Photos Kakie Urch
“Bruce” and “Springsteen”
play at same show
with E Street Band
An Intergenerational Review
By Kakie Urch
These reviews that say “The 62-year-old Bruce Springsteen still has it” are a bunch of crap.
The 37-year-old Bruce Springsteen didn’t have any of this. That is not to say that the Bruce shows I saw (and sometimes worked) in the 1980s on the Darkness, Born in the USA and Tunnel of Love Express tours weren’t the some of the best shows ever done – they were. No one was exaggerating their experience back then at all.
But after seeing the “Wrecking Ball” tour in Louisville, I can attest: there is no reason to go to another arena rock show, ever.
And you don’t need to see anything in Vegas. And not much need to stop by a great sweaty bar band gig, nor a show featuring stunning musicianship and arrangement at your local arts theater. Karaoke, also, will never be the same.
The Nov. 3 Springsteen show at Louisville’s Yum! Center, which clocked in at about three hours from first note to last, had all of these, plus the Bruce factor. So amazingly, despite the fact that you might be sitting in the audience knowing that his own son has chided him for being “an attention whore,” it worked.
Springsteen and The E Street Band opened the show in full 15-piece strength with a version of “Shackled and Drawn” that soared above the already very good arrangement on the new Wrecking Ball album, melding the mature male rock voices with the gospel-tinged richness of a female backup trio and a perfect fiddle by Soozie Tyrell.
Springsteen went classic on some tunes and that was the right decision. When you have written songs as perfect as “The River,” “Atlantic City,” “Darlington County,” and “The Rising,” there is no need to fool with the delivery.
“The River” was a strong acoustic, “Atlantic City” done with familiar and sparse instrumentation, and “Darlington County,” done in straight-out-Jersey-does-Allmans “Southern Rock,” hitting all the well-known phrasing but not a bit of well-worn feel. He could have written it yesterday. But it was released in 1984. “The Rising” was performed true to its recording, bringing with it the tight chest of 9/11, as much as we would push that memory back. Sometimes the little black dress is better without that statement necklace.
Bruce Springsteen is New Jersey, so it was impossible to separate the set on Saturday night from the Hurricane Sandy disaster that has devastated Atlantic City, the Jersey Shore including Asbury Park and the barrier island Long Beach Island.
With “We Take Care of Our Own,” “Wrecking Ball,” “Death To My Hometown” and “My City of Ruins” stacked up in the set like private jets over Teterboro, there was no mistaking Springsteen’s message about the hurricane. He headlined an NBC TV telethon to raise funds the night before, doing a remarkable rendition of “Under the Boardwalk,” during which he sang backup to Steven Tyler and Jimmy Fallon.
In this Louisville set, he altered one lyrical line to say “Fight this FUCKING HURRICANE,” and intro-ed “My City of Ruins” by telling the crowd about how he wrote it when Asbury Park was in such dire straits that it looked like it would never come back. So it was, he said, extremely painful for him to see what had been built up in Asbury Park as “the most democratic boardwalk in New Jersey — I mean everybody’s there—and it’s locally owned!” hit so hard by the hurricane.
“Streets of Philadelphia” was a surprise number that they “don’t play very much,” but had decided to do that night, Springsteen said, after a bit of a false start on the Oscar-winning song from the soundtrack of the movie “Philadelphia” (1993).
A stupendous version of “Open All Night” saw Springsteen just batter the piece with roots and scat and roots again, out-Waitsing Tom Waits.
“Spirit in the Night” and “The E Street Shuffle” both benefited from alternative arrangements to traditional studio versions. “Badlands” was another strong late number from the canon. (Springsteen played five songs at least from the current/new album “Wrecking Ball” — about a half hour of the set.)
The two most jawdropping musical moments were the solos by percussionist Everett Bradley and guitar player Nils Lofgren. Bradley was a rock and roll Max Roach, going back and forth with drummer Max Weinberg on licks. And Lofgren’s shredding guitar solo on “Because The Night,” which Springsteen cowrote with patti smith in the 1970s, stood the crowd on its ear. It is not enough that the guy who played the guitar on Neil Young’s “After The Goldrush” has a long solo on the Patti Smith cover and shreds it…but he does it on one leg and twirling after a double hip replacement?
Little Steven Van Zandt was onstage, an integral bandmember, yukking it up with Springsteen as though he had never shot an episode of “The Sopranos” or “Lillyhammer.” Massive TV cable star steps onstage with Bruce Springsteen and he is bandmember again.
Jake Clemons, the nephew of departed E Street saxophonist Clarence Clemons, is on the tour on saxophone and vocals, stepping into some of his uncle’s well-known solos, serving as a foil to Springsteen, walking in tandem with him on numbers and handling the musical duties ably.
But the sold-out show itself had other highlights, too.
Who body surfs the crowd back from the sound desk on the third number? That’s a big trust fall. Where do you go from there? Who takes physical requests from fans by picking their hand-lettered signs out of the crowd and pulling them on stage? Who has the longevity of hits over decades to push beyond believable limit the number of times you can you ask your crowd to do the call, response and know the words to the songs and point their fingers skyward with you on that double entendre on “Rosalita”? Bruce.
It’s enough to completely embarrass your teenage son, you attention whore.
And that might be a cue to leave the stage if it weren’t for what is showed out. In a self-admitted “glorified bar band,” the music and musicians are so strong, the anthems so true, the continuance of the mission so solid, that everyone in the joint, from auto mechanics to college kids to executives to 8 year-old girls to 65-year-old women to a gaggle of hot 20-year-olds in pink cowboy hats AND THEIR MOMS, is jumping. There is nothing wrong with that. (Unless you are in that rare set = 2 – sons of Springsteen. Then you are embarrassed. DAD!).
It may be that there are folks who call him “Bruce” and they are more participation oriented. Participation in a Springsteen show used to be getting to be the one brunette pulled on stage during “Dancing in the Dark.” Now, everyone’s on the stage. The whole set long. If Bruce isn’t waist deep in you. And there are arenas full of them. But for the folks who still call him “Springsteen,” the sheer musical strength endures and is even improved by seeing what was once plaintively called “Springsteen’s populist message” in the pages of ‘70s “Rolling Stone” being actually POPULAR.
“I have seen the future of rock and roll and its name is Bruce Springsteen?” Welcome to the future.
What’s gone? Maybe a little bit of vulnerability and definitely that sweet trem on the voice that hit you so hard on “The Wild The Innocent…”, “Greetings From Asbury Park,” “Nebraska,” “ The River” and “Darkness on the Edge of Town.” And I miss that, but the fiddle works it out.
The musicianship, the arrangement and the sound, lights and video were stunning. Everything was invisible. Of course, 15 or more people from the accordion-player to the tuba player to Gary Tallent, Max Weinberg, Roy Bittan and Nils Lofgren can be shot out of a cannon and land on their musical feet, tune after tune, bar after bar through 27 musical styles and a guy running through a packed arena preceded by a steadicam. For three hours. When that is invisible and looks natural, with the perfect tonality the E Street Band created, that is musicianship, arrangement, artistry and respect for the audience.
Was it loud.? Yes, just right loud. And that is the highest sound compliment. It only takes three trucks and two buses of the world’s best to make the sound that invisible.
The lighting design was subtle and effective, rendering the band or Springsteen solo in scapes of color and shadow that fit the moment, from “Because The Night” to “Rocky Ground” to “Darlington County.”
The video direction and shooting on the large screens throughout the arena were beyond Hollywood quality — because people in Hollywood can do work that good, but no one in Hollywood can work that fast. Shots of fans, perfectly teched instruments in the hands of masters, Bruce Springsteen, E-Street Band members, a prop black and red lace bra on a kick drum, were all called and pulled seamlessly.
Bruce Springsteen ended the Louisville show proper with a new song, proudly calling out its title, a day before he would join President Barack Obama on the campaign trail for the last two campaign days before Election Day: “This is the ‘Land of Hope and Dreams!’
(NOW HERE, LIE DOWN AND PRETEND THE REVIEW IS OVER. COUNT TO 27).
But WAIT! (TURN ON THE LIGHTS, FULL HOUSE) We haven’t really talked about the five-song 25-30 minute, full-tilt-a-whirl encore. (See, there’s your boardwalk reference).
The encore began with a duet version of “Rocky Ground,” with Springsteen and one of the female vocalists in a simple white spotlight, working the plaintive tune from “Wrecking Ball” together.
Then indeed, lights went up full house and the band tore into “Born To Run,” with all in the house singing along – people even (as they might in the privacy of their own cars) singing the bass parts and sax moments. And you know, there you are. That’s the big hit. The one that started it all. Good night, Irene.
But WAIT! Then “Rosalita” — at full tilt, with showman Bruce pushing the audience to push their fingers higher as the music tension built….to a you know, climactic moment. (That part where “daddy’s COM-ING!). Ok. We is spent. It is over.
But WAIT! WAIT! WAIT! Sloppy seconds for “Dancing In The Dark,” another singalong, lights up, pull those eight gorgeous Kentucky college girls in pink cowboy hats on up here oh their moms and then after that one symbolic brunette for a solo dance, and then we can waltz into the sunset and be done.
But. “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out.” Screw the melody, everyone is shouting along. Bruce singing, says “here’s the most important part….” And sings “ When the change was made uptown And the big man joined the band…” as a retrospective of photos of Clarence Clemons in the E Street Band and with Bruce Springsteen through the years rolls out on the big screen and not a few tears roll down some faces.
OK and now I’ll go there: Who does one-eighth of this at 62? None of us. Who hopes and dreams that they will? Every last one of us.
And Bruce Springsteen is going to do it again tomorrow. In Des Moines.
The Louisville Review
By Raj Ranade
I never realized the key side-effect of “Bruuuce”-ing until I saw it in person at the KFC Yum Center in Louisville last night. “Bruuuce”-ing, for the uninitiated, is when Springsteen fans just yell “Bruuuce” instead of applauding, which, en masse, kind of sounds like booing. Audience dissent becomes way harder, since the boos are masked by the enraptured “Bruuuces,” as one drunken concert-goer in my row found out. Apparently irritated when Springsteen used the word “democratic” (though Springsteen wasn’t referring to the political party – the liberal rocker pointedly avoided any explicit political references in the show), the guy tried booing to no avail, lost amid the “Bruuuces.” (He tried “Vote Mitt Romney” after that, but that just doesn’t have the concise oomph or crowd-spread potential of a good “boo.”)
This isn’t to say that Springsteen deserves booing – far from it. Even at the age of 62, Springsteen is as energetic, hard-working, and flat-out spectacular a performer as any I’ve ever seen. It’s just emblematic of the kind of sway he manages to create over his crowds.
Sometimes he achieves this by being a gladhanding ham – early on in the set, Springsteen hopped off the stage to stroll along the perimeter of the stadium floor, stopping to invent an impromptu secret handshake with a young boy and to pose wearing the hat of a young girl. (He had a lot of these moments with youngsters in the crowd – if he avoided politics during the show, he still had a politician’s eye for photo ops.) Sometimes he does it through carefully staged self-deprecation – after declaring himself the head of “a glorified Jersey bar band,” Springsteen mimed decrepitude, crawling like a wizened old man to the lip of the stage until he was inches from a female fan’s face – at which point he immediately dropped the act and began flirting. And sometimes he does it through deeply earnest solemnity – he channeled a gospel preacher as he lamented Hurricane Sandy’s effect on his native New Jersey, building up to a moment of silence where he asked the crowd to pay tribute to the ghosts living around us.
Springsteen switched between these different personas with whiplash-inducing speed on Saturday night, creating an almost Broadway-style framework for his songs about desperate, sometimes-doomed rock-and-roll dreamers. And he tore into the performances of the songs themselves with equal zest – with Springsteen, any guitar note that can be played with a full-on windmill arm swing will be, and elaborate synchronized dance moves with his bandmates are the rule rather than the exception.
Accompanying him, the E Street Band was as sharp as ever, despite the passing of Clarence Clemons last year. Clemons has been replaced by a horn section of five people on this tour, with his nephew Jake Clemons capably handling most of his solos.
Guitarist Nils Lofgren ripped through a guitar solo on “Because the Night” while pirouetting on one leg for a long chunk of it. And the band put together some striking new arrangements of old songs – the acoustic ballad “Atlantic City” (this critic’s favorite Springsteen song) was turned into a full band rave-up, a quiet lament turned into powerful raging against the inevitable.
It’s been almost exactly a decade since Springsteen has played a show in Kentucky (the last was at Rupp Arena on November 14th, 2002) and he seemed happy to be back – in part because the doting father revealed that his daughter, show-jumper Jessica Springsteen, is competing in the Alltech Games in Lexington this weekend (starseekers may want to keep an eye out for The Boss at the arena). And Springsteen found a nicely subtle way to cater to the hometown crowd when he mentioned that while he might be getting older, he could still “float like a butterfly and sting like a bee” – that was all that the locals from Muhammad Ali’s hometown needed to start cheering (or “bruuuce”-ing, of course).
The rocker was giddy enough during the performance of “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” that he inexplicably started doing the “Gangnam Style” dance for a few brief moments. It was maybe one of the more ill-advised moments of the evening, but it nevertheless revealed the critical thing about Springsteen – he’s a guy who will go to some pretty impressive lengths to make sure the audience gets their money’s worth.
Shackled and Drawn
We Take Care Of Our Own
Death to My Hometown
My City of Ruins
Spirit in the Night
The E Street Shuffle
Streets of Philadelphia
Because The Night
She’s the One
Open All Night
Waitin’ on a Sunny Day
Land of Hope and Dreams
Born to Run
Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)
Dancing in the Dark
Tenth Avenue Freeze-out