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Posts tagged ‘E Street Band’

Bruce Springsteen at Wembley

Bruce River Wembley

Is it a fan’s wishful imagination, or does Bruce Springsteen reserve something special for the start of his London shows? I think back, in particular, to the spellbound harmonica and piano introduction to “Thunder Road” in a pin spot at Hammersmith Odeon in 1975 and the cathartic, eyes-closed rush through “Born to Run” at Wembley Arena six years later. Last night at Wembley Stadium it was a wholly unexpected solo-at-the-piano version of “Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street” from Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J., slowed down, like he did with “For You” in ’75, but still a little trip back to the unshadowed wordspinning joy of youth: “Mary Lou, she found out how to cope / She rides to heaven on a gyroscope / The Daily News asks her for the dope / She says, ‘Man, the dope’s that there’s still hope.'”

If that was one for the fans, so was the next: “Seeds”, which I don’t believe he plays all that often. First the harsh voice against the stripped rockabilly guitar, and then an eruption of full-tilt rock and roll thunder — a thousand guitars, a hundred horns, the shout of a Hammond organ, the implacable backbeat, the measured walk of the bass, all churning on and on and on towards some invisible horizon — that reminds you of exactly what this music can do, in the right hands. And the realism of the lyrics: a man drags his family across the country, searching for work, seeing the homeless men by the railroad track, listening to the children’s “graveyard cough”. And watching the world of other men go by: “Big limousine, shiny and black / You don’t look forward, you don’t look back.”

“Sorry, son, it’s gone, gone, gone,” the job-seeker is told. What hasn’t gone is Springsteen’s magical ability to make an audience both dance and think, sometimes in the same song. Over the next three and a half hours of a wonderfully warm evening there were many more moments of contrast between exhilaration and reflection, from the dedication of “Tougher Than the Rest” (a gorgeous duet with Patti Scialfa) to Muhammad Ali to the fury of “Death to My Hometown”, from “Sherry Darling” to “Candy’s Room”, from “You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)” to “American Skin (41 Shots)”. That last one resonates even more powerfully than it did when he wrote it in 1999, prompted by the shooting of the unarmed Amadou Diallo, a 23-year-old street peddler from Guinea, by four plain-clothes officers of the New York Police Department who were later acquitted of second-degree murder. Last night he gave it full justice in a sombre, intense reading that was, for me, the centrepiece of the concert.

Billed as a tour revisiting The River, it has become something much less specific and more inclusive, although half a dozen songs from that great 1980 double album studded the set (I was sorry he didn’t include “Wreck on the Highway”, but you can’t have everything). This being an arena, the sound was never going to be more than an approximation, albeit a powerful one, of how he and the E Street Band can sound. The salient bits — the lead vocals, Nils Lofgren’s howling guitar solo on “Because the Night”, Jake Clemons’ invocation of his late uncle on “Jungleland”, Charles Giordano’s keyboard salute to Danny Federici on “Hungry Heart” — were fully audible, of course, but you’d wish that everyone hearing them on this tour could also know their impact in halls of more modest size and human scale — like Hammersmith Odeon, to which he returned with the Seeger Sessions show a few years ago — where giant screens are not required and the musical nuances of which they’re capable might be fully explored.

Still, one thing a Springsteen show never lacks is a sense of intimacy. And as it had begun, so it ended: Bruce alone with the audience, strapping on an acoustic guitar to summon our collective history with “Thunder Road”, just as he did on his last visit three years ago but somehow different and still the perfect closure to yet another night invested with so much emotion that every song had the weight of an encore.

Springsteen / Mandela

Bruce Springsteen and the expanded E Street Band played their first South African concert in Cape Town last Sunday night. Here’s the official film of how they kicked it off, with their version of “Nelson Mandela”, written 30 years ago by Jerry Dammers for the Special AKA. It’s a good example of why so many of us feel such enduring affection for Springsteen. This isn’t something slung together on a whim. It’s a gesture, perhaps for one night only, but he’s made sure to prepare it as carefully as the arrangements of his own songs. The bringing of the backing singers to the forefront, the horn riffs, the percussion, the solos from Jake Clemons on tenor and Tom Morello on guitar and the brilliant false ending make it one more entry in the cavalcade of memories he’s provided over the years.


Darkness on the edge of London

BruceBruce Springsteen took everyone by surprise with the announcement, about an hour into last night’s Wembley concert, that he and the E Street Band were going to stop answering requests and instead play Darkness on the Edge of Town, his great LP from 1978, in its entirety, from start to finish. This, after all, was a stop on the Wrecking Ball tour, promoting his latest album; it’s two and a half years since the documentary recounting the making of Darkness was released, with a great deal of attendant publicity. But what a fabulous decision it turned out to be.

The group of musicians on stage,  nowadays numbering about 17, was stripped back to something closer to the original E Street line-up as they set off into “Badlands”, hardly drawing a breath until the last chord of the title song died away three-quarters of an hour later. They gave the 10 songs a performance of unbroken seriousness and intensity, with several emotional peaks. For me, those came with a brutal “Adam Raised a Cain”, the shiver-inducing slalom through “Candy’s Room”, the finest reading of “Racing in the Streets” I’ve ever heard him give, and a majestic conclusion with “Darkness” itself.

For most artists, those 45 minutes would be enough to justify taking the audience’s money. Springsteen, however, gave us another two and a half hours of fun, games, and tears. I wished Curtis Mayfield had been alive to hear “People Get Ready” appended to the set-opening “Land of Hope and Dreams” as a coda and benediction; he would have been proud and delighted to hear his great anthem put to such fine use. The communal singing of the first verse of “Hungry Heart” and various bits of “Dancing in the Dark” reminded me for the umpteenth time that Springsteen is happy to give everyone in the audience a chance to share the experience of being the lead singer with the E Street Band. “Twist and Shout” came in a cowbell-paced version that would have pleased Bert Berns, the song’s co-writer and the master of bringing Latin accents to uptown pop-R&B, and might have come off a 1966 Bang Records 45. And to finish off, after the band had left the stage for the last time, their leader returned, alone with an acoustic guitar and a harmonica harness, to do that other trick of his: bestowing upon you the illusion that he’s chosen one of the night’s song just for you, personally. On this occasion it was a lovely unadorned version of “Thunder Road”, the first song he played on his London debut — his first concert outside the United States, in fact — back in 1975.

I have couple of criticisms. While the idea of replacing the sadly departed Clarence Clemons with a five-piece horn section is a good one (and Jake Clemons, Clarence’s nephew, does a lively job of filling the hole left by his uncle’s sound and personality), there are now too many musicians on stage: the sound is often too full, too massive, with Max Weinberg’s technically flawless big-band drumming filling too many holes, and the ensemble loses the precious sense of mobility and flexibility that was its hallmark (and which was immaculately reconstituted on the Darkness songs). On this night, too, from my pretty good seat, the sound was affected by a strong echo reflecting back from the stadium’s upper tiers, by a frequent indefinable booming sound in the lower frequencies, and by an occasional lack of muscle in the midriff.

That’s small stuff, however, when compared with the pleasures of an evening spent in the company of a man whose humanity and generosity of spirit continue to make his every concert a unique experience.