Tag Archives: Bruce Springsteen

Elvis Costello – Irvine Barkley Theatre – October 2, 2012

I’ve seen a number of amazing shows so far this year.

Bruce Springsteen, four times…each different and each amazing.

Jackson Browne at the Largo holding a room spellbound.

The Head and the Heart at Coachella with the most amazing harmonies floating into the late afternoon heat.

The passion of Frank Turner twice and even the cool funk of the Dukes of September as the covered Buddy Miles, Sly Stone and the Isley Brothers.

But, tonight Elvis Costello put on a jaw-dropping show that I’d hold up alongside any of them, maybe only giving Bruce a slight edge due to the sheer force and power of his shows.  This was a different animal than that…so to compare them would be like apples to hubcaps…just not worth even trying.  Two different things, by two different artists with a clear vision and ability to age not just gracefully, but relevantly as they do so.

I saw Elvis with the Impostors back in 2002 in Long Beach, then I saw him solo in a show similar to this at the Queens Hall in London in 2002.  That show was good, this show was great.  (Even though Richard Thompson guested with him in London…)

Surrounded by an array of guitars and piano, he played a near two hour set that ranged from the feedback soaked loops of “Watching the Detectives” to the un-amplified hushed tones of his set closing “Allison”.  He played the hits, but some of the most compelling moments were the newer songs and covers.  Opening with a strong “Angels Wanna Wear My Red Shoes” and it’s brilliant opening line: “…Oh, I used to be disgusted, now I try to be amused…” that transitioned into one of the best covers of Bob Dylan’s “When I Paint My Masterpiece” since Levon Helm did it back in the 70’s.  That seemed to set the tone for the evening…even though the tour was called the “2054 The Centenary Tour” in a mocking reference to his 100th birthday…(coming up in only 42 years…)  He later mentioned learning after naming the tour that Americans call it a centennial, and thus many had read it as the “cemetery tour” and expected a Halloween show.

He was an engaging host throughout the evening, telling stories about his dad singing in workingman’s clubs, singing a song about his three sons and dedicating a sweet version of “Walking My Baby Back Home” to his “gal” (Diana Krall, who he admitted missing very much in the intro).  It had all the best informality of sitting around and listening to the most talented friend you know play music, but he never wandered too far or slowed the momentum of the show.

Three tracks from his National Ransom album from a couple years ago really stood out to me, as did a gripping version of “Bedlam” from his DeliveryMan album.  The National Ransom songs: “Jimmie in the rain” which told the sad tale of a performer with a suitcase containing a book of poetry and a lariat he used “late at night” with further comments reserved as it was a family show…”A Slow Drag with Josephine” with it’s 1920’s swing…and most grippingly a menacing take on “Stations of the Cross” that traded the produced feel of the album version for a version that was deeper and richer in it’s stripped down simplicity.  I couldn’t find a good solo version on YouTube, so here’s one with the Roots from Jimmy Fallon.

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Other standouts were the hits: “Veronica”, “Everyday I Write the Book” and a ukulele plucked version of the old Glenn Miller standard “I Know Why”.  It was just one of those amazing nights when it all clicks.  Sure, I’d have loved to have heard a dozen different songs…he has a big catalog.  But, I wouldn’t trade a single note out to replace anything he did.

This one goes right to the top of my annual list into some very good company.  Shows like this are why I go in the first place…magic happens that you’ll never get off a recording.

Until next time…

(Which is actually Friday night for the Head and the Heart at the Wiltern!)

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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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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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Darkness on the Edge of Town – 1978

The past couple weeks I’ve rediscovered something that I hadn’t paid a lot of attention to recently, but like an old friend it resurfaced and has been hanging around.  That is the album “Darkness of the Edge of Town” by Bruce Springsteen.  A couple weeks ago it was re-released as a special box set and it reminded me just how great it was back when I first discovered him.

I’d been planning to write about some of my other more distant concert experiences, so this seems a great opportunity to ease into doing that and take a look at an awesome new release at the same time.

It was Friday night, July 7th, 1978.  I had a date with Sherry Grotjan to go hear some music at the Cuckoo’s Nest in Costa Mesa.  I picked her up and as we drove to there I tuned in to KMET.  They were playing a live show from the Roxy by this guy, Bruce Springsteen that I’d heard of, but never really listened to.  It was decent stuff and a good sounding show, but we reached the club and shut it off to go inside.

Lost to the mists of time and memory is the name of the band who wee playing that night.  But, there’s a reason for that…nothing special and the club was half empty as they ground out their set.  We sat for a while and finally they took a break.  I asked if she was enjoying them and the answer was no, so I suggested that we leave and maybe grab a pizza or something back closer to home.  We walked out and got in the car and wow…the same guy was still playing.  We listened to the show as we drove around…(Pretty much like a complete Springsteen cliche, driving around with a girl in my Camero looking for something to do.)  We were both commenting on how good he sounded and really enjoying the show.

I remembered that the ad for the show he’d just played at the Forum had listed a San Diego show on Sunday the 9th.  So I asked her if she’d like to drive down with me Sunday and see this guy live?  She said sure and we made a plan for me to pick her up Sunday afternoon and dive to the San Diego Sports Arena.

The drive was uneventful that Sunday and we arrived and parked.  I walked to the box office and bought a ticket.  (These were the pre-hype days, when you could still do that.)  The ticket was $5.75 and I still have it to this day (Upper 17A, Row 12, Seat 10).

We took our seats and waited, when the band hit the stage it was an explosion.  (I’ve gone back and relived this setlist many times and even found a bootleg a few years ago that confirmed my memories.)

“Badlands” opened and then led into one of the best versions of “I Fought the Law” that I’d ever heard.  Up next was “Night” from the Born to Run album.  This was one of the tightest bands that I’d ever seen; and they played with an passion and urgency like nothing else in the world could matter more at that moment.

Those first three songs were short, taut slices of music.  And the band played them as a declaration of freedom from everyday worries and strife.  It was pure passion…punctuated by sax solos.

I’d been going to concerts a little over a year and the only thing even close to this of this quality was maybe Lynyrd Skynyrd the previous summer, but even they hadn’t connected in the way that these songs cut right to heart of matters and spoke so clearly to me.  The forth song was “Spirit in the Night” and it was highlighted by Bruce jumping from the stage and dragging a long cord behind him climbed to the upper reaches of the arena opposite me.  Up there he stood and traded vocals with the crowd around him…”…All night, All night”…”  I’d never seen a someone break the wall with the audience like that.  He wasn’t trying to be a “ROCK STAR”, he was reaching out and drawing the crowd in with him.  The message seemed to me to be that we were all a part of this…I was completely hooked by the forth song.

Next up was “Darkness on the Edge of Town” a stark look at the dark side of unfulfilled dreams.  The message coming through that while this was a party, there were still wolves at the door and troubles you can’t always escape.  The menace of Darkness gave way to the driving restless desire of “Candy’s Room” that exploded into a taut screaming guitar solo, then into “For You” for another view of longing and desire.

But, because this was ultimately to be a show that wasn’t about bleakness and the dark side of life the next song began the climb from unfulfilled and unhappy to a better place. “The Promised Land”.  The message seemed that while there were struggles and disappointments you could seize your place.  But even when you did, you’d still have to “Prove It All Night”….this was the epic version of the song, a long intro of Roy’s piano with a story about a cab driver that morphed into an amazing guitar solo as the band slowly built behind him before launching into the hook and main song after nearly five minutes of building.  I’d never seen someone who was so effective at dynamics and context.  Solos meant something and weren’t just an exercise to show off.  Even the way the songs were fit together told a greater story and were like chapters in a book.

Up next was maybe one of the best songs I’ve ever heard…”Racing in the Street”.  I can’t really describe how amazing this song can be live.  But I will say that the long play out where the piano and organ intertwine over a clockwork beat and punctuations of guitars and sax is one of the most moving rock instrumentals I’ve ever heard.

Here’s a version from a month later that’s very close to what I heard that night:

Finally the music all drops away and over a distant piano Bruce tells a story about driving through the Arizona desert which becomes the introduction to “Thunder Road”.

At this point the band begins leaving….what an amazing set, but on the way off stage Bruce says we’re going to take a quick break and we’ll be back.  Stunning!  That was only half the set?  I was thrilled.

True to their word, they came back for “Round Two” as Bruce put it and broke into the instrumental “Paradise by the C” that allowed Clarence to shine.  Next came “Fire” a song Bruce had given to Robert Gordon and then the Pointer Sisters.  Then, “Streets of Fire” and “Adam Raised a Cain” from the new album. Then a a great blend of “Not Fade Away” and “Gloria” leading into “She’s the One”.

Next up was  “Growing Up” and in the middle Bruce told a story about having just seen the movie the “Buddy Holly Story” and the well known story about his parents wanting him to be a doctor or  lawyer and how he just wanted to rock.  I’ve heard lots of versions from him over the years, but this was the first and hearing the Buddy Holly references made it really memorable, since I’d just seen the movie too.

Then came two epic versions of “Backstreets” and Rosalita” that combine clocked in at almost a half an hour!  The set wrapped with the one song of his I’d really known before arriving at the show…”Born to Run” with full house lights.  Breathtaking….

They came back and did “Because the Night” and “Quarter to Three” as encores, but at that point I’d have listened to them recite the phonebook.  I was hooked and have remained a Springsteen fan ever since.

Sherrie enjoyed the show as well, but we drifted apart as happens at that age.  I lost track of her and always sort of wondered how life turned out for her.  I didn’t get to see Springsteen again until the River tour, but I’ve seen him over twenty times since this first show and I’ve never been disappointed.

This month he released a box set with two extra discs of material from that era.  I was blown away at just how many great songs were left off the album.  Yet, as I listen to them I can totally see why he made the decisions that he did.  Darkness, like his shows tells a specific story in a specific way and to alter it would have changed the story.  But, if you’re a fan of brilliant writing, I’d suggest you give the other songs a spin.  I can’t think of many acts that could have ever left two albums worth of material off of a release the way they did and still had anything worth listening to!

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