All photos by the fabulous Jenny Jimenez . Click here to watch a slideshow.
Live Review: Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band
Live Review: Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band
When: Saturday, March 29
My first year out of college I was fortunate enough to land a position as a clinical research coordinator for Planned Parenthood. The research dork still lives inside me; epidemiology and statistics remain a fascination, and I often find myself fantasizing about studying the psychology of music, both in terms of the audience and the artist.
I've always wanted to know how it affects iconic artists when they reach that point in their career where they remain wildly successful, but permanently reside in the shadow of their back catalog, regardless of the quality of their current output. It's gotta be rough when you are sick and tired of playing your big hits, but you know that's really what your audience is waiting for. Lemmy Kilmister of Motorhead admits playing "Ace of Spades" is no great joy anymore, but keeps doing it because he feels it's the right thing to do. "If I went to a Little Richard concert, I'd expect to hear 'Long Tall Sally'," he's been quoted as saying.
Such is the dilemma at a live show with someone like Bruce Springsteen: a beloved icon with a feverishly devoted fanbase and bottomless back catalog can't please everyone, especially when he's pushing 60 and his bandmates are understandably feeling all those accrued road miles. I'll always fiercely defend the man, his art, and his politics, but you're gonna have to count me among the disappointed after Saturday night's performance.
Full review and more photos after the jump
Shortly past 8:30 (one hour after the scheduled start time), what appeared to be a tinkling calliope rose on the left hand side of the stage, signaling his entry with the rest of the E-Street Band. They started off with a strong version of "Trapped", and went right into "Radio Nowhere", the first single from 2007's legitimately lauded Magic, with Springsteen dedicating the song via the song's refrain, "Is there anybody alive out there?"
Indeed, the audience was alive (if decidedly graying), and the woman in front of me was particularly ecstatic, waving her arms rapidly and bouncing several feet in the air like a shipwrecked survivor trying to flag down a rescue convoy. I love seeing people lose their shit at shows to this degree (Weezer fans used to be particularly reliable in that department). Enthusiasm that unadulterated is usually contagious, but as the set list progressed and it became clear that Magic was the priority and the, ahem, glory days, were going to be low on the list, I found myself sinking back into my seat.
Despite the achingly obvious absence of Patti Scialfa ("Someone's gotta take care of our teenagers," explained Springsteen, joking that he feared kegs of beer rolling down his driveway and pot brownies baking in the oven without parental supervision), but there was certainly nothing wrong going on sonically. They are a well-oiled and finely tuned machine at this point (especially drummer Max Weinberg), and Springsteen remains lean and limber, but the spiritually energy level was nothing like the footage I've seen from his vibrant, impassioned shows in support of Kerry in 2004 (I strongly recommend watching footage from that tour right over here). Clarence Clemons in particular is struggling with some health issues (he's suffered from a detached retina and undergone hip replacement surgery in recent years), and had to take regular extended breaks, sitting on a throne installed for him on the side of the stage. The luxe seating concession was obviously a respectful, loving gesture from Springsteen to his old friend, and my heart went out to The Big Man, but it really did enforce the restrained, melancholy feeling of a band coasting into its twilight years.
I thought it was going to feel like going to the church of rock 'n roll, but save for a brief and articulate rant about the erosion of constitutional rights under the Bush administration, virtually none of that famous preacher man zeal was on display. It was also hard to shake the feeling that despite the dance moves of my shipwreck victim, he wasn't particularly enamored with the overall audience participation level either (indeed, during the sing-a-long portion of "Waiting on a Sunny Day", he half-jokingly chastised the crowd for their lack of volume, though he did reach out to sign a piece of fan memorabilia). If some of that had been there, I might have been able to overlook the fact that he skipped "Thunder Road", "The River" and most surprisingly (and unforgivably, in my eyes), "Born in the U.S.A." That later title would have been a natural point to pull kindred political spirit Eddie Vedder out on stage (he was in attendance and has appeared with The Boss many times before), but unlike most other cities on this recent tour, there were no special guests to add a sense of spontaneity or community.
"10th Avenue Freeze-Out", the first of four encore numbers, was undeniably exhilarating, and the choice to bring the house lights up in full for the entirety of "Born to Run" was a nice touch, but by the time they rolled briskly through the closer, "American Land", myself and nearly everyone I was with was pretty much agreed that we felt like we showed up to the concert just a few years too late.
Reason to Believe
Darkness on the Edge of Town
Because the Night
She's the One
Livin' in the Future
The Promised Land
Waitin' on a Sunny Day
Your Own Worst Enemy
Last to Die
Long Walk Home
Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
Born to Run