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Anatomy Of A Show

Monday, 10 September 2012

Note to non-fans:  It is my goal to make this an enjoyable read whether you know these songs or not.  These are some of the thoughts that went through my head as I experienced the show, thoughts about people, about age, about music, about epiphanies that probably should have happened sooner.

Bruce Springsteen's Setlist at Wrigley Field, 9/8/2012:


"The Promised Land"--He is out in the crowd, fifty yards away from the stage with nothing but a wireless mike and a harmonica, no security, no protection, except the confidence that the crowd itself will protect him.  This is not reaching over the edge of the stage to slap a few hands or to accept some flowers.  This is the message that we will all share this night together. 

"The Ties That Bind"--My first reminder of the age of these guys.  I remember how this song burst out of my speakers the first time I put The River on my turntable.  It's a great song, but even Bruce and band can no longer convey that original sense of urgency.

"No Surrender"--I hear this song with new ears because the casual band I play in rehearsed and performed this song last spring, so I hear it as a player, remembering that we played it faster and that we gave it a false ending and that we made it our own.  When you know a song from the inside out, you can't help but to know it very differently.

"Hungry Heart"--We have been singing every word of every song since the first verse of "The Promised Land," but this, of course, is the one that the crowd sings.  Bruce demands that the crowd sing the entire first verse and every chorus of "Hungry Heart," and the crowd delivers. 

"We Take Care of Our Own"--Another song that our band played, and so every time that I pick up my ukelele, it is this riff that my fingers revert to.  And hearing it live, I remind myself how, when it was played at the Democratic Convention, the song was carefully edited to make the sentiment entirely positive, when Bruce reminds us that sometimes "the calvalry stayed at home."

"Wrecking Ball"--I finally figure out that this song is about Bruce himself as much as the Meadowlands, that as he rages against age and energy, his entire concert is a dare to the cosmic forces and the young pretenders to "take [their] best shot".............at him.

"Death to My Hometown" (with Tom Morello)--This song, I realize, with its peppy Irish sensibility and its angry lyrics has become the new CD's "go-to" song.  I realized it after hearing it played during Trivia in a dumpy bar both times I've been there.  Worth owning, if you don't.

"My City of Ruins"--During this song, Bruce talks about the ghosts that are in Wrigley, that are in the band, that we all carry and that are with us tonight, and he does something that few others could pull off.  He asks us to let those ghosts stand next to us for a few minutes.  And I did.  It felt good.

"E Street Shuffle"--This has become another song about age, not because of the peppy lyrics, but because it's a classic deep cut from The Wild, The Innocent, and the E-Street Shuffle, which means that most of the crowd, who don't go back that far, don't recognize it and don't rock to it, even though it rocks.

"Pay Me My Money Down"--Hootenanny.  I hate hootenanny.  Just ask the Avetts.

"This Depression" (with Tom Morello)--The kind of song that makes live music essential, because you don't pay that much attention to it on the CD, and then you hear it live and you say, "Holy Crap!  That is a great song."  I think sometimes that I go to concerts to hear songs that I didn't know I wanted to hear.

"My Hometown" (with Eddie Vedder)--Plenty of people don't like Eddie Vedder and/or Pearl Jam.  But he is the male Emmylou Harris, the ultimate singer to sing a duet with.  His voice as counterpart to anyone else's is simply a beautiful thing.

"Darkness on the Edge of Town" (with Eddie Vedder)--Ditto.  And Bruce must agree, because he had Eddie sing the climactic verse of the song.  "For wanting things that can only be found in the darkness on the edge of town."

"Because the Night"--On this night, there were as many as 6 different guitarists on stage, many of them very skilled.  But Nils Lofgren stepped out here and played a solo that blew everything else away, as if the lyrics were "Because the night/belongs to Nils."  The most under-utilized guitarist in any band anywhere.

"Working on the Highway"--He walks far out into the crowd again, this time with just an acoustic guitar, strumming chords that sound both familiar and unrecognizable until he starts to sing.  It's "Working On The Highway," the throwaway song from Born In The U.S.A., but like "This Depression," it works, especially the way the band is so tight behind him, even though he is so far away and even though he usually maintains tight control over the band.  A fresh, professional rendering of a song that now means more than it used to.

"Shackled and Drawn"--I remember leaving to go to the bathroom.  I remember coming back and it starting to rain.

"Waitin' on a Sunny Day"--The song we love to hate, now offered as Bruce's Woodstock moment.  At Woodstock, the man at the mic shouted, "Maybe if we try real hard we can stop this rain."  Bruce used this song the same way, with the same results, and even though everyone is tired of it, we all sang it together anyway.  With feeling.

"Who'll Stop the Rain" (solo acoustic)-- You can't plan for this.  You can't hope for it, because it means that you'll be standing in the rain.  And then when he sings it and you're standing in the rain, you don't care that it's raining.

"The Ghost of Tom Joad" (with Tom Morello)--Why the critics said this CD, and by extension this song, didn't have any melodies, I'll never understand.  Whether you've read the Steinbeck or not, a real treat.

"Badlands" (with Tom Morello)--Back in 1978 when this came out, these, along with "Prove It All Night," were the most important lyrics in my repertoire.  I still get this one.  I still dig it, especially later in the set like this instead of as a concert opener when I'm not quite ready for it yet.

"Thunder Road"--I'm worn out on "Born To Run;"  I'll never be tired of "Thunder Road."

* * *

"Rocky Ground"
"Born to Run"
"Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)"
"Dancing in the Dark"
"Tenth Avenue Freeze-out"
"American Land" (with Morello and Vedder) --Unless encores provide the unexpected, they are more utilitarian than they are worth revisitng the next day. I get that.  For the band, this is about winding down, even while the audience wants to keep winding up, and so familiarity and songs that rock, even though they can play them in their sleep (not to suggest these performances were mailed in--they weren't).  Bruce's line-up of "extra" songs is one that I heard before, in New Orleans, and though it builds to a frenzy and had us all dancing and shouting out lyrics and celebrating Clarence at the appropriate time, this was not my favorite part of the show.  It rocked and it was fun, but 4 of the songs are real warhorses and "American Land" is not as Irishly-engaging as "Death To My Hometown."  Oddly, it is the first one, the quiet one, that sticks with me, that I hum into the night and for days after.  "Rocky Ground."  Great show.  It left me wanting more.

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