Wednesday, July 1, 2009
MY FIRST BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN CONCERT REVIEW
Despite being a rabid music fan, I never in my life thought that someone like me would travel halfway cross the world just to see a concert. But it ain't just a concert. As Bruce Springsteen used to say, it's a Roll & Roll baptism, a Rock & Roll exorcism, a Rock & Roll barmitzva. Being able to see the Greatest Show on Earth was truly a 'out of the body' religious experience; kinda like going to church, but a million times better. You read the thousands of amazing stories about the band's live shows, hear the bootlegs, watch the videos; but to actually be there and see 'em play right in front of you is a TOTALLY DIFFERENT THING, and it can never be recreated on the big screen, even using the best 3D High-Definition technology. No matter how far away you are from the stage, you can still feel IT.
I clearly remember how I got into Bruce Springsteen's music. The first song that really hooked me wasn't a hit song at all. It was My Love Will Not Let You Down from the Live In New York City record. Then I heard the live version of Jungleland, and I never looked back. Seven years later, I'm standing in a crowd of 50,000 people, in the middle of a hot summer day in Hyde Park, London, waiting for the man they call The Boss, and the greatest band in the land to come onstage. The wait is intolerable, though it was rather exciting to see the crew set up the equipment--Max Weinberg's drum kit, Clarence Clemon's saxophones and his 'royal' throne, Roy Bittan's grand piano, and Bruce's mic stand and teleprompters.
And then without warning, the band members slowly appear from the sides of the stage, all of them dressed in black, taking their positions, ready to go into battle. Bruce plays the first chord; a minor chord, followed by another minor chord. The crowd suddenly erupts. We all know what it is -- London Calling. The E Street version was a wonderful homage to not only Joe Strummer and The Clash, but also to the city of London. Bruce sang with a passion and fury I had never seen in any performer before, and this was only the first song! Of course, we all knew the words to it, and we sang along. After a great start, the band goes straight into Badlands. Everyone's hands are up, fists start pumping -- what a sight to behold. I was so overwhelmed with joy that the tears started to flow. It's like being possessed and you can't control yourself.
Next two songs are a double-shot from my favorite album: Night and She's The One. They were supposed to play My Lucky Day (according to the handwritten setlist), but Bruce called for an audible in order to maintain the high level of energy from the crowd. During She's The One, Bruce tosses his guitar to his technician, whips out the harmonica, and starts playing it to the Bo Diddley beat. Fucking incredible. Outlaw Pete is one song from the new album I could do without, but this live version killed. No surprise at all that almost everyone knew the lyrics. Out In The Street was another crowd favorite, and fuck all those people who say that it has been overplayed.
Taking things down a notch, the band plays the title song from the new album. I actually enjoyed Working On A Dream. Quite funny to see Clarence doing the whistling solo, but he managed to nail it. Bruce goes into his usual rap about using the power of the E Street Band, mixing in the good news with the bad news, the good wood with the bad wood to build a house of hope, music and sexual healing. Then comes the 'recession three-pack' -- Seeds, Johnny 99 and Youngstown, though I was hoping they'd play The Ghost Of Tom Joad. It was unbelievable -- the band sounded real fucking tight.
The middle portion of the show was the sign request portion. Bruce decides to play The Rascals' Good Lovin' (instead of Raise Your Hand) this time. He goes down to the crowd and starts collecting signs, many of them coming in different shapes and sizes. It was cool to see the different songs people wanted to hear: Lost In The Flood, Lucky Town, Better Days, Leah (!), Queen Of The Supermarket, Kitty's Back. Bruce decides to play Bobby Jean and Trapped, which was kinda surprising, because I thought he'd choose more rare stuff, rather than playing it safe. But nevertheless, the band delivered, and the songs were great to sing along to. I know Bobby Jean sounds very cheesy and dated, but I still enjoy the hell out of it.
After that, Bruce invites Brian Fallon onstage to duet with him on No Surrender. Waitin' On A Sunny Day had Bruce putting his mic out for a young boy to sing the chorus. The look on the boy's face was priceless. The Promised Land was another tour staple, and this being one of my favorite songs, I enjoyed it immensely. The harp intro always gives me goosebumps. Bruce obviously couldn't get enough of the signs, so he put a large one in front of his mic stand, and it said Racing In The Street! OMG, I thought I died and went to heaven :) Bruce's singing was just beautiful, as was Roy's solo, which seemed to go on forever. (link)
The band then played their usual, Radio Nowhere, Lonesome Day and The Rising before launching into the showstopper: Born To Run. It's still pretty bright, but the crowd starts going absolutely wild. At some points, all of us were singing so loudly that Bruce's voice was entirely drowned out! BTR usually ends the main set, but Bruce shouted "We can't stop now!!", and launches into Rosalita (Come Out Tonight), another showstopper. After the song, the band didn't leave the stage. Bruce decides to continue on with Hard Times, a cover of a 100+ year old old traditional song, with the help of his backup singers. Then came the final sign request of the night. It took me a while to make out the words of the sign as Bruce was unfolding it and laying it against the mic stand. Jungleland!!
The Big Man, though hardly able to move, manages to nail his sax solo. I was amazed at how fucking quiet the audience was, so quiet that you could hear a pin drop, especially when Bruce sang the last verse. The final 'crowd pleasing' portion of the show had Bruce skipping over Land Of Hope And Dreams, and going straight into American Land, where he introduced the E Street Band. His last songs were Glory Days and Dancing In The Dark. I'm not a big fan of those songs, but the live versions were very very good.
Finally, after almost three hours, it's all over. It ended slightly after 10pm. Apparently, they played past the curfew, which is weird, because the official schedule stated 10:15pm as the ending time. I was a bit sad that they never played Thunder Road. That would have really made my day. But at that point, I was already emotionally and physically exhausted from all the jumping and singing and shouting and screaming. My head was spinning for a few hours after the show. Not the best setlist I was expecting, but nevertheless, greatest night of my life and greatest concert ever. I'm still suffering from post-concert depression and it'll probably take me a while before I fully recover.
Thank you Little Steven, Nils Lofgren, Soozie Tyrell, Charles Giordano, Max Weinberg, Garry Tallent, Clarence Clemons, and of course Bruce Springsteen for changing my life.
1. London Calling
4. She's The One
5. Outlaw Pete
6. Out In The Street
7. Working On A Dream
9. Johnny 99
11. Good Lovin'
12. Bobby Jean
14. No Surrender
15. Waitin' On A Sunny Day
16. The Promised Land
17. Racing In The Street
18. Radio Nowhere
19. Lonesome Day
20. The Rising
21. Born To Run
22. Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)
23. Hard Times
25. American Land
26. Glory Days
27. Dancing In The Dark
I really enjoyed Hard Rock Calling. Really well organized, great sound system, and a generally polite crowd. And mark my words, this won't be the last time I'll be seeing Bruce Springsteen.