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HAVE LOVE, WILL TRAVEL: Scandinavian Edition

Yeah, so, this was my view tonight in Turku

We literally spent weeks if not months researching airfare deals for this summer’s excursions. Scandinavia came together because of a new budget carrier called AirBerlin, which flies from JFK to an assortment of European destinations via–you guessed it–Berlin. This was all fine, except for the part where we left an hour late, so we landed an hour late. This was even fine, because we were automatically rebooked onto a SAS flight, and I was so placid about this issue that I walked to the connecting flight singing the opening riff to “Zoo Station” until my companion realized what I was doing and rolled his eyes so hard they almost fell out of his head.

It was, quite honestly, all fine until we landed in Stockholm… only to see the dreaded See baggage agent regarding delayed baggage sign on the baggage carousel. This left us standing in our first European queue of the trip along with a handful of other AirBerlin casualties, texting our friends in the GA line that we would probably not be queuing tonight, as well as frantically emailing our AirBnB host that we were running a little later than we expected.

It helped that the SAS baggage agent said, “This happens all the time, they’ll be on the next flight, we’ll have your bags by 9pm, you’ll have them in the morning.” But still, jet lagged and running on fumes is not the best state to be making your way through a new city to buy socks and a couple of t-shirts and some replacement toiletries, instead of the plan of dumping our bags at the flat we were renting and running up to Friends Arena. And it also collided with our Saturday queuing plans: while staying in someone’s flat certainly saved us tons of money and I love being in an actual neighborhood, it also meant that we had to wait around until the missing bags were delivered instead of just telling the delivery company to leave them with the bellman.

They sell Bruce-only magazines in Swedish at the grocery store

But, you know, we were in Sweden and we seeing Bruce Springsteen in Sweden. His photo was on all the newspapers, there were Springsteen magazines on sale next to the cash registers at the grocery stores. Everything you have heard about Sweden and Bruce is absolutely, 100% true, and it made me sad I had waited so long to come and see it for myself.

Your kind of love drives a man insane

Google Street View is such a godsend when planning travel to a new place. It doesn’t eliminate mistakes or take the entire sense of adventure out of traveling, but it does give you a leg up on finding your way around for the first time in a new place where you don’t speak the language. It also doesn’t help you figure out which of the many different train platforms is the place you want to go for the commuter rail, as opposed to the long-distance rail… and during rush hour on a Friday in Sweden you can’t just count on “follow the Springsteen shirts” either.

But we made it, and we made it to the show, and into the pit, and even ran into friends in the process. I started to run out of steam by the time we made it to “the Rising” but we stuck it out in the center through that, and then LOHAD, before moving out to the side where there was room to breathe for the end of the show. The people around us thought we were crazy during “Mountain of Love.”

See, the Friday show wasn’t in the original plan. The whole trip arose after the shows in Finland were announced. We figured out that we could see both Sweden and Finland in a week; we were going to leave on Friday night, see Stockholm 2, go to Finland, come back for Stockholm 3. But then I didn’t feel comfortable arriving on show day. I said, “Maybe we should leave on Thursday.” “Well, if we’re going to get there on Friday, we should just see the show Friday night, too.” “Wait, there’s a show Friday night?” Like I said, we hadn’t been watching this run of shows because it was at the start of the tour; it was only the small arena show that made us change our minds (and now, how glad we were that we did).

My favorite random person we met at the shows in Sweden was the older gentleman who overheard our accents and was delighted to talk to a Springsteen fan from New York. He said he had been a fan since 1975. I asked him if he’d seen Bruce back then. He said, no, he didn’t, and that he was probably the only person in Sweden who would say that he hadn’t been there – because the venue held 500 people and at least 150,000 people swear up and down that they were there.

I took a boat and I took a plane

I realize I will insult everyone in Finland by saying, it took me about an hour of research to realize that we could skip Helsinki and not miss all that much. (Having to skip St. Petersburg, only three hours by train from Helsinki, was another matter, but as Mr. Radecki pointed out, “They put people like you in work camps, we’re not going to Russia.”) We could have flown both ways but there were also ferries, and the ferry went straight to Turku, the city where the show was actually happening. The boat cost something like 62 Euro for both of us AND a cabin with a window. Yes, it took all day, but after jet lag, two shows, and then running around seeing everything in Stockholm on Sunday, I was happy to get some extra rest. Keep in mind, this is a boat on the Baltic Sea and not Royal Caribbean to the Bahamas. There was a small outside deck in the back that was mostly there for smokers, because it was COLD outside.

Apparently this boat is a big party boat on the overnight sailing, but during the day, it was mostly Finnish people coming back and buying cartons and cartons of beer and other beverages in the duty free, and a handful of people wearing Springsteen shirts and taking advantage of the cheap and direct crossing.

We did take advantage of the seafood restaurant once we finally decided to venture out of our cabin again:

This was lunch on the 11 hour ferry ride

Total time from docking, to getting into the rental car, to having numbers inked on our hands at the arena was less than 45 minutes. The car rental wasn’t cheap, but there was no other way to get out to the arena except to take a taxi, and at 20 Euro each way, that would have added up quickly. Plus, with the car we could ferry friends and visit the local mega grocery store.

If visiting local grocery stores seems like a theme in our travels, that’s because it is. Buying drinks and snacks and even the occasional lunch or breakfast helps travel money go a long way, plus it is just absolutely fascinating. In Scandinavia, it was also the only way to keep the budget down. We had lunch the first day we were in Stockholm, just upstairs at the main department store because we were exhausted and starving and needed to eat something at that very minute–and it cost us $50. A three-day travel pass was $75. Dinner at a burger joint after the show on Friday was $30. On Saturday, once we’d gotten our luggage back and had our own clothes again, we hit the grocery store and played “hey, what do you think THIS is?” and bought prepared meals to eat after the show, because we had the flat and a microwave. In Finland we just picnicked, except for night two after the show where we found the 24-hour burger joint and figured out how to order by listening to other people ahead of us order.

[Finnish was completely incomprehensible and nothing was in English. This was how we managed to embarrass ourselves in the grocery store by not understanding that we had to weigh our fruit before bringing it to the cash register. Swedish by comparison was much, much easier, in terms of trying to recognize patterns and context. For the record, no one in either country sounded remotely like the Swedish Chef, which eliminated any tendency to make “bork bork bork” jokes. PROBABLY FOR THE BEST.]

The Finnish grocery store had the biggest salmon department I had ever seen, and more kinds of herring than you ever knew existed. They also appear to have a thing for Pringles, based on the enormous displays and large advertisements we saw while driving around. I do not have similar observations about the Swedish grocery stores we were in, because they were smaller, in-city stores that are like any small, in-city grocery store anywhere, to be honest.

We ended up being able to see some of Turku, even though every Finnish person we met made the same kind of jokes I would make about being stuck in, say, Boise, Idaho. It’s a university town with quite a bit of history, being the oldest town in Finland. Mostly I was interested in the Russian influence on some of the older buildings and architecture. I didn’t get to see anything Russian-landscape looking until we took the bus to the airport in Helsinki, but then at least got the glimpses of those thin birch trees interspersed with pine forests. (I know this is probably movie-Russia or stereotypical Russia, but my mother made me watch Dr. Zhivago a lot as a kid. Sorry.)

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So look for me walkin’ just any old way

It was a 15 minute drive from the hotel to the arena in Finland, and the check-ins this time out were a reasonable 4 per day, and no overnight check-ins. (Much of this, I hear, is coming from the organization, because none of the promoters want multi-day queues any more, or hordes of fans showing up 10 times a day or in the middle of the night.)

The rules of the list!

Friends Arena, in an adjacent suburb of Stockholm, was an entirely different story. This was a brand-new arena, located next to the commuter rail station. This would have been great if there was a connection from the rail station to the arena. They are building one, but it is not finished yet. You can cross over the rail line on a new bridge, but not connect to it. Before you think I am whining for nothing, here is a helpful satellite view:

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This isn’t even a big deal if you’re just turning up and going to the show. But imagine walking that multiple times a day to check in for the GA line, which was located in the park just adjacent to the venue. There is a bus that runs from a nearby metro station, but the bus only ran 3 times an hour, and if you missed the bus or the bus didn’t show up, you were even further away from the venue than the suburban rail station, with no time to walk and very little time to find a taxi. (And the taxis were rip-off central. Even Swedes complained about the rip-off taxis.)

This is the kind of situation that makes a girl from Brooklyn very, very nervous. However, this is Sweden, where the buses and subways run on schedule. Exactly. To the minute. When we showed up for the first check-in after getting our numbers and saw two Swedish girls standing there with numbers 12 and 13 on their hands, we realized they would not be gambling with such low numbers, and learned to calm down when the bus was on time, every single time.

There was a return bus at about 15 minutes after the hour, but if the check-in ran long (like it did the night Jake Clemons showed up), or when there were more announcements than usual that had to be transmitted in both Swedish and English (lingua franca in the queue), we had to hoof it back to the commuter rail. However, short of camping in the park, it wasn’t like there were any hotels or accommodation immediately adjacent, so staying near the Central train station was actually about as smart as we could have gotten about the whole thing.

However, it is no wonder that my jet lagged dreams the week after coming back were full of queues and long dusty walks.

I learned that in Sweden and also in Finland, there is a law that gives anyone the right to camp on public land, which is why people could set up tents in a public park adjacent to the arena with impunity, or in the field next to the parking lot.

(Of course it goes without mentioning that it is somewhat flabbergasting to a New Yorker that a bunch of 20-30 year old kids could set up tents in a park in a major city and be perfectly safe. On that front, you go, Sweden.)

I travel from Maine to Mexico

On the second week in Stockholm, I was able to leverage hotel points to get us into a nice hotel minutes from the Central train station. Of course, these were the days where all we did, pretty much, was go back and forth from the hotel to the queue and back to the hotel again, with stops at the grocery store. When you travel, you learn that a day is actually a very long time, and we fit everything we had wanted to see into our one sightseeing day. So we could catch up on the sleep we didn’t get in Finland and do some shopping.

Doing the back and forth, it doesn’t take long before you start to feel like you live there and are commuting. You start to calculate the best entrance into the metro, the quickest access to the commuter rail, what car to ride in so that you exit closest to the staircase. You feel smug taking out your transit pass while others are standing in a line waiting to buy a ticket.

It is, however, absolutely exhausting. I realize that commuting back and forth from the venue to your hotel is not camping outside for eight days but anyone who says there is no effort in queuing for shows any more is just plain wrong. It might be less effort, and a different kind of effort, but there is still plenty of effort involved.

One Direction were at Friends Arena while we were in Finland, and were clearly staying at our hotel in Stockholm, based on the teenage girls camped outside when we arrived. The next day, we ran into a small horde of 1D fans at the grocery store in the basement of the train station (which is such a brilliant idea I cannot even begin to tell you. Not an artisanal market, a regular grocery store.), clearly buying provisions for the train ride to Copenhagen and the next show.

“They’re like your second cousin, twice removed, if you think about it,” said Glenn, after a few minutes of watching them buy water and gummi bears and sandwiches and snacks, laughing as they stuffed everything into their backpacks.

All I could do was nod in agreement.

(When I told my niece about the girls in the train station, her response was, “I am definitely going to follow One Direction some day,” so let me apologize right now to her mother because it will be quite obvious where she gets that from.)

Next stop: Milan!

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Night 3 Review: Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Friends Arena, Stockholm, 11 May 2013

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I reviewed this show for brucespringsteen.net. If you loved tonight’s show you should go read that one.

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I am not sure when, exactly, I started to lose hope in tonight’s setlist. I was happy to see “The Promised Land” in a spot befitting it, opening the set. “Out In The Street” made sense as the second song on a Saturday night. I couldn’t bitch about Wrecking Ball songs being high in the set given how much I bitch about Wrecking Ball songs not being in the set.

Thinking about it now, I believe the real moment that my hope balloon deflated was the beginning of “Spirit.” My word, if you’d told me in 1999 that I’d be bitching about “Spirit In The Night” being performed every night I would have told you that you were high. I think it was when I rattled off, “The E Street Band has come thousands of miles tonight and we need to know the answer to just one question: When are you going to find another song to put in this spot?” before Bruce even had a chance to open his mouth.

[It’s not even me complaining about shtick because I like shtick. Or at least I like pretty much every hokey thing Bruce Springsteen has ever done (okay, there are some articles where I bitched about the tree and the bear on the BITUSA tour, grumbling that Bruce was no longer letting us use OUR IMAGINATIONS when he told stories). I believe in the basic premise that if the man asks for a train, you give him a train, or you are at the wrong concert.]

A stadium Born In The USA show is still such an odd experience for me. I skipped those shows back in the day not because I wasn’t a fan or couldn’t get tickets, but because the music I loved wasn’t in stadiums. That was for, like, the Rolling Stones, and it was a spectacle and less a concert than more an opportunity to spend time in the same basic location as the artist you went to see. I saw two arena shows and then kind of shrugged when the stadiums came along, figuring I’d catch up later at some point. Nothing can compare to the Springsteen frenzy of the 80s but standing on the rail tonight, I kind of wondered if this was what it was like, in some fashion (sorry).

I will be exceedingly precious and state that I care far less about the emotional integrity of the presentation of Born In The USA than I do Born to Run or Darkness (or anything else, but let’s be real, he’s not going to do The River or Greetings or WEISS ever again). I care less about the emotional integrity but I think it was preserved the best in, of all things, “Glory Days”. It FELT like we were in the back room at Maxwell’s a little bit, it was cheesy and hokey and over the top and everything that BITUSA was back in the day. It was, surprisingly, my favorite part of the album performance tonight.

People around me were going completely crazy for every song on the record and there are people in the crowd tonight who will never have another chance to hear some of those songs, and I was happy for them. Absolutely. Completely. I don’t even have a problem with an album show per se, I just have a problem with what Bruce does around the album shows. For some reason this is hugely challenging to him. It’s tempting to say “and tonight he didn’t even try” but I think tonight he tried to put together a big stadium show for a Saturday night and he succeeded at that 100%. I just don’t know why he felt he needed to do it on the third night in Sweden where there were 900 people queued by 4 p.m. and the most popular song I saw a sign for was “The River”. I know, that’s the pit, and the pit is not the rest of the stadium, but this is Sweden, where every newspaper had a special Springsteen section in it this weekend, and they all referred to him as “Bruce”.

His connection with this country and these people is really something, which is exactly why, after delivering 45 minutes of your biggest hits ever, you could turn around and pull out something different. I’m not even expecting “Wages of Sin” or anything on that level. But even “Ramrod” instead of “Twist and Shout” or “The River” instead of “The Rising” would have been a marked improvement. I expected to get some River-era material tonight for sure. I would have even welcomed more material from Magic; hell, I would have welcomed grabbing the sign request from the center platform for “Girls In Their Summer Clothes”. There were just so many missed possibilities tonight.

I am still not very sure what happened, or how this show went off the rails. At first I thought, it’s the syndrome where night 2 is better than night 3. Then I thought, he’s had too much time off and fell out of the discipline of extended soundchecks. I worry that he is tired; I know everyone will vigorously tell me that that is not true and I am wrong but he just looks more tired than he did last year, and it feels like his energy is on a slightly lower level. (I say that knowing that ‘lower level’ for Bruce Springsteen is higher than most people on a good day.)

Good things: Steve is engaged and active on a level I have not seen in years; it is fantastic. The horns are an absolute delight to watch and listen to. The band is playing on a very high level and it’s not like the performance was dull or lazy or lacking, it was just not the most exciting setlist ever.

I had a great spot on the rail; I met a bunch of great, interesting people. The queue was reasonable although the trek to the stadium was a pain in the ass and I am very glad to be done with that. (Who builds a new stadium and has shows there before there is transit even remotely adjacent? The Swedes!) I loved Sweden. I loved Finland. The fans here are awesome, and I am very sorry I did not come here sooner to see shows. I am going to remain optimistic that Bruce will work out the kinks in the setlist and that Copenhagen and Herning will be great shows and the rest of the summer tour will go on in fine form.

Thanks to everyone who found me and thanked me or complimented me or got me to sign a book. It is still the weirdest and most awesome thing.

See you in a couple of weeks.

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Night 2 Review: Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, HK Areena, Turku, Finland, 8 May 2013

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The opening number can sometimes tell you a lot about what the show that follows is going to be like, and “I’ll Work For Your Love” as a show opener is a very definite statement of intent. The return of Magic material had me doing the Snoopy dance on the inside, mostly because I would have looked very stupid doing it during the song. Of course, I got to make up for it one song later when the band walked out and slammed into “Long Walk Home”. Magic! If it takes a bunch of Finnish fans to get him to remember this album and how the songs are worth playing – there were more than a few “Long Walk Home” signs – I’ll start importing them to the US personally. (Fan exchange program!)

It wasn’t like I needed to be reassured that the show would go in the right direction with these two songs as an opener, but they could have been flukes and we could have gone down the same path as the night before. But “Ties That Bind” into “Out In The Street” is an obvious yet masterful combination, speaking to the new fans and the old fans and the fans who know a couple of songs but can dig Bruce walking around the stage and the general sentiment involved in both numbers.

The “Atlantic City” sign came out of the scrum around the center platform and worked beautifully. “Wrecking Ball” came in at the right time and while I might have swapped WTCOO for “Death to My Hometown” I’m just glad to have songs from that album still being performed on the tour it is named for.

“Hungry Heart” and by now the Finns are old hat at this crowd surfing thing; there was a throng there to catch him as he entered and they carefully and correctly steered Bruce back to the stage in record time. (Nils had tweeted about this earlier in the evening, and one of the leaders of the queue came out and read it to everyone when we were waiting to enter the building.)

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And then, we came to the signs. Part of my heart sunk when he started collecting the signs, but then it kind of became obvious that he was collecting some of the signs to say thank you and to be polite and to acknowledge the fans who brought them as much as it was to grab a couple of ideas to augment the setlist with. I mean, maybe he would have brought out the tuba for “Wild Billy” but it was a very cool sign that deserved recognition and I’m glad that the fans got it. But the fans in Turku got the early material that they wanted to hear, “Blinded” and “Bus Stop,” both of which made me feel guilty for being a native English speaker as the fans around me who had been so vocal previously reserved their participation for the choruses.

When Bruce displayed the sign for “Ain’t Good Enough For You” I felt like I was going to blast off into orbit. There had been soundcheck rumors (which I tried not to hear) and then when we walked into the building, a friend right in the stage corner yelled that the lyrics on the runway were for that song. This was not the request I made to Bruce on Sunday in Stockholm and I had nothing to do with this request aside from being annoying with a bright yellow sign for it all last year (which Bruce saw three times and three times specifically gave me a very clear ‘no’ to). I am lucky; I was there in the Carousel House when the song was first played live; I loved it then, I love it now. If you’ve heard the version in Oslo, that’s more like a dress rehearsal; this was a fully prepared, very rehearsed and arranged song, and the crowd loved every single bit of it, every moment of it. Bruce gets to do his Jackie Wilson strut along the front of the stage, there’s a chance for a lot of interaction, what’s not to love about this song? The fans down front sang the chorus melody from the opening note, and there was no shortage of people to yell “Jimmy Iovine” into the mic at the appropriate interval. Maybe now that it’s rehearsed and the crowd so clearly dug it – even the casual fans in the club level! – that it could take the place of other songs with extensive crowd participation? (No names, no names.)

I had just recovered from the previous number when Bruce stalks purposefully out onto the center platform looking for a very specific sign. I was taking a drink of water and am grateful that I finished swallowing before Bruce held up the sign. I’m glad Bruce up the sign for “Wages of Sin” because even though I knew he was playing “Wages of Sin” and the words were running through my brain, if he hadn’t held up the sign I would have been standing there saying, “It sure sounds like he’s playing ‘Wages of Sin’ but that can’t actually be possible, so I must have passed out from dehydration or something.”

I held my breath. I closed my eyes. I opened them again. I watched Max hitting the cymbals with the mallets like he was a percussionist in an orchestra. I could feel Roy’s piano, weaving its way through Bruce’s vocals. I am most amazed I think at how Bruce hit the exact right emotional tone, the right tension, as though he’d performed the song dozens of times before. “Wages of Sin” always felt like a movie soundtrack to me and I wish I had been less stunned by the whole thing, and more able to just breathe and take it all in. Everyone was just magnificent: Roy, the horns, Max, Steve and Garry standing inward, facing Bruce, wanting to be sure they got this exactly right.

They got this exactly right.

“The River” was the perfect song to follow it up, because it resonates so hard in Europe, they sing it like they sing “Thunder Road”. So no momentum was lost, everyone’s attention that might have wandered during an unfamiliar song that had never been played before was immediately back on the stage. People around us took out their phones and called their friends. It was a big deal. It is a big deal.

“Youngstown” next was like greeting an old friend, and when my co-conspirator leaned over and said, “‘Murder, Inc.’ next,” I thought he was just being optimistic. But as Nils was bringing his closing solo down to the end, Bruce continued to encourage him to raise it back up again a little, then a little more, then a little more. Bruce changes guitars, and stands there hitting the body of his guitar as Nils finishes one more wave, then another one. And then as soon as Nils is done, Bruce slides right into the intro to “Murder, Inc.” and the pit went apeshit. It was hot. It was steamy. It was intense. It was an astonishing run of songs, and then just when it’s starting to end, Bruce and Steve face off for the gunfight at the OK Corral just like old times. It was one of those moments where Bruce finishes his solo and looks Steve right in the eye with that “HERE, NOW” look, and then Steve meets his gaze and pulls off the kind of guitar work we know and love him for. They went back and forth and back and forth and you just didn’t want it to end. The Reunion Tour came back to Finland for one night.

“Johnny 99” caused me to ask the question that occurs to me from time to time, which is: who, exactly, does mix Tanqueray and wine? (Also in that vein: engines don’t have keys, and a one-legged dog couldn’t actually GO anywhere). It seems so funny that at one point I was so adamantly against the zydeco Johnny 99 and then I remember, I love it now because of the E Street Horns. And I love the jump blues version of “Open All Night” for the exact same reason: we have this amazingly talented group of horn players who can play the shit out of anything and take it to another level. They can rock and swing and boogie and also, actually, physically dance, and have a sense of humor and clearly have fun doing their job, but do their job as horn guys and blend into the background.

“Shackled and Drawn” was a chance to drink some water, and when that’s what I’m using this song for, it’s been one hell of a night, because I love the chance to use the singers on this particular number. It’s also one hell of a night when I am actively applauding the child brought onstage during “Waiting On A Sunny Day.” This was a 11 or 12 year old Finnish kid who must have somehow gotten ahold of Bruce, because he clearly knew what this young man was going to do. The kid took a piece of paper out of his pocket, which Bruce then held up for him, exchanging it for the microphone. This was apparently a rap about the E Street Band and the price of being on the rail was that I could not actually hear what he was saying. But hey, something cool and unusual and positive and not a party trick for once!

I will never get a decent shot of Bruce throwing the guitar to Kevin.

“Lonesome Day” was fresh and felt like an old friend; I had a big wave of Rising tour deja vu come over me. “Badlands” was bringing us into the home stretch, it was the last lap — and then “Racing In The Street,” the final dedication of the night. It was an odd place for it, and although it was wonderful and beautiful and powerful like it always was, it was almost odd to have it not be the emotional cornerstone of the set.

“Born In The USA” thunders out of the stage and the rail vibrates and I wish I had ear plugs. Everyone is on their feet, the arena is echoing like a stadium, Garry holds his bass straight up in the “10 years down the road” verse, as though in salute.

House lights, and here we are in encore territory now. The New Tenth is still thorny, Bruce forgetting Max as he rushed through the intro – we all yelled, YOU FORGOT MAX and then just laughed. I think he is trying to do too much in that short space, introduce the band and then hop on the piano and then cue the horns.

[The horns. Having the horns on Tenth Avenue Freeze-out will never stop being a source of joy and wonder and happiness. Every time I hear those horns I am hearing them for the first time, when I brought home my first copy of Born To Run and heard that indescribable, beautiful sound. To be able to hear them play that riff night after night after night (sorry) is one of the reasons I do this as often as I can. I am that 14 year old girl every time I hear the intro horn riff to “Tenth Avenue Freeze-out.”]

The tribute video seems different yet again, shortened in new places, but then something went wrong tonight during ‘this is the important part’. I do not want this dropped from the set until Bruce wants to drop it from the set but I think it could use just the tiniest bit of work to make it go smoother.

Bruce turned around at the end of “Tenth” and I watched him say the words “American Land.” Although I was miserable for a few seconds it was absolutely the right thing to do at that moment for this audience, for the people upstairs who don’t know “Wages of Sin” and might not be able to name every member of the E Street Band, their energy carried the show tonight as much as the diehards down front did. This was a show where Bruce read the audience exactly right, where he paced the setlist exactly right, where he called audibles exactly right, where he varied material and albums and rarities in one of the most masterful ways I have ever witnessed — and then proceeded to deliver the material with power and aplomb and some of the finest work I have ever seen from this version of the E Street Band.

We walked outside a little after 10pm and the sun was low in the horizon with the kind of color I have never seen before. I took a deep breath of the very clean air, and said, “Hey, I’m in Finland!” Then I said, ‘Wages of Sin’!” And then I was very, very glad the HK Areena only had 11k seats and the tour snob in me needed to see a show in a venue that small.

Thank you, Finland.

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Concert Review: Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, HK Areena, Turku, Finland, 7 May 2013

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It was sunny when the GA line was walked into the building a little before 6pm, and the sun was still setting in the distance when we came back out around 11pm. HK Areena holds 11k and was, admittedly, the catalyst for my Scandinavian journey. When the show was announced and we learned the size of the venue, once I figured out where Turku was, exactly, my interest was piqued and it wasn’t long before we’d worked out the trip that would include all of the Stockholm shows and get us over to Finland for these two indoor arena shows. Indoor arena? In Europe? I’d sell everything I owned if Bruce did an arena tour of Europe.

We travelled by boat from Stockholm directly to Turku on Monday, a journey of about 11 hours. The rental car office was steps from the ferry terminal, and we had our numbers inked on our hands well before 8pm. It is cold in Finland; the Finns we met today all complained of their unseasonably cold spring, just like everywhere it seems this year, and I was glad for the down jacket and extra layers last night and this morning.

The queue and the check-ins were civilized and it was probably the most painless wait I have ever had for a lineup process that put me four people from the center mic platform. Not at all what I expected, but I’m also not complaining one bit.

After Stockholm, half the people were sure he was going to walk out and play Born To Run and the other half were positive it was going to be The River and some moron in front of us would insist it was going to be disc 2 of Tracks (no, really, someone said that). Things kicked off with a not-unexpected “We Take Care of Our Own” and as it ended, Bruce is pounding his chest with his fist and making the “2” sign and it is Bruce and Stevie at their best at the center mic, singing “Two Hearts”. Steve was particularly inspired tonight and I hoped that that boded well for the setlist and for the show’s overall energy. The crowd was excited and Bruce was feeling it hard, taking the band into “No Surrender.” That’s good for the jumping lunatics in the pit, it’s also good for the people sitting in the stands.

I was going to say, “I can’t tell you when I last heard ‘My Lucky Day'” but given that I happen to have an in-house statistician, I can tell you exactly when I heard it, which was at the Working On A Dream tour rehearsal show in Asbury Park. It was a decent sign, I thought, that Bruce wasn’t going to head down the path of finding some pretext to break out an album, and was going to try to mix up material. My notes say, “He is in a good mood” but you don’t need to be a genius to figure that out; he’s been in Stockholm, he hasn’t had to travel much, he’s got to be feeling happy and comfortable now. And you had your one, two, three Bruce and Stevie moments right in a row. That had to mean something, right?

Things were fairly standard from there, at least for an arena show as I know them: “Wrecking Ball,” “Death to My Hometown,” and when “Hungry Heart” started, the ‘is he going to crowdsurf tonight’ question was answered with the first note. I tried telling people around me he was going to do it and I had my camera out and clicked into the movie setting as Bruce jumped into the very full pit and started being propelled forward. The Finns did fairly well, although progress was slow and Bruce seemed to cue Jake from further back than he usually does. “You knew he was going to do that,” said an older gentleman next to me. I nodded. “But it’s great!” he said. “Of course it’s great; I just knew it was going to happen.” I remember the surprise and I revel in the ritual and the element of the unexpected that is still present.

It was a fun and diverse crowd. English speakers were at a minimum and if there were 10 Americans in the queue, that would be a lot. Finland has a great fan group called “This Hard Land” and I met a bunch of them in Prague last year. They ran the queue, they negotiated the rules with the promoter and the arena, and if you believe what people say, were responsible in pestering JLM to get Bruce to Turku because the hockey finals are taking place at the arena in Helsinki. Go find Turku on a map; it’s Finland’s third largest city but it feels an awful lot like being in Boise. (The Finns around me made fun of Turku all day, so I feel like I can do it a little.) There was this biker dude next to me, leather vest and everything, but he was the nicest guy and sang “Brilliant Disguise” at the top of his lungs with obvious excitement.

“Spirit” was a little brisker tonight, which helped, and then Bruce came out with the harmonica rack and everyone is going “It’s Born To Run” but it wasn’t; he finally played “This Hard Land” and dedicated it to the fans in the group, and mentioned a book they had made for him – it’s this amazing hardcover book with each page or two pages stories and photos by all of the fans about how they came to Bruce’s music. It was a lovely and much-deserved dedication. (He would later take the harmonica and harp rack down to the people who started the line days ago.)

I was happy to finally hear “The River,” which is usually one of Bruce’s staples in Europe, but hadn’t appeared in Stockholm. But I was totally surprised for him to say, ‘Let’s see what you’ve all got out there” and come down to the front platform for a true and proper sign collection. He stood down at the center platform for a long time, and took a lot of signs. Then he went left and right and grabbed signs from both sides. He took some great signs; he took some terrible signs; he ignored the light-up “New York City Serenade” and “Ain’t Good Enough For You” and I had no expectation he would take my “ROCKY GROUND remember it? what a great song” sign, but just wanted to be obnoxious about it because I could. (I am pretty sure he saw it, given my position and the bright green sign.)

“From Small Things” went down well, and I was happy for “Pink Cadillac” because the woman who made the sign had been talking about how she had brought that sign to every show in Finland and he had never played the song. “Pink Cadillac” is a song that I feel like I’ve seen more than I actually have. According to the stats, this is only the second time I have seen it played live. (I skipped BITUSA in the stadiums; it’s a long story, covered previously many times.) There were two parents with a pre-teen daughter adjacent to my position who picked up the daughter every time Bruce came to the center mic. Bruce acknowledged the girl multiple times but yet they still kept picking her up. They weren’t in front of me so I didn’t really care but they did kind of smash into the people around me when they picked up the daughter so I was secretly pleased they picked her up during “Pink Cadillac” because, really, it is an incredibly dirty song and if you want to wave your pre-teen daughter around while he’s singing those lyrics, well, you go for it, then. (It’s just second to parents picking up their daughters during “Red Headed Woman.”) It was a great, hot, “Pink Cadillac,” the horns were loud and swinging and with just a touch of raunch, and it was a pretty fun moment.

Just when we were grumbling silently that Bruce was picking the easy signs (and not, say, “Long Walk Home,” which DID come out of the audience) he picks up “Brilliant Disguise” and proceeds to execute a clean, well-played version of this song, which I have not seen the E Street Band play since the Tunnel of Love tour. (Seriously, I was racking up the points tonight.) I would say that I would love to see this album revisited more in depth but I would just be stating the obvious and futile.

“Because The Night” and “She’s The One” are the obvious, get-the-energy up pairing, but they seemed to lack heat or oomph. And then we had to adjourn to the “in 90 seconds you will be out of your seats and dancing” interlude of our set which tonight featured “Pay Me My Money Down”. It’s not that I hate this song particularly, I just find it banal and a complete throwaway. However, the horns just transform it. They play; they dance, they sing. Tonight, Clark Gayton completely cracked Bruce up when he came down the front and started copying Bruce’s side-step moves with aplomb; then Curt Ramm came down and started doing likewise. Then you had all the horns down front, playing and dancing, and before you know it, Bruce is lining up the entire E Street Band (with the exception of Max and Roy) along the front of the stage, and bringing a handful of fans along to bring up the rear, and there is a second line marching down the stage, through the mid-floor barrier, and then back down the side and onto the stage again. (If my hotel didn’t have internet powered by reindeer or something, I’d upload that video for you. part 1 | part 2 ) The great horn arrangement and riff turns it into a great party and I have made my peace with this number; it is what it is, and the horns redeem it thousandfold.

“Darlington” was fun; but “Darlington” is always fun. We sang the lines about being from New York City like a couple of kids and had a great time. “Shackled and Drawn” was the obvious next number, and then the set closed like the set closes with no surprises or additions. I wonder when he thinks he can stop playing “The Rising”. I wonder when he will ever stop playing “Sunny Day.” I am glad “Land of Hope And Dreams” is still in the set and that moment when the horns come in is still one of the most glorious moments onstage.

There is much discussion with the musicians onstage, and Kevin came out with two guitars, both of which were rejected. I am hopeful. I am optimistic. I am excited.

I am not expecting him to play “Queen of the Supermarket” solo acoustic.

Bruce asks – again – if the requestor worked in a supermarket, because no one ever requests this song and when they do, they usually work in a supermarket. The solo acoustic performance did at least remove the horrible syrupy arrangement of the record but it was still Queen of the Fucking Supermarket and really, this was not the tour premiere I was hoping for (even though I know now it wasn’t a tour premiere. REALLY. ROCKY GROUND HAS LEFT THE SET BUT YOU PLAY QOTS TWICE. TWO WORKING ON A DREAM SONGS BUT NOTHING FROM MAGIC. okay I’m done now)

The harmonica notes on “Thunder Road” are always a thing of astonishing beauty and purity and I never get tired of hearing them, and I have this moment of instant happiness with them every time they are played. Except tonight I had a moment with about a dozen people shoving themselves into me and everyone else as they ran out of the venue DURING THUNDER ROAD to go get their numbers for the line for the second show. Seriously, one guy hip checked me so hard I almost fell over and then shoved me again when I shoved him back. This combined with one of the lowest line scams I have ever seen (and no I am not going to go into more detail than saying that I have seen a lot of things and this one takes the cake) really kind of put a bad taste into my mouth, at least for a few minutes. Seriously, a big New York City FUCK YOU to all of you assholes.

The band intros tonight were during the intro to “Tenth Avenue” and the video montage has changed and shortened so they can cut to footage of Bruce out at the center platform in the middle of the floor. I am starting to feel like this particular part is not quite working, but it is early still, and they are hopefully going to find the right length and tone for this number.

And then it is over, and “We’ll be back tomorrow night with another spectacular!” Bruce promises, waving goodbye, as we stumble out into a sky still tinged with yellow. Waiting until the end of the show without trampling my fellow concertgoers in the process gets me number 79 inked on my left hand; given that I was 190 tonight and still 4 people from the center platform, I am feeling good about things.

It was a good show with some great moments, oddly and unexpectedly tentative and uneven in others. While that’s partially a casualty of the sign requests, the responsibility still essentially lies in the construction of the setlist, which feels like a thing Bruce is having trouble with at this point in the tour. Will we get an album tomorrow night? Will we get a traditional night two barn burner? Is Bruce also feeling the Boise-ness of this place and feeling like he has to go with the hits? I would just like a good, solid “Wrecking Ball” show with a strong thematic arc. I am pretty sure he can still do that.

But you know, in my mind I am still doing a Bourbon Street shuffle along with the horns during “Pay Me My Money Down”. I am going to find those guys before the tour is over and buy them a bottle of whiskey.

==
review forthcoming on brucespringsteen.net

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Concert Review: Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Friends Arena, Stockholm, 4 May 2013

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Night two is, well, night two, but even I didn’t expect that powerhouse of an opener. “My Love Will Not Let You Down” is always, you know, shots fired, a statement of intent, but to follow it with “Leap of Faith” and “Better Days,” and then yank “I’m A Rocker” out of the crowd on a whim – I needed a break by the time we got to “We Take Care of Our Own” and “Wrecking Ball.” I wasn’t here for the 92/93 tour, I never got to SEE those songs. I was seriously losing my mind and grinning ear to ear and do not even mind that two people in front of me, a couple has chosen “Better Days” as the song to start making out to. Have at it, my friends. Right now I do not care. I am singing every word as loudly and with as much feeling as I can muster while having the out of body experience that I am not in my car pretending that I am seeing “Better Days” live, I AM STANDING IN FRONT OF THE STAGE WHERE IT IS BEING PLAYED RIGHT NOW. HOLY FUCK.

I cannot believe it took him this long to get back to these songs. I cannot believe he does not revisit them more frequently. I do not, will not understand this. (Okay so I don’t understand why he’s dropped most of the Wrecking Ball album either. YOU WANT TO DO ALBUM SHOWS? HOW ABOUT YOU DO YOUR CURRENT ONE. [Postcards please, usual address])

I do not even remember “Death To My Hometown” except that Bruce seems to have calmed down with the Riverdancing (although the E Street Choir make up for that in spades) and then “Hungry Heart,” which was needed at that point to reconnect with the crowd who had been patient but a little lost during the opening run of songs and were immediately confronted with the new ones. Bruce walks along the stage but that’s not enough, he’s going to go out along the edge of the of the crowd, no, wait, that’s not enough either, he walks up the stairs to the edge of the first level and gets a bunch of old Swedish guys with grey hair and beards to sing the chorus into the mic and clearly loves every minute of it. Bruce then grabs a 3/4 full beer from one of them and walks away and back to the stage, downing it in one gulp and telling the guy that he owed him one. But he then buttonholed a security guy and made it very clear that he was sending him over to get that dude another beer. I liked that.

So I will go on record as saying that I really, really did not believe we were going to get another album show, and that I lost a bet by saying that if we were, we were going to get Born In The USA. The crowd seemed very excited at the announcement, and were jumping up and down to “Badlands” instantly. A 20-something woman next to me was totally losing her shit for “Adam” and I can understand why – this was an unbelievably FIERCE “Adam”. The guitar work was insane. This was a Saturday night special Adam Raised A Cain. This was a “fuck you” Adam Raised A Cain. Basically, I was happy for everyone in Friends Arena getting to hear it, because if you were only going to hear it once or maybe twice, this would be the version you would want to hear. The solo went on for what seemed like forever, with zero wasted motion. Max was a drum machine on Candy’s Room. Nils was a whirling dervish both musically and physically on Prove It. Steve gave Bruce an approving smirk after he delivered the “Streets of Fire” solo.

The funniest moment was when we got to “Factory” and the guys next to us said what sure sounded like, “Oh, fuck, I forgot ‘Factory’ is on this record.” in Swedish.

But “Racing In The Street” was the moment tonight, it was everything it is and should be and could be. Even the drunk couple behind us shut up, people were quiet and reverent and paying attention and engaged and not on their phones – except for the ones being held up all around the arena. And I am generally not a fan of this phenomenon and blame Bono for it with regularity, but tonight it was spontaneous and magical, everyone on the floor turning away from the stage to capture the illuminated stadium behind them, people just wanting to be part of what was going on on that stage in any way they could.

It was the best full album “Darkness” I have seen. Better than Philly. Definitely better than Giants. It was glorious. I had to pull out the thesaurus when I was writing the piece for bs.net because I was literally running out of superlatives to describe this performance tonight.

And then, you know, he kept it going. We got a glorious, bluesy, swinging “Open All Night” with the horns at their best, front and center. [Link is to video.] They have turned into this organism, this subdivision of E Street, there is a new dance or a new routine or a new bit every couple of shows. There is always something to watch and love. “Radio Nowhere” is such a good song I cannot believe he will neglect the place he finally got to use “is there anybody alive out there?” and that drum break at the end is just insane, you know? I watched it tonight and it is so good and so solid and so powerful I do not understand why this song just got abandoned on the wayside.

I loved the band intros in “7 Nights To Rock” and don’t know if this was deliberate or “Oh, shit, I forgot them last night so I better remember to do them NOW”. And then, houselights, and I am hoping for Rosie but we are back with Born To Run and Dancing In The Dark. And during Dancing, instead of a parade of people onstage (probably because there were quite literally 50 million signs in the pit asking to dance with every single member of the E Street Band, just too many and too big and everywhere – someone even made a shirt of herself onstage with Bruce and held THAT up) he brought up a young boy who could actually play guitar – he formed chords! he knew how to strum! AND HE WAS WEARING ADEQUATE HEARING PROTECTION! It was pretty great to watch.

“Tenth” is back in its abbreviated form, and I am kind of on the fence here, but am not critical because this is yet another stage of mourning or grieving and there are no rules for this and he is still trying to figure out what he is wanting to do, and how to do it. And then it was over, again, this breathless beautiful collection of songs from all over Bruce’s career, and it was kind of insane start to finish, all of it, every moment of it. Even “Sunny Day” tonight – instead of pulling a child onstage, he turned the mic on the arena who sang the hell out of it. It was something that even I could applaud and appreciate.

Next stop: Finland!

==
My report on brucespringsteen.net
My co-conspirator’s report on last night over at Stay Hard, Stay Hungry

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Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Friends Arena, Stockholm, Sweden, 3 May 2013

As I walked into the pit in Friends Arena, I noticed a group sitting in the first row off the floor with a large sheet emblazoned BOOM BOOM. You can’t think Stockholm without thinking of the Hello World broadcast and I can’t think of that broadcast without thinking of that John Lee Hooker cover. An ambitious request, perhaps, but we are in Sweden. Even my father (whose tastes run as far as 1010 WINS) knows about Springsteen in Sweden and the broken stadium. There are Reasons you would go to Sweden to see Bruce, and now I am here to see it for myself.

Friends Arena is a shiny new behemoth of a football (soccer) stadium with a retractable roof, holding 50,000 for sporting events and 65,000 for concerts. It is shiny new and has no ghosts to invoke during “Wrecking Ball” and could have been empty and hollow except for the fact it was full to capacity with Swedish fans. Even the guys next to us who were assholes up until the minute Bruce came onstage turned out to know every word of “Death To My Hometown” and the Italian homeboys wearing their Yankees and Atlanta Braves hats jumped up and down along with the rest of us OH-OH-OHing during “Out In The Street”. The audience was nuts, and engaged, from the first note.

Which was why, when Bruce began “Spirit in The Night” with a lengthy monologue about how we need to go somewhere and we can’t get there by ourselves and I was thinking that we were about to start building houses or going to see the gypsy woman, he then starts talking about how we’re going to make some magic, that we were going to MANIFEST something tonight. And I stood there thinking, what are you doing, you idiot, you don’t have to manifest anything, it is already magic in this room right now, just shut up and play, please. And I hate to say it but I wish he would find another place to do shtick that wasn’t “Spirit In The Night” so it could go back to being this naughty story of the past that was a special treat and for the old timers. It is nearing Reunion-era 10th Avenue territory right now. That was not a good thing for “Tenth,” it is not a good thing for “Spirit,” and it was completely unnecessary tonight.

But then, after “Spirit” and now that I had resigned myself that tonight was not going to be the night that Bruce was going to open with a rarity or another track from the 92/93 era or some special request that some crazy Italian fan had given him at the hotel, he steps to the mic and starts a speech that at first reminds me of the introduction he gave at Hyde Park, “this was the first song we played when we touched down on English soil,” and just when I was thinking, “Hey, no fair, you already DID this somewhere else” he instead begins to offer loving and heartfelt thanks on a level that made me emotional, and I’m not even Swedish: “thank you and all of your relatives for making us a part of your life, your country, your culture.” and then announces that they’re going to play the album that started it all, they’re going to play “Born To Run” start to finish — and the audience erupts in a mixture of gasps and glee and little yelps of excitement. They sang along to “Thunder Road” like nothing else I have been in for a while, I was getting emotional and I am not Swedish and I can see Bruce pretty much whenever I want to and I am standing there saying, not that I want to be an alarmist or anything, but this whole speech, touching and heartfelt as it was, sure sounded like ‘goodbye’ on some level, and I couldn’t bear the thought of not ever hearing that song played live again, not standing there in the crowd as people yell the lines that mean the most to them.

As soon as they started “Tenth” I realized why they had been soundchecking it earlier (I had chalked it up to, hey, good for Bruce, keeping the band in line there) and then wondered what would happen with the tribute – and he shortened it back to album-size but managed to keep the video in the background and the pause at the right moment and it was still a memorial and a remembrance and “the story about the band”. It was good. It could take on a second life in this very form without having to be abandoned like “My City of Ruins”.

Bruce had to shout “Night” at everyone a few times, causing my companion to grumble about people in the band not knowing the sequence of the album, causing me to point out that most of the band didn’t play on the album so how would they know? And while Jake had a few clams (more than a few), it should be pointed out that his uncle could not execute that one perfectly either most of the time. It is still such a wonderful song and a moment locked in time, at least for me.

I picked up my camera at the end of “Backstreets” and managed to hit the “Record” button and was rewarded (as we all were) with a real, true “Sad Eyes,” and the whole place went silent. I mean, seriously, no yelps, no BROOOCE, no jackass with the wolf whistle from up in the 300 level. I wasn’t in the very front of the pit with the diehards, I was about 3/4 of the way back with the guys who show up late with the girlfriends who have no idea what’s going on, and these people were still into it on every level. Folks, they’re not that into it in New Jersey half of the time.

“Meeting” started to try some people’s patience, there were some whispers and talking and out loud cursing in Italian by a very short woman directed at the World’s Tallest Man and his cousin, who happened to be standing very near each other, and I kind of agreed with her but wished she had better timing. And then, “Jungleland.” I was ready to let it go. I was ready to not hear it again. I was not ready to hear it in Philly. Tonight, it was “Jungleland”. It was the end of the song cycle, it was the end of the day, it was the next step, it was the needle coming to the end of the groove. And the audience played their part magnificently, they shouted and they growled and they raised their fists and they also went stone dead silent on cue in this wonderful, beautiful, stunning moment in the last verse.

And then it was over, and while I can’t fault him a “Darlington County” in that spot, this was an audience who was there and paying attention, so he didn’t need to take the easy way out — but to go from there into “Pay Me My Money Down” was completely unnecessary. I love the horn arrangements on this song. I love the dancing in this song. There are, however, about 50 other songs that would accomplish an intricate swinging horn arrangement that you could get down to without resorting to “Pay Me My Money Down”. (I started making a list in my head of 30 songs that I would rather hear than “Pay Me My Money Down” and stopped when I was about to put “Call Me Maybe” on it, realizing that perhaps I had taken things a little too far at that moment.)

Of course he then took us into “Shackled and Drawn” which I used to love, until he totally cut Cindy’s exhortation short for reasons I cannot understand, and then was the moment that I turn into a pumpkin every night, and my feet hurt and I want a place to sit down and I am suddenly feeling how tired or hungry or thirsty I am. I wonder why the setlist suddenly became so disjointed when we started off so well. I remember the other full album shows and how sometimes Bruce was successful at crafting the set that followed, and other times it was a bit of an E Street rummage sale up there.

He grabbed a few signs that we never got to see, but then, out of nowhere grabs the “Mountain of Love” sign — only to cause the scrambling to set up the piano to be reset (can’t wait to see what was on the setlist for that spot). And “Mountain of Love” made up for a veritable warehouse of sins. I never thought I’d see him play that song once, let alone twice, and this time it was just him and a guitar I was going to tape it and then decided I was not actually capable of doing that and just wanted to dance around and sing and have fun. He actually managed to pull of a whistling solo in the middle without being a total goofball, too.

But otherwise, you know, it was a stadium encore, even though it was not your typical stadium, and somehow Elliott Murphy is on that stage even though we are not in Paris (and I like Elliott Murphy) and I still sing along to “Glory Days” and wave my arms in the air with everyone else during ‘Bobby Jean’ and try to enjoy some of the hijinks during “Dancing In The Dark” – tonight, he brought up a woman to play guitar (instead of the three guys from Belgium who had a sign right down front), and I saw her say, “What chord?” and was rooting for her, big time.

And “Twist and Shout” goes on and on and on, and I don’t know how he is doing it, he is still as jumpy and laughing and happy, and cannot believe sometimes how much he can bring it up until the very last minute, even at the end, as we edge to the exit and watch the stage out of one eye just to make sure he does not change his mind at the last minute, as he glad hands every member of his band off the stage and then turns for one more goodbye to all of us. “We’ll be back tomorrow night!” Yes, yes. We will.

==
my report at brucespringsteen.net

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Springsteen Night at WORD in Brooklyn

Tonight at WORD in Brooklyn, Marc Dolan and I take our Twitter debate to real life. There will be readings and discussions and video and trivia (with prizes courtesy Backstreets Magazine) and cold beer at a reasonable price (courtesy Sixpoint).

The Daily News, Time Out, Brooklyn Paper, Flavorpill and Brooklyn Based are all fans of the event.

C’mon down! It’s a short walk from the G train and parking is actually manageable in the neighborhood. Facebook RSVP is encouraged but not required.

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“Tumbling Dice” : Bruce & the Stones

Bruce & Mick. Photo by Mayumi Mo. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

I WASN’T THERE, regrettably (sort of), I deliberately chose to sit this circuit out (and why is a much longer and very different post). But friends were there (many, many friends were there, from all over the world) and my best friend Sharon’s husband was kind enough to send me video clips of the moment, and I watched the (illegal) clip from the PPV multiple times last night because IT IS A MOMENT.

One, Bruce is absolutely beaming. In that moment, he is that kid whose mom took him to Atlantic City to see the Stones. He is not trying to be cool or laid back, he is a 16-year-old kid getting to be onstage with THE ROLLING STONES. It is charming and infectious. It is delightful.

Despite my reservations about the song choice (see below), there is no denying that “Tumbling Dice” is a great fit with his voice. Mick gave him almost enough room, although it would have been nice if Lisa and Bernard had backed off just a tiny bit more. I loved the interplay with Ronnie and adored Ronnie and Keith circling Bruce as he took the solo and most of all loved Ronnie’s exuberant fist pump once Bruce was done. (I was grumbling about Keith not cracking a smile until the hug at the end.)

The hugs at the end! And the handshakes. And Bruce of COURSE making a beeline to shake Charlie’s hand (Mick cutting him off halfway) and then Bruce making sure he got there in the end. Keith’s face lighting up with his hug. All of that would have made it worth the price of admission.

[“Tumbling Dice” is an unfortunate choice. It is a song that, in my opinion, the Stones have never ever ever played well live. (I am not the only one to hold this opinion — yesterday when I posted, “I know what they’re playing and it’s a song the Stones never play well live,” the overwhelming response was, “Tumbling Dice?”) There are a lot of problems with the song live, usually the horns and the fact that they never seem able to figure out how to end it crisply. Last night was no exception but it was saved by the horns being much, much lower in the mix than they usually are.]

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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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Concert Review: Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, jobing.com Arena, Glendale, AZ, 12-6-12

What a night in Glendale

I thought the show was going to open with one of those numbers where Bruce walks onstage solo with an acoustic guitar, and was later perplexed when only Max, Roy and Bruce walked onstage – only to be followed a few moments later by the rest of the band. The perplexity did not end when the band kicked into a mostly-acoustic version of “Surprise, Surprise,” for reasons that still escape me: did they drive through Surprise, Arizona? Did someone meet up with Bruce at the hotel and make a request? Was this Stevie’s fault? It wasn’t exactly how I thought Bruce would kick off what I hoped would be a barn-burner of a last US show of the Wrecking Ball tour.

He then made up for it with the next sprint, and it was a high-energy one: “No Surrender,” “I’m A Rocker,” “Hungry Heart,” complete with crowd surf. I have never been dead center before for a crowd surf since the very first time Bruce went into the crowd, and didn’t realize that the rush of people who are propelling him from the back platform basically run into the people already there, creating a sardine-can effect. It was all good fun as Bruce passed over my head, and although there were many, many tall people keeping him high up in the air, I was able to genuinely help propel him forward. I love the trust and the fun and the unpredictability of it but sometimes I wish for just a little less spectacle.

We had barely caught our breath before he stepped to the front in the silver spotlight for what would be a short, sharp, 78-ish “Prove It,” not quite full fledged and searing enough for me to bestow it with the full description, but close enough. “Trapped” had one of the loudest crowds I have been in for some time. “Lost In The Flood” was wonderful as always, even as a woman behind me complained that he “always” did it because she’d heard it three times already. I myself happen have an above-average LITF attendance at something like 16 performances, but you would never hear me complain about its presence in a show. The solos in this one are always interesting, never the same; these days he is playing with a drive and a muscle and a loud yet contained roar. At the end, the very end, he extended his left hand out sideways to direct the band, just a sliver of light in the darkness, as they brought the song to a close. Please, let me see that 16 more times.

In “My City of Ruins,” Bruce noted his history with Phoenix, how he used to come here when a tour ended and “get a room at the Holiday Inn by the airport… this is when Phoenix was a town — nothing but a big town!” Of course this is the place where he used to sell tickets even when he didn’t sell tickets in many other places, where he played his first arena, where the “Rosalita” video was filmed. (We drove over to the old Veterans Memorial Coliseum earlier in the day so I could take a photograph; that video on television was a huge, huge thing to me, as I’m sure it was to many of you.) I also noted the upturn of optimism in the telling of the Asbury Park story: “We’ll be back, so come visit!”

At some point during the roll call, as Bruce was singing “it’s all right,” the crowd picked it up and sang it back, even when Bruce stopped singing, as the spotlights came up on the organ and stage right corner, they sang it back with warmth and affection. For every person for whom it was their first show, there were plenty of people from all over the world who made sure to make it to Arizona tonight.

The signs came up. I don’t know what the problem was, except that there were an awful lot of signs for things that were not songs. There were signs about dancing and playing guitar and singing and a new ridiculous trend of not one song on each side of a sign but a list of songs someone wants Bruce to hear. I had a new sign for tonight, and while he definitely saw it, he showed no desire to call for it.

Noting that there were many people in the crowd who had been following the tour: “There are fans, and there are stalkers — you’re past that,” he noted that someone had asked for the song yesterday and led the band into a clearly rehearsed version of “Be True.” While it wasn’t on my sign, it might as well have been; it’s probably my second favorite song. Ed Manion pulled out a beautiful, warm sax solo at the end.

Not happy with the first batch of signs, Bruce looked out into the crowd and called out “bring that electrified one up here,” as a sign illuminated with Christmas lights for “Light of Day” was propped against the mic stand. Max got to see the sign and started the song just fine, but I noted Garry having to walk over and look at the sign a few moments late.r He didn’t seem too phased by it; I would imagine not much phases him by now. It is very, very good to have this one back in the setlist.

Surprisingly, the Apollo Medley reappeared, but then not surprisingly, as Bruce dedicated it to Sam Moore, who lives in the area and who I had hoped might show up. After another foray to the back platform, as he returned to the stage, he found Sam sitting on the side of the stage, and Bruce sat with him and riffed on lines from 634-5789 back and forth. Sam is not looking like he is in the best of health, which probably precluded an onstage visit, but he still has the voice of an angel and I was just so happy to hear him.

“Thunder Road” continues to hit me when I least expect it; tonight it was the horns at the end, that moment after Jake plays the first line and then the rest of them come in. I was thinking, we will never hear “Thunder Road” the way we are used to hearing it because Clarence is gone, just like I’ll never have my mom’s candied sweet potatoes at Thanksgiving again because she is also no longer with us and I never got to ask her for the recipe. Like Bruce says earlier in the show, this is for your ghosts too.

Another shout-out to folks who “traveled a long way,” and Bruce heads for the piano. I love the little ritual of Roy nodding and the occasional handshake when he vacates the piano bench. I was not expecting “Incident”; I feel greedy I have had three “Incidents” this tour; I feel overwhelmed that I have had multiple solo piano “Incidents”. I loved that the crowd stood there and let him sing it, only joining in at the end. Okay, there were a few idiotic bozos who had to woof during the end, but for the most part, everyone let it just be magic.

I felt bad that Roy had to dance with someone tonight; not that he had to dance with her, but that she seemed to take the dancing so incredibly serious. (The dancer had a sign saying that she was a teacher and Bruce said something about this highly educated woman was dancing with the only member of the band to hold a diploma.) “Santa,” and Bruce asks for a hat, only to be pelted by dozens, duly handed out to the rest of the band.

I headed back towards the back platform for Tenth, something I’ve never done and don’t usually do, but that was exactly why I did it, I wanted to be back there with Bruce this time, this last official US time this year. There was Clarence’s son up there, watching the video tribute. There was Bruce up there, watching the video. He cries, you know, when he’s up there. There are actual tears streaming out of his eyes, it wasn’t sweat, you don’t have to be that close to see it. I don’t know how anyone could be tired of this or wish it to be retired; how could you have a heart and wish that? I cried; I still cry; I will cry for as long as I have tears left. I will mourn. I will be sad. I will be glad I have my memories.

And then it was over. It felt lighter, more celebratory, I wasn’t wishing for more (although I always want more, who am I kidding). But there will be more shows; there are more shows; I am going to see the band on Wednesday, even. We have them. We still have them. We are lucky.

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Also see Reports from the Road on brucespringsteen.net

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