Monday, November 05, 2007

"...ain't no sin to be glad you're alive"

First, a caveat: writing about Bruce Springsteen is simultaneously the most exuberant and daunting thing a music head/Springsteen head/music writer can do. Whew. So there.

Last Friday night marked my 9th time seeing the greatest rock performer alive in front of the greatest rock and roll band to rove the planet.

After hours of being in various holding cells (with some free time to bop around downtown St Paul) my dad, Fitzy and I (along with our various Springsteen characters/friends who would weave their way in and out of our evening) were thrust into that magical pit of pits...(I always think of good ol' Rancid. "See you in the pit" was inscribed on every album's liner notes, y'see...more on that later.)

When you're that close, see, when those lights that are shining on the stage are also shining on's another reality. Another *realm*. The energy, the adrenaline, the electricity in the air is so fucking powerful--you feel that you and those 18,999 other people surrounding you could power a city...or elect a just president...or take over the world...

On the Daily Show, about a week ago, John Stewart did a rare thing and opened on a personal note. He told the audience that he had gone out last night and seen a show...and it was "The greatest night of my life." He then added, rhetorically, "Do you like Joy? Are you a fan of Joy?" (clip can be found on Fitzy's touching, brilliant review that finds the recent convert gushing about his experience...) He gets it.

So, I will say first that, music for me is as important as any human relationship I have and as important as eating food to function, etc. I do not kid. I mean it. Anyone who knows me, knows this is true. (And hell, if you're reading this, you fucking better well know that. You're probably sick to death of reading that. heh.) My father raised me all by himself and it's one of the things that closely bonded us. Every since he took my to my first concert at age 2 1/2, live shows have been one of the only things in life I look forward to with unprecedented *joy*. Every close friend I've ever had has also been a freak for music in some way. It's usually a key subject of conversation... And it's one of the most magical (and consistent) things I can share with the man I'm in love with. Music permeates my mind and my life--everyday.

OK--after saying that, Bruce Springsteen shows are the Ultimate Affirmation of all that love and all that music worship. The ultimate showman, the ultimate crowd participation and the ultimate changed state of mind once you leave the venue.

At first, tension abounded as all the diehards who had been waiting for hours were getting antsy and testy. You can't blame us for feeling restless, but some were more feisty than others and, for a brief moment, my whole excitement level was threatened by some majorly petty bullshit that was surrounding me. (Basically people getting shove-y and territorial. Hell, I was territorial--no doubt.)

But, of course, as you can imagine... as soon as the stage surged with life, that radiant presence and glorious sound--all pettiness must be forgotten. That is *not* to say I felt a tangible camaraderie with my fellow Springsteen lovers. Although you share that space and you're singing at the top of your lungs with these strangers, it's not necessarily about a community with each other, it's more about taking it all in. Truly, everyone is so absorbed with the Big Show, it's not exactly Rancid at First Avenue. But that's OK. Because, as you look around you (which you are bound to do: the lights are bright, as I mentioned) and above you, to the rafters, it becomes a point of visual interest: EVERYONE is fucking INTO it. Everyone has their arms in the air, their fists pumping. People are dancing, they're bopping, they're hopping--we're talking ages 8 to 83 (and you know I ain't kiddin'). Every face you see is covered by a child-like grin, and, most importantly, everyone is totally absorbed with the show. With the man himself and that hard-working, dazzling rock band that works their collective ass off, along side him.

The set itself was a work of art. Springsteen kicked it into high gear right away using his standard, pulse-affirming shout, "Is there anybodayy ALIVE out there!!!????" that he usually waits for at least an hour before pulling out. Of course it was appropriate due to the song "Radio Nowhere" where he finally uses his Phrase in a song. Perfect.

But, I think something else happened for me. It was, I can safely say, the most *intense*, emotionally powerful experiences I have EVER had seeing Bruce Springsteen. (and that's saying a lot.)

It just might be the political climate (uh, yeah). It might be because the last time I saw the E Street Band, it was Vote For Change and since then, things got a lot worse. This time was a muthafuckin' RECKONING, as they say... The whole show, Bruce seemed very aware and almost taken aback by the crowds unprecedented hunger and appreciation. He actually said, "We didn't expect all this FUSS!" which to me meant, "We sure didn't expect Minnesota to act like New fucking Jersey!" And, despite Patti's absence (total bummer!) Bruce seemed in lifted spirits. He was grinning like a kid, and totally *flirty* with the ladies in the crowd! Making the eyes at 'em, raising those eyebrows and shit! Cute.

There was more Strummer-like *anger* in Bruce than I had ever seen before. When he spat out "Badlands" and he sang one of my fave lines of all time: "it ain't no sin to be glad you're alive," it had more URGENCY than ever before. The crowd ate it up. They were fucking starving and rabid for it. When he hit us with that carefully constructed (that's why it's not TOTALLY punk...) whammy of "The Rising," into "Last to Die," into "Long Walk Home," into "Badlands," it was a straight-up narrative that spoke to every person in that arena. It addressed the last 6 years of American life we have been entrenched in and watching in nothing else can: with forceful, poetic language, killer rock music and 19, 000 "regular" people *participating* in the musical act of art meets political rally. As he always says, *we* get to *join* Bruce and the band in concert. We're part of it.

And as I saw Bruce sweat, spit, blow snot forcefully out of his nose and bite into a wet sponge to douse his neck and quench his thirst quickly, I thought, yeah--Bruce is total punk as fuck, dude. There just ain't no doubt about it. I mean, I always knew that he loved the Clash and Stummer loved Springsteen, but here it was the clearest I had seen. Jim punched me in the arm (as he tends to do..that punk) and just looked at me wide-eyed and said "Strummer. So Strummer."

Yeah, yeah, I know I said that about seeing Madge, too. But it's so true. It's attitude and the key elements I NEED in a concert that changes me and my outlook on life: *sweaty, bouncy, glee* as it's happening--just being involved in that passionate, purposeful music that's a blast to move your body to. Fucking pogo, please. (Bruce did! Jim and I took great delight in that)

Back to that set list... lordy, was it a trip to hear those opening, rat-a-tat-tat drums by Max explode into "Night"! I don't think I had ever seen them do it, I love that damn song.'s hard to admit this..."Dancing in the Dark," following the exuberant, full-on crowd participatory-lights-on-"Born to Run," was sheer BRILLIANCE. I could not deny its pop power. The way people were dancing, *gleefully* like fools just cannot be beat, I tell ya. I've had a new outlook on that song ever since I saw Ted Leo do it at First Ave, anyway. Makes me happy. And, I really didn't think it was possible...but...when I looked over at Fitzy and saw him pumping his fist in the air to "Badlands," or smiling in awe, or dancing up a storm...I think I fell in love with him AND Bruce's music just a lil' more.

Oh, and then there was "Thunder Road." Used to be my fave song of all time. Only the second time he's played it on this tour. It was a "request" he told us. A young woman ( several other beautiful woman around us) next to me kept rubbing her arm. Her goosebumps just wouldn't go away. She wasn't alone with that problem.

At the bitter end, Bruce shouted, "Long live happiness!" and it seemed unscripted. It was, of course, exactly what everyone was thinking as they stumbled out, sweaty and dazed... re-energized to face the real world and all its troubles...and just ...happy.

here's the full Setlist:

Radio Nowhere
No Surrender
Lonesome Day
Gypsy Biker
Reason to Believe
She's the One
Livin' in the Future
The Promised Land
Your Own Worst Enemy
Incident on 57th Street
Working on the Highway
Devil's Arcade
The Rising
Last to Die
Long Walk Home
* * *
Girls in Their Summer Clothes
Thunder Road
Born to Run
Dancing in the Dark
American Land

1 comment:

Alexa said...