Thursday, January 5, 2012

Nebraska 30

All I got is a red guitar, three chords and the truth
All I got is a red guitar, the rest is up to you

Thirty years (and two days) ago, Bruce Springsteen set out to make, perhaps the starkest and most haunting album anyone had ever done at that point in time. As far as most-personal-records go, it was his Blood On The Tracks. He would bring the acoustic four-track demos to the E Street Band and attempt to flesh them out, but it didn't work, so the bare-bones versions were released instead. Those tapes, known as Electric Nebraska, are still highly sought after in the bootleg world.

Obviously Nebraska was a totally unexpected follow-up to his previous mega-hit, The River. Its release resulted in poor sales, but garnered high critical praise. For me, it may not be one of my favorite Springsteen albums, but I can easily say it's his greatest creative achievement after Born To Run and Darkness. Bruce always creates masterpieces when he's pissed off at something, usually at the government.

The characters here are Americans, alienated from their dead-end jobs and social surroundings, some live in isolation, some have no reasons to live, some turn to crime as their only way out. I never thought I'd feel a strong sense of connection to them, but with the ultra-bleakness marriage of the guitar strumming and the heartbreaking poetry, Bruce binds you to these people in ways you'd never expect. This is the kind of record you listen to late at night when you're extremely depressed, and in a weird way it lifts your spirits up.

And when some of these songs are performed live, especially with the band, they become powerhouses:

Atlantic City -- any version from the Reunion tour onwards is probably worth checking out, though I don't particularly dig the '06 Seeger Sessions renditions; a good recent one is from The River show at Madison Square Garden, where it was performed as a sign request

Mansion On The Hill -- Reunion tour version is 'countrified', courtesy of Danny's accordion and Nils' pedal steel, and also some moving harmonization from Bruce and Patti

Johnny 99 -- Working On A Dream tour, always between Seeds and either Youngstown or The Ghost Of Tom Joad, making this set one of the highlights of any '09 show (the Hyde Park blu-ray is a good place to start)

State Trooper -- Devils & Dust tour (the one at Gothenburg is a must-hear); also performed one-off with Arcade Fire's Win Butler and Regine in Ottawa in '07

Open All Night -- Devils & Dust tour (Philly and Jersey '05), Seeger Sessions tour (surprisingly great, New Orleans/ Preservation Hall-inspired); also Eddie Vedder does justice to it during his solo shows

And my personal favorite, and if there's one staple that should be played during every show of the upcoming tour, it's Reason To Believe -- Magic tour; kick-ass blues rendition with bullet-mic (and what's better is that the band plows straight into the next song which is just plain awesome i.e. Because The Night, Candy's Room, Adam Raised A Cain, Night, Jackson Cage) CLICK HERE to watch the best version from '07.