Monday, September 12, 2016

May Your Strength Give Us Strength - Pittsburgh, 9/11/16

I pray for the strength, Lord.
Of all the things that Bruce Springsteen has done in the 15 years since 9/11, there was one thing he hadn't done: Perform in public with the E Street Band, on 9/11. Last night's show... would be different. It would have to be different, somehow.

Springsteen's recent shows have turned in to early career retrospectives, going album by (rock) album through the first dozen years of his career, and stretching the whole thing out over 4 hours. Sure, the songs feel like old friends now, mostly. But last night felt different.

Last night there was a wound to check on, and it was still bleeding. In an arena that seemed to have more people than it could hold, and that was several degrees warmer than comfortable, Bruce led a service. It was raw, emotional, intense, with mourning for the dead and prayers for the living. When it was all over, after a typically goofy suite of party songs, we were collectively drained.

I had no particular expectations for this show: For me, it was just "the one show I could get to," after a summer of mostly ignoring Bruce's summer tour in Europe. Only after seeing the periscope feeds from New Jersey, with new features such as the shocking version of "American Skin" with Jake holding up his hands, did the feeling return: That feeling of needing to see this, while I could.
American Skin
The lights went down early. At 7:45 the string section walked on stage, meaning the show would open with "New York City Serenade." But where recent shows have seen explorations of Bruce's first album immediately following, last night it was The Rising on display, starting with the most direct tribute to the fallen, "Into the Fire," then "Lonesome Day," a stark and still raw version of "You're Missing" (with a harmonica play-out), and finally the wake song, "Mary's Place." A 4-song sequence through the process of loss and attempts to heal. But the realization, 15 years on, is that the wounds don't heal, not really.

From there, yes, the show mostly resumed the career retrospective presentation. Though not exactly anything new for long-time fans, it's still nice to see the guitar duel of "It's Hard to be a Saint in the City" and to have "Incident on 57th Street" lead in to "Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)." The shtick is good and even funny ("Don't Bruce me!"... "ok, Bruce me!"). And, of course, Grushecky per et fils for "Light of Day."

While the show did eventually land on the party songs -- noting that it was twenty-nine songs in to the set before he played the only song that had been a top 20 hit for him ("Dancing in the Dark") -- there were two more stunning moments:

First, a detour to "My City of Ruins," the song originally written for Asbury Park that Bruce re-imagined after 9/11. First with three people holding up cell phone lights behind the stage. Then 7. Then the section. And finally the entire arena, it seemed. And here the words seemed to cut through: "With these hands... I pray for the strength, Lord... Rise up!"

Then, at encore time, Bruce came out with an acoustic guitar; the chords weren't familiar. "Somebody gave me a copy of the Constitution of the United States... It does say 'Fuck Trump' on the front of it... and this was his request."

What followed was a devastating solo performance of "Long Walk Home": Last night I stood at your doorstep, trying to figure out what went wrong. You just slipped something in to my palm and you were gone.

As if to issue the challenges: "what have we learned?" and "where do we go now?"

You know the flag flyin' over the courthouse, means certain things are set in stone; Who we are, what we'll do and what we won't."

Monday, September 05, 2016

Some beats and eats in Royal Oak

Friends of mine have been posting links to articles claiming that going to concerts makes people healthier and happier. Apparently, many studies have proved this effect. The studies don't even claim that this is restricted to good concerts, though I'm supposing that helps.

So on Friday evening we went in to Royal Oak for part of the 19th annual Arts, Beats and Eats festival. The "healthier" aspect was clear enough immediately: My fitbit says it took 1871 steps to get from our parking space - at a Middle School on Glenn Frey Drive - to the Michigan Lottery Stage. A few of those on a daily basis would help, no doubt!

We went to see Stewart Francke and then Joan Jett. Stew had played the event every one of its 19 years; it's nice to see him get a huge audience. Stew's band had 11 members of Friday, including a horn section and multiple singers. Beginning with a tribute to David Bowie of "Rebel, Rebel," Stew then took the show crisply through several of his career highlights, interrupted only occasionally by the freight trains passing by just behind the concert area. My favorite -- and I think much of the crowd's as well -- was when Greg C. Brown took over "Sam Cook's On the Radio." 

By 8, it was time to make way to Joan Jett and the Blackhearts. At 58, Jett looks great, and she's maybe the first person I've seen who can wink while soloing. Starting, as she typically does, with "Bad Reputation," she ripped through a set lasting barely an hour, leaving the audience both breathless and wanting more (not possible, really, as Buckcherry was to take the stage after her). She went through career highlights and also mixed in a few songs off her latest CD. The band collectively saluted a passing train during "Hard to Grow Up." My favorite sequence was the back-to-back of "I Love Rock and Roll" in to her cover of "Crimson and Clover."

A few eats and another 1541 steps back to the car (is the walk back always shorter?), and I'm thinking, we needed a study for that?