Thursday, May 12, 2005

Bruce Springsteen--Rosemont Theater 5/11/05 

Had great seats to the Springsteen solo show last night. Here's the set list, and here are my thoughts:

The show began and ended on harmonium, the final song being a prayer (Roy Orbison's "Dream"**), a fitting end to the show. This was my first Springsteen solo show, having seen him with the E Street Band on two previous occasions: Hartford, May, 2000 and Chicago in the tour for The Rising. Having seen the two E Street Band shows, the solo show is somewhat hard to wrap my head around, mainly because the energy levels of two types of shows are so different. An E Street Band show is a three-hour whirlwind that leaves your knees weak and your head spinning. The solo acoustic show is obviously more subdued, but also more cerebral--or at least, less emotional.

In any event, on to specifics.

The second song was "Reason to Believe," but he sang it through some sort of harmonica voicebox. Joe Bream of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune described it thusly:
[It sounded] like Tom Waits channeling Howlin' Wolf to a Muddy Waters beat and ultimately coming off as indecipherable as Bob Dylan.
I'd say it sounded more like Tom Waits with his a rubber band around his testicles, but he probably couldn't write that in the Star-Tribune. I actually think it sounded a lot like Waits' "Going Out West." However, while I applaud Springsteen's desire to experiment and do something different, I don't think this song quite worked this way. It was interesting to watch and listen to, though.

Highlights of the show were, in order of the setlist:
Long Time Coming

The River (beautifully rendered on Piano)

Maria's Bed (probably the best performance of the night--the Boss got around to moving a bit, and while it was no more than taking a step forward and a step back during alternating chords, it still brought the energy level up to near-E Street Band levels*)

Paradise (first half of the song was on electric piano, the second half on regular piano. When he made the transition I thought it was a gimmick--actually, I thought of Nigel Tufnel playing three guitars with a violin and his foot--it turned out it worked beautifully. The electric piano half was wonderful and the piano had a great, higher pitch to it, and the second half, on the regular piano, was much more ominous-sounding, as the character searched for "peace in your eyes/But they were as empty as paradise.")

The Rising

Further on up the Road (this song has more power and more energy solo than with the full band, and while I've heard an acoustic guitar played harder, I don't think I've ever heard one played as loud as on this song)

I'm on Fire (on electric banjo--Springsteen whistled a lot on this song, and, well, that didn't work so well, but the rest was great)

Land of Hope and Dreams (a standard rendition until he broke a guitar string, forcing him to sing one of the choruses a cappela, which was definitely a treat)

Dreams (began on harmonium, ended with him standing, singing along to our clapping a beat--a wonderful prayer to keep on dreaming to end the night).

Ok, so, admittedly a lot of highlights. What can I say? Also, overall, the Boss's vocals were better than I've ever heard them--great range, great power, and, not to be overlooked, wonderfully set mic levels and soundboard mixing, with the vocals cutting through the instrumentation when appropriate, and hanging back when appropriate. Also, his voice had a sort of resonance to it I've rarely heard past--it came out of the speakers and didn't stop at your head but rattles around your whole body a bit.

And, lastly, as always, Springsteen talked to the audience in between songs, but there weren't any of the 20-minute ramblings found in some of his E Street Band shows--these were more simple, more plaintive and more interesting than those stories.

*I say this with a stauch record of heterosexuality to back me up (well, Guth, maybe not that one time at camp....)

**Correction: While the set list on Bruce Springsteen's website calls the last song "Dream (Roy Orbison)", the song is actually called "Dream Baby Dream" by Suicide
5/11, Chicago: The Windy City had quite a few heads swirling after last night's show at the Rosemont Theatre. Springsteen delivered an intense set to another great crowd, and they were rewarded with a four-song encore that really energized the place. After the main set ended--and it had its own share of highlights for sure--Springsteen walked back out on stage with a banjo strapped around him. Pickin' on Springtseen? Far from it. In what appears to be the first time Bruce has played the instrument on stage (and there seems to be a lot of that going on this tour!) Springsteen delivered a "sinister" and "twisted" rendition of his mid-80s hit "I'm on Fire." And if a banjo's steely strings had 'em happy and excited, why not try something new on "Land of Hope and Dreams"...like no strings! In a tight spot after busting a few of his guitar strings mid-song ("Well, now we're screwed!"), Springsteen kept the song going, unstrapped his guitar and handed it off to his tech. Singing without instumentation seemed to really grip this crowd, who rose to their feet, clapping along. (No admonitions here!) A new guitar was delivered soon enough for the last chorus, and Springsteen finished the song by saying, "Thank the Lord for happy accidents!" After a well received "Promised Land," Bruce thanked the crowd for being so attentive, shook hands at the front of the stage and said, "One more for Chicago." Back at the pump organ and without any introduction, he began playing a song called "Dream Baby Dream." Many in the crowd were scratching their heads...is it a new Bruce song? An old Bruce song? A Springsteen/Orbison hybrid? The crowd was certainly into the dreamlike quality of the performance, with its lyrical mantra and droning foundation. Springsteen's voice was unique, too, having a bit of that early 80s quality, lonely and distant. One fan described it as "'Follow That Dream' meets David Lynch's Blue Velvet." A synthesizer could be heard underneath it all, and as Bruce got up from the organ the music kept going. Springsteen grabbed the mic and shuffled to the front of the stage, singing the repetitive lyrics, and scuffling along the front of the stage area. As he walked off for the night the music continued for another minute or so, allowing everyone the chance to shake off the goosbumps and say, "What WAS THAT?" We think we have the answer--there's a song by that name that sounds very similar to that description from the band Suicide who came out of New York City's Lower East Side in the 1970s. If we're right, it's a pretty unbelievable reach as far as Springsteen covers go. Hey, we wanted Bruce to dig deep for songs! Keep digging, Maestro! Next: Devils and Dust rambles into the Washington, DC area with a stop in Fairfax, Virginia at the Patriot Center. Fugazi cover, anyone?
Ah, the self-correcting blogosphere. Of course, it didn't self-correct, I corrected it. Nevertheless...
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