The big news from the Bruce concert last night was the fact that 18 year old Jay Weinberg was the drummer for the entire show–filling in for his dad, who is unable to take long stretches away from his day job, television bandleader for Conan O’Brien as he takes over the Tonight Show. The son may be young, but he brings the power, just like his dad.
Awhile back, I linked to an article where Bruce ruminated on how he puts a tour together, the rationale. I realize now that the Working On A Dream tour, while quite entertaining, has a hole at its center. The album that Bruce is ostensibly touring to support, just doesn’t fit with the band, the crowds or the tenor of the times.
Why tour the sports arenas with the hottest band in the land, to sing an album of pop songs whose strength is subtlety and whose charms are evident only after many plays (and some songs charms–I’m looking at you Outlaw Pete–remain hidden?) So Bruce has largely ditched the album, playing only three songs from WOAD last night, and put together a different type of show.
Out in the Street
Working on a Dream
The Ghost of Tom Joad
Raise Your Hand
Waitin’ on a Sunny Day
The Promised Land
Kingdom of Days
Born to Run
* * *Encore
Land of Hope and Dreams
The show is built around a three song mini-set that has been dubbed “The Recession Trio.” “Seeds” and “Johnny 99” were written about the unemployment and displacement of workers at the beginning of the Reagan recession of 1980-81. People forget that Reagan wrung the inflation out of the economy by busting unions, eliminating meaningful regulation of industry and presiding over the deindustrialization of our nation. Working folks and family farms took it in the neck. These songs are angry and the music bites back as hard as the class war lyrics:
Well there’s men hunkered down by the railroad tracks
The Elkhorn Special blowin’ my hair back
Tents pitched on the highway in the dirty moonlight
And I don’t know where I’m gonna sleep tonight
Parked in the lumberyard freezin’ our asses off
My kids in the back seat got a graveyard cough
Well I’m sleepin’ up in front with my wife
Billy club tappin’ on the windshield in the middle of the night
Says “Move along man move along”
The trio is finished off with a full-band version of the originally solo acoustic gem “Ghost of Tom Joad.” Here, Bruce muses that the poor of our time are searchin’ for the ghost of the Steinbeck protagonist whose moral compass compelled him to be:
Wherever there’s somebody fightin’ for a place to stand
Or a decent job or a helpin’ hand
Wherever somebody’s strugglin’ to be free
Look in their eyes mom you’ll see me.
Bruce introduced this section (using his itinerant preacher of rock ‘n’ roll schtick) by imploring the audience to work with the band to build a house, taking the fear, uncertainty and danger that exist in our lives today–and use our will and the power of the band to construct what we want and what we need.
What we really want and need, is then summed up in the basic frames of the night’s encore. It starts out with Bruces’s haunting adaptation of a Civil War-era Stephen Foster song: “Hard Times”–imploring our troubles to leave us alone after lingering around our homes for too long.
Bruce uses a break in the rollicking Irish reel-meets-rock “American Land” to credit the individuals in the band, but the song–seemingly just a fun stomp, is actually a call to honor our immigrant heritage, acknowledge their contributions to building our society. It’s a slyly subversive method of getting people to equate the hardest working band in show business (whom they love) with the hardest working group in America (immigrants–many of whom are not loved, but demonized.)
The emotional core of the show is finally summed up by the song “Land of Hope & Dreams”, the song that was written in the midst of the E Street Band reunion in 1999, but has come to mean so much more over the past year. Bruce kept playing “The Rising” during Obama rallies, but this is his real Obama song:
Grab your ticket and your suitcase
Thunder’s rolling down the tracks
You don’t know where you’re goin’
But you know you won’t be back
Darlin’ if you’re weary
Lay your head upon my chest
We’ll take what we can carry
And we’ll leave the rest
Big Wheels rolling through fields
Where sunlight streams
Meet me in a land of hope and dreams
I will provide for you
And I’ll stand by your side
You’ll need a good companion for
This part of the ride
Leave behind your sorrows
Let this day be the last
Tomorrow there’ll be sunshine
And all this darkness past
Big wheels roll through fields
Where sunlight streams
Meet me in a land of hope and dreams
Oh, did I mention the part about the hottest band in the land? Yeah, this was a rock show, not a graduate seminar and no one delivers those goods like Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. Closing in on 60, Bruce still runs, jumps, rolls on the floor, mugs for the crowd and gets everyone in on the action. Nils Lofgren isn’t doing flips anymore due to double hip replacement, but he still flies around the stage during his solos. We were treated to an accordion faceoff between Charlie Giordano and Roy Bittan, looking like twins with their shaved heads and glasses. “No Surrender”, “Out In The Street”, “Waiting On A Sunny Day” and “Kitty’s Back” all turned into massive sing-a-longs. The classics still sounded fresh: no matter how many times he plays Born To Run, Bruce still looks and sounds like he’s the 24 year old that wrote the song.
This was the first time I got to see “the sign set.” While the band cruises along on the instrumental part of their bar-band-by-the-sea chestnut “Raise Your Hand”, led by Little Steven, Bruce wades into the sea of folks at the front of general admission and starts taking handmade posters with the names of folks’ song requests. After gathering up a dozen or so, he sorts through them, picks one and shows the band their next song. Last night we got “Thunder Road”. “Mony Mony” (the Tommy James & the Shondells classic rock hit) “Backstreets” and “Kitty’s Back” thanks to the fan’s signs. (This was the second night in a row for “Mony Mony” and judging by the band’s and the fans’ reaction, it will not be the last.)
Disappointments? I had a few. Rosalita did NOT come out tonight, despite being in 3 of the last 4 shows so I have still not seen it done live. Without Patti (at home recuperating from an injury) to sing harmony and make goo goo eyes at Bruce, the love song Kingdom of Days fell flat (my wife backed out of going to the concert due to illness as well, so I guess I can’t complain.) My personal favorite Bruce song and inspiration for this blog, Racing In The Street, stayed in the garage. Speaking of garages, Albany parking sucks–I paid $15 bucks to park in the venue garage because I was running late–and ended up waiting for a half hour in a snaking line to get out after the show.
But, hell–there are always a few bumps along Thunder Road. As the man says, “the door’s open, but the ride ain’t free.” It still kicks ass!