After my dad died, we flew in to New Jersey for the funeral and shiva. The rabbi got to the house a few minutes after I did, to go over the funeral as well as the traditions of mourning. He brought his low chairs for the family, and started talking. I knew most of the basics, no shaving or sex during sheloshim, stuff like that. Then he mentioned other “don’ts,” and got to “no live music for a year.” He spoke of how he had had to leave his own daughter’s bat mitzvah party because it was during his mourning period for his mother. So I thought about it. And realized that, despite the positive impact of such a prohibition on my budget, that this was one minhag I did not care to fulfill. At least, I’d have one exception to it, ‘cause when it comes to Bruce it’s not just music to me.
The Philadelphia shows went on sale during shiva, but a good friend bought a pair of General Admission for the first night, and held them for me to consider. So I thought about that, too. Philadelphia has the best crowds. It’s a weekend. I might need to be there.
Yesterday, feeling not the slightest guilt except for the budget, we flew in. We drove out to Pat’s King of Steaks (no cheese whiz for me!!), where I’d never been before, and which was pretty much entirely filled with people getting a late lunch before the show. Met many friends we hadn’t seen in too long, and many more I knew only as a screen name. And everything was ok.
The GA system is a “lottery,” whereby numbered wristbands are handed out and at some point shortly after 5pm one of the wristbands is chosen to be first in to the front area. We barely missed… on the wrong side – meaning we weren’t going to be in the front area at all. Worse, as we were going to hear the lottery, Lori stubbed her toe on a paver, wrecking one nail. We had to find first aid. This is where things got slightly zany: We discovered there was no first aid at that hour. But we did get let in to a side room where one of the employees gave Lori a bandage and advised us to come back closer to show time (then she had to take a call 'cause someone in the parking lot had a heart attack... and, of course, there was no one on site who could do anything to help). Every time the door to the little room opened we got a quick blast of the E Street Band on stage, as this was during soundcheck. I couldn’t make out what they were doing; later I was to discover that this wasn’t due to being far away (we were actually reasonably close to the stage, though I didn’t know it at the time).
As show time approached and it was time to go in, we approached the “wand guy,” Roman, and explained the predicament. We found the right guy. He walked us around the facility back to First Aid, talking about how his band is Van Halen and they were just there the previous week, and then at First Aid Charla bandaged Lori’s toe up to the size of a little blimp, and then the best part: a side trip to Guest Services to trade our General Admissions for pretty decent lower bowl seats. Turns out they basically had an entire section set aside for people who had GA tickets and couldn’t do it (from the few we spoke to, mostly for medical reasons). A bunch of people who had automatically selected “Best available” at ticketmaster, and for whom it just didn’t compute when they got to the venue and discovered that meant, “no chair.”
The show opened with the band taking the stage to the sounds of “Those Daring Young Men,” played on a calliope that rose up behind Max, the type you might find on an old merry-go-round. A throw-back to the Sessions tour, or maybe just to simpler times before everything crashed down to the ground, as it gave way to a blast of guitars announcing “Radio Nowhere.” And at just about that point, it hit me: THE SOUND SUCKS!! Really, really, really bad. As in, not worthy of a major act in 2007. As in, “What the FUCK are they THINKING???”
I got over that, though, maybe in part because at least it wasn’t too loud or distorted, just… muffled. So at least I wouldn’t end up with a splitting headache. Once I got beyond focusing on the sound, I could concentrate on the show, and I can just say, so far I love this setlist.
Over and over again, one song would set up another, a point/counterpoint/counter-counterpoint. The isolation of "Radio Nowhere" followed up by the communal commitments of "No Surrender" set the tone.
The introduction to “Magic” – one of the rare Springsteen songs that does not include the song title in its lyrics – as being not about magic but “tricks.” “Magic” was perhaps the only song of the evening not done as a guitar attack, it was basically a somber Bruce/Patti duet.
This led to possibly the most daring arrangement of the evening (or maybe the only daring arrangement of the evening), a mashup of ZZ Top’s "La Grange" in to “Reason to Believe,” along with a searing harmonica part through the bullet mike. Near me, someone just blurted out, “wow, he can play!”
Bruce introduced his rap to “Living in the Future” with his bits about what’s happening now, from the frivolous to loss of habeas corpus. Surprisingly – to me, anyway – this bit drew some booing from the crowd (no, it was not Bruuuuucing). But that didn’t last long, and for the rest of the evening the crowd was a typical zany Philly crowd – that is, the best you’ll find anywhere. The counterpoint to this was a passionate reading of “The Promised Land.”
After an audible to “My Hometown” (audible to… “My Hometown”??), the band played another seeming head-scratcher, “Darlington County.” Darlington is, by Bruce standards, a light song about what happens to some young folks when their hijinks go wrong. Where do we go from there? After a bit of silence, we got our answer: "Devil’s Arcade." Maybe that's what happens to some young folks when other people’s hijinks go wrong? The sequence beginning with "Devil’s Arcade" to end the set, going through “The Rising,” “Last to Die,” “Long Walk Home,” and “Badlands,” immediately takes its place for me as one of the truly great setlist sequences I’ve heard from Bruce. “Long Walk Home” just hits me in the gut, every time I hear it.
The setlist started with a bit of bravery: an attempt at “Girls in their Summer Clothes” without the wall of sound. As it was warmer on this October day than it had been on the 4th of July, it felt literal. This should eventually work, but the band doesn’t quite have it nailed yet.
The closer of “American Land” featured all of the band (except Max) at stage front, with a double accordion attack from Roy and Danny, and Clarence on penny whistle. It also had a bunch of folks dancing in the aisles… even if the sound system meant that we heard almost none of the words.
And that was it. 23 songs, a little under 2 and a half hours. And for us, now back home, without any guilt at all.