Friday, November 30, 2012

Springsteen: Reborn in the USA

©2012 by LeeZard 

(NOTE: Photos by LeeZard, 11/28/2012 Portland Rose Garden Arena. Also, to get a full understanding of what I write here, please take time to watch the video links throughout this piece. The audio isn't great but you will get the sense of what I'm saying.)

The late James Brown was called "The Hardest Working Man in Show Business." His mantle is now surely worn by Bruce Springsteen.


At 63 years young Springsteen still loves his job. In fact, he told us so November 28th during his three hour and twelve minute show at Portland's Rose Garden Arena. His "Wrecking Ball Tour" has been on the international road for most of this year and his management just added several new European dates for early 2013. 
 
I've been to all of Bruce's gigs here since 1975 and nobody enjoys performing as much as my Rock & Roll Hero. Sure, Jagger is still strutting at 69 and, at 67, Neil Young is still doing his endless guitar solos but it seems more like work to them. For Bruce, every concert is a party with his pals - more than 15,000 of us in Portland.

Every Springsteen tour is different of course, usually behind his latest release. And, delightfully, every gig on each tour is also different, which is why his "set lists" are hungrily gobbled up by fans who love to compare and parse. Here is the list from Portland:
 
1.     LAND OF HOPE AND DREAMS - PEOPLE GET READY
2.     NO SURRENDER
3.     HUNGRY HEART
4.     WE TAKE CARE OF OUR OWN
5.     WRECKING BALL
6.     DEATH TO MY HOMETOWN
7.     MY CITY OF RUINS
8.     SPIRIT IN THE NIGHT
9.     LOOSE ENDS
10.  GROWIN' UP
11.  JACK OF ALL TRADES
12.  SEEDS
13.  JOHNNY 99
14.  DARLINGTON COUNTY
15.  SHACKLED AND DRAWN
16.  WAITIN' ON A SUNNY DAY
17.  DRIVE ALL NIGHT
18.  THE RISING
19.  BADLANDS
20.  THUNDER ROAD

ENCORE
21.  IF I SHOULD FALL BEHIND
22.  BORN TO RUN
23.  ROSALITA (COME OUT TONIGHT)
24.  DANCING IN THE DARK
25.  SANTA CLAUS IS COMIN' TO TOWN
26.  TENTH AVENUE FREEZE-OUT
 
This concert was something special, even for Bruce. Yes, it rocked as always but there were more sweet and poignant moments than I've ever witnessed at a Springsteen show and that only made it better.

One moment in particular was a moving rendition of Drive All Night from The River (1980). Bruce doesn't do many ballads and he rarely plays this one in concert: Drive All Night - 11/28/2012

Drive All Night was one of the many musical highlights of the night but it wasn't only the music that made this show so unique and enriching. This performance was more personal than any I've seen; it had an emotional depth that brought him even closer to his adoring fans.

Early in his career, Bruce's concerts were highlighted by his verbal, storytelling introductions to many of the songs. They were often autobiographical yet they weren't very revealing. Sometimes they rambled but we still hung on every word. As his work became more commercially successful those stories all but disappeared. Oh, he still connects with the crowd as few artists can; he clowns more between numbers and banters with the audience but it isn’t the same. 

In one of his many Rolling Stone interviews over the years Springsteen described his career, his songs and his lyrics as an ongoing conversation with his audience. Never was that conversation more evident than it is on this tour. For one thing, Bruce shows a vulnerable side that he's always kept very private. He talks of mortality and loss. His songs are metaphors about hurricanes, rebuilding and redemption.

An emotional high point for everyone in the house was Tenth Avenue Freeze Out and the mid-song tribute to the ghosts of Clarence "BIG MAN" Clemons and keyboardist Danny Federici. Tenth Avenue Freeze Out

The story he tells on this tour is a long introduction to My City of Ruins, which he explains was originally about the decline of his adopted home town, Asbury Park, NJ, in the 1970s and 80s. Today, he says, the song is about so much more: My City of Ruins

Another difference on this tour - Bruce's interaction with the diehards in the mosh pit seems more sincere and prolonged. During his signature Dancing in the Dark, for example, he didn't pull just one girl up on the stage as he's done in the past; he brought a gang up there, sent a few back to dance with Steve Van Zandt and chose a young girl of about 12 as his partner. Watch this video - at the end, notice how gently Bruce returns the young girl to her parents: Dancin' in the Dark.

Surprisingly, when the Portland Show was over, my first reaction was disappointment. "Damn," said I, "he 'only' played for three hours and ten minutes (I was off by two minutes). I read where he was doing almost four hours when the tour started earlier this year." Early in his career his shows easily went over four hours with a short half-time intermission.

I thought about it all on the two-and-a-half-hour drive back to Seattle and, by the time we pulled into the driveway at 2:30am, my thinking started to shift. When I woke up later that morning, my entire context had shifted from disappointment to wonder.


This was not only one of the best Springsteen concerts I've ever seen, it was by far the most significant. We not only enjoyed Springsteen as the consummate performer, we finally got to meet the real Bruce. He's the real deal, boys and girls. He's been reborn in the USA and is willingly sharing it with us in our ongoing conversation.
 

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