Tuesday, October 23, 2012

From Canada By Request - Hamilton, October 21, 2012

Man on the people:  "Hungry Heart"

Copps Coliseum in Hamilton was built in the 1980s in the hopes that the city would land an National Hockey League franchise.  Nonetheless, its style is more reminiscent of older arenas:  It has only a single main concourse from which both the upper and lower bowls enter; also there are only a dozen small luxury boxes, with no glass separating them from the action.  The kind of place where the sound is loud and it gets sweaty.  In short, Bruce Springsteen's kind of place.

Crowd Surfing during "Hungry Heart
When Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band took the stage to the theme from "The Magnificent Seven," Bruce appeared determined to conquer this part of Ontario -- just as they had a couple months earlier in nearby Toronto.  The band launched in to a blistering version of My Love Will Not Let You Down, with the house lights on for much of the number.  Bruce followed with a pair of songs from The River:  For Out in the Street, he personalized his delivery by going down to the front rows of the general admission and side stage areas.  Then, a huge roar for Hungry Heart, featuring an extended crowd surfing segment.  Has Bruce crowd surfed so early in a show, or for so long?  I don't know.  But  I do know that 3 songs in, and Ontario was safely in Bruce's control.

Holding out the mic to the crowd during "Out in the Street"
The Wrecking Ball core of the show followed, in which Bruce conjured up the visions and voices of ghosts ("how do I know they're here?  I can hear their voices!").  Then, a pair of throwbacks to Greetings From Asbury Park:  Spirit in the Night and Does this Bus Stop at 82nd Street?  Bruce played shaman for the front during Spirit, shaking his hands just over the outstretched reach of the audience.  Bus Stop included a drum-off between Max Weinberg and Everett Bradley, with Bruce hand signaling the band a number of downbeats between each segment.  Fannies finally were planted in seats for the first time when Bruce slowed it down for Jack of All Trades.

Bruce greets audience members in Hamilton
Reports from Friday's show in Ottawa indicated that the request section of that show had been skipped. The certainly was not the case in Hamilton.  As in Toronto, "Canadian humor" was the order of the day.  Bruce openly laughed at several signs; there were multiple signs with flashing lights, signs for songs played every night and signs for songs played almost never.  Except for the one sign with the birthday card ("thanks, I needed the reminder!"), he seemed to take them all.  First up was "We Are Trapped In Hamilton"  

Then, "Hi Bruce.  I just got dumped.  I'm Goin' Down."  Has Bruce ever played analyst on stage before?  Now he has.  After noting that everyone does get dumped, with the obligatory laughing at every girl who dumped him back in the day, he decided to interview the poor dumping victim and determined that, yes, the girl was "probably right!"  Then, "hug!," and the dumpee was on the stage in an extended man-hug with the tough love analyst Boss man.

A flashing Because the Night sign similar to one in Toronto (maybe the same one?) led to that song being played; Bruce needed multiple guitar changes before proceeding with it, and the song ultimately ended with a monster 10-twirl solo from Nils Lofgren.

11-year old Grace Mahler of Hamilton held up a sign that read, "Terry's Song for my friend Sydney in heaven."
Fans with the "Canada Loves Rosalita" sign before the show
Other sign holders also got stage time, throughout the night.  There was even a flashing sign by a young girl for Waiting on a Sunny Day, which earned her the singing solo.  She nailed it, duplicating the octave switch that the Toronto singer had used so effectively during the summer.  

The most unusual sign selection was for Terry's Song, held up in remembrance of a local girl who passed away this summer. There were only two known instances of Bruce playing this song live:  the first was at Terry's service, and the 2nd time just prior to Danny Federici passing away.  Bruce introduced the song by recalling the first time he ever met Terry Magovern, when he and Steve played a bar that Terry managed.  It's worth finding the story on youtube (certainly it must be there by now).  In Hamilton, Bruce was providing comfort to the audience member as he played the song on guitar and harmonica, and one could have heard a pin drop in the Coliseum during the performance.

Bruce completed his Canadian conquest during the encores, opening that final segment with yet another request, this time for the seldom-played I'm a Rocker, and later on by taking a tattered sign that has followed Bruce around Canada for years:  "Canada loves Rosalita."  Stevie obliged here, by taking the line "Some day we'll look back on this and it will all seem funny," adding, just for a bit of final punctuation on the show, "HA HA!"

After 26 songs and a touch over 3 hours, Bruce had conquered Ontario.  Again.
Notes:  These pictures also appeared in http://backstreets.com/news.html.  A slightly edited version of this review appeared on http://brucespringsteen.net/

Friday, October 19, 2012

Forward, and Away We Go -- Parma, October 18, 2012

Forward, and Away We Go!!!
In an interview for the UK paper The Guardian in February 2012, Bruce Springsteen said, "I campaigned for Kerry and Obama, and I am glad I did. But normally I would prefer to stay on the sidelines. The artist is supposed to be the canary in the cage."  When he reviewed Obama's performance at that time, his response was measured:  "He kept General Motors alive, he got through healthcare – though not the public system I would have wanted – he killed Osama Bin Laden, and he brought sanity to the top level of government. But big business still has too much say in government and there has not been as many middle- or working-class voices in the administration as I expected. I thought Guantanamo would have been closed but now, but he got us out of Iraq and I guess we will soon be out of Afghanistan."

That was then.  That was before Obama had an opponent in the general election, one who opposed the very things that Springsteen praised.  That was before Obama performed so poorly in a presidential debate that his re-election this November suddenly seemed to be legitimately in question.  So, with just 3 weeks to go until Election Day, Bruce appeared at Obama rallies today in Parma, Ohio, and later on in Ames, Iowa.  I went to the appearance in Parma, in which Bill Clinton spoke prior to Bruce's performance.

In Ohio, the event was held at Cuyahoga Community College.  The arrangements were made hastily; tickets were distributed in the 48 hours before the event; promotional materials on campus showed a concert picture of Bruce from 1992.  Originally intended to be held at the college's outdoor soccer stadium, the threat of a severe storm forced the event to be moved indoors to a much smaller gymnasium inside the college's main building.  As a result, many attendees were diverted to a separate theater to watch the event; meanwhile, the line to get in to the gym -- this was supposed to be super-secure -- snaked past the Tri-C Bookstore, Java City, the Westwood Cafe, students going to classes, a hot dog vendor, and a bake sale fundraiser for the Tri-C women's cross country and track team.  The chocolate chip cookies were soft and chewy.  Security?  Well, let's just say it was earnest, but anyone could have entered that room with pretty much anything... except an umbrella.

The rally undercard was a fairly typical array of local organizers and regional candidates.  The audience in the gym was very noticeably younger and shorter than Bruce's typical crowd; shorter because many of them were coming over high schools.  A particularly large contingent was there from East Cleveland's Shaw High School, all wearing school jackets.  There were also more black people in the crowd than one might see in several month's worth of Springsteen tour dates.

President Clinton in Parma, Ohio, October 18, 2012
Bill Clinton was in the unfamiliar role of being a warm-up act, but it soon became clear just how much he relished his role.  He seemed to thoroughly enjoy issuing verbal barb after verbal barb at Mitt Romney, while occasionally tossing in some high praise for President Obama... and, sometimes, for himself.  His performance was so dynamic, one could almost hear people thinking, "why can't he run one more time?"

After Clinton finished, he introduced Bruce.  Bruce's first remark, as he somewhat nervously strummed his guitar: "I get to speak after President Clinton.  That's like going on after Elvis here."  As with his 2008 appearances on behalf of Obama, the format was an acoustic mini-set, with some commentary.  Following along from Bruce's official statement on behalf of Obama earlier this week, gone was any sense of ambivalence:
I came here today because I'm thankful for universal health care, the lack of which was for so long an embarrassment to our country. I'm thankful for a more regulated Wall Street. I'm thankful GM is still making cars. What else would I write about?! I'd have no job without that!

I'm here today because I'm concerned about women's rights. I don't have to tell you about the dangers to Roe v. Wade under our opponent's policies.

I'm also here today because of the continuing disparity in wealth between our best-off citizens and our everday citizens. That's a disparity that I believe our honorable opponent's policies will only increase and that threatens to divide us into two distinct and foreign nations, until many of us are going to end up like a song I wrote in 1980, Jackson Cage: "just the scenery in another man's play." 
Leaving aside my astonishment that Bruce apparently believes we have "universal health care," there was a performance to witness.  The core of the setlist resembled that of 2008.  Bruce opened with "No Surrender," and proceeded to "The Promised Land."  By this point, many of the people who had been there for Clinton were starting to leave.

Bruce introduced a new campaign song, of sorts (in 2008, Bruce introduced Working On a Dream at a an Obama campaign rally two days before the election).  But this was more in the vein of toss-offs such as 1996's In Michigan, only not nearly as funny, nor as complete.  It was a 90-second audience participation number called Forward, with such stellar lines as "Tuesday Romney was schooled by Obama."  It got some laughs, and Bruce had fun with it.

With "Youngstown," sung several steps below the official release, Bruce added Iraq and Afghanistan to Korea and Vietnam in the list of places to which the citizens had sent their children.  We Take Care of Our Own fired up the crowd.  Several months ago I suggested that that song slammed Obama every bit as much as his opponents; while I still hold to that opinion, one would never have gotten that impression from Bruce's performance today.  Bruce closed with an upbeat -- and complete -- version of This Land is Your Land, followed by a singalong to Thunder Road. 

Springsteen motioning for the crowd to shout out "Forward!" during his performance in Parma.
The event was live streamed by a Cleveland television station, and perhaps the exposure to the audience beyond the Tri-C campus was the real intent.  My 15-year old son even reported that he happened to see some of it at his school here in Michigan.

Bruce's North American tour resumes in Canada tomorrow, and there are no breaks of more than 2 days between now and Election Day.  Bruce's past campaigning has never coincided with a pre-existing E Street Band tour; we'll see if Bruce uses the E Street Band stage for "Public Service Announcements," or combines upcoming concert appearances in swing states with more campaign appearances.