[Update 1/25] Since Bruce had to cancel his MSG weekend gig due to the blizzard, he's offering a free MP3 download of the Chicago show as consolation. Check it out at nugs.net (for a limited time).
The start of this week was kind of a struggle for me. Granted, it largely consisted of #firstworldproblems -- things I own unexpectedly breaking down or turning up lost, stressors piling up in the day job – but the severity and sequencing of them were something of a gut-punch. By Tuesday night, I just wasn’t in the show-going mood. Despite having tickets, I nearly punted on seeing Bruce Springsteen & The E-Street Band on Tuesday night.
But I ended up rallying and also realizing that Bruce was the quintessential artist to pull me out of these particular doldrums.
Springsteen’s winter 2016 tour is based around a full performance of his 1980 album The River. Chicago’s stop, at the mammoth United Center, was the second date on the itinerary and followed the same script as Saturday’s opener – kicking off with the River outtake “Meet Me In The City”, and capping off with a run through selected greatest hits that propelled the show’s run-time past the three hour mark (no stopping or set breaks).
By way of introduction, Springsteen offered The River as his first record about life and relationships and work and the rich tapestry of humanity.
Full disclosure: I’m no Springsteen superfan. It’s not really even the type of music I’ll typically see, but there’s just something that resonates deeply about the man that extends beyond the notes being played and those elements are on full display in The River.
It’s a sense of being real and it comes off in Springsteen’s live show so much more vividly than his already excellent recorded output. Despite being a multi-millionaire rock star, the way Bruce carried himself throughout was an acknowledgement that despite the messy complexities of our day-to-day, every single one of us deserves dignity, respect, freedom and maybe just a little of that “Human Touch”.
He knows that we are come are able to come to terms with all of via celebration and for many of us, there is no better way than to partake in the rock-and-roll ritual. It was this more than anything that provided the necessary healing. While The River bounces back and forth between contemplative and inward looking (“Independence Day”) to flat out party-rock (“Crush On You”, “I’m A Rocker”), it mirrors the ebb and flow of our own lives.
The sound of The E-Street band often blends into something of a sludge, but when given a chance to shine – the melancholy piano on The River’s closing tracks, Little Steven making a show of shouting into the same mic as Bruce, the blazing Nils Lofgren guitar solo on “Cover Me”, any number of Jake Clemons sax runs – each musician feels more like an important piece in a larger family.
The performance space is largely unadorned, with minimal stage-lighting and total lack of excessive production elements. House lights are up for a sizable portion of the show (and the majority of its climax). It breaks down the barriers between the artist and the audience. When Springsteen occasionally descends into the crowd for mid-song high-fives and hugs, a whirl around the dancefloor with an ecstatic fan during “Dancing In The Dark”, he is putting himself on equal footing with the masses, literally putting himself into their hands as he crowd-surfed early in the show.
Which brings me to the Eagles cover. Surely, the performance of “Take It Easy”, a tribute to the recently passed Glenn Frey will be the headline in many stories written about this evening. But, regrettably I saw it coming a mile away and have only reluctantly made peace with it.
Why? I guess it’s more symbolic than anything. But in my analytical head Springsteen and The Eagles sit at the opposite ends of a continuum. Bruce’s music is about life – The Eagles about lifestyle.
The whole reason I’m drawn towards Springsteen is how connected he seems, how genuine his ovations to the audience, his plea to help out our neighbors via the Chicagoland Food Depository. Frankly, the Eagles just seem like assholes.
If the E-Street Band is a family, The Eagles are an enterprise. Springsteen’s songs are labyrinth stories that contain multitudes, where Frey’s were bland, straight-for-the-hook pop creations that were barely an inch deep.
But the crowd did lap it up and Bruce, and fiddler Soozie Tyrell gave it a good go. It’s a tip of the hat to a fellow traveler down the musical highway and I can’t entirely fault him for that.
And by the time he’d piled hit after hit on after it -- “got anything left?”, he smiled through gritted teeth before kicking off the triumphant “Rosalita” near the show’s three-hour mark – it seemed all the more inconsequential.