Thursday, August 21, 2008

Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band live August 19, 2008

All photos from

Bruce Springsteen must wear really comfortable shoes. My black and battered Ben Shermans didn’t quite offer me the comfort and arch support needed to withstand the Boss’ three hour set at Hershey Park, Pa., Tuesday, Aug. 19, and I had a slight limp walking out of Hersheypark Stadium. Bruce’s body never flagged, though, and he had to do a lot more than just stand. Accompanied by a Patti Scialfa-less E Street Band, Springsteen was a throbbing mass of high spirits, high energy, and raging sexuality onstage. With summer’s end impending, the set seemed concocted to end the season properly. Sprinkled among covers of rock staples and requests were true rarities, which I’ll get to later.

The show started with a rousing rendition of “Summertime Blues,” the first of several covers that revealed Bruce’s rock roots. Hersheypark Stadium is really nothing more than your average college-level football arena, but it was perfect for Bruce and his band. Aside from some muddled sound early on – Clarence Clemons’ sax solo on “Radio Nowhere” was almost completely buried in the mix – the acoustics were top notch for such a big show. Visually, the show benefitted from three jumbo screens, two of which displayed the band for those of us 80 yards away. Granted, Bruce is pretty dang personable, and he’s the only man I’ve ever seen pull off a two-hour, solo/acoustic set at a venue like the Wachovia Spectrum, but the screens helped clue us in to what other concertgoers were feeling.

Last year’s Magic didn’t dominate the set list too much, allowing the band to take requests from the audience after solid performances of “Out in the Street,” “Spirit in the Night,” and “Promised Land.” Bruce and “Little Stevie” Van Zandt pulled signs bearing song titles from the crowd, and while some of the choices were weird (“Darlington County?” Freaking “Part Man, Part Monkey?” Raise your hand if you didn’t think he’d play “Waitin’ on a Sunny Day” anyway. Anyone? Anyone?), fans also got a cover of John Lee Hooker’s “Boom Boom” and an amazing rendition of Nebraska’s “Reason to Believe.” Bruce’s voice isn’t quite worn enough to give “Boom Boom” the bite it needs, but his radical reinterpretation of “Reason to Believe” was the first of several revelations for me.

Beginning with distorted harmonica and yells, “Reason to Believe” recalled the grainy yet powerful aura one gets from spinning old blues recordings. When the band joined Bruce, it got even better. “At the end of every hard-earned day / people find some reason to believe” is repeated throughout the song, something Springsteen clearly wanted to impart on people this Tuesday night. He’s finally managed to integrate some hope into his more politically leaning songs (People unite under anthems, you know), allowing his introductory speech about the meaning of “Livin’ in the Future” (The Patriot Act is bad) to not drag as much. “Reason to Believe” is also a cousin of sorts to “American Land,” which was performed during the encore with its lyrics on the screen, allowing all in intendance to sing about hard work and honesty. As the Bush administration’s reign winds down (January 20, 2009, you cannot come soon enough), those are some surprisingly rare virtues.

Of course, another way to make people feel hopeful is sex. I’ve read on the Internets that it makes folks feel mighty fine. At 58 years old, Bruce Springsteen is still sexy. Not just in his tender odes to loving (“Prove It All Night,” “She’s the One,” and a holy-shit-this-really-happened performance of the Springsteen/Patti Smith tune “Because the Night”), but in his demeanor. Bruce plays up a preacher persona on stage, but less discussed is how damn flirtatious he can be. Three thoughts were visible on a blonde woman’s face as the television screens displayed Springsteen, dressed in a tight black button-down and jeans, sprawled out in front of her: 1) I could felate Bruce Springsteen, 2) Everyone can see me thinking about felating Bruce Springsteen, and 3) I could felate Bruce Springsteen. Hearing 30,000 people laugh at the same time is quite the sound, and Bruce played it up. Side note: Did I mention Patti wasn’t here?

Aside from a beyond bizarre performance of the obscure “Part Man, Part Monkey,” a song Bruce liked enough to put on not one, but two rarities compilations, the second half of the regular set was perfect. Magic’s “Last to Die” and “Long Walk Home,” along with “Badlands,” closed it out, but the best moments came from two of the stronger songs from The Rising, “Mary’s Place” and “The Rising.” “Mary’s Place,” in particular, got some fans choked up over its religious imagery. It seems like the easiest way to get up front for a Bruce show is to bring your kids – the Boss loves giving them the mic – but a few adults popped up on the screen during this number. Again playing the preacher (“Tell ’em, brother, tell ’em,” said Clemons), Bruce brought the entire stadium to silence before launching into the song’s final verse. A master showman, he knows when he’s locked in with a fan. When he looked one older woman right in the eyes and sang “I keep a picture of you in my locket / I keep it close to my heart / A light shining in my breast / Leading me through the dark / Seven days, seven candles / In my window light your way / Your favorite record’s on the turntable / I drop the needle and pray,” the only thing keeping her from crying was the thought of 29,999 people seeing her do so. And while it’s sad that the screens toned down that woman’s moment, I’m grateful for the chance to have experienced it with her.

As great as the two-hour regular set was, and it was pretty flippin’ great, the encore was somehow even better. Hearing the twinkling piano of “Because the Night” was a big moment for me, but hearing a certain other twinkling piano part, this time accompanied by harmonica, was even bigger.

Thunder Road” kicked off the encore, resulting in 30,000 collective sighs of disbelief and joy. This was, of course, followed by 30,000 people singing “The screen door slams / Mary’s dress waves / Like a vision she dances across the porch…” The band is older, but the sense of wonder in the lyrics is still there, and there are few song measures as triumphant as that closing coda. Ba da da da daaaaaaa…

Given that there’s only one road to get to and from the Pennsylvania Turnpike, I can understand the logic behind leaving at any point during the encore. However, anyone that did so is still a massive fool. Following “Thunder Road” was my favorite Bruce song of all time, the epic “Jungleland.” As it appears on Born to Run, it clocks in at 9:35, and they’re the fastest nine-and-a-half minutes I’ve ever experienced. Packed with the Boss’ rock ‘n’ roll imagery – kids flashing “guitars like switchblades,” beautiful girls, desperate deals, cops buzzing, cities limping – “Jungleland” is the perfect ending to Born to Run, from its brilliant piano parts to its guitar and sax solos to its dramatic, melancholic lyrics. Live, though, it wasn’t enough to send The E Street Band out. After a one-two shot of “Seven Nights to Rock” and “Born to Run,” during which the house lights came on to illuminate all of the “tramps like us,” came a song that fans have clamored for often, yet heard maybe once a year, if that.

The set-up was perfect: As they dragged out the clamor of “Born of Run,” Springsteen and Van Zandt pointed stage left, out to the bleachers. The cameras cut to a hand-made banner saying “Rosie.” Back to Bruce and Stevie, pointing more emphatically. Back to the banner. The fans go crazy. Back to the band, nodding their heads in affirmation. Cue the jangly guitar and the funky sax and that ever-lovin’ organ that mark the opening to “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight).” Like the sighting of a rare white elk, Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band tore through this beloved classic. Adding some more funk via “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” ensured that this would be the most spoiled crowd ever. At least until Bruce decides to play Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. in its entirety.

In spite of all of these jaw-dropping choices, the show still wasn’t over (I know!). There was a pointed performance of “American Land,” as hopeful a drinking song as any, and a stunning take on “Gloria.” Springsteen’s old friend Patti Smith may have rewritten the tune for her punk classic Horses, but Bruce preserved its soul, giving concertgoers one last tune, of 29 total, to hum on the way out. Not that they needed it, though. As I walked with my family to our car, I could hear traces of “Jungleland,” “For You,” and “Thunder Road” from stereos.


Rick said...

Can someone help me understand this?

Why did my wife pay 100 dollars to attend this concert? There is no musician in the world worth 100 dollars a ticket.

I can attend a SEETHER concert for 25 dollars a ticket. Who in their right mind wouldn't rather see a great ROCK band than an old man that plays nothing more than POP music.

Anonymous said...

Of all the great armies of rock fans, few can match the devotion of Bruce Springsteen's. Anyone who has experienced Springsteen in concert will testify that the bond between audience and artist transcends the usual adulation. Something magical, almost mystical happens. Some might describe it as spiritual-most definitely it is life affirming. It is in trying to nail this phenomenon that the beautiful hardbound For You has arrived.
Edited by Lawrence Kirsch and replete with an amazing welter of outstanding photographs, it's a mind-blowing collection of thoughts and stories from fans of every age and many nations, each explaining why Springsteen occupies such an important place in their hearts. Covering all four decades of Springsteen's career it is possibly the ultimate fanzine for it is the fans who have made the journey and whose words tell us as much about them as they do about Springsteen. The warmth and humanity that flows from every page is truly moving and provides a beacon of hope from which we can all draw strength in these hard times. Not a book to be read at one sitting but rather to revisit and enjoy over time.

Joe said...

Well, Richard, I have to be honest... if you think Bruce is nothing more than a pop singer, and if you think that Seether is a "great ROCK band," you're probably an idiot. Also, be thankful you have such a great wife.

michael said...

Yo that dude Rick can blow me while I drive my sleek machine over the Jersey state line. Bruce is the greatest performer in rock and has been for 35 years. I highly doubt you can name any other artist who is 60 years, still writes relevant music, and puts on non-stop action packed 3 1/2 hour shows. If you think Bruce is just a "pop star" then you're a retard. He may have "pop" records (which I think only "Born In The USA" qualifies) but Bruce never sold out. He never lent his music to commercials, he never has had any type of corporate sponsorship, he's only endorsed politicians and causes that he believes, and he truely doesn't give a fuck about what anyone else thinks. I can't think of any other rock artist that reached ridiciulous heights of stardom on their own terms. Bruce is the real deal.