Rock in the Swamps of Jersey
What do you say about Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band that hasn’t already been said? Read on, as I always have something to say.
I went to MetLife Stadium on Thursday night to see what Bruce and his people were up to since the last time I saw them. I have a rule of not going to stadiums to see rock shows anymore, but I occasionally violate that rule - I guess that makes it more of a guideline than a rule. Regardless, there I was along with 70,000 other people to see Springsteen for maybe my tenth time. I had good seats and a good stadium experience compared to most others, but still, stadiums suck and shows that fill them are mainly full of technological stagecraft borrowed from Broadway to try and sucker you into believing that they are a better experience than they really are.
So back to the show. Allegedly touring behind The River album, the band didn’t even attempt to play that album, and instead were all over the place playing whatever they wanted to play. In other words, a typical Springsteen show. But not so fast: it was also the LONGEST U.S. show that he has ever played (at least according to the Backstreets.com website) at FOUR HOURS.
Now, if you’ve seen Springsteen before, you know that he routinely plays 3 hours. But adding 1/3 more music to a 3 hour show is insane, particularly if you are 67 years old. And this was not a show where there was lots of chatter and b.s. going on. No, this was the real deal, with little banter and just a whole lot of music. Springsteen was on his game, too, seeming to want to will his body through a passionate set of rockers and ballads, knowing that he is getting too old to continue doing this much longer, but at least on this night, wanting to spit in the eye of his lost youth and keep on defying the aging gods.
Springsteen may have once been the future of rock ‘n roll, but what he is now is a great live performer with a huge and adoring fan base. I’m a fan of all his early albums through Born In The USA, and I like The Rising, too. But I quit buying his new music a long time ago - It just isn’t that interesting to me. Like many great and creative musicians, I believe that the curve of creativity is much shorter than the curve of being a great performer. And Springsteen was certainly both for a long time, but in my opinion, he is now simply a great performer. That’s nothing to sneer at, just simply where I come out on the debate.
He clearly loves to perform. Bruce had lots of smiles and joyous moments on Thursday. His band, despite the loss of Clarence Clemons and Danny Federici, remains a great touring band. Song selection is good, too. He pretty much plays the music through Born In The USA, and a couple of other songs from his later career. There are lots of rave-ups, lots of songs where everyone knows the words and sings and dances along, and because his catalog is deep, lots of choices on what to play. And he tries to continue to interact directly with the crowd, bringing people up on stage, playing songs requested from posters in the crowd, etc. I found a bit of that campy and clichéd at this point, but the guy knows what his audience wants, and has found a way to carry them along his shoulders through a live rock ‘n roll show.
Bruce was in better voice than the last time I saw him (also in New Jersey – the only true place to see Mr. Springsteen). Last time, I thought he was done as a singer. He was essentially just talking the words, and not really attempting to sing at all. But on Thursday, he sounded much better, at least for the first half of the show. His voice became a bit hoarse as the show went on (and on), but still far superior than previously. Oh, and the guy is obviously in great physical shape. Live rock is very much a physical pursuit, and to play four hours, you have to be in tip top physical condition.
Springsteen clearly likes the ego stroke that he gets from his live performances. Why else continue to play massive stadiums where the acoustics suck, the sight lines are all toward massive projected screens because the people on the stage are too small to see from most seats, and the sheer hassle for the fans of getting in and out of a stadium is immense. I hope he doesn’t need the money at this point. Assuming that he is solvent financially, he does it because he CAN do it, and because he NEEDS to do it.
Some liken a Springsteen show to a revival, with Bruce as the preacher. I get it and it’s true – there are elements to the experience that make this analogy work. But I think it’s less/more than that, too, and I just view him for what he is: a rock ‘n roller who understands that it isn’t the lights, the fireworks, the stage tricks, or the technology that makes for a great live show. No, it’s the passion of the performers, the greatness of the songs, the tightness of the band, and the give and take between the crowd and the band that drives both on to an emotional and ephemeral high. Springsteen was born with this knowledge, developed his stagecraft long ago, and clearly loves to do it. It’s what he is best at. And I’m glad for partaking one more time despite the lengthy drive, the headaches of a massive crowd, and the poor quality of the stadium experience. Keep going, my man.
One thing different from the typical Springsteen performance was that he brought up on stage Tom Morello, the guitarist from Rage Against The Machine. On one song (I think it was Ghost of Tom Joad), Morello was allowed to be the center of attention, and he absolutely ripped through a guitar solo. I mean, it was a meritorious performance, and one that has me very, very interested in finding out more about him. I’ll report back on that research later.
I have embedded some pictures, but they are poor and mainly of the projected screen images. I took some crowd shots, too, so that you can see what 140,000 white arms waving at once look like.
That’s it for the live music this week. Next week I hope to have a non-music surprise for all of you that coincides with Labor Day and the start of the school year. It also lets you know how sick, depraved and mentally imbalanced your humble blogger truly is. I hope you check back and see what I’m talking about. Have a great day and keep on rockin’.
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My name is Bill, and I live in the greater Philadelphia area. I love music, and I have a lot of opinions. This site is primarily focused on music, but sometimes I get off track. I hope you enjoy.