Sunday, May 25, 2014

Riding Round Heaven's Wheel - Pittsburgh, May 23, 2014

Last night in Pittsburgh Bruce Springsteen concluded more than two years of touring by performing with Joe Grushecky and the Houserockers at Soldiers and Sailors Hall. While we never know where Bruce might show up, this seems to be the end of scheduled dates, at least for a while. Bruce came on stage at 9pm in his plaid shirt for his initial mini-acoustic set, as the audience lit up in the collected glow of hundreds of cell phones trying to capture the moment. His first song, "Further On (Up the Road)," delivered slowly and sung low, drove home the point: This is it. For a while.

Racing in the Street '78
Bruce said, after that first song, "it's always nice to come to Pittsburgh and try something I haven't tried before." He added that every song writer is good for about 2 or 3 songs their whole lives, that "Cadillac Ranch" and "Darlington County" are really the same song, and that "it works if you refresh and rewrite them."

After "I'll Work For Your Love," Bruce explained that he'd had an anxiety attack that day and taken Ativan... perhaps too much Ativan. Did he say "chugged"? Was Bruce's appearance on stage simply an errant figment of one of his many selves, while he drifted in the ether looking for a fun place to touch down? He carried on, introducing (a first ever acoustic?) "Outlaw Pete" by saying, "this next song is a hallucination," and giving his childhood memories that launched the song. The acoustic version revealed to me, for the first time, the imagery of the song's lyrics. During the final verse Brce brought down the guitar, and I could feel complete silence in the room; for all of the exhaustion, Bruce held the audience in palms of his hands.
Joe Grushecky looks good for 60!

After the song, Bruce retreated, walking very slowly and in apparent discomfort, as Joe Grushecky and the Houserockers took the stage for their mini-set, including a call-response on "John the Revelator" that got the home-town crowd worked up. Bruce then returned to the stage for the remainder of the show, beginning with a typically searing version of "Adam Raised a Cain," and including another performance of "Racing in the Street ('78)."

Last night's show also took a noticeable look at Bruce's often ignored material from "Human Touch" and "Lucky Town," eventually including 5 songs from that period. This started with "Better Days," a song beginning almost in irony, considering Bruce's apparent physical condition. Still, it was time for some good fun, and Bruce gathered his strength for the ride. This started with Joe's song "I Still Look Good for 60," with Bruce and Joe doing plenty of mugging for the crowd, and then an audible to "Pink Cadillac," with Bruce throwing in lyrical references to ass sizes and to Al Gore. Before "Frankie Fell in Love," Bruce tossed in a playful shot at the time he'd spent rooming with Little Steven, noting that as a roommate Steven had been "awful" to live with.

Joffo sings, Johnny drums.
The highest point of the evening for me was a 3-pak starting with "Save My Love," a song Bruce seems to love playing with the Houserockers at the Pittsburgh shows. Then, introducing "Savin' Up," he announced, "Ladies and Gentleman, we got a little soul music for you," Moving better now and in full voice, Bruce came down the stage left aisle several rows in to the audience, explaining how soul music "administers to the soul, by imparting every day wisdom," and then picking out people in the audience to sing lines like "YOU may have diamonds, YOU may have pearls." Joe was the recipient of, "YOU may have a big back yard," as Bruce slapped Joe's rear end. Following was "Hearts of Stone," featuring Eddie Manion on saxophone and noting in song, again, that tonight was the last dance.

"Lucky Town" and "Human Touch," back to back, gave Bruce a chance to re-visit material from those albums; "Human Touch" included an extended guitar solo. After the Grushecky family joined on "Twist and Shout," "Leaving Train" rocked, making it easy to wonder why it had never been played in concert until these last two shows.

After concluding the band portion of the evening with a rollicking "Light of Day," Bruce returned with his acoustic guitar and harmonica. The room fell silent as he sang an achingly beautiful version of "My Beautiful Reward," that once again told the finality of the moment. The show could have ended there, and it would have been more than enough. But Bruce had one more, "from New Jersey to Pittsburgh." A serenade of "Jersey Girl," joined by Eddie Manion on stage, with Bruce inviting the crowd to sing along.

And with that, a conclusion to a long and wonderful chapter. The last dance has ended, we've gone down the road apiece, the train has left, and the reward has been searched for and maybe even found. Until we meet again, further on up the road.

report and photographs for www.backstreets.com
We'll meet you further on up the road.