Saturday, April 04, 2009

Bruce Springsteen: Working on a Show

A few days late, but there were a few things that I wanted to think about before I committed words to paper. So without further ado, a few random comments on the opening night of the "Working on a Dream" tour, April 1 in San Jose.

General Admission Seating. This was the first show I've seen from the floor, and it will probably be the last. I like being able to stand up and move around to the music (I won't even presume to call it "dancing") as much as the next person, but more than 3 hours of continuous standing is a bit too much of a good thing. I'm in pretty good shape, but my legs were in agony by the end of the show - and just a breather every now and then would have made an enormous difference.

As far as the process goes, it was handled pretty poorly by the HP Pavilion staff, especially when you consider that the venue hosted a Springsteen show just a year ago. We didn't care about getting "in the pit" so I can't comment on how the lottery was handled, but once we found our way to the General Admission staging area, it was obvious that the staff had no plan for what to do with those who were just arriving, and it was only the good will of the crowd which kept the situation from descending into chaos. When you walk up to a staff person for guidance and they tell you "sorry, I don't know what to tell you - they don't tell us anything," that's generally not a good thing.

The sound. It may have been my imagination, or I may just be getting old, but it sure seemed to be a heckuva lot louder on the floor than it's sounded in other parts of various arenas over the years. The mix was a little spotty - there were entire stretches of the show where I couldn't even hear the background singers, and times when Clarence was miked so low that you couldn't tell if he was playing or not.

The band. There's no doubt that as a unit, the band is playing as well as it ever has. Steve didn't seem to be in the spotlight as much as I remember him being for the last few shows that I've seen, but Nils was white-hot throughout the night, with blistering solos on several songs. Charlie Giordano has filled in quite nicely for Danny Federici (on both organ and accordion), and of course Roy Bittan was in fine form behind the piano. But for me, the star of the night was Max Weinberg. I could hear the crispness of the drums better than I can remember hearing it in years, and he never fails to amaze me with the sounds he's able to get out of that kit. It will be fun to see his son Jay fill in later on the tour after Conan O'Brien takes over The Tonight Show, but as positive as the reports have been about Jay's drumming, it's hard to believe that the show won't lose a little punch.

The conundrum. The show led off with "Badlands," the heart of it was the three-song combination - "Seeds," "Johnny 99," and "The Ghost of Tom Joad," and the encore set begain with a searing electric version of Stephen Foster's "Hard Times." So it's clear that Bruce is looking to build a show that reflects on the hard times that so many are facing right now. The problem? "Working on a Dream," the album which he's touring behind, is the lightest album he's released since "Human Touch," and quite possibly the lightest album of his career. There's nothing wrong with that - I'm liking the album more and more with the passage of time - but it does present a problem. Bruce played only 6 songs off "Working," a remarkably low number in comparison with the ratio of songs from the new album on recent tours. I'm not sure how big a problem this is, but it does result in a reliance on the warhorses of the catalog - songs like "Badlands," "No Surrender," and "The Promised Land" - that have been in heavy rotation for so long now that the show threatens to become something that Bruce has never been in concert: predictable. Over the course of the tour, I hope that he works some more of the new songs into the show; I can think of at least 4 or 5 that I'd love to hear live (and that I think would sound great live). And who knows, I get it that they're his signature songs and that they produce an energy in the crowd that few other songs can match, but maybe it's time to give the signature songs a little rest. There's a lot of great work in the catalog, stuff that hasn't been played for years, and it would be fun to hear some of it again.

Of course, in the end this is all nit-picking. Did I think it was a great show? Of course I did. Did I have a great time? Of course I did. And for the third straight show I attended with someone who was seeing Bruce for the very first time, and I sure didn't hear him complaining. There were enough highlights in the 26-song show to last a lifetime, and hearing "Land of Hope and Dreams" again was worth the price of admission all by itself.


- The brilliant electric version of "The Ghost of Tom Joad;"

- The musicianship on "Good Eye," even if the weird microphone (whatever it's called) distorted every word Bruce sang beyond recognition;

- The shock of hearing "Good Rockin' Tonight," the very first song I heard Bruce play back in October 1980;

- "The Wrestler," which with the passage of time sounds like one of the all-time classics; and

- "Land of Hope and Dreams" - the song really says everything there is to know about Bruce.

Until next time!

Set list: Badlands/Outlaw Pete/My Lucky Day/No Surrender/Out in the Street/Working on a Dream/Seeds/Johnny 99/The Ghost of Tom Joad/Good Eye/Good Rockin' Tonight/Darlington County/Growin' Up/Waitin' on a Sunny Day/The Promised Land/The Wrestler/Kingdom of Days/Radio Nowhere/Lonesome Day/Born to Run/Hard Times/Thunder Road/Dancing in the Dark/Tenth Avenue Freeze-out/Land of Hope and Dreams/American Land

1 comment:

Mon-sewer Paul Regret said...

My wife isn't one for the floor ... although seeing Bruce has been something we've done together since 1975, for the first Winterland night I was on the floor and she sat with my brother. But lately, she's satisfied with one show per visit, so I was in the pit for a show on both legs of the Magic tour. I love it, even though I'm old and decrepit. But I would really hate to be on the floor if I wasn't in the pit. We have one friend who didn't get the pit, and was resigned to dancing in the very back of the floor, but she ended up sneaking into a seat in the fourth row right over by Patti.

Glad you had a great time!