Monday, November 23, 2009

Across the Borders, It Feels Like Love (Buffalo, November 22, 2009)

As my friend Karen and I sat in the seemingly interminable delay on the Blue Water Bridge in to Canada yesterday, I realized that we'd miss the start of last night's concert. We still had 3 and a half hours to drive -- if there wasn't another delay crossing back in the United States to get to Buffalo. We hadn't been set on tickets until 3pm, so it was the best we could do. Karen and I went through the openings we'd like for last night's concert, so long as we wouldn't be there: "Glory Days!! Yes, he should open with Glory Days! And then, maybe something from Devils and Dust." My foot turned to lead as I imagined the horror of my mission to see the final show turning in to witnessing only the encores. We screamed through Niagara Falls at 90 (and I don't mean kph), and then a miracle happened: no line at the bridge.

As I walked in to HSBC Arena last night, Bruce was building a house. I could check the setlist later, but at least I hadn't missed the one and only playing of the entire Greetings From Asbury Park album. The aisleways were deserted. I snagged the pretty yellow t-shirt (the first nice one Bruce has had in at least 3 tours, I'm pretty sure) and sprinted to my seat for my main event.

I might be excused for expecting a bit of raggedness from the songs on Greetings; after all, these are Bruce's oldest Columbia songs, and most of them are performed rarely, if ever. I might also be excused for expecting little from songs such as Mary, Queen of Arkansas and The Angel, the least well-liked songs from that album.

In short, the playing of Greetings was a blast. Yes, Blinded was ragged. So what? Yes, the start of Mary, Queen of Arkansas touched off a major beer run in pretty much all areas of the arena with seats, but it was still a pretty rendition, with Nils providing a backing on harmonica.

But there was also Growin' Up. As soon as Bruce said, "and there I waaassssss," I smiled. Bruce, in story-telling mode, back on Kingsley Avenue, meeting Clarence for the first time. Only in this story, he somehow ended up in a dream, and woke up in Fucking Buffalo. The crowd ate it up.

The Angel featured what appeared to a viola player (at least, I think that was a viola; I'm not used to hearing a viola played that low). After the show, no one I spoke to knew who the viola player was, she was the mystery woman of the evening. Bruce seemed to smile as he sang the words, "Madison Avenue's claim to fame," as if he were particularly proud of that line.

The only downer for me in the Greetings set was, oddly, It's Hard to be a Saint in the City. I have seen the band perform this time several times before, some with fierce piano from Roy Bittan, and typically with Bruce and Stevie ending up in a prolonged guitar duel that would blow the roof off any building. Not yesterday, unfortunately.

After Greetings, the show turned almost in to an "anything goes" sort of affair, and a very long one at that. It was Stevie's birthday, and to help celebrate, not only was Stevie presented with a cake with many candles, but Bruce and the band accepted Stevie's request and launched in to the first-ever live performance of Restless Nights. During the fan request segment that followed shortly thereafter, the band played the Chuck Willis standard, Hang Up My Rock and Roll Shoes, pretty much nailing it despite Bruce's protests to the sign-makers that he didn't actually know the words.

The evening had less of a "we're done" feeling than that of a house party. The arena didn't completely co-operate; it's one of those multi-box level arenas that detaches the upper bowl from the lower bowl. Despite the sell-out of ticketed seats, the 2nd level of boxes were mostly empty; the upper bowl patrons just seemed too far away; they mostly sat the entire night. The party was downstairs, where the pit was packed beyond what seemed possible, with Bruce frequently going in for... support.

One touching moment came for me during Waiting on a Sunny Day, when a little girl named Emma came on stage for the child sing-along. Emma was confident, loud, on the beat, and... decidedly off pitch. Did Bruce wince? Noooo. Did he pretend even to notice? Noooo. He looked every bit the proud father, and then acted it: He asked Emma to take another chorus, and congratulated her on the best he'd ever heard. Later on, during Dancing in the Dark, Emma's brother Jacob held up a sign asking to dance with Stevie, during which Stevie demonstrated old go-go moves, and after which Jacob played air guitar with Bruce. Now, I'm a skeptic regarding the children on stage (not least to it more than occasionally being vehicles for the parents more than the kids), but I happened to exit the arena at the same time as the kids, and they were just flying. Jacob went on for probably 5 minutes as to how he came up with the idea to ask Stevie to dance, and I figured, if it was his idea, that's good enough for me.

After 34 songs, the show and tour finally ended with a rousing chorus of John Fogerty's Rockin All Over the World. (As long as he was getting out the Fogerty songbook, why not nod to Buffalo with Rock and Roll Girls? Oh, well). Highlights beyond those already mentioned? Too numerous to recall now without consulting the setlist. Quibbles? Sure: Nils was pretty invisible last night, and I wanted one last explosive solo from him. And, never finding out who that viola player was. At the end, Bruce announced that the band would be away for a "very litle while," and both he and Stevie held a large sign that fans in the lower bowl had brought reading, "It's Only Rock and Roll... but it feels like love," and it just felt right.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Where Am I?

It's national news, now.

And, yes, tonight Milwaukee got "Good evening, Ohio," too. Guess he needs to write a new song. Call it "In Ohio." I even have lyrics he can use. He wrote 'em in Kalamazoo, Ohio.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Bruce Finds His Place (The Palace, November 13, 2009)

Bruce Springsteen at The Palace, November 13, 2009.
When I was growing up in New Jersey, the state had a bit of an identity crisis.  It was the suburb of New York and Philadelphia.  When the Giants and Cosmos moved in to Giants Stadium, they kept "New York" as part of their name.  Bruce Springsteen helped change things for us; from his very first album he proclaimed himself to be a New Jersey man.

Michigan, on the other hand, is a big state with no history of being someone else's suburb; Bruce has played here at least once every year since 2002. Imagine, then, Bruce coming onstage and greeting the crowd with a salute to Ohio! And then sticking Ohio in to the lyrics of "Wrecking Ball"; of course, a Michigan audience tends not to object too much to lines such as, "tonight Ohio is going down in flames." Finally, Bruce put Ohio in to the story for "Working on a Dream." This last actually managed to get a few boos, and prompted Stevie to inform Bruce that they were, in fact, in Michigan (Bruce took it well, and periodically shouted out, "Where Am I?" throughout the evening after that to get a rousing Detroit answer).

Fortunately, while Bruce was forgetting where he was, he wasn't forgetting how to put on a magnificent show.  By the conclusion of Nils's indendiary twirling solo at the end of the evening's second song, "Prove It All Night," it was already clear that Bruce and the band were intent on taking no prisoners.

Several notable things have changed on this latest tour, as compared to prior tours:
1) Bruce used a rear riser and crowd surfing during "Hungry Heart";
2) The set includes of a full album -- usually "Born to Run," early in the setlist
3) Audience members bringing signs, with some signs being accepted as song requests
4) De-emphass of the current album

All of these changes had the effect, tonight, of drawing the audience more in to the show.  The use of the read riser and the crowd surfing literally puts Bruce face to face -- or closer -- with several hundred fans.  And I confess that I had contact... with Bruce's right shoe.  Nice shoe, very sturdy.

Not that all of the changes are necessarily for the better.  I'd have preferred to hear more content from "Working On a Dream" than just the title song, for example.  That said, the crowd responded well to the show, and was as loud as any crowd I have ever heard at The Palace.

The performance of the "Born to Run" album was spot on.  The songs were crisp, impassioned, and uniformly attacked, hard.  Even "Meeting Across the River," which was enhanced by trumpeter Curt Ramm's playing.

The accepted requests had a distinctive Michigan flavor, first with Bob Seger's "Ramblin' Gamblin' Man" (played one time previously, also at the Palace, back on August 18, 1992), and then with the Detroit Medley.  Bruce started "Ramblin' Gamblin' Man" by playing the distinctive opening keyboard riff on guitar, and with that started a 3-pack dance party right in the middle of the set, with Bruce playing guitar slinger throughout.  By the end of Bruce's blistering solo in "Because the Night" -- during which Bruce proved he could blow a snot rocket and play a guitar solo at the same time --- my voice was gone, my hearing was shot, and my legs were jell-o.  He's a freaking force of nature, is all I can say... and that band is pretty damn good these days.

Show highlights including a roaring version of "Johnny 99" early on (perhaps a bit of a reference to the state of the auto industry), and also a thundering performance of "Born in the U.S.A." During "Rosalita," Bruce handed the mic to Steve at the beginning of the 2nd verse and Steve survived it, as Bruce went to check something side stage (maybe the woman who stole the spotlight during "Dancing in the Dark" by jumping on stage from the pit and dancing much too wildly).  Finally, the closer, "Higher and Higher," which finally allowed Cindy Mizelle to get a bit of the spotlight, closed the show on a high.