Thursday, April 19, 2012

Yes We Fucking Can - Cleveland, April 17, 2012

Just before 5pm last night, I left my office in downtown Detroit. I wasn't quite sure where I was going... But then I pointed the car south and realized, "I can be in Cleveland by 8!"

And that was all I needed to cap off my birthday week. There would be friends at the show, if I could find them. Dinner? That could wait until 2am. Who cares, when the shows are this compelling?

I bought a ticket on the street (another personal first) and made my way in. But not before being wanded. My new point&shoot? Busted! Ah, well, who cares, when the shows are this amazing?

Finally, the lights went up. As at Madison Square Garden a week earlier, Bruce and the band came out as fully lit Marlboro Men... err... gunslingers, as the theme from The Magnificent Seven blared over the house speakers. The band tore in to "Badlands" to open the show.

If there was a theme to last night's show, I'd put it at about, "rock the goddamned house down." One early highlight for me was "Death to My Hometown"; my "official" duties my first two shows had prevented me from witnessing it. And, without any children to keep an eye on, I could pay more attention to the show's details. Things like the lights playing off of Max's drumbeats.

Leading up to the introductions in "My City of Ruins," Bruce made light of Patti's absence by calling out for his baby as he approached first Little Steven and then Garry Tallent, finally singing out that Garry Tallent's just not enough. He also sang the "if we're here and you're here then they're here" part.

For the show in Cleveland, it was almost a given that Bruce would play Youngstown, punctuated by Nils' fiery solo. But Bruce cut the building tension from that song with the tour premiere of My Love Will Not Let You Down, ending that one with the triple guitar gunslinger assault. That Bruce appeared to have to remind Steve that it was time to play guitar was more than forgivable, given the results.

For "Waiting on a Sunny Day," Bruce broke with the pattern of picking a child near the stage to sing along. Instead, he went around to the riser at the back of the pit, and quickly picked out from behind the pit barrier, a young girl whose family had just missed "winning" in the pit lottery. He then brought the girl all the way back to the stage for the knee slide. Many long-time fans don't want to hear about "Waiting On a Sunny Day," but that was about as sweet as it gets.

"Shackled and Drawn" gave a chance for Cindy Mizelle to shine, and for her and Bruce to do a dance that seemed more sensual than at last Friday's show. And "Racing in the Street" put the spotlight, finally, on Roy Bittan.

But the biggest -- or at least loudest -- musical highlight of the night was with another Reunion Tour staple: "Light of Day." I wasn't initially thrilled to hear this song as a replacement to "Thunder Road," but the way Bruce tore in to it, while working in substantial snippets of Land Of 1000 Dances and You Can't Sit Down, pretty much tore the roof off the arena. (as an aside: noted that that made it 2 Wilson Pickett songs making their way in to the set)

Before "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out," the "Springsteen for President" poster that had been brought on stage by Little Steven in Auburn Hills, made another trip to the stage. This time it was joined by a "Van Zandt for Vice President" poster. As they each held up the other's poster, Bruce announced in to the microphone, "Yes we fucking can!!" A new motto, it seems to me.

Did it measure up to the Buffalo show? Not quite; nothing really could. But as I finished up the trip home at almost 4am, I was pretty glad for the evening's detour.

Monday, April 16, 2012

You Say It's Your Birthday -- April 13 / First Niagara Center / Buffalo, NY

(It's My Birthday Too, Yeah!)

This review originally appeared at

Friday night, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band completed the back end of the Detroit/Buffalo two-pack. Thursday evening's show in Auburn Hills set a pretty high bar, with classics such as "Incident on 57th Street" complementing flawless versions of new songs such as "Rocky Ground." Friday's show at the First Niagara Center in Buffalo cleared the bar, with room to spare.

Let's get one thing straight: These shows aren't possible. I just don't know how else to put it. Yes, as Bruce puts it in the main set's penultimate song, our bodies may betray us in the end. And, I get it: he can't promise us life everlasting. But he is delivering life, right now. He's on that hill with everything he's got.

And the really good news is, he's got a lot. The E Street Band is tighter than ever. Max Weinberg played last night like a man possessed. The "extra" players — horns, percussion and vocals — complemented the basic E Street sound seamlessly. The energy from the stage seemed boundless. And, last night, it was a two-way street.

Bruce came out as his own version of "Buffalo Gals," a bonus selection from We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions - American Land Edition, played over the loudspeakers. Bruce complemented the song by giving a cheerful live singalong to it (the ghosts of Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed could have taken lessons: get a backing track). Bruce self-introduced, as he has in most shows on this tour, just backlit so his outline was visible but not his features. After the opening salvo of "We Take Care of Our Own" and "Wrecking Ball," "The Ties That Bind" gave the audience the chance to meet Jake Clemons. He nailed the solo, and the audience let him know it, too.

The first major detour from recent setlists came after "My City of Ruins," with "Rendezvous." Bruce used the lyrics and arrangement that he has used in concert since the '70s, not the slightly alternate version found on The Promise. We were in the portion of the set Bruce called "Rarities!” — from there he pointed out a small sign for a young woman in the audience who was having a birthday and was about to get married.... The result was the very rarely played Johnny Rivers hit "Mountain of Love," known to Springsteen fans on bootleg from the February 5, 1975 WMMR radio show but heard in person by only a few. The band pulled it off in fine style, and during the solo break Jake Clemons and Eddie Manion started a Louis Prima-style conga line out to stage left, followed by the rest of the horns filtering out stage right. It was as fun to see as to hear.
Other highlights included the tour premiere of "Point Blank," Bruce totally slaughtering the guitar solo on "Prove It All Night," and a return to the setlist for "Shackled and Drawn." Also, a really beautiful ten-year-old girl who may be very closely related to this writer got a harmonica at the end of "The Promised Land."

Yesterday was also Max’s birthday. Max has said, many times, how much he loves "Ramrod." Though the song was on the setlist all along, it helped that there was a "Ramrod" sign up front. This gave Bruce and Steve some mugging opportunities, and another chance to work "Buffalo" in to a song lyric. (Hey, Bruce: My birthday was yesterday, too — the big 5-0! My request is "Outside Looking In," my favorite song off The Promise. Can ya manage to work that one in sometime?)

I’ll note, at this point, just how much the sound and especially the lighting have improved. Last night was joyful not just for Bruce and the band's performance, but for the entire experience. Then there was the crowd: This audience needed no explanation when it came to songs like "Jack of All Trades." But they were there, and they were counted. It was a very noticeably younger audience than in some past tours; the pit area in particular was filled with 20-somethings completely having the times of their lives when Bruce brought out "Born to Run" and "Dancing in the Dark" at the end of the show. Life, delivered.

- report and photographs by Matt Orel

[Buffalo Gals]
We Take Care of Our Own
Wrecking Ball
The Ties That Bind
Death to My Hometown
My City of Ruins
Mountain of Love
Jack of All Trades
Prove It All Night
Darkness on the Edge of Town
Shackled & Drawn
Waitin' on a Sunny Day
The Promised Land
Apollo Medley
Point Blank
American Skin (41 Shots)
The Rising
Lonesome Day
We Are Alive
Thunder Road
* * *
Rocky Ground (with Michelle Moore)
Born to Run
Dancing in the Dark
Tenth Avenue Freeze-out

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Bucket List Gets Smaller – Auburn Hills, April 12, 2012

Bruce Springsteen’s appearance at the Palace Thursday night neatly corresponded with my 50th birthday. How nice, I told friends, for Bruce to think of me that way! OK, it wasn’t exactly my birthday, that wasn’t until the 13th. But close enough.

I thought of things to make the day extra memorable, bucket list items. And one of them was to get a photo pass to a Bruce Springsteen show. I’ve taken pictures before, both when allowed – see -- and, not so much allowed – see The Pittsburgh show last November was traumatic, when I realized just how far I had to go as a photographer. I saw that Backstreets Magazine was getting credentials, and that occasionally old friends of mine were involved. So, as a (very occasional) Backstreets contributor, I put in an inquiry to its editor, Chris Phillips.

In the meantime, Aaron, now 15, decided he likes Wrecking Ball, and decided further that he’d be interested in going to the show. I had long since stopped even asking if he might be interested, so this was a very pleasant surprise. And, once Aaron stepped up on his own, I asked Elianna if she might be interested as well. So now we were a concert family of 4. I figured I’d keep Aaron interested by offering up the point & shoot; as for Elianna, time to do some artwork – a poster with golden heels and fairy wings to request “Incident on 57th Street,” and to learn the words to “Waiting on a Sunny Day.” Just in case.

Then, on Wednesday, Chris asked if I still wanted the gig. How about, “Hell, yes?” And so started a chain of events culminating with me walking in to the Palace with a rented lens and a brand new monopod, and seeing up close aspects of how the operation runs. What I saw of it was thoroughly professional.

In trying to shoot the show, I had the advantage of knowing Bruce’s basic stage moves and the expected lighting for older songs such as “Badlands,” the leadoff song from the prior two shows. I also knew what I wanted to capture. On the down side, the photographers’ setup was all the way back at the soundboard, thus making it much more difficult to get a combination of ISO, aperture and shutter speed that would produce good pictures… and it wasn’t like I was going in to the event as an expert in the first place.

I had one obligatory Very Scary Moment: while trying to adjust the monopod, I managed to drop the lens. Fortunately, that was only from a couple inches, and with no damage. Then, a bunch of test shots, and it was on to the show.

Bruce came out and self-introduced, and though he was saying things about knowing where the fuck he was, I was paying more attention to the stage setup, the breakdown of the songs, and how I wanted to capture things. From my vantage point, there were 3 major sections to the stage: Center, basically meaning Bruce, Steve, and Max. Stage right, with Soozie, Charlie, Nils, and the 5 horns. And Stage Left, with Steve, Roy, Everett, Curtis and Cindy (Patti would normally be there as well). I could capture any section separately; with 200mm top that was about my limit. And at 70mm minimum, I couldn’t quite get the entire stage; after dropping a lens I wasn't about to attempt switching lenses – I could see why photogs bring multiple camera bodies.

The lighting was a shock to me. After so many years of assumed mediocrity, my expectations were low. But, on Thursday I found it to be thoroughly wonderful, lighting players or sections in turn, or colors, depending on the situation. The sound was also markedly improved from past tours, being nice and crisp at the soundboard.

The 3 songs for the shoot ended up being “We Take Care Of Our Own,” “Wrecking Ball,” and “Badlands,” though with “Badlands” no longer leading off as it had at Madison Square Garden. Bruce changed guitars between each song, thus making the pictures easy to identify. Of the approximately 300 I took, Backstreets used 4; many of the rest were predictably awful (e.g., too dark, washed out, too slow, out of focus, focus on the wrong thing), and a few others were also good. The performances seemed strong and demonstrative, and though I was concentrating on the pictures it felt great to be part of what was shaping up to be a terrific show.

After the shoot and depositing of the gear – at the expense of missing “Death to My Hometown” – it was back in to enjoy the show. Entering the back of the pit as Bruce was doing the “if we’re here, they’re here” rap, it was family reunion time. See Chris P. (hug). See Bryon (hug). See Chris B. (hug). See Mike T. (hug). See Todd (hug). See Jon Landau (uhh… no hug, but he had the emotion of the moment from the stage).

I still needed to find my blood family, and it took through most of the “E Street Shuffle” to locate them. We settled in our spots just in time to see Max and Everett engage in their spectacular drum-off. This was quickly followed by another drummer’s special, “Candy’s Room.” I lifted Elianna on my shoulders to see it. After the song, though, security made her get down – despite there being nothing but a camera well behind us. So she started inching over to the side, saying “it’s closer to the stage.” She’d gotten the bug. Bruce played “Trapped,” a song I haven’t seen live since the Reunion tour, followed by “Youngstown” with Nils’s incendiary guitar solo. Aaron was busted for using the point & shoot; thus derailing him for a few minutes (he’d shoot plenty more before the end of the evening, including the thoroughly wonderful close-up seen here).

When Bruce started in to “Waiting On a Sunny Day,” Elianna was on a mission: Front or bust. I glanced over to my left. There was Noah – the same boy from the 2007 “Ramrod” sign and a few others – perched on someone’s shoulders. Now, that was one battle that Elianna wasn’t going to win… and she didn’t. Noah “got the gig,” as it were.

The Apollo Medley put Bruce into the audience; it also put daddy in to chase mode as Elianna followed Bruce all around the floor… somehow winding up back on the rail at the end. Bruce took a poster. Not Elianna’s which was returned to the car hours earlier, but someone else’s, also requesting Incident. Golden heeled fairies in concert for the first time on this tour! Bruce eliminated the guitar solo that typically graces the end of the song, but more than made up for it with a hot reading of “Because the Night” (Bruce’s lyrics only).

Bruce brought out Michelle Moore for “Rocky Ground,” and played along some acoustic guitar and also chimed in a 2nd voice for part of the rap. It was a magnificent reading, much improved from the initial Apollo performance. During the beginning of “Dancing in the Dark,” Elianna was featured on the overhead screen; with the camerawoman not more than 3 feet from her, Elianna made sure to smile sweet for the camera. She didn’t get the dance gig, either, but she was pretty happy being on camera.

The show ended after slightly more than 3 hours, with Bruce’s tribute to Clarence Clemons for “10th Avenue Freeze-Out.” A festive evening, great show, and leaving us hungry for more. As a family.

Monday, April 02, 2012

Elianna's Roasted Butterflies

Elianna had a writing assignment for her Hebrew class over the weekend. She produced a beautiful booklet detailing activities she loves (some of them hypothetical).

She tried to write that she loves to dress in flower-girl costumes and take pictures of butterflies... but she left out a couple letters, and got a couple other letters slightly wrong.

It came out as, I worship cows and roast butterflies.
(As an example, the hebrew word for flower, פרח, very closely resembles -- to a native English speaker, anyway -- the word for cow, פרה).

I try to avoid helping with the homework, but I made a bit of an exception this time.
To the left is the back cover of the finished product; the silver glitter paper having defeated the scanner, it looks almost blue here.

I haven't determined when we might have the butterfly roast.