What can you say when you go into a concert with incredibly high expectations and those expectations are exceeded . . .by a lot, a whole lot! This is why Bruce’s music means so much to me. Powerful, eloquent, playful, uplifting, emotional. After awhile you start to run out of adjectives.
Bruce played nine out of the eleven songs on his new album “Magic.” The clear standout was “Gypsy Biker.” I’ve never heard a song about such a sensitive topic (a family dealing with a relative who died in the Iraq war) be both tender and rock with such force that the guitars would strip the paint off your house.
On a totally different note, “Girls In Their Summer Clothes” seems destined for Bruce concerts for years to come, if the number of couples standing, holding hands and swaying together while singing the chorus is any indication.
The three “message” songs that end the new album “Devil’s Arcade”, “Last To Die” and “Long Walk Home” were also played together in concert. The first two are improved in a live setting, particularly “Last To Die.” The musical energy that the E Streeters let loose allows you to transcend the repetitive lyrics. Not so with “Long Walk Home”, the earnest and unbelievably repetitive lyrics are trapped in a relatively stagnant musical setting–the only misfire on the album and in concert.
The title track “Magic” gets over the message that “Long Walk” fails to convey using grim imagery, wrapped in a subtle yet lovely song that leaves you wishing for more. Performed largely with Bruce on acoustic guitar and Soozie Tyrell on fiddle (with minimal assists by Max and Nils) Bruce lays out how our nation’s values have been subverted by our current administration and how we are despairing of ever putting things right. As Bruce stated in his intro to the song: “We say every night that this song isn’t about magic, but more about tricks.”
Of course, since Bruce shows last more than two hours, hard core fans spend a great deal of time speculating on what songs will be played from his over 30 years of back catalog. On a Springsteen tour, the rough outlines of the concert are set and then different songs are run in and out of the lineup. Sometimes Bruce has been known to call an audible and decide on the spot to play a different song than the one written on the evening’s setlist.
The hardcore Springsteen world has been abuzz about this Albany show because he played two rarities from his 1973 album “The Wild, The Innocent & The Street Shuffle”: “Fourth of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)” and “E Street Shuffle.” Sandy is a hymn to Bruce’s adopted hometown, as well as an acknowledgement that he was outgrowing his youth and being forced to grow up. Singing this song as an adult staring at his AARP card, Bruce pulls off a beautifully nostalgic moment, without being maudlin. The highlight in concert though was musical: Danny Federici steals the show with his turn on the accordion.
“E Street Shuffle” is just the opposite, it revels in its quasi-legal street life and its lyrics are rapid fire and its run-on sentences threaten to jump off the written page. On the album, several members of the band take up various brass instruments to supplement Clarence Clemons’ sax. In concert, Bruce and Little Steven took up the bulk of the musical chores with incredibly funky guitar work. The musical coda that ends the song was astounding–a rising crescendo of guitar and saxophone.
These two songs exemplify why the E Street Band is the best ensemble since the days of the Funk Brothers at Motown and Booker T. & The M.G.’s at Stax. Bruce can throw out two songs that they haven’t played live in years and the band responds like its been playing these songs day in and day out. The heart and soul of the E St. Nation.
All this and I still haven’t even hit my personal highlight of the show. I became a Springsteen fan in 1978. Just before I left for college I bought “Darkness On The Edge of Town.” I had admired “Born To Run”, but I still wasn’t a huge fan. I liked hard rock and Bruce just seemed too soft. Darkness changed all that. (That and going to college in Philadelphia–one of the two main epicenters of Bruce fandom.) The songs were urgent, realistic and rocked like a motherf***er. For a young male just starting out in the world, unsure of my future and wondering what’s next, Darkness spoke to me like nothing ever has, before or since:
There’s a dark cloud rising from the desert floor
I packed my bags and I’m heading straight into the storm
Gonna be a twister to blow everything down
That ain’t got the faith to stand its ground
Blow away the dreams that tear you apart
Blow away the dreams that break your heart
Blow away the lies that leave you nothing but lost andbrokenhearted
The dogs on Main Street howl ’cause they understand
If I could take one moment into my hands
Mister I ain’t a boy no I’m a man
And I believe in a promised land
I never had the opportunity to see Bruce in concert during this era (my first concert 1/27/85 at the Carrier Dome–Born In The USA), so to see Bruce perform four songs from my favorite album was something I will always remember–“Promised Land”, “Candy’s Room”, “Darkness On The Edge Of Town” and “Badlands.”
Singing along with the delirious crowd, these songs still speak to me, nearly 30 years later. I guess we are always struggling to find ourselves and to make sense of the lives we’ve made, even if the life on whole is fairly positive. I left the Times Union Center hoarse, dehydrated, exhilirated and exhausted. One sentence reverberated in my head–the very first words Bruce uttered on stage: “Is there anybody alive out there tonight?”
Yes, Bruce. I’m alive. Thanks for asking.