jump, I am surrounded by tourists holding up cell phones and I do not care if they think I am a madwoman, I am going to REPRESENT and they can all go to hell. This is Streets. This is what you do. It is muscle memory. It is involuntary response. It is tribal, it is ritual, it is everything.

Part of the artistry of “Streets” is the way it builds from section to section, and we go from that cascade of notes into second gear where the rhythm section engages and the notes speed up and even though he’s been out there for half a minute, nodding and vibing, the Edge yells, “LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, MR. BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN,” as he walks to the front of the stage, mic in hand, and the crowd cheers and Bruce roars those opening lines, absolutely roars. He is singing, he is soul shouting, he is absolutely motherfucking BRINGING IT.

Not that he had any choice, you know? It’s “Streets.” It’s the song where God walks through the room, according to Bono. “It’s the point where craft ends and spirit begins,” he says, and if you don’t like Bono you will find that statement pretentious, but if you have ever stood in a stadium or an arena when this song is played and every single person is on their feet and jumping up and down, you will just nod your head because you know that he is right. And Mr. Bruce Springsteen is standing in the Crossroads of the World, substituting for one of the world’s most infamous frontmen–there was no way he was going to do anything less than give it everything.

“Streets” is being in the middle of a pogoing mass, “Streets” is abandon and freedom and heart, your heart opening up wider than you ever thought it could. “Streets” is knowing those moments when the song changes pace, that section at the end of the first chorus, where the band stutter steps just a second before the last verse, where the rhythm section pivots in razor sharp lock step and Larry executes those almost martial rolls into a more syncopated beat, while Edge is peeling off a wall of shimmering guitar notes that seem to be intertwining with the raindrops, echoing off the skyscrapers, bringing the world’s revolution to a halt for a split second.

And all of this is happening in the middle of Times Square, with the light and the energy and the surge of the city underneath my feet, and my guy is up there singing one of the biggest songs that you can sing onstage with anyone, ever. I turned my face up into the raindrops and let them fall like liquid sunshine, and not like the freezing cold drops of slush that they actually were. It was huge and big and bright and beautiful and felt like you were standing in the middle of a lit firecracker.

I have seen a lot of amazing Bruce Springsteen moments. I have seen a lot of amazing rock and roll moments. This one was absolute magic, pure and simple.

As the song ends, Bruce walks to the edges of the stage, pumping his fist the way he always does when he KNOWS that he’s nailed a particular performance. He is leather jacket clad, looking thin, but that voice is full of so much energy you couldn’t possibly worry. “Thank you New York…I want to send this out to Bono in Ireland,” he says, “Be well, my friend.” It’s the obvious choice for a second number, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” obvious because he’s done it before (twice) and it’s U2’s version of a gospel hymn and Bruce’s heart is so very there there days. The crowd knows this one, even more than “Streets,” and they are more than ready to sing when we get to the chorus and Bruce says, “Take me to church now.” It is sweet and strong, and utterly heartwarming, the singalong echoing through the midtown canyons.

Bruce turns to sings with Edge in the harmony lines, he then turns to sing to Larry and Adam. It is a touching, beautiful thing to watch; there is a big mutual admiration society up there. (I saw when I got home and could watch the video that Larry and Adam applauded Bruce after “Streets.” It’s high praise indeed when Larry Mullen offers you applause.)

We are entranced, until the musicians take off their instruments and Kanye and Carrie and Chris return, and then we remember that this enchanted carriage had to turn back into a pumpkin, and it has been both the quickest 45 minutes of your life, and also the longest. The rain has turned to sleet, and I trudge up Broadway towards the subway. I hit my train and my bus and feel like a goddamn rock and roll Audrey Hepburn, walking home an inch or two taller, vibrating with amazement and wonder. This is why we live here; this is why we put up with the rats and the crazy people on the subway and apartments the size of a kitchen for the price of a mortgage. In a split second, your day can change and you can walk uptown and into a miracle.

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Concert Review: The Replacements, West Side Tennis Club, Forest Hills, Queens, 9-19-14

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For my second Replacements show in a week, tonight we are in Queens, the borough that gave us the Ramones and Johnny Thunders and countless others (as we were reminded by Craig Finn, in another kick-ass set from the Hold Steady that was even better than Minneapolis). We are also standing on an old tennis court, former home of the US Open, that also once upon a time hosted concerts by Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan and the Beatles.

The lights go down, the crowd roars, and what comes out of the PA? “Jet Song” from West Side Story. “When you’re a Jet, you’re a Jet all the way, from your first cigarette to your last dying day…” One can only assume that this was inspired by the fact that the proper name of the venue is the West Side Tennis Club (although there is nothing at all gritty and urban about this particular locale, which hates outsiders so much it privatized its streets, and has imposed a 10 p.m. curfew on concerts held here).

Paul bounds onstage again, dressed in an outfit I can only describe as “renegade elf”. He is wearing a multi-colored jacket over a bowling shirt, atop red corduroys he has cut off just below the knees. This is so we can see his lovely striped socks (prompting a guy behind us to yell, more than once, I WANT YOUR SOCKS). Tommy, on the other hand, has another dapper plaid suit worn over a black shirt and red tie which to me says JOHNNY THUNDERS in capital letters. (I realize I may be projecting.)

They charge into “Favorite Thing” and the energy is immediately, markedly different than Minnesota. “Takin’ A Ride” and “I’m In Trouble” see your bet, and raise it. “It’s an absolute pleasure to be here,” Paul says, glancing up at us. Unlike last week, you can see his eyes, because they are venturing to look out past the edge of the stage.

Last Saturday they felt like a coiled spring, taut, holding back, driving power just on the edge of exploding into chaos; today they are powerful, driving, muscular–it is a looser energy. Freese is on, but the dude is always on, and Minehan is his usual whirling-dervish-Muppet self over on stage left. It feels more relaxed, more open, less contained. Paul is the fulcrum, and he just seems less nervous, and more confident. This bodes well.

Tommy takes one look at Paul during “I’ll Be You,” as he gets to the “dressing sharp” line and starts laughing. “A vocal crowd for that one,” Paul notes afterwards, and he was right–it was very loud all night, and the band seemed visibly moved by this, over and over again. I wasn’t in Boston, and it was hard to tell in St. Paul (although everyone around me was singing), and it’s almost unfair to compare them, because Forest Hills is a concrete bowl and there is amplification and echo involved. (That said, my friends in the stands complained about the nonstop talking up there, and the videos I have seem from up top support this.)

“Valentine” is lush, and gorgeous, and so precise, those beautiful guitar licks. It was the example I gave earlier in the day when I was telling friends that I was not going to arrive with the chickens and was just going to walk into the venue like a normal person at a normal time, but that I was not going to stand at the back where some idiot could talk through “Valentine” and I would have to risk arrest for my reaction to that. It remains amusing to me that the fans are still so split; the tiny girl behind me jumping up and down to “I’m In Trouble” has no use for “Valentine,” and I feel bad for her.

The setlist is largely the same–it is the same songs but it is not the same performance, and it is not just because I don’t have some moron jumping into my back all night long. The band is playing like a well-oiled machine, and watching the show tonight is like watching when your favorite outfielder makes that impossible catch with what seems like zero visible effort. This is the only other headlining show of the reunion, and they are in front of different friends and music biz honchos and every rock writer you know is here. There is still a lot on the line, but in a different way than it was at Midway Stadium last weekend.

Paul steps to the mic and says how glad he was that he managed to learn this guitar lick, and–it’s the Jackson Five. It was another great night for Paul Westerberg as a underrated guitar player and his obvious enjoyment at playing a song that he probably watched during Saturday morning cartoons like the rest of us is great fun to see. “Color Me Impressed” has a loud and piercing whistle, which made me just a little misty.

Then, Tommy tells us the story of the scar on his nose, which I am not sure you could see even if you were standing in front of him. He explains that he was getting his 7am Amtrak down from Hudson and he tripped over the olde fashioned sidewalks they have up there and fell on his nose, bleeding everywhere. The conductor insists that he has to call an ambulance; he tells him that he has a show to get to. The ambulance comes, they say, you’re bleeding and you’re very pale, you broke your nose. Tommy goes and looks in the mirror and says, well, I’m always very pale, and my nose usually looks like this, I’m fine, I’m going to the show. But he had to get the next train, which was why he was late for soundcheck. This is all prelude to something that they rehearsed but never played–Paul kept shaking Tommy off all night with things like, “No, this one’s better.” (I still don’t know what it was, despite seeing someone with a printed setlist at the end of the night.)

“Nowhere Is My Home” is even more powerful than last week, and this goes straight into “If Only You Were Lonely,” during which some drunk bozo has to be escorted out because he chose this moment to try to crowdsurf. This transition was the first moment where I realized that they were acutely aware of the curfew; Paul was trying to grab a smoke and change guitars at the same time.

I was about to write something like, “I get that they don’t want to play a conventional venue,” but then I realized that I absolutely do not get that. There was nothing particularly Replacements about playing this show here. Rock and roll is not improved one iota by being played outside, and playing at a hard-to-get-to venue with no running water, one way in and out, uncomfortable metal benches and questionable acoustics, when you are playing in a locale that had any number of other suitable venues makes zero sense to me. Maybe there was some cool factor that seemed neat to the band because of the artists who played here in the 60s, but that was the 60s when there weren’t dozens of road tested venues with adequate facilities in this particular metropolitan era. This fucking venue is just awful, and I don’t know why you as a musician would want to play a show with such an early curfew on your back all night if you had a choice.

End rant.

By “Merry-Go-Round” Westerberg is just on total cruise control. He is relaxed, happy, and in total control of his instrument. “Achin’ To Be” just soars into the night sky, and he sings “Androgynous” all the way through because the crowd is eagerly shouting every word along with him.

“That was the best by a country mile,” Paul says. (Two words for you, Boston.)

“Love You Till Friday” has a bit of a syncopation problem with the bass and guitar player. “We got the beat?” Paul asks, looking from side to side. “HE got the beat,” he notes, pointing at Freese. And yes, here is another love letter to Josh Freese, and how he just hits every bit of percussion or syncopation, any Mats purist can play air drums with him all night and never have any point of question or any beat out of order–and yet the man still seems to SWING the entire time, building pockets of air and room. Minehan does the same thing, just with a guitar, whirling and bouncing and swooping in with his guitar to lead or embellish or bolster. It is hard to think of two better foils for Paul and Tommy on this outing.

I had no idea what Paul was going to do when he suddenly lowered the microphone and got down on his knees (thus totally reinforcing the renegade elf classification from earlier) and it was one of those moments where you’re going, “Well, it SOUNDS like ‘All Shook Down’ but I’m pretty sure I am wrong and I am not remembering correctly.” But yes, it was “All Shook Down,” without intro or preface and I wish they would do more of that. There is no end of material in the catalog that would work and that Paul would still feel comfortable singing.

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(This is where I will voice my slight disappointment that given the band’s abilities and obvious expertise that there couldn’t be a little more variation in the setlists. I get the construction of a festival setlist for a festival slot, but I was hoping after the expansion of the St. Paul setlist that New York would get a little more variation. Minehan and Freese could learn anything and improvise on the spot, and Tommy could fake it if he didn’t know it [which I would imagine is the prime skill one needs to be a member of Guns N Roses].)

Tommy kept trying to tell us the rest of the story about the train and his nose, but Paul keeps cutting him off.

”So, like I was saying…”
*GUITAR CHORD*
“Okay, okay!”

Tommy then advocates for whatever it was that they soundchecked and Paul waves it off again, asking us if we want to hear “Swingin’ Party” or– but NEVER TELLS US WHAT OUR OTHER OPTION IS, knowing full well that the crowd will cheer loudly for “Swingin’ Party.”

A roadie ran out and whispered something into Tommy’s ear and he nods, and mentions that the clock is ticking and they’re going to pull the plug in 10 minutes. The crowd boos loudly. “Hey, I don’t make the rules!” Tommy says. “Neither did Jimi Hendrix or Bob Dylan!”

Now, I know that the Replacements back in the day would have dared them to pull the plug, and I was actually kind of interested to see if they would respect the curfew or say fuck it and keep playing. Although I have been at a large concert event when the plug was pulled and know how that turned out, I was willing to respect either decision.

So they made the best of their time, Paul thanking the crowd after “Love You In The Fall” like it was the end of the set, but wasting no time of crashing into the parade of hits. The audience was so loud during “Can’t Hardly Wait,” they had to hear us in Brooklyn; it was one of the loudest and most intense singalongs I have ever been part of, and Paul, Tommy and Dave kept stepping to the front of the stage to hear more of it, nodding and smiling and looking proud, and wistful too. It was like the goddamn alternative rock national anthem was being sung at that moment, and it was that reminder of how long you have been singing that song and how great that song is, and how important it was, and is, and will always be.

Everyone had a fist in the air for “Bastards of Young,” even the people up in the stands (who were on their feet for most of the evening, at least from what I could see, even up at the top) and it was triumphant and raucous and full of joy and energy and remembrance. “White and Lazy” kept that going, straight back into “Left of the Dial.” That was the one that got me last week, and Paul Westerberg is a very smart man. I might wish for more variety in the setlist, but he has put together a sequence that is so powerful emotionally I get that he doesn’t want to tinker with it all that much.

“Left of the Dial” channels waves and waves of energy, building and building and building, and Paul feels it too, he rushes back to his amp at the intro to turn it up more, throw some more fuel onto the fire.

Just that moment of standing there at the end, listening or singing or crying (or all of the above):

“And if I don’t see you
For a long, long while
I’ll try to find you
Left of the dial…”

I pound my fist to my heart in tribute and respect and reminiscence.

Everyone knows what has to be next and one more time, “Alex Chilton,” one more time, everyone laughing and crying and cheering and jumping up and down. It has been so long since you heard it live, since you got to sing it next to other people who love this song as much as you do. Even if you never stopped listening to the Replacements, or caring about this music, what was missing was being in the same place with other people who felt the same way about it as you did. The audience tonight was filled with people I know or am on nodding acquaintance with from seeing them at other shows by other bands, and it’s not accidental or surprising that they all converged here tonight.

I was talking to friends and did not notice that he came back with the 12-string electric for “Unsatisfied.” I do not think that I will ever top seeing this one front row center, and it was not in my notes, because there is nothing you can write or say about this one. I am mostly glad that the friends with me, who didn’t get this in Boston, their only other Replacements outing, are getting it tonight. It wasn’t on the setlist, like it wasn’t last week, and it is an obvious reward for a crowd that deserved it.

And then it is over, and they are running off, except Paul comes back, and waves, and starts throwing things into the crowd, wristbands and I think maybe a capo? He didn’t want to leave, and didn’t want to stop. Tonight it seemed like Paul Westerberg was finally ready to accept the musical legacy he has created, and was willing to visibly enjoy it. And all I can say is, about fucking time.

The only question I have is: What’s next, Paul? What’s next?

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Saying Goodbye to Uncle Lou

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Bottom Line, 1983. My first Lou show. Photo by me.

Back in the early 80s, I was lost in the back alleys of Amsterdam on a dark, foggy night. I opened the door to a bar, just to find my bearings and take a break. The interior was dark and smoky and I wasn’t sure if this was a good idea or not. Then, the jukebox kicked into “Vicious” and I relaxed, knowing without a doubt that this place would be just fine.

Variations on this scene have been repeated in Germany and Boston, Tel Aviv and Atlanta, and of course, right here in New York fuckin’ City. Lou Reed on the jukebox says, we are different here. Lou Reed on the jukebox says, different is okay here. Lou Reed on the jukebox says ‘home’.

Lou is tied into my life in so many ways I can’t begin to unravel the thread to find its origin, although I spent the better part of the afternoon trying to run it down. I blame Rock Scene and FM radio and CREEM and Lester’s ongoing battle and even Rolling Stone for dragging me into his work. I would hear things, I would read things, and I would go and track them down to try to find out more. I would buy records just to see how they sounded. I would find books just to see if I could understand them. I would go look at art to see how it felt.

Lou connected me to the Velvets and the Velvets connected me to Andy Warhol and that connected me to SO MANY THINGS. People all over the world today were quoting “Walk On The Wild Side” as it was the only song they knew and I imagine that very few of them experienced that song the way I did, as this gateway into everything Warholian. I wanted to know everything about the song. I wanted to understand it. This was an immensely powerful thing to a highly impressionable 13 year old kid. His music opened this enormous doorway to art and literature and life and the enormous, ever lovin’ greater outside world. Once I got there there were people who could and did help me, but I never would have gotten to that place otherwise.

Lou took me to Burroughs and Delmore Schwartz and Ginsberg and made me re-read Walt Whitman and got me to the New York poets at about the same time Patti did. These people got me to poetry readings, to buy or borrow or check out books of poetry out of the library. (And God love the librarians who paid attention to what I checked out and made knowing suggestions.) Even if I didn’t like it, I was exposed to so much art and opinion and artistry that I was full to overflowing at how much there was to watch and read and experience and think about. It emboldened me. It gave me an anchor to hold onto, a grounded conviction that the world was so much bigger and worth waiting for that made it easier to survive the list of typical and non-typical high school torment (getting shoved into the lockers: standard; getting pushed out of a moving school bus, kind of out of the ordinary). It might sound odd that something so dark and visceral and other could be such a lifeline to someone who had more privilege than most who underwent similar tortures, but it was. Every time I ventured in and listened to another song or found another record, the glowing bubble of hope that was fed by all of this art would blossom even bigger and brighter than it did the last time.

I think it is hard to explain what it was like to listen to things that no one else listened to, in the days before the internet. If there were five people in my high school of 2,000 who even knew who the Velvet Underground were, that would seem like an awful lot. (I am being generous here. I know of two, guess at a third based on running into him a year after graduation, and am adding two because there had to be a couple others. It wasn’t like we were getting together on this subject, in fact, quite the opposite.) If people did know anything about Lou Reed, it generally revolved around him being described using a pejorative slang term that begins with F and ends with T. (The drugs didn’t even figure into it; Keith Richards did heroin, so that wouldn’t stick.) If you were a guy who liked Lou, there was guilt by association; if you were a girl, it was even worse. But that first Velvets album held the keys to the motherfucking kingdom, and that was everything. (It still does, if you need or want it badly enough.)

I wanted a leather jacket because of Lou. I painted my fingernails black because of Lou. I tried rocking Ray-ban aviators because of Lou. (I just look stupid.) I can’t say that I moved to New York City because of Lou; my family lived 40 minutes away by train and there was, quite honestly, nowhere else I could have possibly gone after my teenage years were spent immersed in everything I had immersed myself in. Once I got here, though, Lou did, however, make me feel like I knew my way around the joint, if that makes sense. Whether it was real, imagined, or some combination of youthful arrogance and just plain wanting to belong more than anything else, it didn’t matter; for all intents and purposes, “Lou sent me” was my calling card.

The darkness on these records was an air valve on a pressure cooker. They gave me an outlet and a name to my own fledgling darkness, the nameless fog I tried to keep under wraps. The music helped me navigate its depths without getting sucked into it or pulled under. The songs offered explanations, it offered comfort–they were always there to go back to. Lou showed me how to find the beauty in the dark. He showed me how to get through to the other side, or at least that there was an other side. He showed me that there was a way to live with it. The fact that we are saying goodbye to him at 71 and not at 31 is proof of all of this. May his journey thrive.

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==

I also wrote about Lou for Billboard.com.

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Memories of Bleecker Bob’s

Bleecker Bob’s closed today, and like the end of CBGB’s, I find myself lamenting the end of a place I hadn’t been to in years. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t need or want the Village to be turned into more of an NYU-blanded mall than it already is, and I genuinely miss the days that I could wander the streets and find odd mom and pop shops who carried interesting things.

But I always had a conflicted relationship with Bleecker Bob’s. An older music-loving friend introduced me to the existence of Bob’s, and showed me ‘the circuit’ of record hunting in the Village. But I never had a positive experience in Bob’s. There were absolutely times that he was the only one that had what I needed and yet I would almost always get sneered at when purchasing. I mean, I get it, and I am one of the biggest musical snobs I know, but I’m not doing that to someone who is PAYING ME MONEY.

I don’t remember the Bleecker Street location; my acquaintance began with the McDougal Street store, when it was next to the Capezio store. I would come there to buy bootlegs. I would go there to buy copies of the NME and Sounds and Melody Maker. When I was a junior and senior in high school I would tell my mom I was going to the theater or the museum or something (and most of the time I was actually doing that, just later) and get there a little before 10am, waiting on line for the gate to open so I could buy the UK singles that were just out that week. Bob used to pay someone to courier them back every week. That was an amazing thing. That was the equivalent to a leaked prerelease torrent. People would be fiercely jealous of my ability to take a train and walk a few blocks and get this music.

But I never liked going there. I can remember taking out-of-town friends there who wanted to buy a copy of “My Generation” on Brunswick and I knew Bob had it for $75. He wouldn’t take the fucking thing off the wall for them to look at until they had taken the money out of their pocket and showed it to him. I mean, I get it, you don’t want to take an expensive single off the wall and show it to looky-lous and maybe he’d had too many that day, but your average Joe or Josephine doesn’t walk in off the street asking for that particular item.

He had the first real copy of “Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby…” with the picture sleeve and I was delighted when I found it at a record fair (RIP Rockages if you want to get all RIP about things music-related) and didn’t have to pay Bob. He had Piece de Resistance for $125 and I would stand there and stare at it and calculate numbers in my head. I certainly didn’t have the ovaries to try to bargain with him. (I eventually got it at one of those 8th Street stores that were upstairs for $75, which was STILL a lot of goddamn money).

I remember going to see the Decline and Fall of Western Civilization at the 8th Street Playhouse and Bob appeared on the screen in an interview and the entire place exploded in BOOOOS. In that context I understand the badge of honor element but seriously, it is no wonder that I spent most of my money at record fairs and that place downstairs on Cornelia Street or Bleecker St. Records.

I support his right to be the crabby old record guy and hire other crabby old record guys and a lot of people liked the ritual of him being so obnoxious, and would just laugh at him. I don’t like the store going away because it was just there, this place I would walk by and flip the bird to whenever I walked by. But I would go in and buy a magazine and check the stacks and then I’d get a slice at that pizza place on the corner (it wasn’t bad) or some felafel from Mamoun’s and go sit in Washington Square Park and read my magazine or look at my purchases and eat and enjoy the air and the scene, just digging the fact that I was hanging out in Greenwich Village. I miss that too, but I’m not 18 or 22 or, hell, 32 anymore either.

Vaya con dios.

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A (Re)view From The Cheap Seats at 12-12-12: The Concert for Sandy Relief

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I am generally not a fan of festivals, mega-concerts, or gimmicky guest appearances. I try to stay away from these things. However, the 12-12-12 Concert for Sandy Relief was a confluence of too many artists I cared about for me to avoid it, and we were lucky with tickets.

My $150 “obstructed view” tickets were side-stage, just past the video screen. Two seats away and across the aisle, the $250 section started. This was a pricey gig. Obstructed meant obstructed by the side video screen, and even that wasn’t too bad; artists who put their mic at the front of the stage (like Springsteen, the Stones, and the Who) were visible enough; those who needed some distance between themselves and the audience (Roger Waters, Bon Jovi) were tough to see. Luckily most of the artists I cared about were in the former category. The video screens at the front of our section, usually used for hockey or other sporting events, worked but were mostly blocked by people standing up for the show. I think that given the ticket price, the event producers could have placed two smaller video screens facing the obstructed view sections.

Walking into the Garden was fun; there was an air of genuine excitement and anticipation. I appreciated that the entrance process (at least at 6:30) was brisk and uneventful. (It is funny to me that an event of this scope in this city at this storied venue could go so smoothly, while recent concerts I attended in Kansas City and Phoenix required the audience to enter through metal detectors. If this wasn’t a target, neither is a Bruce Springsteen show on a random Thursday.) Going up the escalators to the seating area, a time honored MSG ritual, you saw a wide representation of band shirts, mostly focusing on Stones, Springsteen and Beatles.

From 7pm onward, there were constant reminders announced over the PA: “Please take your seats, the show will begin promptly at 7:30pm.” These increased from every 10 minutes to every 5 minutes to every 2 minutes, until the lights went down and we heard the countdown, the audience joining in for the “5-4-3-2-1” and then the explosion of applause as the lights came up and Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band walked onstage.

“Land of Hope and Dreams” was a little choppy to the trainspotter (*raises hand*) as the band distilled it from its usual length, but still retained majesty and power and was the absolute right choice to open the show. I expected “We Take Care Of Our Own” but thought Bruce would skip “Wrecking Ball”. Once he started playing it I understood why, but feel like the audience would have connected better with something more familiar. (The original leaked setlist had “Born To Run” as the opening song, and although I appreciated the thematic connection by using “Land of Hope And Dreams” instead, I wish he had gone with the big guns up front. This is just me being dismayed that other acts on the bill got bigger responses than Bruce did.)

The introduction of “My City of Ruins” was absolutely masterful. It was important, powerful, genuine, and a little subversive, as it spoke to the many first responders in the crowd, while in front of an audience of very monied contributors. The “Jersey Girl” tag was a fine way to incorporate history and a crowd favorite and be even more on topic, and I think a better call than performing the entire song for this crowd.

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I’m not sure Bon Jovi was necessary or added anything to “Born To Run.” However, I was glad it was “Born To Run” instead of “Jersey Girl,” which was the original plan. I am also not sure anything was served by having Bruce come out later for “You Can’t Go Home.” I don’t think that either contribution was that interesting or added anything to the performance. Born To Run does not work well as a duet; I realize that the JBJ song Bruce guested on is, but I don’t think it’s that interesting of a song choice, to be honest. (I would have rather seen Bruce come out for “Dead or Alive,” which is when we saw him walk out backstage. One advantage to our obstructed view seats is that we had a completely unobstructed view to all of the setup proceedings. Major hat tip to the stage crew, they worked hard.)

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“Born To Run” at Madison Square Garden is one of the most amazing moments of Rock and Roll, ever. “Born To Run” at any Bruce Springsteen concerts is one of my favorite things to watch. I have video clips of it from venues all over the world because it is this amazing, communal, transformative moment of unity and energy and of standing there singing one of the best songs ever written with 20k other people. “Born To Run” last night was not any of those things, and I don’t understand; who doesn’t know the words to “Born To Run”? Even if you only buy music because someone told you to buy it or fill up your iTunes library with stuff you read about you would know about “Born To Run,” right? And the rich donors downstairs who were the ones sitting on their hands are all old enough to grow up with it. In that moment, my only thought was: I understand why Bruce spends so much time in Europe. (This was amplified later when I watched the polar reaction to anything Bon Jovi did, which to me just sounds empty and poppy and sugary sweet. But then again it always has. I appreciate his politics and his charity work but sorry, dude, not my thing.)

Of course no mega concert bill will be perfect, and this one had a combination of all-time favorites as well as artists I respect but have no feelings about (Roger Waters, Alicia Keys, Billy Joel) and other artists I dislike on varying levels (Bon Jovi, Chris Martin). Roger Waters’ set could have been fine, but the song selection completely halted the momentum and energy of the show. I did appreciate that Waters wandered the stage from end to end, waving at the cheap seats all the way up in the rafters.

Eddie Vedder’s sole appearance in the night — despite a billing on the level with Chris Martin and Dave Grohl — was to join Waters for “Comfortably Numb.” Now, Roger Waters has another singer who has long hair and, if it was late at night, rainy, had lost your glasses and were hard of hearing, you might confuse this individual with Eddie Vedder (as many people tweeting from the show did, including journalists who should have known better). However, once Vedder walked out onstage and opened his mouth, all doubts were removed. He was in fine voice and did a great job on the song.

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You send Adam Sandler out to occupy the crowd during Chanukah in New York City and he does not perform “The Chanukah Song?” and insteads performs a terrible perversion of ‘Halleujah” (which I think should no longer be performed by anyone who is not Leonard Cohen or Jeff Buckley anyway). Like, I am not one of those people who stands there and yells at anyone to play their hit, but when you are at a charity concert trying to raise money, that is what you do: you play your hit.

I did not expect to have any feelings about Eric Clapton, who I respect but generally find boring. I did not find him boring tonight; I think it was playing with a trio which forced him to be energetic and dynamic and emotive. If I’d never seen Eric Clapton before, this was the Eric Clapton I would have wanted to see, instead of an all-Unplugged/”Tears In Heaven” Clapton-Lite.

This was also an appropriate precursor for the next act, as Jimmy Fallon introduced (and we shouted along with him), “Ladies and gentlemen, the Rolling Stones!”

The Rolling Stones.

I have so many feelings about the Stones. I have such a complex relationship with the Stones. It is love and hate and conflict and as I get older it does not get simpler; for example, I can’t even listen to “Brown Sugar” any more (but absolutely do not judge anyone who can; I wish I could). The last time I saw the Stones was the “No Security” tourthe Wiltern in 2002; after that, it just became so expensive and impossible to game the system and I just couldn’t justify the money, especially with all the reports from people whose opinion I trust that Keith was not himself after that “fall from a coconut tree” and Ronnie’s sobriety was questionable at best. I didn’t have the money to invest in pursuing them, and I was not sitting in the rafters with people there to just say they saw the Rolling Stones.

Like I said, it is complicated.

But last night it was just a flash and bright lights and magic and Keith and Ronnie and Charlie and Mick, and Bernard, and Chuck Leavell blocked by the large screen. I had to switch places with the SO to see Charlie better, and this was not a case where I would demur or say that I was fine; I have to see Charlie. He is the rock; he is the fulcrum.

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I hate “You Got Me Rocking” and do not see, MICK, how that song choice was going to encourage anyone to purchase the pay-per-view (the reason they were limited to two songs). I said on Twitter that YMGR is the Stones’ version of “You Better, You Bet” in that it’s a song that the band rates higher than the audience does and thinks we like it more than we actually do. It was also anticlimactic. You’re the fucking ROLLING STONES. Come out, play “Satisfaction” and “Jumping Jack Flash,” drop the mic, leave us gasping for more. YGMR was a just a let-down, once I got over the initial euphoria of seeing them again.

But then it was “Jumping Jack Flash,” and come home, all is forgiven. It was loud and and familiar and beautiful to hear, standing in this building, with the ghosts and the memories. Unlike the Who, who seemed strong and solid, the Stones seemed fragile, breakable, not entirely held together tightly enough. They are old. They have lived. They have been through a lot. I defend their right to play on a stage as long as anyone is willing to give them money (and even after that, as far as I’m concerned). I just knew at that moment that I was fine with this being au revoir, at least for now.

Alicia Keys was fine, a breather, a strong performer, the only female headliner or major performer in the lineup. (I do not count Lisa Fisher or Patti Scialfa, sorry.) She is talented. She is from New York. She did not pay the Yankee National Anthem (aka “Empire State of Mind”) at this time (although it was on the list), and I was grateful.

I don’t remember the introduction to the Who. I just knew it was coming. If I have a complicated relationship with the Stones, that is nothing compared to my emotions around Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend’s current live performing ensemble. It is complicated. Again, I support their right to perform onstage whenever they want. I am just not sure I always believe it and unlike the Stones, if Townshend and Daltrey are not believing, what is on that stage is flat and lifeless. Luckily they know this too and generally only go out if they are feeling it. But this time around, i worry about Roger’s voice, and last night showed me that — adjustments to arrangements notwithstanding — I had good cause to be concerned.

The last time I saw Pete and Roger onstage was 7-6-2002, not very long at all after we lost John. I wasn’t going to that show, even, because of ticket prices (the lawn at the Gorge was $86!) but then John decided to depart this planet and a horde of Who fans in Seattle decided I needed to go, and I ended up in the fifth row and getting a piece of Roger’s tambourine at the end of the night. I have not gone since; I have not felt the need to. I had a great run.

I sang along to “Who Are You” and wondered how many people know the story behind the song. I sing along with absolute precision to “Bellboy” — a curious choice for a Quadrophenia number when the entire album is rehearsed and you have the horns there; no “Real Me”? No “5:15”? — and was lost in my teenage remembrances of hearing this record for the first time, of discovering this story, until I stopped to think, “Oh, wait, there’s the Keith bit in this song, who’s going to do–” and my reverie is interrupted by Hologram Keith Moon on the big screen, Roger facing him, as a backing tape brings Moonie into MSG. This was disturbing, and jarring, and even more upsetting as Roger seemed to interact with the screen, waving goodbye to him at the end.

The kids behind me jumped up and down and up and down as Pete started “Pinball WIzard” and I was glad that all was not lost, that, despite no one seeming to care about “Born To Run,” that “Pinball Wizard” got the respect it is due. I had just settled in to enjoying that, when I realized what was next, and “Listening To You” was overwhelming. It was always overwhelming, but this was homecoming, this was ancient times, this was love and time and, you know, so much, everything you know, everything you remember.

“Love, Reign O’er Me” was a heartbreak moment, can Roger sing it, can he do it, there was a collective, audible sigh of relief from the audience after he got through the first verse. And it was fine, it was fair enough, good enough, but sad, for a man that didn’t smoke and took care of his voice and was by far not the biggest drug user of the 60s, I wish he still had more of it. But this is a demanding piece and Quadrophenia is vocally demanding and emotionally demanding and musically demanding and while I admire wanting to tackle it again I wonder if it was necessary. But he got through it, and we applauded gently, and with feeling.

And then “Baba” to end it, everyone should have the chance to sing “Teenage wasteland, it’s only teenage wasteland” in a crowd of 20,000 people at Madison Square Garden, everyone who cares about rock and roll should anyway. It is a thing you should do. It is a thing you should see. It is a thing you should feel.

“Tea & Theater” was at the end, no musicians, just Pete and Roger, stripped down. I questioned this move, wanting something like “Bargain” or “Join Together” or one of the great Who songs about the audience, one of those anthemic, slightly obscure, unifying songs. But “Tea & Theater” actually did that, because it was for the people who genuinely cared about Pete and Roger, and it was genuine and raw and at the end, Pete shouted for everyone to go get a fucking beer.

Which most people did, or tried to do; it was time to run out and get a drink and take a breath and try to find a snack (it was a very long night; they were sold out of hot pretzels everywhere at this point). I was willing to sacrifice missing some of Kanye for all of this but we got back to our seats just as he was starting. Kanye had massive sound problems, and was the first act for whom I needed to use my earplugs.

I do not dislike Kanye West. I own records by Kanye West. Kanye had the thankless task of performing in the middle of a lineup he didn’t fit in, in front of an audience that didn’t care that he was there. And frankly, he brought it. He worked his ass off. He sang to the entire crowd, he worked the peanut gallery, he paid attention to the cheap seats. He donated his time to this charity, and he was paid back by the prime floor seats vacating, leaving the front section very empty. Now, truth be told, those people might have left after the Stones and the Who no matter who was next. But I was insulted on Kanye’s behalf.

The people who did stay did their best to dance and be into it (even Chris Christie was paying attention!) but I disliked the general rockist antipathy against Kanye because he was the only rap artist in the lineup. I mean, I hate Chris Martin and Coldplay, but I can sit down and read my email while he’s onstage and can also say, I don’t like his music at all, but he showed up in a suit and prepared and seemed sincere (and the Stipe thing was mega cool, but more on that later). It was ridiculous to watch the reaction of people to the skirt — people who probably own more than a couple of David Bowie or KISS records — and then people overreacting to the abbreviated “Golddigger,” when they didn’t have any problem with Roger Waters not changing the “do goody-good bullshit” lyrics to “Money” earlier in the show.

The mic drop to end the set was classic.

(Not surpassingly, it was a very, very white crowd last night. I was pleased to see that my section had a reasonable diversity of age and sex; there were young kids and people with grey hair and families and teenagers. I was also pleased to see that interests were wide-ranging; the African-American girl who danced to Kanye was wearing a Stones shirt; the teenagers behind us were excited and up and bopping around to everything; the 30-something women in front of me were most excited by the Who; the business-looking dude on the aisle perked up when I noted Charlie Watts’ drum kit being wheeled into position backstage: “That’s Charlie’s kit, right?”; the group of middle-aged folks down the row sneaking cigarettes all night (grr) cared about BIlly Joel and Pink Floyd. People got up or sat down depending on the artist or the song, and aside from some initial grumbles, it was very much live and let live up in the cheap seats. This was a surprising relief, as I have known plenty of people who have had stuff thrown at them for standing up during concerts.)

I realized I have not talked about any of the videos or special guests from the various hurricane Sandy areas. In our position in the obstructed view seats, it was tough to see the video. I appreciated the recognition but also felt like there was a little too much promo for Robin Hood; there were a lot of people doing good after the hurricane, all over this city, churches and council people and community boards and other organizations, like Occupy Sandy. As a New Yorker, that part did irk me, more and more as the night went on.

After Kanye’s set was about the time I started to feel a little burnt out, a little, “Wait, what time is it and who else is left?” It was a good time to sit down and have a snack (thank you, Kind bar thrown into my purse) and wait for Billy Joel.

I was trying to explain how I felt about Billy Joel, which is that I don’t hate him but he’s never been my thing (although I hated some of the songs at the time they came out, because they were everywhere, all the time, and because, as Will Hermes pointed out on Twitter, back in the day, you chose Bruce or Billy, not both.) But there’s always been something I’ve liked at Billy Joel, the songwriting, the large band, the saxophone player, the very New York attitude, the lack of pretense. He was in great shape, and it was great to see him in great shape. And I know every word to every song whether I want to or not.

I was rolling my eyes at Chris Martin and managed to safely ignore “Viva La Vida” but then the SO says, “Hey, it’s the garden gnome,” which is our code for Michael Stipe (he wears this hat in the winter that makes him look like a garden gnome, and used to show up to the Patti Smith December shows with it all the time) and this may have leaked on been rumored (it’s so hard for me to remember right now), but Michael Stipe singing “Losing My Religion” in front of all these people again was a beautiful, wonderful, fun thing.

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(12-12-12 was the most-leaked major concert event I have ever seen. There were leaks of information as soon as they started rehearsing, and you didn’t have to look very hard. I was offered information on an off-the-record basis Wednesday morning and as soon as that email arrived, another one did with the same information, without any type of embargo. I had the entire lineup card not long before I walked in the building. Usually I like surprises (I was very, very glad I had avoided all of the spoilers for the ROck & Roll Hall of Fame 25th Anniversary concerts) but tonight I was just glad I knew when I had enough time to run to the bathroom before the Stones.)

And now, you know, the Beatle. The last time I saw Paul McCartney it was from the front row in Hyde Park, in the mud and the rain. Now I am seeing him with his band and they are razor-sharp and tight as hell and support him so very very well. The first few minutes of “Helter Skelter” I was all, “If we all just got pranked by the UK press I am going to be pissed,” but then I was just glad to hear “Helter Skelter” being sung by a Beatle.

I was a fan of Wings so quite enjoyed the unexpected “Let Me Roll It” and “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five” appearances. I could question the wisdom of those selections after midnight, but at least they were songs a percentage of the people in that building and watching wanted to hear, and not the next song, a forgettable love song written for the current Mrs. McCartney, performed by DIana Krall.

(PAUL. IF YOU WANT TO PERFORM A LOVE SONG ON PIANO, TRY ‘MAYBE I’M AMAZED.’)

But “Blackbird” was perfect and special and everyone sang or sort of held their breath that they were in this moment, this beautiful perfect moment that went back to the first time they put the needle into side two of the White Album and it crackled into this track, and we all remembered.

We had seen Novoselic wandering around backstage earlier (he is the world’s tallest man; he is easy for someone who lived in Seattle for 10 years to identify even from the cheap seats) and then later the SO spotted Grohl, so we had a matched set. And then I heard Paul effing McCartney say the words, “Pat Smear,” and world collided, tectonic plates shifted, and we entered the bizarro world. Not because of sacred cows or any kind of punk cred, but because who would have ever thought this, ever envisioned this. I never got to see Nirvana; I was living overseas at the time, and despite thwarted attempts to go to Rome or go to Reading, I just thought, “I’ll see them when I move back to the States,” and then Kurt shuffled off this mortal coil about two months later once I did.

It was weird. And good. And weird. And interesting. And, as was noted by someone else, more Plastic Ono Band than Wings [disclaimer: I work there], but that was okay, too. So it was random. So it was unprecedented. If they had been able to pull it off without fifty million leaks it would have blown everyone’s minds.

“I’ve Got A Feeling” was, largely, unnecessary (even though I kind of like the song, or liked the vocals and guitar on the bridge), and hell, I love love love “Live And Let Die.” However, the last thing in the world I expected was full out, 80’s-heavy-metal stadium-quality pyro to explode full throttle on that stage at 1 o’clock in the morning. It was crazy. It was wonderful. It made me worry about the musicians and the photographers and the audience and the large group of firefighters and first responders amassed backstage for the encore.

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That group of civilians was the definitive sign that we weren’t going to get any kind of grand jam finale (as well as the utter dearth of additional equipment), and it was actually okay that we weren’t getting some half-hearted shuffle through a Beatles song. But, when Alicia Keys walked out and sat down, I realized what it was going to be, and steeled myself to either leave, or just grin and bear it. But you know what? Without Jay-Z rapping about the Yankees, it’s a lovely, lovely song. And I am sorry, Alicia, that we could not sing it with you or back to you or even manage a respectably loud enough “NEW YORK” response at 1:17 in the morning, because you deserved it, you really did. But I walked out of the Garden singing it, hummed it as I grabbed a taxi back to Brooklyn on 34th Street, and am kind of glad that the demons have been exorcised from it, at least for now.

It was long, maybe too long, and disjointed and crazy and wonderful and amazing, truly amazing that this lineup could be thrown together so quickly, that there was very little filler, that it ran as well as it probably could run, that it was not a total debacle, that it made money and will help people. It is the kind of thing that makes me glad I live in this city, it is a night that you hold close to you when the rest of the bullshit gets to be too much. It is a something that I will always remember and we don’t get that many of those.

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The Springsteen Guide to New York City

Based on questions I have answered over the years, I decided to put together this list of important Springsteen-related sites in New York City. You could do this in a couple of hours. You also don’t have to do all of them. These are the top highlights I can think of as well as things I have been asked about over the years.

GETTING AROUND:

Walk. Don’t take taxis. Walk or take the subway. There is no better way to understand New York City than to walk the streets.

PLACES BRUCE HAS PLAYED:

Listed in approximate North to South order.

125th St.]

Apollo Theater: 253 W. 125th Street. offers tours by appointment. If you go, be sure to see Bruce’s signature on the backstage wall. Go stand in the dressing rooms and get goosebumps when you think about everyone who ever stood there.

And one more special signature from backstage at the Apollo. #springsteen

Beacon Theater: 2124 Broadway.

Saturday Night Live / Studio 8H as well as Late Night with Jimmy Fallon / Studio 6B: 30 Rockefeller Plaza, which is between 48th & 49th Street between 5th & 6th Avenue. There are studio tours and sometimes it’s easy to get tickets to Fallon by just showing up. I enter the SNL lottery every year and never win.

Madison Square Garden: the entire block between 7th & 8th Avenues between 32nd & 33rd Street. They offered tours in the past but have stopped due to current construction. You can’t see the arena from 7th Avenue, walk around the whole block to get a sense of things.

Max’s Kansas City: 213 Park Ave South: It’s now a residential building with a commercial space on the ground floor. There used to be some photos of the outside of Max’s in the vestibule of the building but the last time I walked by they were gone.

213 Park Avenue South

The Palladium: South side of 14th St between Irving Place & Third Ave. Now a NYU dorm called “Palladium Dormitories.” Nothing left of one of the best theaters for rock and roll that I’ve ever seen. The cover of the Clash’s London Calling was taken at a show at the Palladium.

Cafe Wha? : 115 MacDougal St. Still a working club.

Kenny’s Castaways: 157 Bleecker St. Still a working club, but closing September 30th.

Gerdes’ Folk City: 130 W. 3rd Street, now closed.

The Bottom Line: NW Corner of 4th & Mercer – now NYU property. Nothing to see. [If you’re a Dylan fan, this was originally the site of Folk City, which is where the song title for “Positively 4th Street” came from.]

Tramps: I get asked where this is more than pretty much anything else. I don’t understand why given that all that ever happened was that there was one video shoot there. It was on 21st St. between 5th and 6th Avenue and the club is gone, nothing to see. Also on the “pretty much irrelevant but I get asked about it” list are the plaza near the Planetarium and the Museum of Natural History (Central Park West at 81st Street)

RECORDING STUDIOS:

Record Plant – gone, nothing to see.

Hit Factory – now apartments called The Hit Factory condos. Not much to see.

CBS Records: 51 W. 52nd St. (corner of 6th Avenue).

STREETS IN SPRINGSTEEN SONGS:

If you don’t already know, most of Manhattan is a grid. So you can just pull out a map if you need to visit 82nd St., 57th Street or Broadway. Bleecker St. is the only off-grid street, but if you’re headed down to Greenwich Village you’ll find it easily.

OTHER RANDOM ROCK AND ROLL HISTORY THINGS WORTH SEEING WHILE YOU’RE WALKING AROUND:

Untitled

The Ed Sullivan Theater: Broadway between 53rd & 54th St. Famous for the Beatles debut, famous for Ed Sullivan, famous now for David Letterman’s show. You can apply for tickets in advance, but they also do hand out a lot of tickets the day of the show. More information here.

The Brill Building: 1619 Broadway between 49th & 50th. It’s still there with a wonderful facade and lobby. (Also see Colony Records, an example of old NYC and old Times Square, in the same building on the corner of 49th Street, before it closes later this month.)

Fillmore East: 105 Second Ave. It’s a bank now, nothing to see.

Joey Ramone Place: the corner of 2nd and Bowery. The street sign is the most stolen one in New York City so it’s all the way up at the top of the pole. If you have a meal at Peel’s on the corner (recommended), ask to sit upstairs and you’ll have a good view of the sign. They have a Joey Ramone cocktail, too.

Former home of CBGB at 315 Bowery: I have nothing good to say about the clothing store occupying the former location of CBGB’s and have to walk on the other side of the street because otherwise I make rude gestures at it.

Chelsea Hotel: 222 W. 23rd St. The list of musicians and artists who have lived at this address is endless. Go see it now before they ruin it forever.

Physical Graffiti building: 96-98 St. Marks Place.

==
Have a great time. Don’t walk five people across, don’t stop suddenly while walking down the sidewalk, and you don’t ask cab drivers if they’ll take you somewhere, you get in and tell them where you are going.

Note: This isn’t meant to be “A Guide To Every Place Bruce Springsteen Took A Photo In New York City”.  Everyone will have that one photo they want to find the location of or try to recreate (for example, I tried to find the store in “Blood Brothers” numerous times, but it’s obviously long gone.).  But I couldn’t possibly track all of them. There are many other great web sites that talk about the rock and roll history of New York City and I hope you use them, too.

p.s. 10th Avenue is NOT the NYC one!

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For Adam Yauch. I am so tired of writing these.

This is obnoxious and obscene and don’t let your kids listen to it. Or if you’re a kid listening to it, just don’t tell your parents.

This was their first single. I heard it on WNYU, which is where I first heard of the Beastie Boys. I may or may not have seen them play as a hardcore band, back in the 80s I once tried to figure it out but never could. I do know that I took my life into my hands going out to the Capitol Theater in Passaic to see them, back when they had the go-go dancers in the cages, and scalped tickets in front of the Garden when they opened for Madonna on the Like A Virgin tour. (Really, I wanted to see Madonna, but the Beasties just made it more interesting.)

Somehow I found myself in the middle of the crowd at Lollapalooza 96 in the middle of their set, very close to the front, and if you have ever been there you know what that was like: it was insane. Jumping, singing, arm waving, very very male. I gave up my front row seat at the 98 Tibetan Freedom Concert to my friend Kathy, who was wearing her Beastie Boys socks that day, because she deserved it more than I did.

The genius of making a record by prank calling Carvel and asking to talk to Cookie Puss will only make sense to a certain generation, and that generation of people is right now walking around their offices with red eyes and remembering the first time they heard a bunch of white Jewish kids rapping. They were our age. Everyone I knew knew someone who knew them. Everyone I knew knew someone who dated them. Everyone I knew knew someone who smoked pot with them.

And then, they grew up at about the same time we did, at about the same time we started feeling uncomfortable with the lyrics, when we got to the point where we couldn’t have kept listening if they kept going in the same direction. They still managed to be bad ass and full of conviction. They taught a generation of kids who probably couldn’t have found Tibet on a map to care about something beyond their own front yards.

They were New York and they were ours and they still are right now. We’re just missing one. Fuck cancer. Fuck this shit.

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