Wednesday, June 21, 2006

A couple nights with Bruce

Blossom, June 16, 2006:

My mind is still a bit jumbled after finally getting home from Blossom at 4:30am, so I will just say this:

Great, great show in Blossom last night. The new band just cooks, right from the start, and for 2 and a half hours without stop.

Some highlights: Long Time Comin'. This was soundchecked over and over, though from the box office it was hard to make out over the unfortunate blaring of the local dinosaur rock station that was broadcasting there -- having to endure Supertramp while Bruce was playing live was distressing. Fortunately, Bruce liked it enough to play during the set, dedicating it to Evan ("lock up you daughters!," he advised to parents). Unlike other Springsteen-penned songs played on this tour, this one was played straight. A debut full-band live arrangement, since all performances on Joad and D&D were solo. Beautiful interplay between Bruce and the band, especially with drummer Larry Eagle and with the violins. Eagle brings a lot to the entire show, and watching the one verse in which it was basically just him and Bruce, with Larry playing behind Bruce but both of them totally together, was just a joy to experience.

The venue, Blossom Music Center, was mostly full, and the crowd was boisterous, into it, and totally enjoying it. I know that some harsh words have been said for the seeming lack of audience engagement in the shows, but it wasn't in evidence last night. Except for the rare heckler, it was a terrific audience.

The song that raises the roof off the joint is "Jacob's Ladder." From the back of the pit, I just looked back at the end of the song, and just said, "he owns them now." Crowd completely won over at that point. Bruce followed with another tour debut, "Into the Fire," solo on 12-string with harmonica, dedicated to a local Marine batallion that had suffered heavy losses in Iraq. You could hear a pin drop on "Into the Fire," a riveting performance.

Loved the band, especially the horns. Not just talented, but also versatile. The tuba player, Art Baron, also played penny whistle (on Mrs. McGrath), recorder (on We Shall Overcome), trombone and mandolin. And he may have been the first dancing tuba I've seen since my marching band days. Bass player Jeremy Chatzky gave new meaning to the term "walking bass" when he hoisted it during one routine on stage -- all that was missing to complete the Louis Prima routine would be to take that line out in to the audience. At several points during the show, there were front lines of 7 or more band members, bringing the music right out to the edge of the audience. March Anthony Thompson added strong vocals to "Eyes on the Prize" and the closing "When the Saints Go Marching In." For that last number, some people in the audience had problems calming down after a bouncy zydeco-flavored "Ramrod," but even then the performers won the crowd over.

Bruce was clearly suffering with a problem with his right wrist and hand throughout the show, at several points delaying songs so that he could adjust a bandage or get his hand re-bandaged. He tried not to let it show, and I think he succeeded in that.

About the only song I really didn't care for was "Oklahoma Home," which started off more like Pete Seeger's solo performance of it, and eventually built in to a full dixieland rave-up.

I do have one complaint: The start time. This show is being promoted as family entertainment, as evidenced by the offer for free admission to kids age 12 and under. Well... kids age 12 and under tend to have bed times. Parents understand that the show will last a while and the kids will be staying up late. Still, having a posted time of 7:30pm and taking the stage at 8:40pm is way over the line. If Bruce is serious about this being family entertainment, he should have his ass out on that stage by 7:45; heck, it would be better if he called the show for 6pm (and recall, way back in the BUSA days, that was the posted show start time).

Pine Knob, Jun 17, 2006:
Chapter 68: In Which Elianna Dances, and a Tooth is Loosed

Middle of last week, when the announcement finally came that kids 12 and under would be free for Springsteen's show at Pine Knob, I sent it to a friend; he'd said for $25 a ticket with free kids he might
take the whole family. Next day we get a call, wanna hang out on the lawn?

I thought about it, and finally decided, if the kids are game, let's do it. The other family eventually bailed, but we stayed with it.

Since Lori's knee still isn't compatible with a night on the lawn, I bought her a seat down front. Somehow I resisted the urge to buy one for myself. So, while Lori traded gardening tips with Dave's mom downstairs, I had our two kids (ages 9 and 5) and Aaron's friend Timmy up in picnic land.

First things first: Free means, free to drop $47 on a scrumptious dinner of nachos & lemonade, with dessert of cotton candy and snow cones. Load 'em up with enough starch and sugar, and just about any kid can be a good concert-goer, I figure. The same vendor coming through the lawn got us one lemonade and then two more lemonades; when he came back later holding cotton candy all he had to do was look at us... that just wasn't fair.

The evening was perfect for a concert. During the day it had gotten in to the 90's, but by concert time it had dropped to maybe 80, with perfect clear skies and no wind. Bruce started at 8:20, a significant improvement over Friday night's absurdly late start. The sound on the hill was fine. It's not quite as loud up there as in the pavilion; if anything that makes it easier to sing along -- and these are good songs for singing along. It also allows for interacting with the kids.

The show virtually duplicated the previous night at Blossom, the only difference being a Celtic-flavored arrangement of "Further On Up the Road" replacing "Into the Fire" in the setlist. Several songs appeared to have a bit more energy, and Bruce appeared to be having a better time with his hand. As at Blossom, the pavilion was mostly full, and there was a pretty substantial turnout on the lawn as well. By "Jacob's Ladder" -- maybe even earlier this evening, the crowd had been won over; plenty of standing, dancing and singing along on the lawn.

Elianna discovered that she could roll down the hill and do somersaults; after one dangerous demonstration I determined that any time she wanted to dance, she was dancing with daddy and the dance would be down at the rail where it's flat. We moved down to the rail many times throughout the show.

"Long Time Comin'" was again dedicated to Evan; I couldn't see Evan but I guess he was pretty much right next to Lori. Different vantage points, I guess. Elianna danced during "Long Time Comin'," and then felt for her tooth... it wasn't there. Amazingly, the tooth fairy found the tooth on the concrete.

Bruce dedicated "We Shall Overcome" to Dave's mom.

The kids mostly made it through the show. Aaron got cranky sometime after 10 and finally fell asleep during the encores -- but not before having a good laugh when someone on the hill drew a big cheer during "Bring Them Home" by screaming out a comment about the president. Timmy is now asking his parents to take him to more concerts; he was with it every step of the way. And Elianna danced right through "Ramrod," which she recognized was melodically similar to "Pay Me My Money Down" -- a recognition made clear by her shouting the words in my ear every time through. Other families had varying results; the family next to us on the lawn had to leave when their child had a meltdown toward the end of the main set.

Show closed with "When the Saints Go Marching In" again, and the sight on the lawn was beautiful; many people standing, arm in arm, swaying to the music as Bruce and Mark sang it out.

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