Thursday, January 31, 2008

The "Other Band" Tour - October 1992

Let the festival recommence...

Show #5: Shoreline Amphitheater, Mountain View

After the Tunnel of Love and Human Rights Now! tours ended in 1988, Bruce Springsteen entered a stage of his life that was highlighted by some enormous changes:

• Springsteen and actress Julianne Phillips ended their marriage in 1989, and Bruce married E Street Band member Patti Scialfa in 1991. Together, the couple moved from New Jersey to Los Angeles, and in 1990 the first of their three children was born.

• Springsteen dissolved the E Street Band, while indicating that he would continue to record and tour with other musicians.

Both of those changes had a significant impact on Springsteen’s music of the early 1990s. There seemed little doubt that he was as happy, if not happier, than he’d ever been. That happiness was reflected in many of the songs on Human Touch and Lucky Town, his dual releases from the Spring of 1992. Both albums were good, with songs on each that can stand up near any he’s ever written, but overall neither came close to matching the intensity and the song craft of the classics which had preceded them.

That summer, the tour that has come to be known as “The Other Band Tour” began. The thought of Bruce touring with musicians other than the E Street Band seemed to offend a lot of fans, but it wasn’t a life-or-death matter for me. When shows were announced in Mountain View for October, I girded myself for the early morning wake-up call, and on the day of sale dragged my butt to the nearest Tower Records ticket outlet and joined the line. It was easy to see that the line wasn’t as long as usual. By the time I made it to the front all that was left was “lawn seating,” but I happily bought six, the maximum allowed.

And that was when I found out just how “less popular” this tour was – I couldn’t find anybody to take the extra four tickets. I mean, sure – a lot of my friends had started having kids and had bought houses and money doesn’t grow on trees, yadda yadda yadda…but missing an opportunity to see Bruce Springsteen, even without the E Street Band? I remember saying to one friend – Come on! You can’t honestly tell me that you think that the albums are that bad!

Adding to my frustration a couple of weeks later was the announcement that Bruce was adding a show to the tour, in Sacramento. Needless to say, much head bashing against the wall took place. Here I was, stuck with tickets I couldn’t give away, at a venue almost three hours from my house, and now you’re adding a show in an arena that’s probably less than a 30 minute drive!? Bruce, you can’t do this to me!! But in the end, the Boss saved me: by getting sick, of all things, which forced him to postpone the two Mountain View shows, and allowed me to sell the four extras back to the ticket outlet.

Fast forward to the show. I was there to have a good time, not to take copious notes comparing the virtues and weaknesses of the new band members in comparison to the E Street Legends. So I can’t really tell you today whether Zach Alford was anywhere near the league of Max Weinberg, or whether Shayne Fontane’s guitar licks could hold a candle to those of Steve Van Zandt or Nils Lofgren. Probably not, but after 16 years, does it really matter? What matters is that the show was great, very well paced, and maybe the most “fun” show he ever did. No one is ever going to claim that songs like “Better Days,” “Leap of Faith,” and “Gloria’s Eyes” are up there with “Badlands,” “Born to Run,” and “Backstreets,” but they sure sounded good at the time. I don’t remember any obvious problems with the band, which I think has gotten a bad rap over the years. The Wikipedia page devoted to “The Other Band” contains several statements that are highly debatable, and its account of the “MTV Plugged” show is just plain wrong. And if Bruce thought this rhythm section was so awful, then why did he bring them with him to play “Streets of Philadelphia” at the Academy Awards two years later?

The highlight of the show for me was a song that I don’t know he’s ever played (certainly not on a regular basis) since the 1992 tour: “Souls of the Departed.” On record it didn’t distinguish itself, but the live version just plain smoked what had been recorded for posterity. With the crowd standing and the guitars roaring, I didn’t hear anyone complaining.

Set list:

Better Days / Local Hero / Lucky Town / Darkness On The Edge Of Town / Big Muddy / 57 Channels / Trapped / Badlands / Living Proof / If I Should Fall Behind / Leap Of Faith / Man's Job / Roll Of The Dice / Gloria's Eyes / Cover Me / Brilliant Disguise / Soul Driver / Souls Of The Departed / Born In The USA / Real World / Light Of Day / Human Touch / Glory Days / Bobby Jean / Thunder Road / Born To Run / My Beautiful Reward

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