April 14, 2008
Better than: Getting your fortune told by Madam Marie on the Boardwalk – accurately
Download: “Candy’s Room,” “She’s the One,” “Girls in Their Summer Clothes,” “Badlands,” “American Land”
For two and a half hours and without a break, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band held a rock and roll revival meeting with a level of energy that can only mean he’s replaced some of his 58-year-old parts with bionic equivalents. Leaping, running, and spinning around his grounded mike stand, it was tiring just to freakin’ watch the show – much less be the one putting it on.
The crowd at the near-capacity Toyota Center got a premium blend of material from the recent Magic record, including the title track, “Last to Die,” “Radio Nowhere,” and “Livin’ in the Future” – the last of which prompted a few barbs at the Bush administration, including the lament “Somebody’s been fucking with my passport!” Add in the off-hand rarity (“The E Street Shuffle,” played at the request of a boy in the audience with a sign, which moved Bruce to remark that it was written “probably before his grandfather was born”) and the classic barnburners (“Born to Run,” “Promised Land,” “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out,” “Out in the Street,” “Badlands,” “Rosalita”), and there was a little something for every era and level of Bruce fan.
On a more personal note to the headliner, the show also included a spare, heartfelt version of “Terry’s Song.” The hidden Magic track was written as a tribute after the death of Springsteen’s longtime associate Terry Magovern, and Bruce mentioned that last night would have marked his 68th birthday. It lead into the Iraq-war number “Devil’s Arcade” at the start of which Springsteen got on his knees in silent tribute to the fallen.
Among the band, guitarist Nils Lofgren took a blistering workout during “Because the Night,” while the Mighty Max Weinberg bashed the hell out of his drums with his distinctive backbeat. Big Man Clarence Clemons – shuffling very slowly and spending most of the show sitting on a Solomon Burke-like throne chair due to health difficulties - nevertheless played with gusto while recreating all those famous solos.
And as his tradition on tour, Springsteen brought out special local guests whom he lets take the lead for a number or two. Houston got Alejandro Escovedo, performing the title track from his upcoming Always a Friend release, and Joe Ely, who ripped and roared with the Boss through his “All Just to Get to You.”
By the time the Irish-tinged show-closer “American Land” came out with the accordions and violins - with the entire lineup rollicking like drunken sailors at the lip of the stage - even the normally-stoic bassist Garry Tallent couldn’t suppress a Texas-sized grin.
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Personal bias: My Springsteen tomes fill up an entire shelf in my bookcase. Also bought my own tickets the day they went on sale rather than risk not getting a media freebie.
Random detail: Why do assholes who obviously don’t want to be at concerts always get the best seats and for free? Case in point: The three Blackberry Dicks in sportcoats who sat stone-faced and unmoving in the second row of the VIP section for the entire show, checking their PDAs all throughout. They stood up once, during – you guessed it – “Born to Run.” Way to rock and roll, guys! You should have just stayed at home, watched CNBC, and jerked off to Maria Bartiromo.
By the way: Very special thanks to Steven Van Zandt and his assistants Nicole and Rich for making a special needs kid’s dream come true – not to mention a trio of hardcore fans pushing 40. During the end of my interview with Steven Van Zandt, I mentioned I was coming to the show with a two friends – one flying in from Michigan, and another and his wife whose severely autistic teenage son, Garrett, learned to verbalize at age 9 to Bruce Springsteen songs, which he does to this day. Van Zandt loved the story, and immediately offered to have Garrett as a special guest, upgrade our seats, and arrange for us to meet him in the Underground Garage lounge. Then he escorted us through the catacombs of the Toyota Center to meet (in his words) “The Man Himself” by his dressing room. To Garrett, meeting Bruce Springsteen was meeting a mythical storybook hero in the flesh, and the smile on his face for the entire show was priceless.
Oh, and having seen Bruce in a tank top, let me assure you - he can kick your ass. -- Bob Ruggiero