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.
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.
Walking onto the floor and seeing the Rust Never Sleeps set at the other end of the Barclays Center was this combination of disbelief and deja vu. I never got to see the Rust Never Sleeps tour; by the time I read about it in Rolling Stone it was long gone, and I used to sit in front of my stereo with the records and bemoan that I had missed what had to have been one of the most amazing things ever.
We flew the day before the show, because these days I just do not trust flying the day of the show, and overnighted in Kansas City near the airport. I started feeling flu-ish while sitting at LGA, and all I wanted to do when we arrived was go to bed early and get a good night’s sleep. We hit Waffle House and then Target in the morning (where I stocked up with about 4 different kinds of Vitamin C products, as well as drinks and snacks) before getting on the road. There was nothing exciting about the drive from KC up to Omaha up 29, a route I am familiar with from a cross-country drive in 2003. It was hot and bleak in the summer and it was grey and bleak but not cold, thankfully.
I suppose there are set openers less cliched than coming out and starting with “Kansas City” when you are, in fact, in Kansas City, but there aren’t many. It was cliched — Bruce even admitted as much when the lights came up — but it was also one of the finest musical performances by the Wrecking Ball-era E Street Band I have yet to witness. They were rehearsing it as the GA line was brought onto the concourse and I was a little sad to have the surprise ruined, but what they did in rehearsal (which was intense and extensive) was nothing compared to the sheer pure power of the performance when the lights went up on that stage.
One, two, three: “Reason To Believe,” finally back in the set; then “Johnny 99,” and you think, HMMMMM. And then “Atlantic City,” which is dark if you think of it that way, the way I do, the images of the wrecked boardwalk in my head, but if you’re the people next to us, who have never seen Bruce before, you’re just excited because you’re getting to hear your favorite song. I am kind of standing there and wondering and thinking, what is going on, trying to guess at what, exactly, Bruce is thinking, that he wouldn’t, he couldn’t–would he?
A Saturday night show in the Rust Belt should open with something like “Don’t Look Back” into “Candy’s Room” into “Ties That Bind,” you know? Those songs were in your face, a declaration, a statement of purpose. Pittsburgh is a flat out, die hard rock and roll town (or at least that’s how I think of it) and it was a loud and mostly enthusiastic crowd meeting the E Street Band front and center tonight. Bruce was pumped, and the band had good energy – Max tight and crisp, Nils loud and sharp, birthday boy Garry Tallent with his eyes closed and wrapped up in the music.
And Bruce? Bruce was feeling it early, bending the guitar not just from the neck but with his whole body, letting his pelvis move the body of the guitar in and out. I know, you’ll tell me, get your mind out of the gutter. It wasn’t sexual (because trust me I would tell you if it was) but it was deeply, deeply physical.”Streets of Fire” as the fourth song in demands strength, focus and attention and we had all of those things.
Caryn Rose paints a definitive portrait of Bruce Springsteen’s current relationship with his European fans (and the fans with him) in Raise Your Hand: Adventures of an American Springsteen Fan in Europe. Rose’s encyclopedic knowledge of Springsteen’s music and mythology combined with her keen critical eye and estimable storytelling skill make this a must-read for any music fan.
In her own words, here is Caryn Rose’s Book Notes music playlist for her book.
YOU’LL LIKE THIS BOOK IF: You can’t get enough Bruce, you’ve always been curious about the European concert experience or you want to compare her observations with your own. This is not the upcoming Peter Carlin Ames epic biography, “Bruce.” This is one experienced, educated fan’s experience.