Friday, October 26, 2007

The Beat of My Heart

Show #9 – Oakland, 25 October 2007

I sit here at home, with my ears ringing from last night’s show, and wonder if it is really possible – could Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band be playing better now than they’ve ever played?

It’s a fair question. Sure, the days of 3 and 4-hour shows are long gone. The extended set pieces, a la “10th Avenue Freeze Out” from the 1999-2000 tour, are a thing of the past. But in their place, at least for one night in Oakland, was a remarkably well-paced, thematically unified show that succeeded on all fronts - a show that gave the new material the spotlight it deserves, pulled some wonderful old chestnuts from the closet and allowed them to shine, and lent new life and energy to the warhorses that always make up the backbone of a Springsteen concert – songs like “Born to Run,” “Badlands,” and “The Promised Land.”

The key to this tour is how well the Magic material fits in with the classics. From a setlist standpoint, the show I saw in 2003 for The Rising tour was probably my least favorite of those I’d seen up to that point. Not that it was a bad show (it wasn’t), but because The Rising material felt different, and didn’t always mesh well with the songs that were played around it. That wasn’t the case this time – the sequencing was perfect, both from a musical (“She’s the One” to “Livin’ in the Future” to “The Promised Land”) and thematic standpoint – the segue from “Magic” to “Reason to Believe” was so perfect, it gave me the shivers. In the end, what this may prove is that Magic is a better album than The Rising: more focused, stronger musically, and most importantly, more rhythmically propulsive.

Some reviews of this tour appear to be harping on the length of the shows, which I find ridiculous. Who else right now is playing a two-hour show with this much energy? Sure, I think it would be great if Bruce decided to spotlight some of his favorite new bands as an opening act, but if he doesn’t want to do that, that’s fine. He’s earned the right to structure his show any damn well he pleases, and he still delivers the goods – the show was worth every penny of what I paid for it. Think of him as a great novelist who has decided in the late phase of his career to write 400-page novels instead of 800-page epics. Length alone does not automatically make one better than the last.


- The fact that I saw this show with three “Bruce virgins,” two of my colleagues from work and the son of one of them. At no point did I hear them complaining!

- If anything, the live arrangement of “Gypsy Biker” was more powerful than the recorded version.

- As previously mentioned, the segue from “Magic” to the retooled “Reason to Believe.” I found the juxtaposition of “Trust none of what you hear/And less of what you see” with “At the end of every hard working day/People find some reason to believe” incredibly powerful.

- Max Weinberg. Man oh man, he was great last night. When he pounds that bass drum, you really don’t know if that’s the drum you're feeling, or just your heart beating.

- The interplay between Bruce and Patti on “Town Called Heartbreak.” I’d love to hear them sing “If I Could Build My Whole World Around You” someday.

- “Backstreets?” Are you kidding me? Pinch me, I must be dreaming.

- Not for a moment was there a sly grin missing from the face of Steve Van Zandt. He’s the main foil now, and obviously thrives in it.

- Clarence may not have the energy of old, but there is never a better moment than when he hits one of the classic notes.

- Seeing Roy and Danny play “dueling accordions” on “American Land.” Sheer joy.

- “The Promised Land” just gets better and better.

- “The beat of your heart/the beat of your heart/the beat of your heart…” from “Devil’s Arcade.”

Heck, I may think of more. The night was one long highlight. Hope they come back again next year.

Set List:

Radio Nowhere/The Ties That Bind/Lonesome Day/Gypsy Biker/Magic/Reason to Believe/Adam Raised a Cain/She's the One/Livin' in the Future/The Promised Land/Town Called Heartbreak/Backstreets/Your Own Worst Enemy/Devil's Arcade/The Rising/Last to Die/Long Walk Home/Badlands/Girls in Their Summer Clothes/Thunder Road/Born to Run/Dancing in the Dark/American Land

(Photo from the pit, October 25 by Steven Rubio. Used with permission)

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