Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Review: Bruce Springsteen, John Paul Jones Arena, Charlottesville VA 4/30/08

I have been a Springsteen fan since about 1983 and have seen him numerous times. I've seen him with the E Street Band, solo and with the Seeger Sessions Band. I went to this show wondering if this would be one of the last Bruce show I would see because of his rising ticket prices (now up to $95 + fees).

The show opened with a rarity, "Loose Ends", a song originally recorded in 1979 but not released until 1988's "Tracks" box set. I really like this song but with the typical muddy sound at the start of the show, the unfamiliarity to much of the audience and the mid-tempo of the song, I thought it was an odd song to start the show with. A rocker, even a rare one, would have gotten things off to a better start.

However, Bruce kicked it right into "Radio Nowhere" from the latest CD, "Magic" and the crowd was into it and away we went. Following non-stop with "No Surrender", "Lonesome Day" and "Promised Land" got things off to a rollicking start after all.

Next, we got the eerie title track of the latest CD and then another new one "Gypsy Biker", which featured some great guitar work from Bruce, Nils Lofgren and Steve Van Zandt.

Earlier in the day, my friend, Chris, and I were discussing the upcoming show and I told him how I could do without seeing "For You". This song, from "Greetings From Asbury Park" has never been one of my favorites, is rarely played, yet I had managed to see it in two or three of the previous shows I had been to. So what does Bruce break out next? You got it. "For You". I think he does it just to piss me off. On that note, I chose to use it for a much needed bathroom break and, since its a 5 minute song, got back to my seat with time to spare.

And I was glad I did as the band broke into a blistering "Adam Raised A Cain". That made up for the "For You" as Bruce beat the crap out of that old guitar on this one. Then, bang-bang, right into "Prove It All Night" and "She's the One" for a great mid-set section of classic Bruce.

Another new one was next, "Livin' In The Future" with Bruce making his "PSA announcement" to introduce the song: "this is a song called ´Livin´ In The Future´ but it´s about what´s happening now....along with all the things that we love about America - cheeseburgers, French fries, the Constitution (crowd cheers) Clarence ´Big Man´ Clemons (crowd cheers) ....along with all the things that we love about the place we live, in the last seven years we´ve had to add to the American picture things like illegal wiretapping....an attack on our Constitution, a rollback of civil liberties, rendition....those are the things that ain´t supposed to be happening here that are happening here now....so we plan to do something about it right now....we´re gonna sing about it....as loud as we can.....´´

Some people seem to get angry when an artist gets political but thank God that an artist of Bruce's stature still does that especially in these times when any criticism of the government is attacked as unpatriotic. Bruce has never failed to tell us what in a thinks in a thoughtful, passionate way that acknowledges the gray areas in politics and our lives without banging you over the head with slogans.

Next, Bruce busted one out from "The Rising": "Mary's Place". This song was the centerpiece of the shows on the Rising tour, with Bruce tearing it up and getting into his rock 'n roll preacher mode to introduce the band. This version was more straight-ahead without the mid-song break down for that and never quite reached the fever pitch of the versions on the Rising tour.

The final section of the main set was my favorite part (well, except for "Adam") where Bruce played some of those subtly political songs from the new album and his choice of older songs in this section gave them a new context. First was "Devil's Arcade" from the new album, with an incredible building climax of guitars and violins and the chanted lyrics of "the beat of your heart". That went into "The Rising", originally a song about rising up with life and hope after 9/11. After seven years of Bush, it was now cast as a song of rising up with life and hope after these dark days. Two more new ones, "Last to Die" ("who'll be the last to die for a mistake") and "Long Walk Home":

"you know that flag

flying over the courthouse

means certain things are set in stone

who we are, what we'll do

and what we won't,

it's gonna be a long walk home"

To close the set was the classic fist-pumping "Badlands", that resonated with the feeling of the songs he had just sung and the conviction that "We'll keep pushin' 'til its understood and these Badlands start treating us good."

The encore opened with the jazz noir of "Meeting Across The River" into its companion piece, the mighty "Jungleland". Though I was disappointed that I would once again not be getting "Kitty's Back", there was no disappointment in the performance of one of Bruce's strongest songs. I still get goosebumps when the sax solo ends and all is quiet except for the singular notes of Roy Bittan's piano.

The only song he probably must play, "Born to Run" was next and though I've heard it a lot, it still gets everyone juiced when the house lights are turned up for it and everyone is singing along. "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out" was next and then the finale from "The Seeger Sessions", Bruce's own "American Land", a rollicking, stomping Celtic number.

Thanks to everyone in my section and the first level in general, who stood and danced for most of the show and gave energy right back to Bruce. Boos to the majority of the second level who paid $100 to go to a rock n' roll show and then sat on their asses most of the night. But more on that in my Van Halen review.

All in all, a good Bruce show and a good Bruce show is better than 80% of most other shows you'll see. I just hope it wasn't my last one but time and $ will see.