Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Price You Pay

Light Of Day 2014
It only took less than a week for Jon Landau Management to hear the fans' passionate responses regarding the implementation of the overpriced USB wristbands to sell the upcoming Springsteen bootlegs, that they actually addressed the issue head on. Here's the good news everyone has been waiting for, courtesy of Backstreets:

Backstreets has just confirmed that, in addition to the USB wristband sales model, Springsteen will also be offering direct audio downloads through his official Live Nation online store following each show on the upcoming leg, with no physical purchase required. There will be two options for audio formats: MP3 (320 kbps) or FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec). Pricing will match Pearl Jam's, at $9.99 for MP3 or $14.99 for FLAC. Hard to say fairer than that. This plan is in place for at least each show on the South Africa/Australia/New Zealand leg. Support it, and it's hard to see why they'd stop there.


Jan 26 – Bellville Velodrome, Cape Town, South Africa
Jan 28 - Bellville Velodrome, Cape Town, South Africa
Jan 29 - Bellville Velodrome, Cape Town, South Africa
Feb 1 – FNB Stadium, Johannesburg, South Africa

Feb 5 – Perth Arena, Perth, Australia
Feb 7 – Perth Arena, Perth, Australia
Feb 8 – Perth Arena, Perth, Australia
Feb 11 – Entertainment Center, Adelaide, Australia
Feb 12 – Entertainment Center, Adelaide, Australia
Feb 15 – AAMI Park, Melbourne, Australia
Feb 16 – AAMI Park, Melbourne, Australia
Feb 19 – Allphones Arena, Sydney, Australia
Feb 22 – Hope Estate, Hunter Valley, Australia
Feb 23 – Hope Estate, Hunter Valley, Australia
Feb 26 – Entertainment Centre, Brisbane, Australia
Mar 1 – Mt. Smart Stadium, Auckland, New Zealand
Mar 2 – Mt. Smart Stadium, Auckland, New Zealand

May 3 - Fair Grounds Race Course, New Orleans, LA

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Held Up Without A Gun

Ever since Backstreets made known to everyone last week about the possibility of downloadable live recordings, it was only a matter of time before there would be an official announcement. A day after Bruce himself mentioned it in the NPR interview, the program is soon becoming a reality. It's something every fan has been wanting for a long, long time. Bruce has finally jumped on the bandwagon, following acts like Pearl Jam, Metallica, The Who, Phish, The Black Crowes, John Fogerty, Red Hot Chili Peppers and many others, making his upcoming shows available in soundboard quality. There's one catch however. It's 40 fucking dollars. It's daylight robbery. The idea is you buy a USB wristband online (which is just plain stupid and so old-fashioned) or at a show and are able to download it two days after. The quality is only 320kps, and it costs 40 bucks (online it does, but expect it to be priced around the same at the merchandise stands). Bands like Pearl Jam release their bootlegs weeks after the shows, but they are properly mixed, and very reasonably priced - $9.99 for mp3 and just a few dollars more for lossless format. The CD and HD versions cost about $20. As far as official bootleg releases are concerned, the PJ business model is perfect. It's a win-win for everyone. I don't see why Bruce and co. can't adopt this same method of selling; logistically, isn't it so much simpler? Instead, they are following exactly what Matchbox Twenty does, implementing measly 2GB USB bracelets that will probably be of very little use after obtaining the recordings. And pricing it ridiculously high will only encourage more illegal file sharing. We all know the setlists differ greatly from show to show, and the hardcore fans will want to own many recordings, but imagine forking out 400 bucks for just ten shows. On the flipside, Pearl Jam is selling the entire CD box set from their 2013 North American tour for $375. And that's 25 shows in total. I really hope the Springsteen management fixes this bullshit soon. They're really screwing us over. Ask Eddie Vedder for some sound advice.

Backstreets does some damage control [link], assuring fans that this wristband thing is only the start of something bigger:

A source close to the tour confirms this was indeed the thinking, with those fans attending in South Africa, New Zealand and Australia the primary target, not the die-hard collector. "This is meant for the other fan — the one who might only see one show on the tour or ever." The source went on to explain that they never intended this as the way super fans were supposed to collect shows: "We are not expecting them to go to the online store and buy a boatload of wristbands!" Online store purchase of wristbands outside of the show is there more to support those who attended, but didn’t buy at the time. The wristband approach, the source assures us, is just the start. Right now it is a piece of merchandise, not the end-all, be-all concert download solution. "My hope is that they opt to make the audio tracks available in various formats at a reasonable price," says a second source close to the band. Our tour source goes one step further: "In the future we DO want to address what the super fans are looking for — reasonably priced downloads or CDs of live shows — past and present. The wristband is not a substitute for that."

While this is certainly promising, I can't help but think this whole program wasn't exactly well thought-out to begin with. Management should've laid it all down in a press release. I don't care if the wristband is aimed at a smaller target audience, I still think it's not a good idea. It's just a quick money grab.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Bruce on Jimmy Fallon: another parody skit

Performances with The E Street Band & Tom Morello:
- High Hopes
- Just Like Fire Would
- Heaven's Wall 

UPDATE (16 Jan):
To cap off what seemed like a whirlwind week of High Hopes activity is yet another, very insightful, very long interview that Bruce did with NPR Music [link]. There's some new information about the official bootlegs that will be rolling out during the upcoming tour. He also namechecks Jason Isbell and many other artists that he's been listening to. Cool stuff. 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Happy High Hopes Day!

Based on the above official clip, it seems like Frankie Fell In Love was recorded during the Working On A Dream sessions. 

Saturday, January 11, 2014

E Street Radio Interview with Bruce Springsteen

In the words of Rob Lowe's character from Parks & Recreation, this is literally the best interview Bruce has given since he got the E Street Band back together. He describes in detail the creative process behind the excellent High Hopes album and some interesting revelations about previous recordings that have never seen the light of day, at least not yet. It seems there's more stuff locked in the vaults than we can possibly fathom. His thoughts about the E Street Band's long overdue induction into this year's Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame is sure to make many listeners emotional. If that's not enough, Rolling Stone has also published the full, almost hour-long interview with Bruce [link], and it's a must-read for every fan. Basically, if I were interviewing Bruce myself, those would be the exact same questions I'd be asking. The BIGGEST reveal of all has to be what Jon Landau told Backstreets editor Chris Phillips at the radio interview: 

In that vein, Landau fills me in on something else in the works: downloadable concert recordings. Plans aren't totally hammered out yet, but it's something they want to try, potentially after each show, and he says Bruce is on board with the idea. Active discussions are ongoing and in the logistics phase; there are even hopes to make something happen in time for the next leg. Landau clearly understands that this is something hardcore fans have been clamoring for. (Though after fans, for years, have continued to point to what bands like Pearl Jam have been doing, would you believe it was a conversation Bruce had with Rob Thomas that greased the wheels? Well, whatever it takes.) "We're trying to keep the surprises coming," Jon says. "I think we are."

Tuesday, January 7, 2014


"The light from the oncoming train focuses the mind."

Back in the early '90s, the idea of Bruce Springsteen collaborating with someone as edgy and innovative as the guitarist from Rage Against The Machine would've sounded too far-fetched and wild. But last year's Australian tour that had Tom Morello temporarily replacing Steve Van Zandt proved that even with all the craziness and chaos the guitar wizard could create, he actually turned out to be a great fit for the ever-expanding E Street sound. His presence and musicianship rejuvenated the band further. Believe me; I experienced it firsthand. It was only a matter of time before he ended up recording a full album with Bruce. He is all over High Hopes, Bruce's 18th studio album, which comes twenty-two months after the masterpiece that was Wrecking Ball.

It is universally understood that High Hopes doesn't contain any recent songs that were written within the past two years. But just one full listen will dispel this notion of a hodgepodge collection of songs that were conceived over a (very creative) ten year period. The twelve tracks may tackle a variety of familiar, classic Springsteen themes, but musically, they flow so well into one another you would actually think they were meant to be together on the same album. The order in which Bruce sequenced them is impeccable, and it's something producer Ron Aniello has stressed about in the recent Rolling Stone interview [link]. The release of this record just seems like a logical progression in Bruce's career, him looking back to his old stuff and other people's for meaning and inspiration. It feels and sounds like a very cohesive piece of work.

The title track that opens up the album is the most hard-hitting since Radio Nowhere on Magic. It's Bruce making a statement, 'This is the new era of the E Street Band. This is how we sound like now.' While it is better than what was originally recorded in '95, it doesn't hold a candle to the live version. You can't fully appreciate it till you hear it performed live. Harry's Place is pretty fantastic, though it's such an unusual tune for Bruce as it sounds very dated, very '80s Miami Vice soundtrack-like, an upbeat Don Henley or Glenn Frey solo song. But Morello's guitar gives it a more contemporary feel, like he does on many of the tracks he plays on here. The colorful lyrics about the mysterious gangster underworld recall the early days of Greetings and WIESS. Bruce claimed it was recorded for Magic, with references to the Bush years, and it kinda makes sense. Clarence Clemons' sax is featured here, providing an aura of film-noir mystique (also welcome back, bullet mic). I love the slow distorted wailing fade as it segues into the classic American Skin (41 Shots), this time beginning with a more menacing-sounding synth. It's mighty powerful, and what Bruce was addressing more than ten years ago has taken on different horrific forms in today's society. The band actually recorded a studio version back in 2001. This current one is longer and has a more modern, fleshed-out production, trumping even the Live In NYC version. Morello's signature wah-wah solos calls for repeated listening, adding something new to what was lacking previously. 

The beginning of Just Like Fire Would sounds almost exactly like John Mellencamp's Small Town. If I hadn't heard the original by The Saints, I would've easily mistaken it for a Springsteen song; the lyrics especially are so up his alley. It's got all the classic elements of an E Street number, it's got those killer horns. I love it when Bruce channels his 1978 voice; it's damn awesome. This will rock hard live. Down In The Hole (this and Harry's Place produced by Brendan O'Brien) is an outtake from The Rising, and it would've made The Rising an even better album had it been included. Driven by a strong I'm On Fire groove, it's a chilling, devastating account about searching for a lost loved one amidst the rubble. What makes this a stunner are the little subtleties; the industrial-like percussion in the background, Bruce's muted voice in the beginning, the change in tempo when the strings come in. Patti Scialfa provides some of her best vocals here.

Heaven's Wall is straight-up gospel rock, containing some vivid biblical imagery, and by Bruce's standards, not so unusual after having heard the likes of Death To My Hometown, Shackled And Drawn and Rocky Ground. It's a great, rousing song that makes full use of the E Street choir, and it should be a fun one live (just imagine percussionist Everett Bradley going nuts on the bongos during the intro). However I'm struggling to hear what Bruce is mumbling about as his voice is mixed way too low. The following 'nonsensical' Frankie Fell In Love has a couple of snappy lines about a church mouse and a conversation between Einstein & Shakespeare, and an infectious melody circa The River era, the type of three-minute pop ditty Little Steven advocates. Just one of those songs you wish Bruce had put out earlier; there have been far too few Bruce/Stevie duets the past few records. The short This Is Your Sword, with its positive, almost cliched lyrics about finding one's courage and resilience in the face of adversity, wouldn't have sounded out of place on Wrecking Ball or even Working On A Dream, and the bagpipes and Celtic rock vibe lift it out of mediocrity. This is the only track where Max Weinberg doesn't play drums on. Elsewhere on the album though, he's at the top of his game, same goes for the other core members of the E Street Band.

Next comes Hunter Of Invisible Game, easily the best song on the album, and featuring some of Bruce's best songwriting in the past decade. Simple, absolutely gorgeous string melody accompanied by beautiful sonic textures, with Morello playing a more restrained part. Bruce does a sort of 'method singing' here, effectively taking on the role of someone journeying through a dystopian landscape, searching for salvation, even when all hope is lost. It appropriately fades off through a crackling transistor radio, and then all of a sudden a big bang, as the drums and guitar distortion enter The Ghost Of Tom Joad, just like in the live versions. Morello plays more or less the same solos, and surprisingly it works well here as it does onstage. It's fierce as fierce gets, gobsmacking, skin-piercing, right through the heart.

The Wall may very well be Bruce's greatest Vietnam song. It sounds like it was recorded very early on (Bruce still had that particular late '90s voice), a poignant letter to a local music hero who never returned from the war, its somberness akin to the equally excellent Brothers Under The Bridge from Tracks. Danny Fedirici's repetitive organ is brilliant and haunting. The album starts and ends with covers. Dream Baby Dream couldn't be a more fitting finish. I was blown away when I first heard Bruce's rendition in 2005. This is one fine example of taking someone else's song and totally turning it upside down, making it your own. The live version will go down as one of the all-time great covers by any music artist. Period. It sounds nothing like the original by Suicide (I have a feeling Bruce was also inspired by another one of the duo's earlier tunes, Keep Your Dreams). As much as I dig this new souped-up, what-would-Roy-Orbison-do version, I still think it's more emotional without the extra instrumentation (a definitive official live soundboard recording is available on iTunes). I'm saying this as objectively as I possibly can; High Hopes is another near-perfect Springsteen album, full of musical and lyrical surprises. I'm glad these lost songs have finally found a home.

P.S. The bonus DVD performance of the Born In The USA album live in London last year is yet another excellent showcase of the immense talent and power of the E Street Band. It is brilliantly mixed and instrument separation is crystal clear. Garry Tallent is such an underrated bass player. Downbound Train and My Hometown was especially moving.