As the latest Bruce Springsteen tour rolls on, it's becoming more clear that what we saw at the first show, in San Jose, was closer to the rehearsal shows of the week before than the more "polished" shows that followed. Nothing wrong with that ... as I said at the time, when you've seen Bruce as many times as we have, it's always nice to get a new perspective, even if the result isn't the all-time best (and all of the people I talked to who were seeing Bruce for the first time thought it was a terrific show). Still, reading the subsequent set lists (an unavoidable problem for us fanatics), it's clear that Bruce and the band (and, of course, the crowds) are having the time of their lives.
Most aging rockers end up doing what amounts to oldies shows, nostalgic trips back for the geezers in the audience. Bruce has avoided this in the past, largely because his albums continue to be interesting and relevant, if not classic. But the current "Working on a Dream" tour seems to be sliding into that oldies format ... he only plays 3 or 4 songs a night from the new album. So, how does he avoid becoming just another old guy with a big back catalog?
It doesn't hurt that he's the greatest live rocker of the last 40 years. Also, as his songs became more "adult" and serious, he lost some of the goofiness that made his early concerts so endearing. Now, he seems to have rediscovered the goof. Who knows the reason, but it began showing up on the last tour, when he started taking requests from fans who scrawled the titles of their favorites on signs they brought into the pit in front of the stage. You never knew what they'd play from one show to the next. Sure, at times he probably chose signs for songs the band had practiced or played a thousand times, but sometimes he'd pick obscurities they hadn't gone near in decades. Giving up even a little bit of control was unusual for Bruce, but it seems to be liberating for him.
And so, he kicked off the tour in San Jose by choosing "Growin' Up" and "Thunder Road" from the signs ... not that he hasn't played those in the past, but the impulse, to play it by ear on occasion, was fun (not to mention, he threw in "Good Rockin' Tonight" all on his own). The next show on the tour, signs elicited performances of "Downbound Train," "Because the Night," and "Rosalita." Next concert, "Sherry Darling" was the sign-related tune. And on and on they go ... "It's Hard to Be a Saint in the City," "Cadillac Ranch," "The E Street Shuffle," "Prove It All Night," some rarities, some highlights of tours past, all added on the fly to the nightly set lists.
Last week in Los Angeles, Bruce (and the crowd) took it to another level. First, there were the guest appearances ... Tom Morello did a reprieve of his astounding spot on "Ghost of Tom Joad" from last year's tour, Social Distortion's Mike Ness showed up, and Max's son Jay took over on drums for a few songs. Meanwhile, the fans looked outside of Bruce's own songs for sign requests, asking for (and getting) "Raise Your Hand."
On to Boston, where he just played two shows. The first night, a sign convinced Bruce to play ZZ Top's "I'm Bad, I'm Nationwide" for the first time in 25 years. Last night, the Dropkick Murphys were there, and one of their members came on stage and proposed marriage to his girlfriend. She said yes, and the band played "So Young and in Love."
The first request to be played last night? Check out this raw video for the answer:
At this point, it would seem Bruce has stared nostalgia in the face and punched it in the nose. Here's hoping he keeps punching ... and that he comes back to the Bay Area real soon.