Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band – April 27, 2012 – LA Sports Arena

Of course I started this a week ago and work commitments got in the way.  I hate to keep apologizing for being late, but better late than never….and I will ultimately get them all done!

It’s always interesting to see an artist that your familiar with on back to back nights.  And, since Bruce changes his set from night to night there are always the inevitable questions about how the show will differ.  Night two was a somewhat different experience, but for a variety of reasons, not really having to do with the band or the performance.

For night two in LA, I went with one of my oldest friend’s (Dave and his wife Karen).  I was really lucky that out of the four Bruce shows that I saw in April that I was accompanied by good friends to three of them.  And, that does have an effect on how (at least for me) the performance comes across.

Night one in New Jersey was the most emotional show for me (and to me).  It was my first show without Clarence and that empty spot at stage right hit me the hardest on that night.

Night two (which I still need to do a full review on) was with my friend Tere and a couple of work friends (Paul and Micah), it felt more celebratory and fun than the first night had.  But, we’d also just wrapped a challenging work show of our own and I think were in a mood to celebrate.  Like a lot of life, I think you do often get hat you’re looking for out of show, the first night I brought baggage, the second I brought a more relaxed attitude and had a more fun experience.

Night three, I’ve covered recently, but it was with a friend who has a long history of his own seeing Bruce.  And with whom I often have some very deep philosophical discussions of work, politics, the economy, you name it.  So, I ended up being a bit more analytical and also being in a bit of pain with trying to stand for 4+ hours on my bad knees….that was NOT a good idea on my part.

So, with all that I headed to the Sports Arena on Friday with Dave and Karen.

They arrived a little faster than I’d expected and we rushed out the door and onto the freeway.  As we neared MLK off the 110 Fwy, I realized I’d left the tickets on my computer keyboard at home.  UGH.  We called Ticketmaster and sorted out with them canceling the tickets and picking up new ones at Will Call.  We were laughing about how technology has affected our lives and how in the old days we’d have been making the long trek home.  So, things were off a shaky. but not horrible start.  We missed the drawing for pit wristbands by a few minutes.  So, we walked over near USC to have dinner at a pizza place.  When we got back, Dave bought a ticket for Karen (she’d joined us last minute).

I decided that I just couldn’t handle standing in GA again for a second night and went to the box office to see about ADA seating.  Of course the box office is only set up to make you…(wait for it)….stand in a long line to see if you can get a seat because you can’t stand….(They could take a few tips from Coachella on that system).

However, things worked out okay when Dave was able to collar a fellow from the band who was helping sort out VIP tickets and he said he’d take care of getting me a seat.  As good as his word, he came back a bit later to where I was leaning with a nice aisle Loge seat to exchange for my GA.  It was really nice of him to handle it and gives me the feeling that the team supporting Bruce are a pretty nice group of folks.

Bruce was very late starting (almost 8:45), but it was a heck of a great show once again.  Here’s the setlist:

No Surrender
We Take Care of Our Own
Wrecking Ball
Badlands
Death to my Hometown (Morello)
City of Ruins
Does this Bus Stop at 82nd Street?
Jack of All Trades (morello)
Youngstown
Prove it all Night
Darkness on the Edge of Town
Easy Money
Sunny Day
Apollo Medley
Racing in the Street
The Rising
Lonesome Day
We are Alive
Ghost of Tom Joad (Morello)
Land of Hope and Dreams (Morello)
Rocky Ground
Bobby Jean
Born to Run
Dancing in the Dark
10th Ave Freeze Out

I was much more comfortable than standing the night before.  But, the music still carried the same impact and passion.  This may have been the best balanced show of the four for me.  Good friends, a comfortable seat with a good view…it was the full package.

“Prove it all night” into “Darkness on the edge of Town” was as brilliant as when I heard it in 1978.  “Racing in the Street” had it’s wonderful solo by Roy while Charles did his best impression of Danny’s original organ parts that wove in and around the piano.  From the Born in the USA album, “No Surrender” and “Bobby Jean” made somewhat surprising appearances into the set as well.

And those ghosts that I saw around me in NJ (sort of a movie of my life) back when I was alone on the very emotional first show without Clarence were still around me here in LA.  But, I can recognize them now and have a better sense of why they exist.

We all carry them and we all bring them to life in different ways.  Since music (and in specific Springsteen’s music) haas been such a constant for me since I was 18 years old.  It makes sense that hearing those songs in a show that rather pointedly reflects on both loss and celebration would open those memories up and remind me of my personal losses and victories.

As we all age, things start to become a bit more limited and finite for us…we hope for another day, but we have no promises.  So, we reflect, mourn, celebrate…and as always look to an uncertain future.  I certainly hope that Bruce will be back in the fall and maybe I can see him again.  But there are no guarantees in this life…so I have to keep my faith and hope, but allow it to still be tempered with experience and knowledge.

In the 34 years that I’ve watched Bruce, we’ve both grown older (and hopefully a bit wiser).  We are touched by loss, and still thrilled by the things that give us joy.  So, as he sang at at each show (and the core message that I’ve taken away from them)

“We’ve Been Traveling Over Rocky Ground”….but, make no mistake about it.  “We Are Alive”.

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Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band – LA Sports Arena – April 26, 2012

So, this is not going to be in chronological order…I still have so much Coachella stuff to write.  Plus, I’m actually at work and have a ton of stuff I need to be doing.

But, this has ended up as one of the most intense weeks of concerts I experienced since maybe my Glastonbury trip.  I know that I’m falling behind here because of sheer number of shows and needing to, you know the part about actually holding a job and fitting in some sleep somewhere.

I wanted to just write this last night, but couldn’t avoid getting some sleep.  Now, I’m about 5 hours from heading back for one more show to cap the week (Springsteen Night 2 in LA).  So, I’m going to shift gears from work and try to get this out there before I try to finish Coachella or my other backlog from the month.

Did I mention that I’m a damn lucky guy….I get to do all this concert going  because I have this wonderful and understanding wife who recognizes how much this crazy stuff means to me and makes it possible for me to act like a teenager with no cares in the world sometimes.  Plus, I have a job that’s flexible enough that I can travel and get opportunities I’d never have with a traditional 9-5.  I guess sometimes things just really are that good.

So, back to Springsteen.

I had some of the easiest traffic to the Sports Arena ever…seriously, just over 40 minutes to LA in rush hour?  It took me half that time again to actually park once I got off at MLK.  (By the way Sports Arena…$25 to PARK?…seriously?).  I now the place is having financial issues, but don’t try to clean up your entire budget on two shows.

I met my old friend John, another Springsteen fan from way back (and originally from Jersey to boot) and we dashed across the road (well, as much dashing as my knees allow these days) and grabbed a burger and fries.  We caught up on industry gossip a little and wandered back into the arena about 7:30.  I was able to grab a spot to lean by the FOH rail and even chat with the house engineer to pass a message to him from a mutual friend.  He said he was loving the new K1 rig they were using, but it was so good he really had to be on his game because any mistakes were very apparent.  He has his hands full with 17 musicians on stage and after a little fine tuning early in the show I thought he did a stellar job.

Bruce and the band hit the stage about 8:15, he seems to have dropped the self-intro (which is shame) and instead they marched up to the “Theme from the Magnificent Seven”.  Without a word he launched into “Badlands”, the same song I saw him open with at my first show in 1978.  It’s a great opener and really sets a tone….and the tone tonight was that the band was going to be on fire.  It’s really amazing to see a band multiple times on a tour and for me this was seeing them after a break of a couple weeks from seeing the MSG show on 4-6.

The structure of the set was similar, but you could feel within a few songs that the musicians had shifted a little and were finding their spaces in the songs.  Izod and MSG were carried on passion…this had the same fire, but the arrangements had subtle shifts that showed an attention to detail and talent that I’ve always known you get from the E-Street Band.  They are not just one of the best bands ever, they are a huge part of what’s allowed Bruce to be one of the most respected rock performers of the past half century.  I saw him with the Sessions Band, he’s an amazing performer in any setting.  But, the backing from E-Street (appearing effortless, and yet certainly the result of tons of work) gives him the space and flexibility to do things like audible songs and swap them around without missing a beat.

My best story about the band doing that is when I saw them in Orlando in November 2002.  They played a killer show and during the encores Bruce turned around and gathered them around him.  In an instant, they roared into the “Detroit Medley” for the first time in 18 or so years on stage.  And it was near flawless….I still stand in awe of any group that can at the drop of a hat play a song in front of 18,000 people that they haven’t done in close to two decades….make no mistake, these guys are the best.

So, back to last night.

“We Take Care of Our Own” was followed by “Wrecking Ball”…I still can’t quite put my finger on it, but the football imagery and content of “Wrecking Ball” still seem to make me think of my late brother, Orville.  He was a giant (certainly in my mind) and a champion (AFL 1960 & 1961) and I just can’t hear it now without thinking of him and feeling a sense of loss.

So much of this tour is about loss.  Loss of family, loss of faith, loss of those you love who surround you for a time and then are gone from your life.  But, it’s not maudlin and actually not even that sad really.  It’s a recognition that we all (over time) lose things that mean the most to us and yet we still need to support each other, take time to grieve with each other, but then continue on down our roads.  I think that’s the most brilliant thing he’s done (and that I’ve been able to figure out) about these last three shows I’ve seen.  Like life…these shows are both happy and sad without ever going too far and  being too sad, or just mindless and oblivious fun.

From the River album, “The Ties that Bind” seemed a perfect choice to follow, then Tom Morello joined for a stomping version of the celtic tinged “Death to My Hometown”.  An introduction of the band and “My City of Ruins” followed.  The introduction to it containing the now familiar lines (to me at least)….”If we’re here, and you’re here…then THEY are here too”….referring in some ways not just to Clarence and Danny, but a more universal feeling of remembrance of all those we’ve lost and miss.  Then, the repeated lines of “Rise UP, Rise UP” echoed by the crowd reaching a fervor usually contained in a gospel church service.

Maintaining that fine balance, they shifted back towards the fun side with a rollicking “E-Street Shuffle” before Tom Morello came back out  for “Jack of All Trades”.  Next came a trio of lesser played songs that seemed like a nod to the fanatics like me in the crowd.  “Something in the Night”, “Candy’s Room” and “She’s the One” with Jake Clemons once again filling his uncles huge shoes flawlessly on the later.  He’s been a revelation and seems to be carving out a larger and larger role for himself each time I’ve seen them.  Hard to imagine he’s so young and yet so confident.  It seems he must have spent a lot of time learning from his uncle…he’s not Clarence and not trying to be…but, he’s an amazing kid taking on a huge legacy without flinching and with great style and grace.  In some ways, his presence alone is another subtle reminder of both our losses and yet our ability to somehow continue on.

“Easy Money” featured a nice duet with Bruce and Patti center stage followed by “Sunny Day” a song that some hardcore fans aren’t thrilled with, but yet is a crowd favorite and at each show now features a sing along with a child pulled from the crowd.  I suspect there’s a bit of a deeper message that may be hidden here as well, but at it’s center it’s a song that breaks the tension, lets the crowd sing along and again keeps the show in balance for fans of all stripes…new, old, hardcore, casual…there’s room for everyone on this train.

Next up was the “Apollo Medley” with it’s taking intro about how soul music was how a band in New Jersey survived playing dances in 60’s….”The way you do the things you do” and “634-5789” are brilliant choices and a pair of cover songs I don’t mind hearing night after night by this band.

Tom Morello came back for “The Ghost of Tom Joad” and one of his mind blowing solos.  Although for me having seen it three times it’s lost a tiny bit of the sheer shock value it had the first time.  Nonetheless, it’s a good fit into the set and message of the show and I wasn’t unhappy to have it appear once again.  (This was the first time it was played on this tour).  “The Rising” and “Lonesome Day” came next and then “We are Alive” which still connects very deeply for me.

A few of it’s lines “…Let your mind rest easy….Sleep well my friend….It’s only our bodies that betray us in the end…” really being a big part of the core message of the entire show.  Speaking of how our “…spirits rise…to stand shoulder to shoulder and heart to heart” one once again gets that dual sense of sadness and yet optimism.

He finished the main set with “Land of Hope and Dreams”, a departure from “Thunder Road”, and while I missed Thunder Road….Land of Hope and Dreams was another rousing plea for us all to get on board with everyone else “saints, sinners, whores, gamblers and lost souls” to find that better place for each of us.  It’s no mistake that it borrows heavily from Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready”….it’s really the same message…and sent as a message of hope to end this sermon at the church of rock and roll.

The encores are generally more about the fun side.  But, they start again on a more somber note…a recognition of the challenges we’ve all faced on our own roads…”Rocky Ground”.    Again, as this was a show about balance, the serious  message of a “…shepherd  who must gather his flock to higher ground…” was followed by the rare and pure fun cover of an old 60’s gem “California Sun”, played completely for one of the few times ever.  “Born to Run” honestly never changes and will just always be there for the crowd to sing along to.  The same with “Dancing in the Dark” (the only cut he played from the Born in the USA).

To close, (as with each show so far this tour) was “10th Ave Freeze Out”.  The oft told story of band forming now taking on a higher purpose as a memorial to Clarence  with the band still stopping cold on the line “….the change was made uptown and the big man joined the band….”….followed by an arena cutting lose and cheering while a montage of photos of Clarence is shown on the screens.  It’s handled so well…it’s become a wonderful celebration and way showing of respect and love to his memory.

With that, they left the stage having played a little less than 3 hours without a pause….

I don’t really understand how he has the energy and the ability to do this at age 62.  But, every show I get to see by him is a gift, not to be taken for granted.  I’ve never seen him have an off night, or give less than 110%.

So, I’m back again tonight for one more…I’m sure that songs will swap in and out of the set.  But the over-riding message and energy will remain the same….We ARE alive…

Something old…this wasn’t played last night, but it was filmed the night before I saw him the first time in 1978, and I just feel like hearing it right now:

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Coachella Day 1 – April 20, 2012 – The Evening

Well, I have to admit the main reason I broke this up was sheer exhaustion last night.  There’s just so much to say and describe!  It may take me a few days, but I will get it all out there.  And, I also would like to just say thank you to each of your for taking time to read my thoughts.  I had a very cool jump  in page views yesterday and it’s both motivating and scary to think there are actually people out there reading my ramblings.

So a heartfelt thank you to everyone who has stopped by in the past couple days.

Here goes with my evening Day 1

After Dawes I finally decided it had cooled enough to head to the Outdoor Stage.  I really couldn’t miss it, since it was Madness, a band I loved going back to the early 80’s and that I’d never seen.  By the time I’d arrived, I missed the opening couple numbers.  But still arrived in time to hear them burst into “My Girl” followed by “The Sun and the Rain” then “Taller than you are” with a great bit played by the horns of “California Girls” by the Beach Boys.

They were very tight and seasoned pros at working the crowd.  The banter by Suggs focused on how much money they’d lost in Las Vegas on their stop there a couple nights before.  Basically, it was everything you’d hope for from a Madness show….and it only took me 30 years to see one!

They did one song I’m not as familiar with, but judging from other recent set lists I think that it was “Ironshirt.  Then they reeled off a string of familiar songs and the hits….”Bed and Breakfast Man”, “Forever Young” (Dedicated to Suggs daughter in the crowd), “House of Fun”, “Baggy Trousers”…the inevitable “Our House”  (why is it that the biggest hits are often not the most interesting song by a band?)….”It must be Love” and then they wrapped with “Madness” and “Night Boat to Cairo”.

It was brilliant to sit there as the sun finally set and hear songs I’ve listed to for 30 years played by a crack band of musicians.  One of my top five sets of the whole weekend.  I had a brilliant time.

It was a short jaunt to the Main Stage where Pulp was just underway.  I’d seen Pulp the night before in Pomona (That review is still to come), and even though I missed the first couple songs they were just as epic the second night in a row.

Prior to seeing them, I really had no idea just how brilliant a frontman Jarvis Cocker is.  The standout cuts of the set for me were “Disco 2000”, “Sorted for E’s & Wizz” (Including a 4-20 joke about the smoke on stage”, “This is Hardcore” (which just had a awesome, creepy vibe), “Sunrise” (not as epic as the night before, but still amazing) and of course “Common People” which prompted a nice sing along.

This band is nearly criminally unknown in the US.  Mostly due to lack of touring.  The last time they played this area was 1996….But, they are in the same league with Oasis and Blur from the 90’s Brit Invasion era.  I can’t really compare line ups of the band, but I will say that this band was awesome and I really hope that it’s not the last time they come here and perform.

I could only find a full show of the Coachella clips that weren’t crowds shot and shaky…so, here’s a better clip of them from the Brit Awards:

So, that’s a pretty fine run of three bands….Dawes, Madness and Pulp.  A heck of nice roll….would it continue?

I wasn’t really interested in the Black Keys….I like a lot of blues, but their stuff has never really moved me.  So, I decided to head back to the Mojave tent and hear The Rapture and M-83.  Apparently I missed John Fogery guesting with the Black Keys on “The Weight”….but, I’ve seen John a few times and overall I think I made the right decision.  (Face it, you’re always going to miss stuff at a festival, so you just can’t let it bother you much.  If it’s meant to be for you, it’ll happen…otherwise, just enjoy what you do pick and the choices you make.)

I’d seen them on the web stream the week before and they were danceable, tight and had the whole Mojave Tent rocking.  They finished with a triple shot of “Echoes”, “Sail Away” and “How Deep is you Love”….which I found sort amusing since those are all titles of songs by other artists that I like (Pink Floyd, Randy Newman and Bee Gees)…but, all of the songs played were original songs by the Rapture.

Love the music guys….But, maybe you should spend a little more time on the whole song-naming-thing…

M-83 had a big buzz prior to the show and I decided they would be a good way to wrap up my night.  They drew a huge crowd and while I’m not knowledgable enough about their catalog to quote a set list….it rocked.  They reminded me a bit of Hot Chip who I saw at Glastonbury.  Very danceable and fun electronic based music.

Well, I did know Midnight City, as it’s been pretty hard to miss.  I don’t see any good clips of it from the festival, so here’s one from last week filed at the Music Box in Hollywood.

There was so much to choose from, I was sad to have missed Arctic Monkeys (too hot), Jimmy Cliff (did hear “The Harder they come” from a distance), Mazzy Star (the web stream just didn’t impress me), Explosions in the Sky (conflicted with M-83) and The Sheepdogs (also too hot).  But, I really felt even with the heat I got a lot of music stuff into a single day on Friday.

I let the crowd disperse from M-83 and headed to the ADA booth to try and get a ride back to the shuttle to not have to make the insanely long walk that they had created for the hotel shuttles.  Sadly, no one was there at that moment, so I ended up striking out and taking the better part of a hour to get to my shuttle….all the while I got to listen to Swedish House Mafia….honestly, without the lasers and the screens….it’s not that great to listen to…especially when you’re hobbling along over a mile on bad knees you’ve already been walking on for 14 hours.  Really, it was the only blemish on an otherwise nearly perfect day.

I think I finally made it back to my room around 2am and got to fall into bed to try and prepare for day 2.

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Coachella Day 1 – April 20, 2012 – The Afternoon

Well, now that I’ve spent some time on my best act, I guess I’d better start in on the rest of my weekend.

I’d gotten to my hotel late on Thursday night, and of course even though I’d called, my reservation was messed up.  I realize that I’d booked the days at different times…but seriously Red Roof Inn…how hard is it to merge a couple reservations under the same name and credit card.  Fairly impossible it seems.  So, they “upgraded” me to a king room, but I’d have to check out the next day and check back in.

So I started my day hauling my bags to the office and storing them with the knowledge I’d have to drag them to my room sometime in the early hours when I returned from the festival.  (of course even better was later on when I also had to go though all the paperwork for a second time to check back in at 1:30am…before I could drag them to my room.)

Thankfully the shuttle stop at the Tennis Garden was much more organized.  There was no wait and I was right onto a bus headed to the festival…and air conditioned bus, the last AC I’d get to feel for about 14 hours.  Did I mention it was over 100 already?  Yeah, hot as hell hot….over 100 and climbing.

Once off the bus we shuffled along the cattle chute fences to swipe our pass and then cross the street to a set of stations where we were searched.  From there it was a long walk through the campgrounds to reach….another search to get into the festival.  That was one of the few issues I have with the way things were set up.  The two searches were a pain and overkill…they should really consider if there is a better way to handle this.  (As well as the shuttle locations themselves which will be a later topic).

The wait at the gate was a bit long-ish and it took me about another half hour to get inside.  From there I picked up my prepaid locker key, stored some of my extra stuff (a change of t-shirt and a couple things I didn’t want to lug around all day), then I went to ADA booth.  Due to my bad knees, I’d asked my Dr to write a note to allow me (if possible) into an ADA seating area.  They were extremely nice and helpful there, giving me a wristband to allow me a seat when available.  They ended up being available at every stage I tried and each platform was staffed by very nice folks.  This was a huge win for the festival…they really made it possible for an old guy like me with bad knees to still have a great experience on site and enjoy the show.  Not sure how’d I’ve have handled it if I had to stand all day.

At this point in the heat I realized I’d need to make some on the fly decisions.  I wanted to see The Sheepdogs, but they were at the Outdoor Stage and there was no way I was going to cook in the mid-day sun out there.  I adjusted my sights and headed to the Mojave Tent for honeyhoney.  I had their EP and had heard some good buzz about them from weekend 1.  They didn’t disappoint.

Suzanne Santo and Ben Jaffe have an appealing sort of alt-country sound that went down very well on a hot desert afternoon.  Suzanne plays both fiddle and banjo and has a terrific voice.  I’m not completely familiar with their catalog but stand out songs that I did know were “Little Toy Gun”, “I don’t mind” and “Ohio” (Not the Neil Young song.)

This is a version with just the two of them of their “Ohio”:

They wrapped after about 40 minutes and decided to randomly stay in the shade and watch the next band Givers on that stage.  (Plus, it kept me out of the sun).

Givers had a nice “poppy” sound and proved to be from Louisiana (and I’ve since learned, recently cover on the Glee, which explains the reaction a lot of kids had to the song “Up,Up,Up”).  They had a nice breezy song that made me think of Two Door Cinema Club or maybe even a bit of Phoenix, bot who I saw at Glastonbury in 2010.  It’s prefect mid afternoon festival music.

I headed to the record store tent after their set and happened to run into them doing a signing.  Impulsively, I bought their disc and had them sign it.  I chatted with the lead singer and he was genuinely nice and seemed really happy that I’d seen their set and liked it.  He said basically that was why they were there and hearing that made him happy that people were listening.  They all looked so young and eager, which is another reason I love to see the bands in the  smaller print on the festival poster.  They are so happy and thrilled to be there and really appreciate the folks who take time to hear them.  It was nice chance to talk to a performer up close and I was happy that I bought the disc and chatted with them.

Here’s a taste of Givers:

I took a break for some food, but not too much in the heat.  A small pizza and I spent some time chatting with a random group of college kids out from Boston for the show.  The food areas are a great place to chill in the shade and meet interesting people to talk about what you’ve seen or are excited about seeing later.  It was a nice break and after filling my empty water bottle I headed to Dawes, one of my must-see bands of the festival.

Dawes had caught my ear and intrigued me with their connection with Jackson Browne.  They remind me of a young Eagles or Poco type band.  As faithful to the West Coast LA sound band as I think you can find these days.  Their set was short, but really well done.  They hit the highlights that I’d hoped for and also did a nice cover of “The Night They Drove Ole Dixie Down” as a tribute to Levon Helm’s passing the day before.

These are two songs from Weekend one that were also standouts of the set that I saw:

When Dawes finished it was finally sunset.  I’d survived the first afternoon of blazing heat and dust.  The cool evening was fast approaching and I had much more to see.  But, that will have to wait until my next post when I stagger into the Outdoor Stage for Madness and then see Pulp for a second time in two nights!  I will try to have that all written up soon!

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Coachella – The Head and The Heart – Saturday, April 21, 2012 – Mojave Tent

I have so much to write that I just have to start somewhere.  So, now that I’m home I think I’ll start with my biggest surprise and best set of the whole weekend.  The Head and the Heart are a Seattle band who play sort of folkie pop with a lot of harmony.  They were on my radar for the show and I’d even bought their disc and added it to my iPod.

But, I wasn’t prepped for just how good they would be live.

Driving home today I was doing a lot of thinking about why I go to concerts and what drives me and makes me care about seeing live music so much.

I’ve decided that a big part of it is that element of chance…that moment when all the pieces fall into place, the hair raises on the back of your neck and you hear something etherial that only exists for that moment in time.  Sure, you can buy a recording.  But, it will never quite have the same mystery and randomness as hearing something so perfect live and right there in front of you.  I’ll admit that music can actually move me to tears on the right occasion.  It’s something that’s not predictable or genre specific.  It’s just a feeling, one that is near impossible to define as I try to write about it tonight.

One of the cool things about attending a festival is that you increase the chances for that sort of moment.  And, on the mid afternoon of the second day of the festival one of those moments clicked for me.

The Head and the Heart played for less an hour and only ten songs.  But, from the very start of “Cats and Dogs” which segued into “Coeur D’Alene” they had me hooked.  They have a wonderful blend of voices, and any band with such tight harmonies is usually a winner in  my book.  I liked the instrumentation and arrangements, they were tight and locked in right out of the gate.  I respect that in a band and appreciate it no matter what style or genre they might play.

Next up was “Lost in my Mind” followed by a new song whose title was not mentioned (Maybe “gone are the days”?  That was at least one of the lyrics.)

From there they moved to “Winter Song” giving violinist/singer Charity Rose Thielen an opportunity to shine on vocals.  As on their CD  they followed with “Sounds Like Hallelujah”.  “When I fall asleep” from their iTunes sessions was followed by “Heaven go easy on me”.  Next to last was “Down in the Valley” which is the place that I really felt it all totally come together for me.  I wasn’t thinking anymore about how hot it was, how many shots I had left on my camera or who I might go see next.  The blend of soulful voices and sparse instruments before me was locked in and too beautiful to not just listen until they were done.

The last song was “Rivers and Roads”….it’s simple lyrics that I’ll put here can’t really convey the depth and feeling that was evident in the forceful delivery by the band.

a year from now we’ll all be gone
all our friends will move away
and they’re going to better places
but our friends will be gone awaynothing is as it has been
and i miss your face like hell
and i guess it’s just as well
but i miss your face like hellbeen talking bout the way things change
and my family lives in a different state
and if you don’t know what to make of this
then we will not relate
so if you don’t know what to make of this
then we will not relaterivers and roads
rivers and roads
rivers ’til i reach you

The repeated a cappella  chorus  of “rivers and roads” washed over the crowd and was sung with a ton of unspoken context that you just can’t easily define and print onto a page…you just have to hear it.  Honestly, this was one of those songs that looks a bit trite when written out in front of you, but it just comes alive when performed.

It was perfectly done out there in that field in Indio.

I walked to the record signing tent after the set and I had a chance to chat with the band.  I told them just how great it sounded.  Josiah (one of the lead signers) shook my hand, introduced himself and said that they “felt it too”.  It’s a bit of a blur, but one of them said that it was their best set in a long time.  True or not, it was really gratifying to hear that from them.  Since this whole “live music” thing for me is really about connecting with something that is fleeting, it was good to know that (at least sometimes) it’s not just in my head, but is part of an experience that’s even shared by the folks performing and creating on the stage.

So yeah….I guess that you could say I liked their set….a lot.

Here’s a live version of “Rivers and Roads” from last year’s SXSW.

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Coachella – Some overall thoughts

Where do I start?…

I’m sitting in a hotel room in Palm Desert. Not a great hotel (more on that later), but it has a shower and AC along with a comfortable enough bed that I can get some rest before I return to work and civilization tomorrow.

Now I’m faced with a blank page (because calling it a blank screen just doesn’t flow the same way.)

I have a million thoughts, mostly good…a couple bad…but all of it a massive swirl that I’m still processing.

Let’s start with some basic advice for all festivals:

Whatever you expect, it will be different. You can go with it and have fun, or fight it and it’s likely you’ll not have as good a time. I had a list of bands to see, off the top of my head I can name five that I missed, and I don’t care. I saw at least five I didn’t plan to see and mostly I liked them.

Drink lots of water, I think I went through more than a case in three days.

Have an open mind, like the point above about expectations. You’ll have an opportunity to push your musical boundaries. This advice will lead you to things like a band you may love with a belly dancer and electric slide banjo player…definitely more on THAT later.

Don’t spend so much time chasing bands that you forget to stop and enjoy them. Take a break once in a while, otherwise you’ll just overload yourself…set a pace that allows a break here or there.

Drink lots of water.

Don’t feel you have to follow the crowd. See who else is playing against the headliner, avoid the crowd and you may find you best moment of the day in the process.

The bands at the bottom of the poster in the small print are the future headliners. Go early and seek them out. You’ll find some amazing musicians who are thrilled to be there and have a crowd to hear them. Show them some love and respect, and you’ll be well rewarded.

As my brilliant wife summed it up when we were chatting. A festival is like wine tasting. It allows you a chance to sample a bunch of stuff you might not otherwise have access to. A small taste without buying the whole bottle, at least until you know if you like it or not.

So, that’s a start…
(Don’t forget the water part…)

There’s a lot more to say as soon as I can get it all typed.

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Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band – IZOD Center 4-3-12

Reporting from New York –

My work travels brought me to New York this week and my intense fandom of Bruce and company had me dragging myself to the Izod Center on Tuesday night…even though I’d had four hours sleep, worked the previous night until 3am after traveling all day and been on my feet (and bad knees) for something like 9 hours before I even got to my bus to ride to New Jersey.

Yeah, it’s a bit obsessive…

I wanted to write this that night at 1am when it was all still so fresh,  or at least yesterday…but work demands of the day and a client dinner kept me from even starting it.  So the raw emotion of the evening has receded slightly.  But, it still remains a vivid and special night for a whole bunch of reasons that I’ll try to explain.

I have been a huge Springsteen fan since the first time I saw him in 1978.  The legendary (at least amongst us obsessive fans) “Darkness on the Edge of Town Tour”.  I’ve seen him something like 30 times and no show is ever the same.  Which I mention specifically because there was a weird sort of feeling I had at this show I’d never experienced before.

Last year Clarence Clemons “The Big Man” who was a major part of the sound of the E Street Band and Bruce’s music passed away.  This came on the heels of losing Danny Federici one of the two keyboard players a couple years prior.  So many questions….how would the band replace someone like Clarence?  Would they eliminate songs that featured him?  Who could ever try to fill his shoes if they did go on?

When the tour was announced they introduced a full horn section with the sax positions held by Ed Manion (an old friend from the Asbury Jukes) and Jake Clemons, nephew of the Big Man and the apparent heir to the throne.  Collectively folks held their breath, how would he sound?  Was he added just for his name alone?

I’d read some tour reports about this playing and it was all positive.  But, the fact remained.  My first show to see Bruce on his home ground would also be my first show without Clarence.  I just wasn’t sure how that would feel and how the show would play out.

I rushed from my work to the hotel and changed clothes.  Grabbed a cab and headed to the Port Authority Bus Terminal.  My cab ride was white knuckle as the driver darted through rush hour traffic on 42nd Street, flipped through a book and tried to convince me to pay him $100 to drive me directly to the arena…skipping the $10.00 bus round trip that I’d planned.  There is no roller coaster thrill in the world that can match a New York cabbie at rush hour on a mission…which apparently now for him was to dump me as soon as possible once he realized I wasn’t a big enough idiot to overpay him to drive me to Jersey.

I ended up on the bus having a great conversation with a psychologist…<insert joke here>

We pulled up to the arena and spilled into the parking lot.  Entering the closest door I found myself in a mad crush of people trying to pass through the numerous beer lines.  It took about fifteen minutes to get halfway around the arena and to my aisle.  I headed down and found my seat (aisle seat!  score!).  I plopped down and had just enough time to send a couple texts before the house lights dimmed.

Bruce did a fun sort of spoken word intro of, himself…good natured, it included things like “…his most recent album was number one for ONE consecutive week…”

With that out of the way, the band tore into “We Take Care of Our Own” from the new album.  He followed that with “Wrecking Ball”, a song written about the very ground we were on, it was debuted a couple years back just prior to the tearing down of Meadowlands Stadium which is now just a parking lot for the newer Met Life Stadium.  This was my first emotional moment of the night.  For some reason while running at the gym a few weeks ago this song came on and I connected it with my late brother Orville.  He was a giant of a man and former pro football player.  We were distant in age, but had connected over the decade or so before he died.  In fact, the only show we ever went to together was Bruce in Houston in 2002.  It was the first time of the night I’d find myself a little choked up, but not the last.

“Badlands” was up next and it featured a solo by Jake Clemons…listening to it, I realized that there were going to be a bunch of ghosts in the room that night…my brother…Danny….Clarence…and now with this song the ghost of my 18 year old self arrived and took me back to the first time I heard the song live when I was just a kid back in 1978.  The show continued like that for me.

“Death to my Hometown” gave way to “My City of Ruins” which reminded me of the awful days around 9-11 and all the uncertainty that came with that time.  “So Young and In Love” was an obscure song front the Tracks Box Set that I wasn’t able to buy for a while after it was released due to having a bunch of bills to pay in the 90’s…

“E Street Shuffle” was a brilliant romp that a 20 year old me had discovered 30 years ago as I worked my way back through Bruce’s catalog and from an album that for a long time I considered my favorite of all of his.

The ghosts weren’t all mine though.  In the song, “Jack of All Trades” I see as the ghost of the kid from Thunder Road and The Promise who is now older, sadder, wiser and forced to scrape along to survive in an unforgiving world.  “Seeds” was next and the band tore into it fiercely.  It’s not one of my favorites to be honest, but that was the best performance I’ve ever heard of it…and it fit perfectly alongside the songs that framed it.  “Prove it all Night” featured a great couple guitar solos and “Easy Money” wrapped the sort of message part of the show.  I’ve always admired how he builds a set list, and the thread that ran through those four songs was clear an unmistakable in it’s look at the recent economic crisis we’ve all lived through.

“Waitin’ on a Sunny Day” is considered lightweight by some hardcore Bruce fans, but the audience loved it and it featured him pulling a little girl up to sing (pretty well too) and then take a slide with him across the stage.  It was great fun and also an important part of his show….there may be a message or a point to songs…but, there’s also going to be some flat out fun and you’ll never forget you’re there for music with some messages….not just to be hit over the head with them.

“The Promised Land” was next followed by a great a-capella start into a full band medley of Smokey Robinson’s “The Way you do the Things You Do” then Eddie Floyd’s & Steve Cropper’s “634-5789″….Both songs taking me back to my early days listening to the radio and the wonderful soul music of the 60’s and 70’s.

“American Skin” was next, followed by “Because the Night” with a blistering solo by Nils.  “The Rising” lead into “We are Alive”…another standout track from the new album.  It’s clear message of hope and love speaking of how our bodies may one day falter, but promising that our spirits rise…a bit like the lump that rose in my throat as I thought of all those ghosts hanging around me there in New Jersey.

He closed with “Thunder Road”, the first track that he’d played from the Born to Run album that night.  Now some folks might find fault in that, but that’s the beauty of a Springsteen show, the set lists vary, the moods vary…it’s a ride you can never predict 100%.  Sort of like life in many ways.

The encores were “Rocky Ground” with it’s gospel sound and rap verse…”Out in the Street” which allowed a bunch of pent up emotions in the crowd to burst out with a massive sing along.  “Born to Run” with (as always) the house lights up full and the entire crowd in full voice.  “Dancing in the Dark”, the only song he’d play from Born in the USA, his biggest selling album (see what I mean, his setlist is about a story and pleasing himself as much as meeting any crowd expectations when he plans a show.)  “Land of Hope and Dreams” which took me back to the Reunion Tour when I was heading into unknown personal territory during my divorce…it’s message of hope for a better day ahead still resonating with me more than decade later.

The last song was “Tenth Ave Freeze Out”….an early and brief summation of the E Street Band history and a love note out to Clarence and Danny who may have passed but are not in any way forgotten by the fans.  When he reached the line “….the change was made uptown, and the big man joined the band…”  They all stopped cold and simply let the crowd cheer and recognize that as he had put it earlier in the show during the band introductions…”If your here, and we’re here…then THEY are here…”  It was a subtle and touching moment and handled brilliantly…letting us all share our loses together and still celebrate our victories….even if they are small ones, like finally seeing Bruce on his home ground in New Jersey for the first time.

We are alive…

Our spirits rise…

Indeed they do.

The full setlist:

We Take Care of Our Own
Wrecking Ball
Badlands 
Death to My Hometown
My City of Ruins
So Young and In Love
E Street Shuffle 
Jack of All Trades
Seeds
Prove It All Night 
Easy Money
Waitin’ on a Sunny Day
The Promised Land
Apollo Medley
American Skin (41 Shots)
Because the Night 
The Rising
We Are Alive
Thunder Road
* * *
Rocky Ground (with Michelle Moore)
Out in the Street 
Born to Run
Dancing in the Dark
Land of Hope and Dreams
Tenth Avenue Freeze-out

Sorry but it took me a few days longer to get this posted than I’d hoped.  More reviews to follow soon!

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