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: