Tag Archives: Atlantic City

Bruce Springsteen in Philly, 2/12/16: We Have Met the Future and It Is Us

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An Arctic chill spilled into Philadelphia late Friday afternoon. Grains of snow splattered against the car windshield on the way into the parking lot of the Wells Fargo Center, where wind gusts sliced our exposed skin once we started the (thankfully short) trek to the North Broad entrance; and those aforementioned snow pellets worked akin to salt in the newly opened wounds.

I’m exaggerating a bit, of course, but it was so cold that the concert promoters had their hands in their own pockets for a change.

Ba-rum-bump.

The last time I saw Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band in concert, in early 2012, the show – tied to his then-recent Wrecking Ball album – played like a Steinbeck novel, with the setlist of new and old songs chronicling life during the Great Recession. This night, however, the show unfurled like a collection of interconnected short stories. The reason: The tour is tied to The Ties That Bind, his 2015 box set that presents his 1980 double album, The River, plus copious amounts of outtakes; and, each night, he’s playing the album proper from start to finish.

The River, for those unfamiliar with it, is a sprawling set that’s home to both frivolous songs and sober treatises; and, like most great works, reflects and transcends its time. As I noted a while back, a malaise blanketed America during the latter 1970s that was deeper than just “the Carter recession” (as Springsteen, in his introduction to the title song, called the era’s tough times). A generation of young adults came to realize, during those years, that the complexities of life and love were more complex than they’d assumed, and – like a deer frozen by oncoming headlights – weren’t sure how to proceed. Springsteen was no different. The River, more than anything, marks his coming to grips with the paradoxes that are part and parcel of adulthood.

That recognition is something every generation grapples with, I hasten to add. It’s why The River still resonates.

The show opened with one of The River’s outcasts: “Meet Me in the City” – a rockin’ declaration that condenses the double album’s yin-yang themes into three-and-a-half minutes. “Everybody’s lost in romance/Do you feel the way I feel/I’m just searching, girl/For the blood, for the bone, for the muscle, for what’s real…”

And, then: The River in full. If you know the album, you won’t be surprised by the set’s highs – whatever your favorites are, those are them. Springsteen tackled the songs with reverence and affection, and even shared vocal duties with the audience on “Hungry Heart” and “The River.” That said, one highlight for me was a song that – as he says in the introduction – only a young person could write: “Independence Day.”

Another: “Hungry Heart,” which featured the Boss “crowd-surfing” (though it was more like “crowd-crawling”) his way back to the stage.

As The River flowed on, however, I realized that not everyone in attendance was aware of the concert’s design; and some had no knowledge of The River as a whole, just the songs from it that are played on whatever Classic Rock radio station is currently in vogue. Too many people yakked their way through the lesser-known numbers; you can hear them on my “Independence Day” clip, in fact. (Proper concert etiquette is a planned topic for a future post.)

The River closes with the haunting “Wreck on the Highway,” in which the narrator comes upon the aftermath of a car accident and, for the first time, recognizes the fragility of life. Such realizations, and they come at no set age, generally mark the final ascent into adulthood, I think. The diversions of youth remain with us to one extent or another for all our lives, true, but sans the same sense as importance and urgency. Life concerns, like love and death, take precedence.

Anyway, that is where most acts would have closed the main portion of the show, leaving the stage for a few minutes before roaring back for a two- or three-song encore. Not Springsteen. He kicked off a mini-greatest hits review with “Atlantic City,” quelling the boredom (I’m sure) of even the most casual of fans.

“Prove It All Night” rocked, too.

And “Jungleland” came close to blowing the roof off the Wells Fargo Center.

When the house lights came up for “Born to Run,” as they always do, it occurred to me – and not for the first time – that the soundtracks to many lives have been written by this street poet. He still shares the romantic dreams and visions of his fans, and recognizes the hard realities many of them face. It’s why he gives each show his all. Like Neil Young or Paul McCartney, he’s at an age (66) and stage in his career where he could easily cut the length of his shows in half and few would complain – yet, this concert clocked in at almost three-and-a-half hours.

The young 30-something who released The River and the young fans who first embraced it would likely laugh at the idea that, 35 years on, they’re still spirits in the night, albeit just for the night. And, on the flip side, Springsteen and some older fans may cringe when singing some of the album’s frivolous numbers – “Crush on You,” perhaps, or “I’m a Rocker” – but have enough faith in our younger selves to give it their all, anyway.

To twist a phrase from the old Pogo cartoon, “we have met the future and it is us.”

The setlist: Meet Me in the City/The Ties That Bind/Sherry Darling/Jackson Cage/Two Hearts/Independence Day/Hungry Heart/Out in the Street/Crush on You/You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)/I Wanna Marry You/The River/Point Blank/Cadillac Ranch/I’m a Rocker/Fade Away/Stolen Car /Ramrod/The Price You Pay/Drive All Night/Wreck on the Highway//Atlantic City/Prove It All Night/My Love Will Not Let You Down/Wrecking Ball/Human Touch/Jungleland/The Rising/Thunder Road///Born to Run/Dancing in the Dark/Rosalita/Shout

Here are a few (more traditional) Additional reviews:

Dan DeLuca in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Michele Amabile Angermiller in Billboard.

 

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Today’s Top 5: January 1983 (via Trouser Press)

IMG_5201I’ve been skipping through the years every which way of late, somewhat like Marty McFly in Back to the Future II – where I stop next, who knows? Today’s edition picks up the non-linear tale in January 1983 with Trouser Press, a magazine I usually read at the bookstore.

It was a difficult time for the music industry. As Mick Farren points out in his “Surface Noise” column: “The record industry is in almost complete decline, bled to death by cowardice, ignorance, home taping and video games.” And: “Mass market radio…has gone after the zombie market and based itself largely on music a decade or more old.”

The albums I bought that month included Lou Reed’s The Blue Mask; Neil Young’s Trans; Van Morrison’s Moondance; Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Chronicle; Janis Joplin’s Greatest Hits; and Todd Rundgren’s The Ever Popular Tortured Artist Effect. There was much more that I wanted, and a few came from this issue.

IMG_52071) Bonnie Hayes with the Wild Combo – “Shelly’s Boyfriend.” Bonnie & band are featured in a quick-hit feature with fellow newbie acts R.E.M., Wall of Voodoo and Trees, who apparently was just one guy (Dane Conover). It covers “who,” “how,” “what” and “why.” We learn that “a decade ago, San Francisco native Bonnie Hayes was a teenager playing keyboards in jazz-rock fusion bands. In the ensuing years she lived the life of the journeyman musician, moving to New York and then Atlanta, working in every sort of bar band imaginable, from jazz to Top 40 to country. At one point she cranked out ‘heavy rock’ in a group that included future Foghat member Nick Jameson.” Later, we learn that Hayes & Co. “play energetic, gleaming pop music, not unlike current cotton-candy ‘new wave’ bands but with considerably more depth.”

Here’s a cool video of Hayes and the Wild Combo from September of ’83 performing “Shelly’s Boyfriend” and “Shake.”

IMG_52082) Bruce Springsteen – “Atlantic City.” Starkness at the Edge of Town reads the headline for this review of Springsteen’s now-universally acclaimed Nebraska album, which he recorded on a four-track cassette recorder. The songs were demos; he assumed, while laying them down, that he’d flesh them out in the studio with the E Street Band. The sparseness of the tracks, however, seemed to capture a certain essence that was lost when they were ported into the E Street soundscape; and, as a result, Springsteen released his original takes instead. Reviewer Ira Robbins, however, isn’t totally sold: “When Springsteen searches for the point of essentially meaningless crimes in the title track and ‘Johnny 99,’ he comes up empty-handed.” Later, he observes that “[w]hen Springsteen doesn’t force Big Truths onto his subject matter he’s a more perceptive commentator and ultimately more profound.”

 

IMG_52113) Bow Wow Wow – “I Want Candy.” I have doubts that the Top 20 Domestic Albums Chart featured at the front of the magazine is accurate. Chief reason: Too many outlier acts, like Yaz, English Beat, R.E.M. and the Malcolm McLaren-created and -controlled Bow Wow Wow, which featured teenager Annabella Lwin and the Ants from Adam & the Ants. There were controversies surrounding the group, ranging from McLaren’s supposed support of home taping to his sexualization of the underage Lwin, most notably in a recreation of Manet’s “Le Déjeuner sur l’herbs” painting that was used as the See Jungle! See Jungle! Go Join Your Gang Yeah, City All Over! Go Ape Crazy! cover art in the U.K. and for the Last of the Mohicans E.P. in the U.S. (I won a copy of the E.P. in a give-away from our local newspaper, the Today’s Spirit. I forget when, exactly.)615jjsYYBmL._SY355_

Regardless, this is still a fun rendition of the 1965 Strangeloves’ hit. It originally appeared on Last of the Mohicans and, then, topped the I Want Candy album, which – if the Trouser Press charts are to be believed – was No. 18 on the charts.

IMG_52154) Rachel Sweet – “Shadows of the Night.” In the quick-hit Fax & Rumours section, there’s this: “Rachel Sweet may be small, but she’s not about to let other female singers walk over her. Last year the atomic Akronite recorded D.L. Byron’s ‘Shadows of the Night,’ but added lyrics of her own (with Byron’s approval). This year Pat Benatar is riding the song into the charts. It’s Sweet’s version, however, and the post-punk popper isn’t credited. Sweet’s manager/father is aiming for an out-of-court settlement with the song publisher to smooth ruffled egos and redirect royalties.”

IMG_52165) R.E.M. – “Radio Free Europe.” “The unassuming quartet got together in their native Athens, Georgia a little more than two years ago,” we learn in the “how” section of this quick-hit feature. Under “why,” we’re told: “R.E.M. is compared to everyone from the Byrds, B-52s (fellow Athenians) and Psychedelic Furs to the Who, Television and Herman’s Hermits. They themselves list influences as disparate as Patti Smith, Donna Summer and Pere Ubu. Their haunting, minor-key songs feature insistent choruses, Stipe’s raspy singing and Buck’s ringing Richebacker. Lyrics, written mostly by Stipe, are purposely oblique. ‘You should just be able to get a feeling from the whole song,’ Buck says. ‘It doesn’t have to make any sense as far as structure goes.’”

Here they are on Late Night With David Letterman later in the year…