In November of 2012 on a Thursday night I watched Bruce perform during his “Wrecking Ball” tour. I never posted the review. So, a half year later…
Another Glowing, Awe Struck Bruce Springsteen Review
Yeah, the world needs another one of these, but Hell, it’s my blog so here goes:
Was it my last Bruce Springsteen concert? I wondered that going into the arena because both the Boss and I are continuing our advancing time lines (better than the sudden stop, but the Hover Round waits patiently for all of us). Well, if the extravaganza I watched is any indication, Bruce and I may just live forever. To some degree any ticket to any show is a contract. Buy the ticket, get a show. You go hoping it’s worth the money, but how seriously the actors/players/perfomers take the contract is always a gamble. Bruce clearly takes his end of the contract very, very seriously. He told us so, stating that he wanted our hands to hurt, our feet to hurt, and our sexual organs stimulated. He does not coast, he never phones it in. Many stories have been written about how Springsteen always performs like it’s the last show he will ever do. It is true. He comes on that stage and labors joyfully, bringing an intensity that is almost always spellbinding. I’ve seen him eleven times and have never left the show feeling less than totally spent and completely full at the same time. Last night he played 26 songs for 3 hours and six minutes, about average for this leg of a tour that started in April. Bruce’s average would be most performers’ best night ever.
Last Thursday I watched a 63 year old man work a crowd of 12,000 people into an ecstatic mob. He did it with a set of tools any entertainer should study like his/her career depended on it. Bruce has a razor sharp band of dedicated professionals backing, him, a catalog of profoundly powerful work going back 40 years, a breathtaking breadth of live performing experience across the globe which has allowed him to hone his own audience manipulation skills to some kind of Jedi-black belt level. Anybody who knows anything about working an audience could tell you, last night was a master’s class in mass hypnosis, performed by the Sorcerer Supreme.
The show this tour is a kind of delicious Jambalaya of previous shows, taking home run moments from the past for the entertainment equivalent of what would be a lethal set of combinations in boxing. He jumped into the audience multiple times, singing, and walking, high-fiving and allowing hands to tap and brush him. At one point he trusted that dancing mob to carry him as he literally surfed the audience in the pit and they carefully, and kind of reluctantly returned him to the stage. He led the audience in multiple sing-alongs often letting the masses sing whole choruses of his songs. He engaged children, complimenting one ten-year old boy for requesting “Badlands” and assuring him that tune was coming, not to fall asleep and granting the boy the day off from school, “You don’t gotta go to school tomorrow, tell ‘em the Boss says so.”
He sweetly (and smartly) brought a little girl out of the audience to sing “Waiting on a Sunny Day,” with him at one point carrying her on his shoulders and then tenderly with an avuncular kiss returning her to the pit. Bruce also responds to handwritten signs to take requests. He brought a woman on stage to dance with his drummer in response to her written appeal and likewise inviting up an Australian man who wanted to dance with Bruce. One wish was a very nicely done poster board note asking for, “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” which Bruce granted while wearing the Santa hat that came with the sign. Because he was in the state of Nebraska he played six songs from his _Nebraska_ album once again displaying an attention to detail most artists don’t pursue.
Yet for all those practiced, spontaneous moments he keeps it legitimately fresh too. In his last tour the band played 192 different songs. Last night debuted four songs from that aforementioned vast catalog unplayed so far this tour. He has added new talent to replace departed players and addresses their absence head-on with solemn reverence that binds him to us, because he misses them as much as we do, but, “what’s a poor boy to do but keep singing his song”? One of the things that struck me was the range of his work on display. Swing, boogie woogie, jazz, zydeco, rock, Irish folk, gospel, country, in the moment it propels the listener ahead, in retrospect it is jaw dropping.
He reads his listeners with an accuracy that is deeply impressive, giving them, himself and the band breaks to regroup, winding everyone up then bringing us back down, then ascending again until that last 30 minute stretch where the house lights are up and you can’t even hear the man because the house is shouting his lyrics back at him in a deafening, hoarse frenzy of pumping arms and rocking bodies.
Moments I can’t get out of my mind:
A chilling, blacklit “State Trooper” that he wailed with a soulful voice and electric guitar. “Mr. state trooper, please don’t stop me, please don’t stop me, please don’t stop me.”
The version of “Highway Patrolman” was brilliant, showing the grey world that he evokes so masterfully so dependably. What is right and wrong? Does the officer pursue his murdering brother because that’s his job? No, he pulls over and watches the tail lights fade into the Canadian border. “Man that turns his back on family, that man he ain’t no good.”
I shrieked like a man celebrating a game ending touchdown when I heard the piano intro to “Santa Claus is Coming to Town, and whooped with Pentecostal fervor as the band pumped into the big band swing version of “Open all Night.”
At the end of the night I husked out a, “thank you!” or two. Indeed, my voice was gone, my ears were ringing, my hands hurt and I had a good sweat going. I’d have loved if he came back out, but knew that he’d more than fulfilled the contract we made when I bought that ticket after running in the rain back in August.
If last night was my last Bruce show, it was a great exit.
But let’s see what the next tour brings. The Boss can always “rise up,” if he does his part, I’ll do mine.