Let’s get things straight: I am not a fan of Billy Joel. When I was growing up and his songs were everywhere on FM radio, you generally chose sides, and you couldn’t be Team Springsteen and Team Joel, not that I had any affinity towards the latter.
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.
Let’s be honest: I went to see Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers at Fenway Park last week because I’ve never seen anyone at Fenway, hadn’t seen Petty in forever, and the Venn diagram between bands that could play Fenway and bands I would schlep to Boston in order to see was rapidly shrinking. (I suppose Springsteen could always do it again in the future—the dates in the past have never worked out for me—but I wasn’t willing to take that chance.) I am glad I had the experience, although I would not go out of my way to see a show at Fenway again. This was because the extreme party atmosphere (which I realize for many is part of the reason they want to see a concert at Fenway) detracted from the show in a major way for me. But what’s significant is that even with all of that, the show ended up being more profound than I had anticipated.
When I walked out of the front door of CBGB’s on October 15, 2006, I physically didn’t look back. It was a very deliberate choice, a very specific intention, a very definite goodbye. When I walked down Bowery for the first time after the inception of the John Varvatos store in that space, I didn’t realize it was there and I saw it and I reacted instinctively, flashing two middle fingers as the only conceivable reaction. From then on I made sure to walk on the east side of the street and confine my gestures to something that wasn’t quite as confrontational as that first reaction.
I got nothing against the guy, personally; he pays a lot of my favorite artists to appear in his ads and it’s not his fault that Hilly Krystal was an awful businessman. But he’s turned my “sacred ground” (to steal a thought from Jesse Malin) into a store that sells $350 sneakers. I don’t care if he left the walls intact and some stickers in place, it’s a temple to the kind of capitalist fashionista bullshit that we were all fighting against to begin with, and I vowed I would never set foot inside the joint.
This was a promise I was successfully able to keep until last night, when Gaslight Anthem played a ‘secret’ invitation-only album release show in the space, and it was time to put up or shut up.
Back in the day, I used to have my circuit of Greenwich Village, the route I would take as a teenager to visit the various record stores. Each of them had their strengths and weaknesses, some had the bootleg records in the main section, others you had to ask behind the counter specifically, which I guess was to protect them from getting busted. Some would let you listen first, others wouldn’t, and it was at one of the latter that I picked up a bootleg that had “The Iceman” on it. It wasn’t labeled, had no cover art, and I took a big chance with my 15-year-old babysitting money when the guy behind the counter told me that it was amazing and that “any real Springsteen fan” had to have it. “Iceman” was on there, along with “Rendezvous” and “Taxi Cab” and in those pre-internet years, it was like owning some kind of Holy Grail. At some point, between moves and roommates the record got lost (or borrowed) and I’d forgotten all about it until Tracks came out and suddenly those long-lost songs were there again. It was like running into old friends you’d lost touch with.
So, when Bruce came out last night and out of absolutely nowhere–it wasn’t even in soundcheck spoiler reports–starts playing “The Iceman”–I was absolutely immersed into that sense of deja vu, taken back to the imaginary Springsteen concerts I’d attend in my teenage mind. It was spectacular, and immense, and pretty much perfect. The stage was dark, tiny pin spotlights on Bruce and Roy, hazy light on the singers and Charlie. It took a lot of guts to come out and hit a Saturday night crowd with a song 90% of them wouldn’t even know, especially one that required as much attention and tension as that one. There were deep breaths. There were quiet fist bumps. There were a lot of “Holy @#$%!” But mostly, it was just reveling in the magnificent performance of that particular song.
This was, quite simply, a fantastic show. The performance was tight but still full of life and energy. The band was in excellent spirits. And most importantly, the songs are not only ready to play live, they are so much better in person than they were on SNL or that 30-minute aftershow. I walked out thinking, “Wow, now I am excited for the album” as well as, “Wow, that TV special did not do them any favors.” The difference, at least to me, was night and day.
There has been excitement and there has been anxiety and there has been sheer fucking joy leading up to this first Replacements show since 1991. I walked through the gates of RiotFest and had a moment. I had another one when I purchased an official t-shirt. It was one of those I can’t believe this is actually happening but it is actually fucking happening moments that just well up and take your breath away.
I didn’t know what to expect when the boys finally walked out on that stage. Would I burst into tears? Would it fall flat? Did it possibly stand a chance of meeting my expectations?
The answer to the last question was a hearty FUCK YEAH, said with as much volume and emphasis as you can muster.
Concert Review: Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Estadio El Molinon, Gijon, Spain, 27 June 2013
Springsteen in Spain is hot and loud and smoky and bouncy and pretty much everything you know about from the Barcelona DVD. The fans started the queue on the Wednesday the week before the show, and by the time we arrived on Sunday night I was just happy to be under 200. (By comparison, I arrived at the Dublin queue at 4pm the day before the show and got number 163.)