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Bruce Springsteen’s “High Hopes”: Track-by-Track Review

I wrote a track-by-track review of the new Springsteen album for Billboard.com.

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New Springsteen Album News

I wrote an in-depth look at the new Springsteen album announcement for Billboard.

To quote Backstreets, “They couldn’t go back to Australia without a new album, right? Right.”

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Stand Up For Heroes 2013

Screen shot 2013-11-07 at 11.46.00 AM

I was thrilled to be able to attend last night (invitation from a colleague) and filed my report over at Backstreets.

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Tour Finale: Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Nowlan Park, Kilkenny, Ireland: 28 July 2013

Saying goodbye. #brucekilkenny2

part 1. the waiting.

It is hot inside of Nowlan Park, and then it rains. And then it is hot again. If you are close you are standing on metal plating, which has no give. You sit, you stand, you sit again. People with wristbands but no magic marker tattoo on their hands try to encroach upon your territory; it creates your ‘tribe,’ it bonds you to people from the Netherlands and Greece and Switzerland and up the road in Belfast. At this point you are having conversations like “We sat next to each other in Stockholm…”

That last interminable time span, after the stage is prepared–and you know when the stage is prepared, the Fiji water and the peanut sponge and the line checks and the spotlight operators are up in position – then the last thing is to wait for the setlists. You try to not look but then you look and try to guess from the grouping of songs whether or not there is an album or how many are there – and then you wait for the video operators.

There is a lot of waiting, which is why everyone on stage left cheers when Kim comes out and takes her position at the camera. Because at that point we are ready to go.

The pre-show tape cuts out suddenly and then there they are.

part 2. the hope

After night 1 we are all trying hard to not hope too much. Because we are here from every corner of Europe, from Italy and Spain and Croatia and Germany and Finland and Norway, and us, two kids from Brooklyn. We still danced and sang on Saturday night no matter what–even after that initial mention of “1985,” watching fallen faces and shaking heads and helpless laugher and shrugs all around and entreaties to leave early to get a good number for the Sunday show, we still waved our arms in the air and sang along, because this was Bruce Springsteen and this was Saturday night after all.

But now it is Sunday and after tonight there are no more shows, there are no more chances, there are no more queues and no more travel and no more sleepless nights. This is it, at least for a while.

That plonky-plonky dance hall piano from the Professor and it is time for church. I will sing the lines about Jesus with no problem, me the girl who used to hmm-hmm out the religious lines in Christmas carols back in school. And then we hold our breath to see what is next, what is the first step in the direction we will be traveling tonight.

“My Love Will Not Let You Down” and that is it, that is the statement of intent, that is the message from him to us. Bruce comes to the front of the stage not to urge us onward, but to be there with us, to hear it. His eyes are searching and he is making eye contact all over the place. He closes his eyes and we sing the refrain back to him. We jump up and down, up and down, singing and waving our arms in the air. I had put a moratorium on jumping to save my knees but tonight I am jumping, metal plate and all. Small jumps, but I am jumping up and down because it is the last night and I want to be able to do it all. The energy and the heat and the voices swirl around you.

There is one moment, one utterly perfect moment, that moment at the end when Bruce and Steve and Nils come together with the guitars at the front of the stage and play the melody over and over. It was picture perfect and note for note perfect and one continual flow of energy. I thought, if this is as good as it gets tonight, I have had that moment at least.

“Badlands” and more jumping, more singing, louder, stronger. This one might get the attention of the people in the stands but it is for us too, about the hope and the faith. This is not accidental. As I said to one of the stewards earlier in the morning, who told us that he had gone to mass before coming to work but had almost fallen asleep during the sermon, this is our church.

“We Take Care of Our Own” and I am glad he has not forgotten Wrecking Ball, he has not abandoned it entirely, and I am even more glad that he has put this up front for us. Even today, in the heat and the crowding and the interminable wait, everyone was kind and generous and good-spirited, they made room for you to sit down and helped you stand up and held a hand up to steady you as you gingerly made your way out of the front pit to get food or make a bathroom run. I know it was not like that everywhere, and that we were lucky, but we were lucky. We were all lucky.

“Adam.” The initial solo does not quite flow at first but then Bruce finds what he is trying to say and says it, blistering notes off the guitar frets. It is “Adam,” it is my first favorite and still favorite. Darkness was the album that opened up everything for me. I shout the HEY!‘s after the refrain, old-school style. Sometimes I am the only one. I do it anyway, so that we will remember. There are notes scrawled about punctuating and guzzling and I cannot possibly reconstruct it now. It was fierce. It was “Adam” at full throttle.

“Death To My Hometown” throws one to the rest of the crowd and lets us catch our breath. And then, it looks like Bruce is signalling ‘7’ to the band but that is the signal for DTMH – it was 4 and 1, for “41 Shots.” At first I wonder if something else had happened in the States since I had been disconnected from the real world since Thursday.
“Did something happen that we don’t know about?”
“Just the same thing that happened before.”
“And before that.”

And before that.

To say that this rendition of “41 Shots” was monumental and breathtaking would not come close to accurately describing it. It was nothing short of magnificent. The saxophone was haunting, cutting; Roy and Garry holding down the rest in air tight formation. It would have filled a stadium twice the size of Nowlan Park. It filled the world, it filled your heart and your head and I could not stop the tears at that moment, tears for right now and what happened before and what will happen again until we get it right. I feel hands on my shoulders and the Irish folks behind me are making sure I am all right.

He picked up the harmonica and I knew it was “Promised Land” and was yelling, GOOD FOR YOU, BRUCE, with a vehemence that surprised the people around me and that I didn’t realize I had until the words came out of my mouth. He did this segue previously after the Zimmerman verdict and my reaction was the same, but I was not standing a few feet from it happening, feeling the notes vibrate through my bones.

I am breathless. I feel like my heart has grown three sizes since the show started.

“This is what the tour is all about,” Bruce says, introducing “Wrecking Ball.” And it is funny to remember my reaction to this song initially, and then when it made the album, and then when it supplanted “Rocky Ground” as the title of the album. But “tonight all the dead are here” was such a theme for the tour and it will always remind me of my beloved Shea Stadium, with the line about the parking lots.

Charlie plays a particularly Danny Federici-type organ riff and it is feeling a little more gypsy, a little more old-school, and “Spirit” is going to make the appearance again, this time with a new intro, talking about the fans coming to all the shows, that “there is a cumulative weight every night that we play at the end of the tour,” that “there is a cumulative weight from watching this motherucker so many times!…I want to thank you for carrying us so many nights.” And tells us that they will be back…and back…and back…and back, before swinging into “Spirit.”

part 3. the faith.

A harmonica and a 12-string guitar and I say “The River” without being able to stop myself at this point (and I yell at Glenn all the time because he can tell what song is next based on guitar changes). The power and depth of this number in Europe is always awesome and tonight is no different.

When Bruce finishes, he says something about paying debts and gives a dedication. And then he keeps talking about settling debts tonight. But no one had any idea what was going to happen next.

Bruce taking the wild billy sign @teromk

We met Tero and Paivi in Finland because I saw their sign and liked it so much I talked about it and wrote about it and took a picture that was still on my phone when we got to Spain, where they were in our queue group of 100. We learned that the Finns share the same sarcastic sense of humor that New Yorkers do, and as you do over four days of roll calls, we became friends. We saw them in Paris and again in London, and thought that was it–until we decided to come to Kilkenny.

And it was one of those moments when Bruce says, “This guy has been bringing the same sign to show after show after show – and I have taken this man’s sign before and not played his song.” And Tero and Paivi are standing just to our right with a contingent of Finns and they start jumping up and down and there are Finnish flags waving and they are screaming and hugging and high-fiving. And Bruce comes down to the runway to collect the sign from Tero, and out comes Clark with the tuba and Roy on the accordion and Steve on the mandolin. I had taken a photo of Tero with the reverse of the sign earlier in the day, on which he had listed every show he had taken a version of the sign to: there were THIRTY NINE cities, all of which Bruce proceeded to then hold up and read to the crowd.

It wasn’t even my sign and I am still so dazed I don’t remember it all because it was such an amazing moment. Somehow, again, this wonderful crowd pushed Tero and Paivi up to the front and the people who were #1 and #2 gave up their spots so they could be on the rail in front of Bruce for this moment. Everyone was cheering for them.

During the many discussions I have had about Wild Billy since having become friends with the Finns, is realizing that I can make a spirited defense for this particular track. That it represents a particular moment in Bruce’s childhood and that he captures it all in tight, film-like scenes. The compression of the story is masterful, and the last two lines say it all:

Hey son, you want to try the big top?
All aboard, Nebraska’s our next stop.

The first time I sang that line out loud was on Cookman Street, just up the road from where the circus used to set up in Asbury Park. I thought that was an fantastic moment when it happened. But I think singing it tonight, watching my friends get their song played, beat that just a little. And you wonder about how that song means so much to someone from Finland and someone from Spain and someone from, well, anywhere else.

The next debt was a ratty sign from the front row, the same sign that has been in, oh, the last 15 center mic pictures. It has been taped and folded and taped again, but it was that sign Bruce went to just right of center to pick up and hold up on stage in front of everybody, as the singers come down to stage left and the horns come down sans horns stage right. And Bruce holds up the sign and we are jumping up and down and yelling ‘YEAH!” like it was our sign, and then we are just as instantly quiet because this is a soft, careful arrangement of “Man At The Top” with the harmonies from each side, Curtis and Cyndi and Michelle taking one part and the horns leaning in as one to take the other, Barry rubbing his hands together for percussion. The guy standing behind me has no idea what is going on but manages to understand that some part of it is magic because everyone around us shut the fuck up.

And then, one more debt to settle (and then one more after that, Bruce warns us). This time, a shot of other friends down at the end, women who I know have seen every show Bruce has ever played in the UK (that’s *ever*). And the guitars come out and the opening chords hit and I have an out-of-body experience because HOW CAN IT POSSIBLY BE THAT HE IS PLAYING ‘WHEN YOU WALK IN THE ROOM’. Last night I tweeted that this song completed a trilogy for me, with “And Then She Kissed Me” and “Mountain of Love” and I wasn’t sure that wasn’t some kind of random grouping, except that it wasn’t; these are the great covers of the ’75 era, crackling in my brain out of some bootleg picked up at a record fair at days gone by.

part 4. the love.

Bruce then talks about how, in 1975, he walked into a recording studio and there was a skinny little Italian kid sitting there – “Jimmy Iovine!” I whisper loudly, wondering where this was going to go. There was definitely a slight lull in the crowd’s energy with the announcement of the full Born To Run album, but given that we had spent the day talking with these two kids from Belfast in front of us for whom this was their 9th show, had missed Limerick, and were sure they’d never see “Jungleland,” I was actually pretty stoked. And it could have been flat, it could have been rote, but the band kept the energy high and the performance above-average and kept plowing through from song to song, which elevated the album performance several notches. “Thunder Road” was accompanied by a deep, genuine swell of emotion rolling off of the crowd up to the stage and back again. Straight into “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” and all I can think about is how I used to dream about being able to hear the intro to this song, with horns, live. (The only thing still lacking for me is being able to hear Steve’s chicken scratch guitar high enough in the mix.) The horns! That moment where he cues them in and you hear the melody for the first time! There are few things more glorious than that. The first time I heard them on the album and wondering if this was an old Stax cover I didn’t know about, except the credits told me otherwise. My all-time favorite E Street legend is Steve in the studio, singing the parts to the horn players. I love how it is and always will be the story of the band. The tribute to the Big Man in its current version bringing the tears again at the level that they were at the start of this tour. Bruce is on the center platform looking backwards and I think they are still there for him too.

“Night,” and the clarion call of the saxophone, those opening moments you all know so well. “Backstreets” and the excitement level elevates again. It was broad and epic and intense, the vocals strong, the guitar rich and deep. You got lost in it.

I love “Born To Run” outside of the encore spot, the change of pace, the different focus makes it feel different, crisper, tighter and more compact. I love that Bruce just kept going and didn’t stretch it out like an encore version. He played it, he finished it, and he took it into “She’s The One.” And then Curt steps down and the trumpet is shining in the spotlight and people are chatting excitedly and you are waiting for them to realize where we are so they will shut up, and they do.

I think about how far we have come with “Jungleland,” how I was not only ready for it to retire, I was adamant that it should retire. Then it came back selectively and I was ambivalent. I heard it in Philadelphia and I was not ready. I was shocked by its power at Hard Rock Calling, and happy to hear it. Tonight, with the lead up into it, it felt right and proper and like order had been restored somehow. It started to rain at the end of the song and while there was the distraction of everyone around pulling on rain coats there was part of me that felt like the sky was crying in honor. At the start of the song, the two lads from Belfast threw their arms around each other’s shoulders for a moment or two, and I felt lucky to share that instant with them. I was glad they got to hear it. I was glad I was there when they got to hear it.

The next stretch was, honestly, a mix of catching your breath and thinking “Is that it?” and wondering what else could happen, or wondering if at least we would get some more of “Wrecking Ball” given the previous statement that that was why we were all there. I am always glad to hear “Land of Hope and Dreams” in the current arrangement, the horns soaring, the arrangement carrying the song and elevating it, the pogoing one last time, somehow finding the energy, ignoring the aching back and the sore knees. One more time, leaping into the air, trying to catch a little bit of the night and the notes and the magic.

After “Bobby Jean,” there was a huddle at the front of the stage and we expected something grand to erupt, but it was just “Seven Nights To Rock.” He has to play “Dancing In The Dark,” it is the song everyone comes to hear (although, having walked around the venue earlier in the day, there were plenty of normal local folk who were wearing the orange wristband that signified they had been at the previous night’s show as well). What made the song for me was the fact that the horns, who had come down front for “Seven Nights,” were told by Bruce to stay (even after some of them started heading back) so they were doing their DITD dance routine right up front, along with the singers, who Bruce also called down front and they started doing their specific dance choreography for those numbers. (When we ran into Clark Gayton out at Matt the Miller’s the night before–we tried to buy him drinks!–I asked him my burning horn section questions: who was responsible for the dance routines? did they practice them?) You can see the horns pretty well (well, you can if you pick your spot in the crowd so you can see them like we do, but I admit that that is a pathology and not a given behavior) but it’s harder to see the singers because they’re blocked by Roy’s piano. The dance routines are the outer evidence of how these factions have gelled and coalesced and become part of E Street, which was yet another element of joy at their up front presence for “Man At The Top”.

part 5. the prayer.

“American Land” was to be expected and while i was honestly wishing for another cover once “Shout” started, it is so fun and silly and goofy. You sing “shooby dooby, bop bop” and wave your arms in the air and it is contagious and joyful and the horns kick in, loud and brazen. It is truly fabulous how the entire front of pit gets down on the floor as Bruce sings “A little bit softer now.” There is no one standing up, folding their arms sternly, refusing to do it, everyone is going lower and lower and leaning on each other until your legs ache — and then leaping back up to our feet when he switches to “A little bit louder now.” I have photos but they are happy blurry messes of hands and heads and bodies. And we are ready for the recitation of the superlatives, the ones we could do in our sleep, “YOU’VE JUST SEEN…” and we shout it out loud, as loud as we can, as affirmation, as benediction, as plain old FUCK YEAH.

But then he continues: “And we want to salute…” and proceeds to read the fan-centric version of that list, a shirt that you have seen if you have traveled through Europe at all this summer or last, and if you have travelled through Europe you could not possibly disagree with any of it. (Apparently Amy Lofgren saw a photo of the shirt and passed it on.) Bruce recites all of it, and then the band all step up to the microphone en masse to yell, “LEGENDARY E STREET FANS” back at us.

If you didn’t have a lump in your throat I am not sure you are human.

The Professor on the piano and the coda of “This Little Light of Mine” to close the show out, one more time, the gospel element that could be leftover from the direction Bruce was heading before “Rocky Ground” or a clue to whatever happens next, or it really could just be, “I did this on the Dublin DVD so let’s do it in Ireland because it’s a nice nod to them.”

It was during this song that Bruce definitely hurt a finger, but we didn’t realize how much he had hurt it until he came back after showing the band offstage with the acoustic guitar and harmonica rack, and we could clearly see blood streaming down his fingers. (The guess is that he lost a nail.) “I’ve been doing this – next July – for 50 years. Feel like I just started, man! I got another 50 in me,” he says. “I’ve enjoyed this tour – we’ve been losing so many people that were so close to it, this tour has been – you’ve been really wonderful to us.” A pause. “The older you get, the more it means,” he says once, and then again.

Just when you were wondering where the theme of the tour was going to come in, the harmonica for “This Hard Land” points the way. But we were not prepared for the obvious show of emotion on Bruce’s part, the hoarseness as he choked up repeatedly, singing to us one last time on this tour, singing to this crowd that followed him and supported them and sold out stadiums all over the continent, that stood in rain and cold and slept in tents in parking lots. These are the things that Bruce remembers from the early days, it is that one part of his performing life that can still happen the way he remembered it, the obvious sign of devotion.

We wait and listen and put our arms around each other’s shoulders and sing quietly, moved by the show of emotion on Bruce’s part. And then, and then, the reward: IF YOU CAN’T MAKE IT! STAY HARD! STAY HUNGRY! STAY ALIVE! we yell at the top of our lungs with every bit of emotion we can muster. He holds the guitar aloft and we wave and cheer and shout until the spotlight is off and he has gone down the stairs and the music comes back over the PA.

And then it is hugs and tears and promises and thank you and goodbyes. We launch ourselves over to the Finnish contingent to say goodbye to our friends. We stomp across crushed bottles underfoot to look for friends from all over the Continent, from the Netherlands and Norway and Spain, we shake hands and make promises and say we will see each other soon, we hope.

We hope.

postscript
=========

Now, in fairness, the things that this show was lacking: the playing was not as consistently strong across the whole show as it should be at this point in the tour. “The Rising” was one big out-of-sync mess almost from start to finish which was unfortunate after such an otherwise mostly solid album performance. That said, the intro to “Jungleland” was very much in danger of heading that way but was fortunately rescued in time.

Born To Run should not have been the album you play on the last night of a tour in a country that got five shows, one of which already got that album, because most of which were attended by not just the tour kids but plenty of normal Irish Bruce Springsteen fans, simply because they could – the amount of arms wearing the complete set Aiken Productions wristbands wasn’t limited to the pit queue. The fact that some of the most important songs from the album that this tour was based on were nowhere near the setlist, like “We Are Alive” and “Rocky Ground,” is a disgrace. (I am convinced I will never hear “Rocky Ground” again unless the gospel project ever gets revived.) If you could play “Born In The USA” two nights in a row then you could play “Jack of All Trades” two nights in a row as well. So much thought went into the front end of the show, the requests were carefully chosen and clearly rehearsed in advance. I would have given anything to just have Bruce put together a set without signs and without worrying about the punters in the top row. They would have been fine with anything.

It was not a legendary last show, but it was a great last show, and it was still not a show I would have missed for anything.

See you soon.

p.p.s.

I would be amiss if I did not point out what was NOT played tonight, especially since I kept getting tapped on the shoulder during the show as friends pointed it out and I kept telling them to stop because they would jinx it: No “Sunny Day”! I would love to see the printed setlist to see if this was a deliberate omission or if he thought there was enough child representation from the young boy who came up to play guitar and was gifted with the acoustic at the end of the song.

Thank you Aiken promotions for being top notch to the fans.

Don’t miss Mr. Radecki’s final post on the tour as well

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Do You Like Good Music? On “Sweet Soul Music” & “Shake” in Kilkenny

Sign for Kilkenny. After much deliberation

There are rules in my house about sign requests: that we don’t bring signs for cover songs, that we don’t bring signs that request items, that a sign should be for one song only, that it should be a size that will not block the people behind us. We have tried hard over the years to think of signs that will get picked or would get played or that Bruce would find amusing and therefore would get played.

In this house, we love soul music. Sam Moore is responsible for us having met in the first place. Otis Redding was an early shared interest. We had hoped to adopt two cats a few years ago and were going to name them Sam & Dave–they were already gone, so we came home with a tuxedo cat that we promptly named Jackie Wilson. We didn’t grow up with this music it but we found it at a young and impressionable age and it stuck with us, hard.

Years ago I was in favor of a “Shake” sign after it started showing up again at the various private benefits Bruce used to play for his children’s school. Glenn would tell me that it was a waste and that he would never play it. I would agree and not make the sign.

When deciding what to do for the last shows in Kilkenny, I decided to pick the song I would want to hear if this was the last time I was going to see the E Street Band. I am lucky in that I have seen pretty much everything I could ever have wanted to see. But “Sweet Soul Music” is a relative rarity for me and to me it is one of the most important covers the band has ever done because it represents the ethos of the band. Bruce could have skipped the whole “We are a rock and soul band” intro at the beginning of the tour and played “Sweet Soul Music” instead. Although I got to hear a version at the MSG River show (and had heard earlier versions in 81 and 88 as part of the Detroit Medley), I wanted to hear it with the singers and the full horn section. Instead of just relying on neon cardboard and sturdy black marker, I got creative. I researched. I borrowed the color printer at the office. I had multiple signs in different sizes.

At Saturday’s show, I was amazed that the Italian guy behind me had a sign for “Sweet Soul Music” and that during “Out In The Street,” as the camera followed Bruce down the walkway, there were two if not three more signs for the song. I don’t think I’d ever seen one, let alone five signs at one show.

So when he came back to the center mic carrying not only “Sweet Soul Music” but also “Shake,” I thought I had died and gone to heaven. I waited for Bruce to stop talking about stumping the band (because if they are stumped by songs they used to play regularly then we have a larger problem, and we are all smarter than that and he should know it) and to start playing the song so I could stand there and let the glorious horns and rnb guitar wash over me.

First, I will tell you that I guarantee no one had more fun during those two songs than Glenn and I did. We danced. We shook our asses, HARD. We sang along. We cued the horns and the beats and jumped and waved our hands in the air. We sweated. We beamed. Everyone around us thought we were completely mental (except for the other guy with the “Sweet Soul Music” sign, but even then I think he may have had second thoughts at having engaged us in conversation).

You don’t have to take my word for it because the videos are online: both versions were awful. They are even worse than they sounded standing there hearing them. They were sloppy and missed the cues and the mics on the horns weren’t turned up for the right parts. I mean, I know these songs–maybe not as well as, say, Steve Van Zandt and Bruce Springsteen and Garry Tallent, he of the massive 78 record collection, know these songs–but I KNOW THESE SONGS so I know when they are not played well. Part of it also was also that the sound mix in Kilkenny was not that great and they hadn’t soundchecked these songs most likely, so the sound people were kind of at a loss. If the singers were singing backup, I couldn’t hear them.

But, I got to hear my song, I got to dance to my songs with my fella, and that’s pretty damn good. And as for the rest of the show? While I wish he had played something else and was disappointed in the energy and sloppiness and uninspired setlist, it was still Bruce Springsteen on a Saturday night and I was three deep off the center platform. In no universe does that suck.

What were you doing?

I had a good spot. Kilkenny 1

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Springsteen & I : a review

I was invited to write a review of the film for the Springsteen site Greasy Lake. (RIGHT LINK NOW)

For the record, I did not submit an entry and wasn’t interested in doing so. I disliked a major production company making money off of the fans, and to be entirely fair, I already have a very public outlet for my fandom.

(I post this to stave off the ‘You just don’t like the film because they didn’t use your entry!’ accusations, as pointless as that might be.)

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Thoughts on Hard Rock Calling 2013

Amazing sunset tonight over Olympic Park. #brucelondon

I reviewed this show in detail (along with Glenn Radecki) over at brucespringsteen.net and at Backstreets.

This show was a bonus. We had already booked our trip to Spain and Paris, with some extra days after Stade de France to enjoy the city. Then HRC got added and there was no way we could be in Paris if Bruce was playing in London. Despite my advice to other people to consider carefully whether they want to stand in a field all day and despite my insisting I would never do this again (a big consideration as to why we skipped Nijmegen), we bought tickets and booked the first train on the Eurostar (which everyone started calling the ‘Bruce-star’) Sunday morning.

A terrible cold which hit me Friday night/Saturday morning resulted in the decision that we were not going to try to queue for HRC. I decided I had enough adrenaline to get through the Paris queue and a low enough number that it was worth queuing even if I was uncomfortable, but not enough in the tank for that and the HRC sprint. Thank the deities, because when we arrived at the venue, and saw the distance and the effort it would have taken to get to the front (and the typical muckup at the gates), I probably would have found a tree to lie under and gone to sleep instead of sprinting for the front.

The venue is the field where the basketball arena was during the Olympics. It was always intended to be a temporary structure, so they pulled it down and put up a festival stage. The field was covered in artificial turf…which ended about 20 rows from the stage. That meant that all of the people who queued for two days and ran a marathon to get to the front stood on sun-baked tarmac all day. We went down into the crowd for Alabama Shakes and I could feel the heat rising through the soles of my Doc Martens. I watched a woman go into hypothermia and collapse during the set, it was that hot and miserable.

There was lots of food and various bars. The portable toilets had an actual attendant whose job was to constantly check them for paper and for cleanliness. There were multiple taps offering free, cold drinking water, so all you had to do was have a bottle and keep filling it up. There was room to lie down and sit with your friends and walk around if you wanted, although the distance between the main stage and the auxiliary ones was so great that I abandoned my initial plan of seeing the Flamin’ Groovies who were on right before Alabama Shakes. I mean, it could have been so much worse and given that it was actually worse last year, this was a drastic improvement.

After our experience with Alabama Shakes we had no intention of trying to crowd down front, but instead found some of our friends who are tour regulars and hung out with them. An awful lot of the frequent fliers we knew left Paris at a reasonable hour with no intention of being in the crush. It was a beautiful, astoundingly gorgeous, non-typical British weather day, we were hanging out with friends, and it was going to be fun. Whatever happened, this was a bonus show.

One of the benefits of seeing as many shows as I do is that it gives me a wider basis for comparison. It also lets me catch mistakes that someone seeing Bruce for the first time will not even notice. This is a blessing and a curse. It has to be pretty bad for me to even take notes on it, because I realize musicians are human and mistakes happen. But the beginning of the set kept throwing me out of my happy Bruce haze because there were just so many off moments: Nils not being plugged in or turned on for “Shackled” made them lose the momentum which is the whole point of using this song as an opener. “Badlands” and “Prove It” felt ragged around the edges. Steve was missing cues and I kept shrugging it off until he just point blank didn’t show up for “Wrecking Ball,” causing Bruce to fill in his part with “yeah yeah’s”. They have performed that Norman Greenbaum (or “La Grange,” depending on your point of view) version of “Reason To Believe” so often it was surprising that Bruce had to conduct them as hard as they did, and even then, he then had to get the effects turned on for the harmonica and the vocals. I love watching Bruce conduct the band but this was like when Jay Weinberg was in the band and they attempted something complex like “Lost In The Flood,” Bruce had to conduct so hard to keep things on track that it affected his concentration on his actual performance.

The other distraction for me was that Bruce’s vocals sounded ragged around the edges. I kept closing my eyes to try to figure out whether it was just my ears or if Bruce’s voice sounded a bit strained. (I close them so I can just listen and not be distracted by anything else. Maybe it’s voodoo but it always seems to help, like turning the radio off on the car when you’re lost.) The answer was yes, on and off – not a consistent hoarseness but definitely a few places where the note wasn’t as strong as it normally might be. This was the first back to back show since Stockholm Turku (thanks, Ted) and I kept wondering if that was the culprit. This is a point I try to make to people, over and over again, when I point out that these guys are not spring chickens and that there is a physical toll on their bodies because of what they do, despite the first class travel and luxury accommodations.

I know many people were furious about BITUSA being the album choice, and we have all played this game on this leg of the tour, trying to figure out what formula will tell us whether or not a show will have a full album performance or not. I spent 4 days in Gijon reassuring Spaniards that they would not get BITUSA because he was probably planning to play it in Paris, but that none of us actually knew what the formula was. And the group of people I was standing with actually all had a feeling that it was going to be Born To Run.

And then it was BITUSA and our first thought was to go get something to drink, while all around us people jumped up and down. My notes said, “100,000 BITUSA shirts can’t be wrong.”

But I was not disappointed in the London show because he played BITUSA. That one is all on me. I am a tireless promoter of the fact that you can’t tailor a show for the diehards because repeat visitors maybe make up 2% of the audience of an average show, no matter who the band is and no matter how much Bruce appreciates us being there. I was disappointed in the London show because I felt the performance was lacking. I had a lot of superlatives to offer about the performance of the album in Paris even though I thought that show was also disappointing from a setlist perspective. I was not disappointed in it from a performance or execution perspective.

I could go on and list all of the things I wrote down in terms of errors or flubs or missed cues but it is honestly the sum of the whole of all of it that has the impact. One of the things I’ve always admired about Bruce is that he is completely professional when errors do happen–he shrugs them off, he makes a joke, he keeps going, he doesn’t let it bring him down or get angry. But there were just too many.

I loved Adele coming out for DITD and I loved Pam getting the guitar. That was absolutely special to watch.

At the end of the album, after the bows (another tradition I love), we were pretty much expecting “Pay Me My Money Down” but instead he didn’t even bother, going right into “Sunny Day,” which was sloppy, followed by a lugubrious “Lonesome Day” into a not-much-better version of “The Rising”. I am wincing while the woman next to me is taking out her phone and calling her father excitedly (I know it was her father because her iphone read “DAD”).

“Light of Day” was a surprise and lost everyone in the audience standing near us. I love LOD like nobody’s business and will dance and sing so much like a crazy person that people will move away from me (it happened most recently in Pittsburgh). This was just not a solid, energetic version of “Light of Day”. It just felt like Bruce had very little left in the tank at this point.

And then, just when we had given up and were starting to talk about when we would make our walk around the field to position ourselves at an exit so we could beat a hasty retreat at the end of what would surely be the acoustic version of “Thunder Road,” he pulls a “Jungleland” sign out of the crowd. Every bone in my body screamed OH MY GOD DO NOT DO THIS BECAUSE IF IT SUCKS I WILL NEVER FORGIVE YOU, THIS IS JUNGLELAND, but then I held my breath and stood there crying like a baby. The spoken introduction to the song, so rare for him to offer something of that depth in that place. The sun was setting, the sky was beautiful, and somehow this song did it, it brought the band together, it brought the audience together in a place of unity and magic and remembrance. I had this flash to the first time I heard the “From the churches to the jails” line live in concert and how I shivered and had goosebumps and it happened again, it happens almost every time here. I was pretty much an advocate of the song being retired and was of mixed emotions about it being brought back on certain occasions, but I was very, very glad to hear it tonight.

But the end of the show went back down to normal again, with the least energetic version of “Born To Run” I have ever heard, and “10th” lacked crackle, and just when I am ready to say goodbye for this tour with “Thunder Road” echoing in my ears, instead I am walking across the astroturf towards exit 10x singing along to “My Lucky Day.” Which was odd and strange and somewhat inconclusive, I think, for this show especially. But it is goodbye.

Earlier in the night, when “Born In The USA” was making the speaker columns shake, we were off getting beers and coming back to the edges of the stage along the rail to watch the rest of the show. This was our last show of the tour — 30 shows since Atlanta for me — and there was a lot of toasting to the end of an amazing run. This show wasn’t what I hoped it would be but I am hopeful they find something to carry them through the rest of the run–Gijon shows that it still can happen–but I am done and I think Bruce is ready to be done and at some point, things do have to end.

See you further on up the road.

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Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Stade de France, 6-29-13

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There is not much I can actually say about this show. Tonight I wrote the News report for Backstreets, which is more detailed than the reports I usually file for Brucespringsteen.net and there isn’t much I left out of the Backstreets report.

It was a Saturday night in Paris on a BITUSA anniversary and what you got was what we got the third night in Stockholm, a show for the people in the back row and the people on the side and the people drinking beer, and for the English couple we met walking back to the hotel from the Stade de France, who saw Rhianna last week and Bruce this week and sat in seats at the back of the venue. There was nothing extraordinary or incredibly special or mindblowing about this show. It was the kind of show I didn’t want to see when Bruce made the move to stadiums during BITUSA, which is why I never really saw a stadium show (more on that below). There were fun moments and great moments, and even great moments within the performance of BITUSA. But it wasn’t the kind of thing that makes us spend hours sitting on tarmac or queueing for days. On the other hand, I am pretty sure most people walked out of Stade de France thinking it was the best thing they’d ever seen, and that is why he played that kind of set and that is who he played it for.

On the other hand, the difference between that Bruce and the Bruce tonight is that the old Bruce would still challenge the people in the back rows. He would play acoustic sets in stadiums. He would do interesting things. Let’s remember that this is only holding him to the standard that HE SET. The standard that brought us here in the first place.

I disagree with everyone who says he is unengaged with the audience. I think he is very engaged with the audience. I just think he is worried about the larger audience as a whole and connecting with the person who has never seen him before than he is about connecting with the people who he already has converted into being a fan.

The worst possible offender of tonight’s set was ‘Pay Me My Money Down’. It would be fine if we just kept it about the music, because the horns are great, and the horns dancing are great, but whoever had the idea to add those ridiculous second line umbrellas to the stage for reasons that escape me completely except that yes, you could say that this particular rendition of the song was New Orleans-influenced (but you could probably say that about anything with an extensive horn arrangement in this style). But it was just so over the top and ridiculous I just did not know what to do or where to look (although I am fond of watching the horns surround Steve and mock-menace him). A Dutch fan I stood next to today said, “I really like the Seeger Sessions, it showcases Bruce as a musician, I just wish the songs were better,” to which I said a hearty AMEN.

But that changes nothing about the setlist tonight, which was as dry and rote and boring as you could possibly get.

The pre-set, on the other hand, was magic. We sat down when we entered the pit, and then there was an idiotic early stage rush, and then we tried to sit down again. I saw Gil walking out in front of the stage and had just said, ‘Hey, there’s Gil, Bruce must be here–” when we heard the guitar chords and were all PRE-SET, MOTHERFUCKERS! I think I would have paid the price of admission just to see that version of “Burning Love”. It was lovely to stand there with the Italians and the Spanish and the Dutch and the French and sing “This Hard Land” and “Growin’ Up.” It was wonderful to see our friends from Norway and the Netherlands and the extended family of 12 who drove to Gijon and then Paris and to finally meet Rene from Backstreets and learn that the Finns have a lovely and sarcastic sense of humor that would make them feel at home anywhere in New York City.

And tomorrow is another show. It could be another album or it could be something else entirely. There is no queuing tomorrow and for that I am thankful, because I could not stand there for another 12 hours for another set like tonight’s.

*[i say never really because I did see about 1/3 of one for free after sitting outside Three Rivers Stadium for most of the show, listening.]

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Concert Review: Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Estadio El Molinon, Gijon, Spain, 27 June 2013

For those interested in my position tonight #brucegijon

I reviewed this show for brucespringsteen.net.

Springsteen in Spain is hot and loud and smoky and bouncy and pretty much everything you know about from the Barcelona DVD. The fans started the queue on the Wednesday the week before the show, and by the time we arrived on Sunday night I was just happy to be under 200. (By comparison, I arrived at the Dublin queue at 4pm the day before the show and got number 163.)

Most of the queue was Spanish. The roll calls were in Spanish. I learned my number by watching the people ahead of me and recognizing things like forty or fifty, and by the last day was an old hand at replying “Acqi!” to “ciento ochenta y seis” and could tell when the line leader was skipping numbers because of no-shows. There were some very kind Spanish twitter friends who were happy to translate the announcements that were more complicated than “Next roll call at 5pm.”

The day of the show we all showed up at 10am, were loaded into a set of barriers, and sat on the tarmac until they loaded us into the venue at 6pm. After three days of freezing and wishing I had brought more long sleeve shirts, we roasted out there. The stadium is in a residential area, and there is, miracle of miracles, a grocery store. We would go there in the morning after 10am check-in to buy breakfast and lunch, and on show day it provided a continual supply of cold water.

I love that first moment when you walk into the venue after being on line all day; El Molinon is not exactly San Siro but it was still impressive to walk through the gate and onto the pitch and carefully walk as quickly as possible on the terraplas to the front. Ticket time was 9 p.m., and everyone sat down for quite a while, until there was a mad rush for the stage, and then we stood in cramped, hot quarters until Bruce took the stage at some point around 9:20pm. He looked good and rested, and like he had a new haircut.

The main topic of conversation since I joined the queue had been whether or not Gijon would be an album show. Besides the handful of folks nursing the usual River full album show delusion — there was an enormous sign in the front corner for it, even — mostly people just didn’t want a BITUSA show. I did not think that this would be an album show and was of the opinion that since this was the only show in Spain this year, that he would treat it as a show for all of his fans, and not a show for a small town in the north of Spain that needed the greatest hits.

The reality was, probably not surprisingly, somewhere in the middle.

There’s a saying in our house about these kinds of shows: “Live by the signs, die by the signs.” If Bruce picks the right signs and plays the songs at the right time, it can be great or it can fall flat on its face. Tonight I thought he was doing a good job picking signs, and not just because, for the first time, Bruce saw my sign, specifically asked for it, and held it up saying, “We’ll play that one later.”

(It was my sign for “Rocky Ground” that I carried all over Scandinavia, with the slightly obnoxious comment at the bottom” “Such a good song, remember it? Maybe play it!” I would learn later that “Rocky Ground” had been on the printed setlist to open the encore. Still, given that my previous attempts at sign requests have been 3,497,208 to 0 [or at least it feels like it], I am still feeling fairly triumphant, although I am also feeling like I am getting out of the sign request business.)

But I digress.

I thought the opener was perfect: “My Love” for the diehards in the pit, “Out In The Street” for the fans in the stands. The “Better Days” sign came from a kid who had to be maybe 13 or 14 and at the front of the queue. I’m never going to complain about “Ain’t Good Enough For You” or a Creedence cover, but I just didn’t understand what it was doing in that part of the set. Jake’s solo in “Travelin’ Band” was fantastic and Roy played some seriously evil piano in his solo.

I was a little disappointed that he skipped “We Take Care Of Our Own” in favor of “Death To My Hometown.” Frankly, DTMH feels kind of stale right now and I can’t think of why he insists on keeping it in there except that maybe he feels like he needs a spectacle with everyone in the band down front in that point of the set.

ON THAT NOTE:

Where, I ask, is the anti-Everett Bradley movement? You don’t like Patti because she changes the dynamic – for fuck’s sake, there is way too much EVERYTHING going on in that corner of the stage. The people who like Everett probably loved Jay Weinberg because he “energized” the band but yet think it’s blasphemous for people to be excited about Tom Morello working with Bruce.

END RANT

The “Jack of All Trades” into “The River” into “Atlantic City” was an absolutely magnificent thematic arc. I would have been seriously disappointed had he not played ‘Jack’ in Spain of all places, and it was a magnificent version tonight that commanded the audience. “The River” in Europe is always going to be a moment, the harmonica and 12-string echoing through the stands, the crowd singing their hearts out. And “Atlantic City” was absolutely magnificent. Bruce called for quiet, shhhing the crowd just before the last verse, which was delivered with a different phrasing, calling your attention to the actions of the song’s main character.

I also thought of James Gandofini during the “Tonight I met this guy/and I’m gonna do a little favor for him”. (There was a sign tonight requesting “Don’t Stop Believin’” for both Gandolfini and Max’s mom. There were a lot of signs tonight, so much so that even though I was in prime position for the centre mic photo, there is no way you would find me.)

I am happy to report that the horns are still dancing their hearts out. I would love to know who is the main choreographer for these little routines. I want to know when they practice. Also, Curt Ramm is sporting a fashionable new newsboy cap.

Bruce switches guitars, yells at Steve (who is still on the mandolin finishing “Atlantic City”) to get himself a guitar, and out of nowhere (well, not really, I guess, when there was a sign for PLEASE PLAY THE ENTIRE RIVER ALBUM that was quite literally as tall as Bruce) we got “You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch).” And I know, we needed hijinks after that three song arc of despair and depression, and it was vintage Bruce-and-Stevie at the center mic. This was the start of the show for the people in the stands, your “Darlington” and your “Because the Night” and your “She’s The One”. The latter was exceptional by the machine-gun pose with which Bruce began the song and the decidedly Link Wray-esque solo at the end.

Time for more signs. This was where mine was requested and taken and commented on, along with the incredibly annoying Fender-shaped sign for “Rosie” which got in every photo I tried to take all night because its own held it up during every song. I was not sure how I would feel about “Rosalita” in this point in the set and I am still on the fence here simply because my own personal setlist muscle memory makes it mean one thing in my brain, but this was joyous and raucous and Steve went all out, donning someone’s cowboy hat and then someone’s American flag sunglasses, and Jake came down too, and there was a minor white riot at the center platform. It was everything “Rosalita” should be. I think it worked energetically, but am not 100% sure on that.

You would think that “Drive All Night” after “Sunny Day” would be the trainwreck-iest of all trainwreck segues and you would probably be right, except that it was such a magnificent version of “Drive All Night” and the audience was so happy to hear it–there were signs for it everywhere, including two huge banners hanging off the top deck of the stadium–that it worked. There was chatter and murmuring (which is much less annoying when you can’t understand what they’re saying) but then at some point it stopped and the crowd was about as silent as a crowd in a football stadium is ever going to be. Jake’s solo was magnificent, sharper, a slightly brighter tone I think, and Bruce’s vocals were rich and smoky. Steve’s harmonies were spot on; Soozie joined at one point and was not needed and actually detracted in my opinion.

“The Rising” and “Badlands” let everybody jump up and down again, the songs that they wanted to hear, even in the stands, and then Steve points at a sign and goes over to Bruce and is rather insistent. “Light of Day” was a little shaky here, for all of the signs I saw requesting it I do not think many people knew it. The kid next to me who went fucking nuts over “Sunny Day” looked totally bored during LOD. Steve requested the song and then lived up to his end of the bargain with a razor-sharp solo.

Instead of turning around and picking up the bright green sign reading ROCKY GROUND, Bruce ran out to the stage right platform and picked up a sign and ran back. “Radio Nowhere?” He must have thought that he had lost the crowd during “Light of Day” and wasn’t going to take a chance with “Rocky Ground”.

So then you have your run o’ hits, BITUSA, Born To Run, “Seven Nights To Rock,” complete with Bruce’s butt playing piano and guitar, and then “Dancing In The Dark.” Bruce pulled a girl up to dance, and then pulled a second girl up and put an acoustic guitar on her. Now, she didn’t know how to play guitar, but I was struck tonight that there is something so empowering and kind of radical that he continues to do this: it’s not just a woman dancing and looking pretty, here’s a chance for you to stand with the guys and perform. It is actually pretty feminist and I dig it a lot. (Maybe in 10 years girls won’t sing “Sunny Day” but will come up and play a solo on something instead. Or hell, rhythm guitar, even. I WOULD LIKE THAT A LOT MORE.)

“Tenth Avenue,” and once again I dislike the lack of band introductions. This is just wrong. This is something that Bruce has always done and there is no reason to stop now except for the fact that there are too many people in the band, but that is a subject for another day, and a sign to me that he is ready to stop this tour and go do something new. (More on this later.) (CORRECTION: Bruce did introduce the band during Twist and Shout but I missed it because I was making my way away from hair-pulling children)

“Twist and Shout” is fun and it’s greatand who doesn’t love it but there is no reason the E Street Band could not play any one of a long list of other wonderful covers that the audience would know just as well and enjoy just as much.

On the other hand, to be at the back of the pit (where we had retreated after a child whose parents kept putting on their shoulders using me as a cantilever pulled my hair hard at the beginning of “Twist and Shout”) with a bunch of Spanish people when Bruce Springsteen starts playing “Shout!” is probably one of the most fun things I have ever done. Everyone, even people who had been standing still and probably thinking about beating an early retreat to the exit, were suddenly jumping and dancing and singing along.

And then, at the end, my first exposure of this acoustic “Thunder Road” to end the set. It is intimate and special and beautiful and heartbreaking and is the first moment in this show where I feel like there is a bit of goodbye and farewell in here.

Was it a perfect show? No. Was it a good show with some great moments? Yes, absolutely. Am I glad I saw a show in Spain? 100 times yes.

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New York City Serenade: Why Won’t Bruce Play It In Europe?

UPDATE 11 JULY: PLAYED IN ROME!

First, there were the signs. There were just signs, but there were signs, at least one or two at shows, I think I saw as many as four or six at the recent Scandinavian run.

This is not new, this is not unusual, it’s not like the fine Springsteen fans of Europe just discovered the song. But there is a certain sense of urgency to hear it, whether people want to say it out loud, there is a thought that this might be the last chance to hear it.

There were discussions while we were in the queue. My learned colleague Mr. Radecki would explain that “Serenade” is a song that Bruce just can’t play off of a sign, it requires rehearsal. Well, so does MF “Wages of Sin” and that was clearly rehearsed within an inch of its life with no problem.

Then, people started to get creative. Balloons in Padova:

NYC Serenade request in Padova, photo by Sarah Jones

NYC Serenade request in Padova, photo by Sarah Jones

But nothing at all beats what was done tonight at Stadio San Siro in Milan. The entire back of the stadium transformed into a giant request for the song, along with the most astonishing profession of love and understanding for the man’s body of work. (No, that’s not a “Sherry Darling” reference, and I don’t mean to insult you but multiple people on Twitter thought that.)

I had been wondering this during the Scandinavian run, because Bruce has made himself enormously available to the fans this time out. Everyone who has gone to the hotel has gotten a photo or a handshake or an autograph. (If Bruce didn’t want any of that to happen, security is perfectly capable of escorting him out alternate entrances.) There have been requests and signs and notes and probably dozens if not hundreds of conversations with fans. There is no way that Bruce Springsteen is not aware of his European fans’ genuine fervor to hear “New York City Serenade” played live.

So why isn’t he playing it?

First things first. Let’s take a look at the facts on the ground: it’s not like “New York City Serenade” gets played a lot in the United States. Here is a helpful graph from Brucebase.

“New York City Serenade” has only been played SEVEN TIMES since the Bottom Line shows in 1975.

If you look at the dates:
1999-08-11 – CONTINENTAL AIRLINES ARENA, EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ
1999-08-27 – FLEET CENTER, BOSTON, MA
1999-09-25 – FIRST UNION CENTER, PHILADELPHIA, PA
1999-09-30 – UNITED CENTER, CHICAGO, IL
2000-06-20 – MADISON SQUARE GARDEN, NEW YORK CITY, NY
2003-10-03 – SHEA STADIUM, NEW YORK CITY, NY
2009-11-07 – MADISON SQUARE GARDEN, NEW YORK CITY, NY
2013-07-11 – ROME!

One of those performances was at the full WIESS album show at the Garden, which in my opinion makes it an outlier in this list because I seriously doubt we would have heard that song on that tour otherwise, so we’re down to six times. And if you look at the rest of the dates, there’s no real pattern or one thing you could point to definitively. Things like, the show after The Birthday Show in 99, the last show of the 03 tour, the second-to-last show at the first Reunion shows at CAA – when you start playing that game, the logic falls apart and starts to get a little dodgy and not based enough in facts. But just the sheer lack of prevalence can probably safely be attributed to the song’s complexity and that Bruce seemed to reserve it for special occasions.

All of that said, I would have expected to have heard it come out in Europe by now, and I remain perplexed that it does not. Until this afternoon, when I was marveling at the fan coordination in San Siro and rueing the fact that I had to cancel my trip to Italy, and I thought of this passage in Marc Dolan’s great Springsteen biography, Bruce Springsteen and the Promise of Rock and Roll:

“…In ‘New York City Serenade,’…the narrator’s perpective becomes more overt as the verse go on. With each verse portrait, the young, out-of-town narrator is less a voyeur in relation to the Manhattan scene that he witnesses and more a participatn in its nightly interactions.

“Musically, the arrangement of ‘New York City Serenade’ captures this feeling exquisitely: Springsteen’s singing and guitar playing do not dominate the world that this track creates, as they did in ‘New York Song,’ but clearly respond to it. Given the song’s possible racial overtones, it’s interesting to note that the two musicians to whom Springsteen is primarily responding here are both African American: David Sancious, whose piano begins and ends the track and provides the grounding for its sonic world; and Clarence Clemons, whose saxophone enters this arrangement at the exact point in the second verse (Won’t you take my hand/Walk with me down Broadway) when Springsteen’s narrator begins to interact with that world’s inhabitants. Musically at least, the track seems to tell us that this is Sancious’s and Clemons’s world, not Springsteen’s.”

I don’t know why Bruce doesn’t play “Serenade” in Europe but I feel like this is close to some of it. I don’t know. I could be wrong. I think there is some truth there, some connection to Clarence that’s making him avoid it. Because it’s not being left out because of lack of rehearsal, because Bruce doesn’t know what “NYCS” means, because he only plays it in New York (which isn’t true anyway), because he somehow does not know what it means to the fans in Europe.

Your guess is as good as mine. And at this point, someone waiting outside the hotel somewhere should just ask, and find out.

==
Thanks as always to Brucebase for research and scholarship.
(If you want to know why it matters to get the soundchecks right: look at Brucebase from 20 years ago!)

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