(Warning: rambling diatribe ahead on Bruce Springsteen that may or may not make sense, but that's what blogs are for, no?)
I’ve had moments of superfreak Springsteen fandom before. The bumper sticker on my car that proclaimed AND ON THE EIGHTH DAY GOD CREATED SPRINGSTEEN. The time I rented a car for one day (cost: $155.78) on my first trip to New York City in 1989 and drove down to Asbury Park to pocket a few splintered pieces of the wooden boardwalk, and to see where the “Tunnel of Love” video was shot. The day I waited 12 hours in 1984 outside the Brea Tower Records for the slow-ass Ticketron machines to spit out L.A. Sports Arena ducats.
But what I did on Monday at Honda Center easily tops those. I’m in the pit on the Clarence side against the front barricade. Bruce comes over during a verse (What was it? “Girls In Their Summer Clothes?”) and crouches down in front of the ladies on my left. He’s holding someone’s hand and singing right at her. I realize I’m arm’s distance from the man. It’s late in the show, and he’s really sweaty. I reach out and drag my index finger across the top of his hand. He doesn’t notice. He stands up and walks back to center stage. I stare briefly at the glob of Bruce Springsteen’s glistening perspiration on my finger. And then I licked it off.
Mmmm . . . salty!
The rest of the show, well . . . and this is what I hate about writing about Bruce Springsteen, because there’s been so much already scrawled about him from other writers that it just makes everything I’d say sound like so much shitty karaoke.
Mostly, anyway. Unlike far too many other Springsteen fans, I’m something of a contrarian. I honestly do not care if he ever tours with the E Street Band again after the current global trek is over, and I also said that back in 1992 when he toured with a gaggle of anonymous session players. (I’ll take one of his solo acoustic shows or that incredible, too-brief tour he did two years ago with the Sessions Band anytime.) This train will have to stop eventually, anyway—Danny Federici has cancer; Clarence Clemons, at age 66, looked like he was in pain every time he moved during the Honda Center shows, and he had to sit down in a throne-like chair half the time to take his behemoth load off; Steven Van Zant and Max Weinberg are better known these days as TV stars. And Springsteen wifey Patty Scialfa has the musical talent of Linda McCartney (happily, Scialfa was out of the lineup Monday and Tuesday—taking care of the couple’s teenage kids, Springsteen explained. Whatever, but maybe that’s why these were some of the best E Street Band shows I’ve seen).
I’ve seen Springsteen about 30 times in the past quarter-century, in myriad band and solo jaunts, but I have yet to experience a definitive live electric version of “Born To Run.” Heresy, some would screech, but with its Spector-ish echo effects, the song is just too much of a finely-crafted studio product to have ever translated well to the stage. (I’ve heard plenty of bootleg versions, too; they don’t move me either.) Best live take: any one of the acoustic versions performed during the ’88 Tunnel of Love tour.
I also hate people who insist on calling him The Boss. Nicknames are always stupid. And at what point did people start bringing signs with song requests written on them? They were everywhere in the arena, both nights. Who do you people think he is, your own personal fucking jukebox? And as for the woman on Monday who held up a sign scrawled with a plea for “Twist and Shout” . . . are you daft? All the amazing songs in the Springsteen canon, and you want him to do a cover? And as for the Register reader who whined and complained that he didn’t do enough “hits” . . . just stay home and read your favorite Gordon Dillow columns. Because you are that ridiculous.
So . . . Monday. One of the four or five best Springsteen shows I’ve seen, likely because it started with “Light of Day,” a ballbuster rarely heard live since the Human Touch/Lucky Town tour of 1992, when it was a sweat-soaked encore nearly every night. But the first song of the evening? It sets a pretty high bar, but there were times the band easily cleared it. Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine coming out for “The Ghost of Tom Joad,” which Rage has covered many times live—Springsteen and Morello traded verses, but Morello’s nasally voice just made me wish for Zack de la Rocha’s guttural howl. What made it unforgettable was Morello’s crafty DJ freestyle scratching along his guitar strings, that very familiar RATM sound.
["Light of Day" clip from Anaheim below, and there's a bunch of other great footage from the show on YouTube. Enjoy it before Springsteen's lawyers find it.]
There was the ZZ Top stomp-through of “Reason To Believe” (like “Joad,” done both nights), which smoldered, the best electrified churn of anything from the largely acoustic Nebraska album. There was an OK tackling of “Out in the Street,” which Springsteen totally muffed, repeating the first verse when he should’ve been singing the second, but he laughed it off. A senior moment, perhaps.
And there were those songs, deep with small lyrical subtleties likely wasted on the ignoramuses who still come to Springsteen gigs just to get plowed on overpriced concession booze and wonder why he doesn’t do “Born in the USA” with the Big Honking American Flag backdrop anymore. Songs that the prog-lib Springsteen (“Springsteen, liberal? But Reagan said he liked him!”) seemed to include in the set just to get a single pointed line across, to rouse the congregation: “The hands that built the country we’re always trying to keep down.” (“American Land”); “Things can’t get any worse, they got to get better.” (“Light of Day,” intro'd with Springsteen telling Van Zant "Hey Steve, it looks pretty dark out there, man." "Yeah, Bruce, it's getting darker all the time." Indeed.) And his spoken song intros, where you clearly know where he stands—“Livin’ in the Future” is about “sleeping through change” (key lines: “My ship Liberty sailed away on a bloody red horizon/The groundskeeper opened the gates and let the wild dogs run.”). If that was too deep for the D-plus-in-freshman-English crowd, then surely they had to know who he was referring to when he spoke about coming to the end of “Eight years of horrible magic tricks.”
And we got “Meeting”/”Jungleland” on Tuesday, and “She’s the One,” and “Rosalita,” and “Candy’s Room,” and “Brilliant Disguise.” Set lists are below, and at this point, if you care enough to have read this far, I don’t have to say much else. Because explaining Springsteen to the uninitiated is like explaining religion to the unconverted—if you don’t get it, you probably never will.
And both nights, as he’s done at every tour stop, he plugged the work of a local charity, in this case the Second Harvest Food Bank of Orange County. “Help the struggling folks of Orange County!” Springsteen pleaded.
Coming to the Honda Center on July 9 . . . Raven-Symone's Pajama Party Concert. We’re sure she’ll have something thought-provoking to say about Iraq, too. But I bet she doesn’t taste nearly as good as Springsteen does.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
April 7, 2008 Anaheim, California Honda Center Light Of Day Radio Nowhere Lonesome Day Gypsy Biker Murder Incorporated Magic Trapped Reason To Believe Because The Night She's The One Livin' In The Future The Promised Land Working On The Highway The Ghost Of Tom Joad Devil's Arcade The Rising Last To Die Long Walk Home Badlands Out In The Street
Girls In Their Summer Clothes Rosalita Born To Run Ramrod American Land
April 8, 2008 Anaheim, California Honda Center Thunder Road Radio Nowhere Lonesome Day Gypsy Biker Murder Incorporated Magic Atlantic City Candy's Room Reason To Believe Prove It All Night Because The Night She's The One Livin' In The Future The Promised Land Brilliant Disguise The Ghost Of Tom Joad Last To Die Long Walk Home Badlands Out In The Street
Meeting Across The River Jungleland Born To Run Dancing In The Dark American Land