Sometimes it just sneaks up on you.
I was listening to the Rhapsody Halloween Channel, "a trick or treat bag full of the season's spookiest songs." And what comes on, out of nowhere?
"It's Halloween" by the Shaggs.
Sometimes it just sneaks up on you.
I was listening to the Rhapsody Halloween Channel, "a trick or treat bag full of the season's spookiest songs." And what comes on, out of nowhere?
"It's Halloween" by the Shaggs.
OK, so those Bruce concerts put me a little behind in my TV watching, meaning I only just got around to last week's 30 Rock. It was a great episode, with the following scene that shows Alec Baldwin at his best. Usually his 30 Rock funny is subtle, but he gets crazed here, and I was laughing out loud even though I was alone:
Two stories that merge:
In 1977, a man named Bill James self-published a book he called The Baseball Abstract. By 1982, James had gotten enough attention that a "real" publisher began putting out his books. Over the years, James became the world's most famous "sabermetrician" (a term he coined, which describes a particular approach to baseball analysis). James is pretty much universally recognized as the person most responsible for the state of baseball analysis today, even as others have taken that analysis into new and important areas. It should be noted that not everyone thinks James's contributions have been positive ... the San Francisco Giants, for instance, have a General Manager who is rumored to have once said that statistics gave him a headache. I've described the gradually increasing influence of sabermetric analysis as a "new paradigm" which, to my mind, is not coming quickly enough (but then, stats give my team's GM a headache).
Story #2: In 1920, the Boston Red Sox sold a player named Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees. Ruth went on to have arguably the greatest career of any player in baseball history, and the Yankees became the most successful team in baseball. The Red Sox, who had won four World Series in the 1910s, including one in 1918, did not win another World Championship for 86 years. The Curse of the Bambino became part of baseball lore.
And here the two stories converge. In 2003, the Boston Red Sox gave Bill James a job in their front office. James was not the first sabermetric analyst to find his way onto a club, but as the most famous of the analysts, he was a lightning rod for anyone with an opinion about the new paradigm.
In 2004, after 86 years, the Red Sox won the World Series. And tonight, they won it again, their second title in four years.
And you'll hear stories about heart and all those great Boston fans, and about Schilling and Ramirez, and all of those stories will be at least partly true.
But if you're going to allow for the existence of curses, you have to accept the possibility of their opposite. And so I give you The Blessing of Bill James. If I was a praying man, I'd be sending out a special message to the powers that be: please, oh great one, get rid of those fuckers in the Giants front office and bring us a blessing for a change.
That's not really the point, though. Analysis is the antithesis of irrational belief in curses and blessings. Quite simply, the Boston Red Sox are now successful because they know what they are doing. And they proved that when they gave a job to Bill James.
Might as well do this before I go to bed, while things are still fresh. I had a lot to do today, yet for the most part, things just breezed by. One thing about Bruce shows, the high lasts beyond the last actual note.
First, I should note that Thursday marked the third time I'd seen Bruce on October 25, and Friday was our second October 26th show. I have no idea why we see him so often in October.
Songs from Night One that disappeared on Night Two: "The Ties That Bind," "Adam Raised a Cain," "Town Called Heartbreak," "Backstreets," "Your Own Worst Enemy," and "Thunder Road."
Songs that made Night Two but not Night One:
"No Surrender" was the second song of the night. This is a favorite of many … normally it's not one of my faves, but it has special meaning to a friend of mine, and was thus very important last night. The third time I'd seen this one.
"Two Hearts" in the Reunion Tour "It Takes Two" version. Nice to see it back for a night. Ninth time, first since the Reunion.
"Tunnel of Love." Anytime he plays anything from Tunnel of Love I am a happy person. It is far and away the best Bruce album that doesn't get played in concert, for whatever reason. Only the third time I've heard this, and the first one in nineteen years.
"Racing in the Street." The Holy Shit moment of the night for me. Tenth time I've heard it, first time in eight years.
"Working on the Highway." I never look forward to this one, yet it always has a goofy charm. Fifth time, first in eight years.
"Thundercrack." The only non-Magic song making its Steven Debut over the course of the two nights. It was sloppy and I'm not quite sure what the audience made of it, but I had fun seeing it at last.
A breakdown of the two nights: 46 songs total, 29 different songs. By album:
Born to Run: 4
The River: 2
Born in the USA: 3
Tunnel of Love: 1
The Rising: 2
Seeger Sessions: 1
Patti's new album: 1
Nothing from: Greetings, WIESS, HT/LT, Joad, Devils and Dust
Highlight both nights was "Reason to Believe." Holy Shit Moment Awards to "Backstreets" and "Racing in the Streets." Magic song most likely to become a Holy Shit moment in the future: "Long Walk Home." Sign that Bruce is still a vital artist: he played nine songs from his new album each night, and the fans were glad. Sign that Bruce's best days are in the past: the highlights of the show were songs that were 20-35 years old. Evidence that Steven doesn't give a shit: he loved the last two nights.
Special shout outs to all of my wonderful This Train friends, to Tom for filling in when Robin couldn't come on Night One, to Robin for being there for Night Two, and the Shout Out of All Shout Outs to Maureen, who doesn't read this blog and will likely never see this. Maureen, Robin and I will always think of this as the Maureen Tour. We're proud to know you.
Robin took a video of Six and Boomer:
I'm in a hurry, have a lot to do today, so don't have time at the moment to do Night #2 justice. I wouldn't be me if I didn't toss something out, though. I'll have a retrospective "both concerts plus words on Magic" post in the next couple of days … I know you're on the edge of your seats.
When I know people who went to one of two shows, I feel a bit of a crank if I say one show was better than the other. What if you were at the other show? So I'll say a couple of things here. First, the best show is the one you were at. We're used to that with Bruce, those of us who live on the West Coast … the general opinion is that the best shows are always in the East, where the fans and Bruce connect in special ways. But hey, I've never seen him anywhere but the West Coast, so those shows were the best for me. Second, it's practically impossible for me to judge which show was better of the two this week, because my experiences were quite different. Thursday night I was down in the pit, very close to the band, making the kinds of connections only proximity allows. But Robin wasn't there. Friday night we had seats … they were very good seats, I must say, but naturally we were farther away. But I was with my Bruce soulmate, and that makes a Bruce concert better right there.
I can note that on Night #2 we got three tour debuts, three other songs that were different from the night before, and one song I'd never seen him perform live. So two shows were indeed better than one (and if the reference isn't getting it for you, I'll add that one of the tour debuts was "Two Hearts"). The best Bruce shows for me always have at least one Holy Shit moment that comes with the first notes of a song I either was hoping for but didn't expect, or just had no idea was coming at all. On Night One it was "Backstreets," not because it was unexpected but because when I hear the opening piano notes of that one, it's always a Holy Shit moment for me. On Night Two, it was the tour debut and (for me) totally unexpected "Racing in the Streets," another song that begins with a few very identifiable piano notes. I'll save the boring setlist-junkie parts for another post, but this was the tenth time I'd seen "Racing in the Streets," so it wasn't exactly obscure. But it was only the third time I'd seen it in the last 27 years, and the first time I'd seen it with the E Street Band in exactly 8 years. It was a majestic version.
I'll throw in a few comments from others, and then I really do have to get some work done. From night one, here's a bit from Joel Selvin's Chronicle review:
[S]omehow, some way, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band still stand for the same things, still shine the same beacon, still stay true to the dream…. the concert … reached the kind of revival meeting furor in which Springsteen has always specialized. A euphoria descended on the crowd, liberally salted with gray hair, and all was right with the world … The Springsteen concert is convocation of shared ideals, not just another rock show.... He has returned to his own artistic core values and, with the now 10-piece E Street Band, he dusts off that old wedding suit like it was only yesterday.
I'm pretty sure most/all of the newspaper reviews will be of the first show, so for another look at Night Two, I'll turn to a regular at rec.music.artists.springsteen, an articulate fellow who sees a LOT of shows on every tour and who is never afraid to state his opinion:
Truly a tremendous show. Probably downright remarkable if we factor in the ages of the performers involved…. The story tonight was all about performance. In a word...smoking. Bruce was on fire, the band was completely locked in, and the crowd was far more revved up as compared to last night…. Bruce had a grin on his face the whole night. He knew they were locked in and he seemed to be enjoying it immensely…. Great stuff.
Not sure anyone cares about these, but some people (like me) are obsessive about this stuff, and I seem to have done them for most of the Bruce shows since I started this blog, so here goes. There's a few comments about the band members at the end, if you want to skip to that.
There were no tour debuts last night, although there were plenty of songs I was seeing live for the first time, primarily the Magic songs and Patti's. Here's the list:
Radio Nowhere: good song out of the blocks
The Ties That Bind: nice lesser-known "classic," 8th time I'd seen it, first in 8 years
Lonesome Day: first song of affirmation ("it's all right, it's all right, it's all right, THRUST HANDS IN AIR!"), 4th time
Gypsy Biker: gee-tar rave-up between Bruce and Steve
Magic: quiet song worked well. This is what some critics have seemingly missed ... three of the first five songs were from the new album, because that album has a reason for existing besides promoting a tour. If the album was irrelevant, they'd trot out a couple of the tunes in the middle of the show while everyone took a piss break. Bruce doesn't have to do that.
Reason to Believe: highlight of the night for me, and surprisingly only the second time I'd seen this one live (and obviously the first time I'd seen this arrangement)
Adam Raised a Cain: good oldie, Bruce cared which made it even better, 7th time
She's the One: this song absolutely NEVER fails, and it was great coming out of "Adam." 7th time
Livin' in the Future: I don't mind at all that Bruce makes "political" speeches in concert, and most of what he says here is on target. I just don't get the conclusion, where he says "we're gonna do something about it ... we're gonna sing!" That's precisely what critics of this kind of speechifying say: what good are you doing, you're just a singer.
The Promised Land: another good oldie that gets the fists pumping in the air, and the only Bruce song I ever heard Sleater-Kinney play (twice!). Non-SK times I've seen it: 17, making it the 4th-most-heard of them all.
Town Called Heartbreak: Patti's song is good, nice to see her exuding lead-singer stage presence for a song.
Backstreets: my fave, 9th time
Your Own Worst Enemy: this is where the complainers start moaning, because the show takes it down a notch too close to the end. What he's trying for is a slow burn to the set-closer. Whether it works for you is down to taste preferences, but I wasn't bothered.
Devil's Arcade: probably the best new song, well-done last night
The Rising: I don't have time to look right now, but I think I said during the Rising Tour that I didn't expect him to be playing many of that album's songs down the road. Well, he only played two last night. 4th time
Last to Die: most pointed (i.e. unsubtle) political song on the new album
Long Walk Home: great song, works in concert, has a majestic power, but admittedly comes near the end of the slow build and thus probably bothers those who don't like the sequencing.
Badlands: this blew the roof off, of course ... it always does. 18th time, #3 on my all-time list. It's not my favorite Bruce song, but it has always had the most specific, personal connection to my life.
Girls in Their Summer Clothes: lovely song, lovely singing in concert, not a rip-roaring encore-starter
Thunder Road: played it like he meant it, which meant it wasn't just all right, it was a beauty. 19th time, #2 on my all-time list, and the first song we ever saw Bruce sing live, 32 years ago.
Born to Run: the defining song. It's the one I think of as "our song" ... Robin plays coy, she knows we have "a song" but she never comes right out and says this is it. It is. I haven't missed her so much in a long time as I did when they played "Born to Run" last night. Someday, girl, I don't know when. 20th time, #1 on my all-time list.
Dancing in the Dark: not quite the crazy neo-punk version of the early-80s, but closer to that than to its original form ... Bruce plays the Joe Strummer Memorial Veg-o-matic Guitar, minus the pogoing. 7th time.
American Land: I thought this was a fine set-closer ... the words were projected on the video screens, although we were so close we barely looked at them all night. Musically, it's an upbeat stomper, although not quite a rocker ... Danny and Roy both played accordion, and Steve trotted out his mandolin. 1st time.
Overall ... this isn't setlist stuff, but as good a place as any to put it ... the individual band members, from stage left to stage right, just as Bruce introduced them. Patti had a good night, her song was just fine and warranted its place in the set. The Professor hid behind his piano as usual ... it was really weird to see him out front with an accordion at the end. Soozie has been a great addition to the band ... her violin adds a wonderful extra element, she fits in well with the others, of course she and Patti have great rapport when they manage to find themselves in the general vicinity of each other (they go way back, those two). Steve ... I guess nobody calls him "Miami" anymore, heck, no one calls him "Little Steven," it's all about Silvio Dante now. With a more restful Clarence, Steve has become Bruce's primary onstage foil, and you can feel all four decades of their friendship in their interaction. Garry W. Tallent is the least-noticed member of the band, so I just want to note that his melodic bass playing is always excellent, and always unnoticed. The Mighty Max is what he is, a human metronome, the third-most-famous member of the band, star of late-night tellyvision, and my guess is that next to Clarence, he is the happiest that the shows are shorter than they used to be, because the drummer never gets to take a break. Nils doesn't get many showcases, and even Bruce has noted how odd that is ... when Bruce and Steve are raving away on "Gypsy Biker," as good as it is, you can't help but think how bizarre it is that the best player technically is over in the corner, spectating. Now-ya-see-him, Now-ya-don't Danny is one of the lesser players in the band, I suppose, but it's amazing how much of the E Street sound revolves around his organ. He's got the perfect job, one that maximizes his strengths and truly makes a difference.
Last, but not least, there's the Big Man. Not to be sacreligious or anything, but fans love Bruce the way Catholics love Jesus. Clarence, we love him in a different way. He's just there ... it's not irrelevant that he's the only black member of the band, the camaraderie he shares with the band and especially with Bruce makes an obvious but meaningful statement ... he is an icon, the only one in the band outside of Bruce. He's the guy on the cover of Born to Run. He's the man who played the solo in "Jungleland," which I've said before has earned him his place in heaven. And so when he walks across the stage, we love him, and when he plays the tambourine to keep busy, we love him, and when he steps out for a solo, people start cheering before he's even played a note, and after his solos, which are generally effective but simple, people cheer and shower him with more love. And now that he and we are getting old, he is somehow representative of the end of the road ... one that hopefully won't come for any of us for a long time, but last night, every note he played, we appreciated, the way you appreciate anything all the more when you know the time is coming that it won't be there any longer.
I've seen three … well, plenty of fans have posted their impressions, but I've seen three newspaper reviews. Two are from the CC Times, and are not quite negative, but less than a rave. Both do the damning-with-faint-praise routine by saying it was a better show than just about any you might see, but not up to the standards Bruce has set over the years. (This isn't entirely inaccurate, and it's not enough to just respond by noting the band is a lot older than they used to be. But anyone seeing Bruce for the first time, unable to say "I saw him in '78 and this ain't '78," would have found the show to be very good, indeed.)
Jim Harrington brings his review down by demonstrating a rather uninformed perspective. He complained that there were too many new songs and not enough "greatest hits." This is true, but one thing that marks Bruce as different from nostalgia acts is that he is still doing vital new material … he doesn't just throw together an album to justify a tour. Magic is the #1 album in the country, which doesn't mean as much as it did back in the day, but it does mean Bruce is right to mix in plenty of new songs. The uninformed part is his bitching about the lack of "hits." He played four songs from Born to Run (that's half the album), including a revitalized "Thunder Road" (how much greater of a hit do you need? "Thunder Road" is surely at least in the Bruce All-Time Top Ten) and "Backstreets," which unlike the inevitable "Born to Run" doesn't get played every night. He played three from Darkness, including an incendiary "Adam Raised a Cain" which I, at least, hadn't seen him play in eight years.
The bit about the "short" length of the show, which was two hours exact, give or take a minute or two, is being talked about a lot by fans, and it's fair for Harrington (and also Tony Hicks in the Times) to bring up the subject. They make no mention of the aging of the band … maybe they think that's a topic that should be off limits? Clarence (and we have to be honest and note that it's Clarence we're talking about here) played very well last night, and the crowd loved his every note, as always. He also had a seat of his own, and he was in that seat a lot of the time, and when he played his biggest saxophone (I don't know my tenors from my sopranos, but the biggest one) he didn't even pick it up, but just played it on its stand. He moved pretty darned slow, too, although he is still and always the Big Man and he was cooler moving slow than anyone else in the building moving fast. But it seems clear … OK, we're just guessing, but it's a reasonable guess … that the shows on this tour, which "only" last two hours, and which are streamlined to avoid pointless emptiness (short breaks, or none at all, between songs, remarkably little Bruce Patter, no long band intros, one encore of five songs instead of two encores of six songs), are constructed in part to allow Clarence to participate, no, not just participate, but contribute at a high level. If anyone has earned the right to sit down, it's Clarence Clemons, and if it means a more rushed pace to minimize the actual time spent on stage, I can live with that. Besides, both Harrington and Hicks complain that parts of the show are too slow, while simultaneously saying things were too hurried. The reality is that Bruce, still a master showman, builds a show around what he's got, and the result is, during the faster numbers, a different but in its own way just as berserk concert experience as in their younger days. That's the upside to the let's-play-one-song-right-after-the-other presentation … it's like the Ramones, you shout "1-2-3-4" and the next song is underway.
Shay Quillen of the Mercury News had a much better time at the show. His take on the presentation was that it lacked some of the "goofy fun" of the past, but was "no-nonsense," "a great band performing the work of a still-vital 58-year-old rocker." Same show, in essence the same observation, but Quillen saw the positive aspect of the performance.
It's not a very good picture, I know ... I was using my Treo and trying not to get caught. But it gives you a sense of how close we were.
Yes, we made it into the pit.
In many ways, my 29th Bruce Springsteen concert will be remembered more for who wasn't there than anything else. This was the first time that I saw Bruce without Robin ... we're going together tomorrow night. I had the best possible companion not named Robin in my friend Tom, with whom I have attended many famous shows and who, in fact, I've known even longer than I've known Robin. And it was good to see all of my This Train buddies again, especially Maureen, who made it to the very front and center along with our fearless leader-who-won't-let-us-call-him-leader Billy. They all say hi, Robin, looking forward to seeing you tomorrow!
I thought the show was a good one. He called an audible or two to change the set list a bit, and the result was a relatively slow middle section, which not everyone likes, plus the first of the audibles was Patti's song, which pisses off some people who don't think they should have to hear one of her songs at a Bruce concert. (It was lovely, so fuck 'em.) But hey, one of the slow ones was "Backstreets," so I am most definitely not complaining. Highlights included "Reason to Believe," played in the style of the video I posted a coupla days ago, "Backstreets," and "Adam Raised a Cain." Of the new songs, "Girls in Their Summer Clothes" was much better than I expected. Clarence hit every note tonight, and was much loved by the crowd.
Afterwards, I went to take a leak, and like I told Tom, if you want to listen in on guys being guys, the restroom is the place to be. As we stood in line, someone said something about Steve Van Zandt, and someone else said he'd always be Silvio Dante to him. This inspired an outbreak of Soprano-isms, like "Ay! How come I'm in the line that doesn't move? Ma-don! Whattyagonnado?"
I missed Robin terribly during "Born to Run."
This isn't random, it's arguable how many of these have anything to do with 1998 … hell, it's not even Friday. Doesn't matter. Tonight and tomorrow night I'll be seeing Bruce Springsteen for the 29th and 30th times, so he gets this week's Random Ten, no matter how much I have to interfere with the process.
1. Bigger Thomas, "We Wear the Mask." On February 7, 1998, as part of a national read-in for Black History Month, Bruce showed up at the Count Basie Learning Center and recited the poem "We Wear the Mask" by Paul Lawrence Dunbar. Bigger Thomas is a ska band from Jersey.
2. Bruce Springsteen, "Born in the U.S.A." Bruce's only 1998 release was the Tracks box set. This version of one of his most famous songs is stripped to the bone. No band, just Bruce, recorded for Nebraska a couple of years before the big hit was released. After the hit version was misinterpreted by the likes of Ronald Reagan, Bruce found himself returning more often in concert to the less-ambiguous acoustic version.
3. Bruce Springsteen, "This Hard Land." He recorded the above video version of "BitUSA" for Spanish TV on December 14, 1998. On that show, he also performed "This Hard Land." "If you can't make it, stay hard, stay hungry, stay alive if you can, and meet me in a dream of this hard land." This was his last performance on his own in 1998 (he had one more guest spot to come).
4. Bruce Springsteen, "Cynthia." Goofy tune that showed up on Tracks. He pulled it out of his ass a couple of weeks ago with the E Street Band in Jersey. (As for the video, I've got nothin'.)
5. Bruce Springsteen, "Gave It a Name." Actually recorded in '98 for Tracks. Far as I know, he's never played it in concert, so you guessed it, no video again.
6. Bruce Springsteen, "Sad Eyes." Recorded in the early 90s, showed up on Tracks. It's a lovely version. Most people know this one because of one of the odder Bruce-related musical moments: it was a hit for Enrique Iglesias.
7. Bruce Springsteen, "No Surrender." The video is from an Amnesty International concert he played in late '98.
8. Bruce Springsteen, "Thundercrack." Before "Rosalita," there was "Thundercrack," an early version of Bruce and the Band's "let's really get a rave up going here at the end of the concert" song. Bootlegged, rumored, it finally showed up on, yes, Tracks. Perhaps more surprising, it's been showing up on setlists for the current tour. The video at the top of the post is from a Christmas-season concert in 2003 with the Max Weinberg 7 and others … I chose it because the audio and video are terrific, it's a fine performance, and I love how the Jersey fans start singing along right at the beginning … they know this song, that's for sure.
9. Bruce Springsteen, "Across the Border." The best song from the Tom Joad album, arguably his best song of the last 20 years. The gorgeous video version is from his first live appearance of 1998 (the editor muffed the ending, but it retains its power, and you can watch the lyrics in Italian). Eight years after we saw him sing it during the Joad tour, we were sitting at China Basin where the Giants play baseball. As the show neared its conclusion, the band powered through "Badlands," "Out in the Street," and "Mary's Place." With everybody in a frenzy, he said he would play "California music" … and as the first notes of "Across the Border" began, I started sobbing:
For what are we
Without hope in our hearts
That someday we'll drink from God's blessed waters
And eat the fruit from the vine
I know love and fortune will be mine
Somewhere across the border
10. Bruce Springsteen, "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town." The last song he sang in concert in 1998. When we would see Bruce in December, back in the 70s, they'd play this song and Clarence would come out in a Santa cap. But I always thought it belonged on Bruce, because he was our Santa, bringing us joy. You will be surprised to see who is singing backup in the video version, and no, I don't just mean Jon Bon Jovi.