Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Springsteen tells it like it is to Washington, D.C. politicians

Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band invaded the nation's capitol with a message of robber barons and greedy bankers, politicians failing to "take care of their own," and a better future in our "land of hope and dreams." It was a rousing performance that from my perspective was just about perfect. The sound and lighting crews did a fantastic job - better than I recall at JPJ during the Magic Tour. And, although I am easily intimidated by D.C. traffic, we got in and out easily enough although there are a couple of truly bizarre intersections that bring pedestrians, tourists, rookie urban drivers (like me), and aggressive taxi drivers into close quarters. I am surprised there aren't more bumps and bruises.

The packed house was an interesting mix of ages from preteens through greying and balding fans older than the Boss himself. Many were wearing T-shirts or other symbols of past concerts or their love of all things Springsteen. Some, like my daughter, were probably more curious than actual fans - but she did call the experience more "entertaining" than she'd expected. The most noticeable characteristic was the overwhelming whiteness of the crowd - the E Street Band has far more diversity than the fans.

I could not have designed a better playlist if I had been given the opportunity to tell Bruce and the band what I wanted to hear - 26 great songs, six of them (if you count "Land of Hope and Dreams") from Wrecking Ball:
  • We Take Care of Our Own
  • Wrecking Ball
  • Night
  • Death to My Hometown
  • My City of Ruins
  • Seaside Bar Song
  • Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street?
  • Jack of All Trades
  • Trapped
  • Adam Raised a Cain
  • Easy Money
  • She's the One
  • Waitin' on a Sunny Day
  • The Promise
  • Apollo Medley
  • American Skin (41 Shots)
  • Because the Night
  • The Rising
  • We Are Alive
  • Thunder Road
  • Rocky Ground (with Michelle Moore)
  • Out in the Street
  • Born to Run
  • Dancing in the Dark
  • Land of Hope and Dreams
  • Tenth Avenue Freeze-out
The horn section is great and adds an unexpected dimension to the E Street Band. Jake Clemons has developed his own presence on the stage and he plays the sax pretty damn well. The fans seem to accept and love him. Nils Lofgren has always been a great guitarist and his talents shown brightly in a couple of jams - as the tour progresses I expect fans will hear more of his magic. He's the only one of the E Street Band I've met personally. In the early 70s Lofgren's band, Grin, performed at Bridgewater College. I was part of the student government that signed the newly formed Grin on the cheap hoping they'd hit the charts before the scheduled show. Despite his talent and some great songs, Grin never took off.

In spite of all the talent around him, the focus of everyone's attention was, as always, Bruce Springsteen himself. Whether it was wading into and being carried by the crowd, dancing with a young girl with bunny ears, or turning the mic over to a 9-10 year old boy during "Waitin' on a Sunny Day" the man has more energy and raw charisma than anyone who has not been to one of his concerts can ever imagine.

I'd been following the tour playlists. I thought I knew what to expect and was waiting in anticipation for favorites like "Thunder Road," "Dancing in the Dark," and (hopefully) "Land of Hope and Dreams" and I was not disappointed. Bruce and the band played them flawlessly. Classics like "Because the Night" and "Seaside Bar Song" thrilled the sold-out crowd! But, I was totally blown away when Bruce and the band dove into "The Promise," in my mind the most poignant and penetrating of all of Bruce's songs. Only the third time it has been played by the full band, "The Promise" haunts me - as soon as I think I've figured out an interpretation I think about another one or read something totally different from what I was thinking. Although the crowd seemed to appreciate the performance of "The Promise" I don't think most were that familiar with the song that coulda and shoulda been on Darkness on the Edge of Town. Here is a wonderful piano version of "The Promise" from a few years ago.

But the central theme of the performance was, of course, Wrecking Ball, and Springsteen's lyrics spoke truth to the deaf ears of power on Capitol Hill. He laid the blame for hard times (that come and go, come and go, and come again) at the "bastards" on "bankers' hill" and the "money changers." Tracks like "Easy Money" and "Jack of All Trades" tell stories of families finding different ways to make it through lost jobs and lost hopes. The gospel-like "Rocky Ground" urged the shepherd to "find your flock, get them to higher ground" with the promise of "a new day's coming." And the rousing opening song, "We Take Care of Our Own" taunted the D.C. politicians: "Where's the promise from sea to shining sea... wherever this flag is flown... we take care of our own." Clip below from the Grammy Awards 2/12/12:

Springsteen's lyrics also contained anthems and ideas of the path to a better future. The Irish marching beat of "Death to My Hometown" admonished people to stand together and be "ready when they (robber barons) come" and to "get yourself a song to sing, and sing it 'til you're done, sing it strong and sing it well, send the robber barons straight to hell." And the eerie lyrics and cadence of "We Are Alive" suggests that all those who fought for human rights and dignity through the ages are with us today "to carry the fire and light the spark, to fight shoulder to shoulder and heart to heart."

As The Washington Post noted, Springsteen "dove headfirst into the heart of America, and if what he found wasn’t always pretty, it sure was powerful."

Did Capitol Hill listen and heed voices from the heart of this great nation? I am sure at least a few representatives and senators were in the crowd along with their staffers, members of the media and shapers of opinion. New York Times columnist, Tom Friedman, was two rows in front of us and NBC's political guru, Chuck Todd a few rows in front of him. Like he has done for over 40 years, Springsteen delivered his message with energy, depth, and clarity.

Is there anybody alive out there?

Follow the Wrecking Ball tour at Backstreets.com.

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