Monday, August 25, 2008

Bruce Springsteen proves it all night

The Boss is headed to town, and still has 'Magic'

The Kansas City Star
Posted on Thu, Aug. 21, 2008

Bruce Springsteen performs in a concert Sunday night, July 27, 2008, at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.
(AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

Six days after I say goodbye to my 40s, Bruce Springsteen and his E Street Band will come to town. It’s reassuring, even a little comforting.

The 50s don’t kid around when it comes to reminding a guy what life stage he’s about to enter. The body starts playing serious tricks on him: Hair stops growing where it should and starts flourishing where it shouldn’t. (What’s the George Costanza line: “It’s like puberty that never stops. Ear puberty. Nose puberty.”) Parts that aren’t supposed to enlarge begin to, and one that’s supposed to may begin not to. And there’s the annual “digital exam,” an undignified ritual that has nothing to do with the hard drive on your laptop. On top of all that, the AARP starts knocking on your door, reminding you cheerily that you’re entering the twilight of whatever career you’ve chosen.

The mind, though, won’t surrender; it wants to sustain its youth. And other than sports, few things signify youth more than rock ’n’ roll. At some point a guy may decide he’ll do his hips or knees a favor and give up racquetball or running, but the mind can’t let go of the music of its youth. What’s the option? Start listening to light jazz?

Springsteen, who will turn 60 next year, has always believed in rock’s redemptive spirit, its powers of salvation and rebellion. Last year he released his 15th studio album — 35 years after he issued his first. “Magic” isn’t his best album, but it’s a good one. Not many guys his age can say they’ve made such a respectable rock record so far into their careers.

July 27, 2008, at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.
(AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

A lot of its charm comes from the music, which is mostly meat-and-potatoes rock. But lyrically Springsteen writes from a place that feels more complicated: from the perspective of a guy who has taken stock in his life, who knows where he is and what he has become.

The best example of that on “Magic” is “Girls in Their Summer Clothes,” the album’s prettiest song. It sounds like something Stephin Merritt might have written with Brian Wilson: a wistful story cast in a sweet, sunny melody.

The song is written from the perspective of a guy trying to mend a broken heart. The scene is nostalgic: Kids play games in the street. Bank clock chimes. And though it’s a cool night, the streets are busy with young girls dressed for summer. The singer is broken but determined to find love again: “Love’s a fool’s dance/I ain’t got much sense but I still got my feet …”

The deeper message, though, goes beyond a guy’s determination to find another girl. It comes in the chorus, and it brings to mind the line from Matthew McConaughey in “Dazed and Confused”: “That’s what I love about these high school girls. I get older; they stay the same age.”

July 27, 2008, at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.
(AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

The singer in “Summer Clothes” notices the pretty girls, too, but he implicitly acknowledges that they aren’t dressed that way for guys like him, that they look past him or through him — that he’s too old for them: “The girls in their summer clothes/Pass me by.”

If rock ’n’ roll is about youth, it is also about sex and then love. That terrain can get hard to navigate when a guy is old enough to bounce grandchildren off his knee. I’ve never seen a bad Aerosmith show, but the thought of seeing Steven Tyler sing “Love in an Elevator” again makes me want to take the stairs. God bless the Stones, but every year it gets a little harder to watch Mick and Keith go through those motions. There comes a time when a guy has to stop thrusting his pelvis and dance his age.

No one has written a handbook on aging gracefully in rock ’n’ roll. Lots of performers navigate that evolution by changing styles, like Dylan (at least on his records) or, more recently, Robert Plant. Springsteen seems to have negotiated a compromise on “Magic” and especially in “Summer Clothes.”

Thirty-plus years ago, he/his characters mingled and mixed with the barefoot girls drinking beer in the rain. These days, his characters notice them, and they still give him a sexual jolt — the libido is the last thing to go. But he also acknowledges they are no longer there for his taking. Instead he’s out to find something more realistic and with someone his own age.

The song doesn’t necessarily make a guy in his 50s feel young again, but it does sustain the notion that growing older comes with as much promise as it does acceptance that things aren’t what they used to be.

Review: Bruce Springsteen

By Timothy Finn
The Kansas City Star
August 25, 2008

Bruce Springsteen and Steven Van Zandt at Sprint Center on Sunday. Photo by Allison Long/The Star

About a dozen songs into a show that would go on for hours, Bruce Springsteen advised his crowd: "This is the last night of the tour. Anything can happen."

What happened was pretty typical, though. He played nearly 30 songs and delivered many moments of joy and transcendence, including an encore for the ages, during a show that lasted about three hours and 10 minutes without a significant pause. His endurance is still amazing.

By the time he finally hit the stage at the Sprint Center -- 8:50 p.m. -- the crowd of about 16,000 was on the verge of ravenous impatience. He gave them two relatively obscure openers, "Ricky Wants a Man of Her Own" and "Cynthia," which got warm responses.

Then he raised the heat dramatically by pulling out material everyone knew: "Radio Nowhere," "No Surrender" and "Out in the Street," which prompted the first big sing-along. Then he and the band played the intro to "Hungry Heart" and stood back and listened to the crowd roar back the first verse and chorus.

From where I was standing (by the mixing board) the sound was bad for the first several songs -- trebly and muddy. It seemed to improve gradually as the show went on. Either that or I adjusted to the muddy vocals.
As he has done in other stops on this tour, Springsteen took a few requests via signs brought in by his fans: "Cadillac Ranch" was one (great to hear that one); so was "Working on the Highway."

The oddest request produced one of the lighter moments of the night. Someone brought in a sign that said, "Let Max sing." So Springsteen turned the microphone over to his drummer, Max Weinberg, who gamely sang a few bars of the Shirelles' hit "Boys."

After that, Springsteen gave his violinist, Soozie Tyrell, some spotlight. She joined him for a cover of the Stones' version of Bobby & Shirley Womack's "It's All Over Now." [tks. Mike Webber] Then came one of the evening's best moments (for me): a hellacious version of "Candy's Room."

I liked most of the setlist, even (or especially) the songs that seemed to disinterest some of the people around me, like the grimy-blues version of "Youngstown" and the solo/acoustic reading of "Devils & Dust" (though I'll admit neither is a great arena song). But he has no trouble rejuvenating the place from a perceived lull, so he played "The Promised Land" after "Youngstown" and it got a huge response. And he played "The Rising" after after "Devils" and the place went nuts all over again.

He ended his first set with a bristling version of "Badlands" that the crowd would not let him finish. It was the perfect setup for a mind-blowing encore that started with a dedication to the late Danny Federici and a lovely version of "Fourth of July Asbury Park (Sandy)."

Then he hauled out the heavy artillery. The Sprint Center isn't even a year old, but it has seen its fair share of roof-rattling moments. None has matched his one-two-three punch -- with the lights turned up -- of "10th Avenue Freeze-Out," "Born to Run" and "Rosalita." He could have ended there, but he had more ammo to unleash. After warming the crowd up for this weekend's Irish Fest with "American Land," he took another request, of sorts.

He segued from a cover of "Save the Last Dance" into "Dancing in the Dark." He relived the video's Courtney Cox moment by pulling a girl who looked like she was about 9 years old (and who had been holding a "Save the Last Dance" sign) on stage. She and he did this funky little shuffle together, then she sprang into a perfect cartwheel. Bruce responded by doing some kind of goofy somer-flop. Then he carried her in his arms back to the edge of the stage, kissed her cheek and returned her to the crowd. It was pretty adorable.

He ended with "Rockin' All Over the World," another song that celebrates rock and roll as a diversion or a means of escape: "We're goin' crazy and we're goin' today." By the time he was done, though, Sunday night was about to become Monday morning, and it was time to return from his wild world to reality, sanity and another work week. The escape sure was fun while it lasted.

Ricky Wants A Man of Her Own
Radio Nowhere
No Surrender
Out In the Street
Hungry Heart
Spirit in the Night
Boys (Max)
Cadillac Ranch
Working on the Highway
It's All Over Now
Candy's Room
Gypsy Biker
The Promised Land
Living in the Future
Mary's Place
Devils and Dust
The Rising
Last to Die
Long Walk Home

Fourth of July Asbury Park (Sandy)
10th Avenue Freeze-Out
Born to Run
American Land
Save the Last Dance/Dancing in the Dark
Rockin' All Over the World

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