Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Lyrics Spotlight - "Sherry Darling"

"Well this morning I ain't fighting tell her I give up
Tell her she wins if she'll just shut up
But it's the last time that she's gonna be riding with me."
-- "Sherry Darling", The River

If these lyrics seem familiar to you, congratulations on your fantastic memory.  Yes, I did spotlight these exact same lyrics back in the early stages of the blog.  Back then, we had to spotlight different lyrics every week, if you can believe it!  With such an overwhelming workload, sometimes lyrics do not get their just due.  I highlighted these lyrics last time due to their sense of humor Bruce rarely shows in his songs.  However, after seeing him perform "Sherry Darling" live in Virginia Beach, I began to rethink the wisdom of the narrator in this song.

We've been known to offer relationship advice from time to time on this blog, whether it be to not send drunken texts or stop chasing after love that was never truly there.  Allow me to impart one other piece of advice: the best way to "win" an argument is to be the person who doesn't want to argue. Think about all the arguments you've had with your family or loved ones: has anyone ever stopped mid-argument, apologized, and completely agreed with the other person?  I've been guilty of wasting time arguing with someone who wasn't going to budge, as well as being stubborn as a mule when I was in the wrong.  However, the solution was staring me in the face, and once again it came from the Boss:  the best way to "win" a fight is by being the person who doesn't want to fight.  There is usually no prize to be won, so you are just wasting time and energy making yourself and others agitated.  It can be frustrating to practice, as sometimes you'll convince yourself that the argument is worth having.  But, if you stay strong by what experts call the "Sherry Darling Rule", you'll be doing yourself a great service.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Lyrics Spotlight - "Darkness On The Edge Of Town"

"I lost my money and I lost my wife,
Them things don't seem to matter much to me now."
- "Darkness on the Edge of Town", Darkness on the Edge of Town

"Darkness on the Edge of Town" is perhaps one of Bruce's most underrated songs.  Of course, I don't actually mean underrated by the fans, who rated it as Bruce's 11th best song, but underrated by me.  In beginning to write this lyrics spotlight, there were several lines I could've written expanded thoughts on, and perhaps I will at a later date.  But, for now, I'd just like to spotlight this somber line.

Now, granted, the narrator of this song has lived a much tougher life than me.  I still have my money, and I have not lost a serious girlfriend, much less a wife.  But, whenever I hear this long, it strikes me in a completely different way.  I see it as a re-prioritizing of one's life.  Things that you valued at one point no longer seem important.

I am an avid lover of nostalgia.  I love looking back and exploring my past.  I still try to remain connected to my youth, such as reading comic books and watching basketball games.  Heck, I even get nostalgic when I read old posts from this blog!  However, there have been times when I've dug up something that I used to love, and find myself muttering, "Them things don't seem to matter much to me now."  Here's a recent example:

In my neighborhood, there is a delightful store called Pop Fuzz.  This store specializes in carrying second-hand pop culture items from the 80s and 90s.  I could go on and on about all the random crap that I love in this store, but every time I visit there, my eyes are immediately drawn to these:

Those are movie trading cards from the late 80s and early 90s.  For me, the Batman trading cards always held a special place in my heart.  You see, whenever I visited my grandmother's house, my cousin, my brother, and I would take a trip down the block to a local delicatessen.  Here, we would get assorted snacks, Slush Puppies, and, of course, Batman trading cards.  I must have had hundreds of those things.

So, flash forward to the future, and I naturally caved, ponying up the $0.75 and buying myself a pack.  I rushed home to open these suckers...and boy oh boy was I disappointed.  Granted, there was a temporary amount of joy - I loved the feeling of unwrapping a brand new pack of trading cards - but this lasted about as long as the flavor of Fruit Stripes gum.  I flipped through the cards, which were just poorly framed movie stills printed on floppy cardboard, and was completely baffled about how I would have spend hours looking and sorting through them as a child.  "Them things don't seem to matter much to me now."  It goes to show that all trips down memory lane are not made equal: while some memories you should never let go, others are perhaps best kept in their own place and time.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

How Do I Begin Again? – An album review of The Rising

“How do I begin again?”
– My City of Ruins

The above question defines The Rising. And its query is two-fold. On the one hand, The Rising is explicitly a response to 9/11. On the other, it marks a new stage in Bruce Springsteen's career. What seemed like the beginning of his third act, has since become an extension of the second act in a career even more prolific than anyone would have imagined back when Born in the U.S.A. cemented him as a cultural icon.

Prior to the release of The Rising, Bruce had managed to shake off his 1990s "Who am I" malaise with the release of The Ghost of Tom Joad – an album which won him critical, but not commercial, acclaim. Having reaffirmed his artistic credibility, Bruce then won back the masses by resurrecting The E Street Band for a series of nostalgic concerts. But the true test would be producing an original album with The E Street Band, their first in 18 years. Everything was on the line with The Rising. Would Bruce reassert his relevance? Or would he fade away?

Fortunately, the album was a massive success, debuting at number one on the Billboard 200 chart, drawing rave reviews, and bringing home three Grammys.

I’ve mentioned before that The Rising is my favorite Springsteen album – and by extension, my favorite album of all time. It holds a special place in my heart, and trying to look back at the album without the patina of nostalgia is futile. As such, the following review leaves out much of the praise and ardent emotion I feel for the album. I attempted to look at it more analytically, and tried to wrestle with its themes and structure. I’m not sure how successful I was, but I tried to tackle each song both on its own and as a piece of a larger work. It was a stirring experience, and the album holds as my favorite.

Like any work of art, it’s not without its weaknesses. I find the track order a bit odd at times, and I think it could have benefitted from some restructuring. For example, “Waitin' on a Sunny Day” and “Countin' on a Miracle” feel like variations on a theme. Yet they are separated by a single track, “Nothing Man”. I think this pair of songs would have benefited from either having greater distance on the album, or appearing back-to-back as if to illustrate a progression from passive to active.

After you've been to a live show, it’s nearly impossible to distance the album version of “Waitin' on a Sunny Day” from the sing-along spectacle it has become in concert. Which is too bad because it’s still a good song in its own right!
While “Waitin' on a Sunny Day” has taken on a more lightweight feel over the years, “Mary's Place” has taken on increased poignancy for me. When the album came out I originally tended to dismiss “Mary’s Place” as rather simple. But in the twelve years in between, its complexities have revealed themselves to me as the quiet pain of someone in grief trying to emerge from depression and daring to live again. While many of the songs feel immediate and focused on the here and now of 2001, songs like “Mary’s Place” round out the album's meditation on 9/11 by considering its lasting effects further on in time. It’s the song that brings me closest to tears (“Tell me how do you live broken hearted?”). It can make for an emotional wallop, as it’s followed by the album's more traditional tearjerker, “You're Missing" ("I got too much room in my bed").

Meanwhile, “Worlds Apart” and “Let’s Be Friends (Skin to Skin)” come off as a pair of good intentioned, albeit simple, odes to racial equality and acceptance. The minimalist “Paradise” would seem unremarkable, unless consumed as the natural ending of the album’s larger narrative. Within this context, “My City of Ruins” appears as a bonus track – a fantastic, malleable song that has adopted multiple identities over the years, serving as a beacon of hope for Asbury Park, 9/11, and Hurricane Sandy, respectively.

In many ways, The Rising is one of Bruce's least angry albums, which catches you off guard given the subject matter. There may be some pent up rage in “The Fuse” and “Empty Sky”, but by and large this is an album of solemn reflection. Which is something I really admire: Bruce's discretion and tact. He invokes 9/11 through direct imagery in “Empty Sky” and “Into the Fire”, but there aren't any songs about planes or Al Qaeda.

All that and I haven’t even talked about the album’s title track, or my favorite song on the album, “Lonesome Day”. My experience with both songs was initially formed by their music videos that made the rounds frequently on TV. “The Rising” grabbed my attention with the electric MTV Video Music Awards live performance that served as its music video, but it was “Lonesome Day” with Bruce soul searching on the Jersey Shore that got me off the couch and into the record store. It’s hard for me to listen to either song without instantly descending into the hard rocking head nodding and emotional lip synching that I engaged in as a 17-year-old. What can I say, I love everything about both of these songs.

If it hadn't been for The Rising, there would be no LegendsofSpringsteen.com. If the album had fizzled, Bruce would not have enjoyed the renaissance he's currently experiencing and he would not have ushered in a new generation of Springsteen fans to the degree that he has. Even if The Rising isn’t your favorite album, it served as the gateway for a large number of the millennial generation into a profound relationship with The Boss.

Tell me, how do we get this thing started?

Friday, April 18, 2014

Concert Review - Bridgestone Arena, Nashville April 17

We’ve mentioned before that our respective mothers were hugely instrumental in establishing our Bruce Springsteen fandom for all three of us Legends of Springsteen editors. As such, we are honored to share our first guest post by Mama Toohey. Read on for a stream of conscious review of her experience seeing Bruce Springsteen at Nashville on April 17.

We have been to at least 20 Bruce concerts, but last night's concert at Nashville's Bridgestone Arena was the best of the 21st century.

First, let's meet the sold-out, multi0generational crowd, singing and dancing in the dark...with our favorite being our friend from New York who played the air guitar and was my partner as we challenged the usher who kept shooing us back out of the aisle (ahem fire regulations).

Opening: the heart starts pounding with Everett Bradley's manic percussion and stage traveling performance of “High Hopes”. “Badlands” followed - one of my top ten all time favorites and “No Surrender” kept the Bruce hysteria going.

What made this concert so great was that Bruce was on high energy from the first note to the closing song (an acoustic version of “Thunder Road”). Half of the concert Bruce performed off the stage, among the people of 'Bruce Nation'.

The band members were spotlighted with The Brass 5 doing their thing with “Johnny 99”. And Jake Clemons has come into his own. Tom Morello's guitar wizardry was amazing on “Ghost of Tom Joad”. (Question: Was he really playing the guitar with his elbows?)  Nils Lofgren owned the stage with his moves, spins and hops.  Max's drum solo on “Shout” could make a Bruce fan cry with joy.

Other memorable moments include: a cover of “Satisfaction” (Mick would approve); a rousing version of "Downbound Train"; a "Stump The E Street Band" which led to “Burning Love”; and the choreography of “Shackled and Drawn” with all members doing their dancing thing.

The audience had numerous signs, including one that read, "I drove 400 miles to ask you one question"... Bruce feigned nervousness and responded, "Uh oh... it looks like we are opening Pandora's Box."  The question was: "CAN YOU FEEL THE SPIRIT??????" Bruce launched into “Spirit of the Night” and the crowd erupted.

Overall, it was three hours and ten minutes of pure joy! All the hits were played: ”Born to Run”, “Hungry Heart”, “Dancing in the Dark” and...drum roll… “10th Avenue Freeze Out”.

A couple of closing thoughts from your baby boomer guest scribes:

- Bruce makes 64 look damn good!

- Congrats to all the members of the E Street Band for their induction into the Hall of Fame

- And the eternal question that haunts us at overtime sports events and great concerts: Who are these people who leave early? Who leaves during “Born to Run”. Are they crazy? Did they just get a call that their house is on fire? Or are they from another planet and just got called home?

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Video Spotlight - "Badlands" at Columbus, 4/15/14

We hope you've been enjoying our concert reviews on Legends of Springsteen this week, and we are planning to have another review soon.  Until then, please enjoy this video from last night of Bruce doing his thing.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Concert Review: Virginia Beach Amphitheater, Virginia Beach, VA. 04/12/2014

"Beach music!"

That seemed to be Bruce's rally cry for the night.  And it definitely fit the mood for a beautiful spring night in Virginia.  It was hell getting here, but totally worth it.

When Bruce first announced his 2014 tour dates, I was pretty bummed to see that he was playing mostly smaller markets.  No LA, Boston, Philly, DC, Chicago, and most disappointingly nothing in New York City or New Jersey.  I'm willing to bet anything Bruce will announce a second leg of the tour in stadiums in those major cities this summer but I just couldn't wait that long.  I wanted to keep up my tradition from the past 3 tours of seeing Bruce in a different market.  I decided on Virginia Beach, and Rory was quick to agree.  What should have been a five to six hour drive was turned into a nine hour nightmare of a drive due to awful traffic.  

We walked into the Virginia Beach Amphitheater, grabbed a beer (which was the greatest tasting beer I've ever had after that long drive), and walked on to the lawn just as Bruce and the E Street Band were taking the stage.  Perfect timing!  Bruce continued his tradition of playing a cover of a local song by opening with Virginia's own Bill Deal and The Rhondels "May I".  I wasn't familiar with the song,  but it was good enough for an opener.  And really, who else was there to cover from Virginia?  After that Bruce screamed "Beach music!  From Virginia Beach to the Jersey Shore!" and went into "Mary's Place".  

The venue was very nice, and was definitely a great place to see Bruce on such a beautiful night.  After a long and miserable winter in NYC, it was very welcome to see Bruce outdoors with the sun shining bright.  There were very few younger people in the audience, mostly middle aged and older people there.  But it was a full house and everyone was getting into it.  My only complaint about the venue was the sound quality.  Bruce sounded great, but there was constant feedback on the mics that kept taking me out of the moment.  

Bruce continued the "beach music" theme of the night during the middle of the show with "Sherry Darling", "Talk to Me", "Seaside Bar Song" and finally "Jersey Girl" (which was really odd to hear in the middle of the setlist).  That was pretty much the end of the "beach music" theme of the night, and Bruce went into a fairly standard set.

During the last tour you could tell Bruce really enjoyed playing the songs from Wrecking Ball and he's kept quite a few songs from that album on the this tour.  Unlike Devils and Dust, Seeger Sessions, Magic, and Working On A Dream whose songs were pretty much retired after their respective supporting tours, I think the Wrecking Ball songs will become staples for all future tours.  Of course Bruce played a few songs from High Hopes, which came off much better live than they did on the albums, in particular "Heaven's Wall".  

All in all, it was a great night and a perfect whetting of my Bruce appetite before seeing him at Metlife Stadium this summer.  I think this was my 20th time seeing Bruce live, and he still continues to amaze and impress me as the greatest performer in the world. 

Friday, April 11, 2014

Concert Review - The E Street Band, Rock And Roll Hall of Fame Induction

Last night, I was fortunate enough to make it out to the Barclays Center to witness the legendary E Street Band get inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  It was a ceremony honoring a wide arrange of musicians: from Cat Stevens to KISS, from Hall and Oates to Nirvana.  This eclectic group brought with them an equally diverse set of fans to Brooklyn; however, the loudest cheers of the night were easily in favor of the mighty E Street Band.

From the start of the show, over two hours had passed, as several musicians were honored and performed their various hits.  Like many award shows, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony was plagued by long speeches in between the performances, and, after a medley of Linda Ronstadt songs, the energy in the arena was starting to fade.  Then, at roughly 9:30PM, the video tribute to the E Street Band started to play, and the crowd jolted right back up.

Bruce made a short speech honoring the band, summing up how each member joined, what their contributions were, and how each individual's presence made the entire group stronger.  Bruce's speech was not marked with his trademark humor (save for a short aside about meeting Clarence); his words were marked with both pride, for the honor being bestowed on his friends, and regret, for the times he had let them down.  His main point was that a good band accomplishes things that no individual in the group could have accomplished alone, and the results clearly prove his point (Note: click here to read the entire transcript of Bruce's speech).

What followed were a series of acceptance speeches from all members being inducted: David Sancious, Vini Lopez, Garry Tallent, Roy Bittan, Nils Lofgren, Max Weinberg, Patti Scialfa, Steven Van Zandt, and family members honoring Danny Federici and Clarence Clemons (Federici's son and Clemons's most recent wife).  While I believe all the members should get their moment to speak their mind, hearing 11 speeches in a row got tiring, as the audience was itching for the performance to begin.  Perhaps the best strategy would have been to do a couple speeches, then play a song to break it up.  Sancious, Lopez, and Clemons's wife were perhaps the longest, as they probably do not often get the chance to deliver a speech.  Little Stevie kept his short and sweet, and was the most charming of them all (not only does he thank Bruce for getting ridiculously better each year, but he also thanks his wife for doing the same).  The speeches conclude roughly 25-30 minutes after the beginning introduction, and it is finally showtime.

The opening number is so obvious that I cannot believe I was surprised by it: "The E Street Shuffle".  The band immediately gets into full swing, spotlighted by Vini Lopez and Max Weinberg smiling and playfully battling on the drums.  The energy of the band is so strong that Bruce actually seemed exhausted after one song!  It was followed up by "The River", which was an odd choice: it is more somber, and doesn't quite feature the E Street Band as much (in fact, the camera stayed mostly on Bruce's face throughout the performance).  Personally, I think "Tenth Avenue Freeze Out" would have been better for the occasion.  However, the band managed to top "The E Street Shuffle" with their final song: "Kitty's Back".  Normally, when listening to the album versions, I'd prefer "E Street Shuffle", however, that night, "Kitty's Back" blew me away.  I was highly impressed with David Sancious's organ playing, as this was the first time I'd seen him perform with the band.  "Kitty's Back" ended up being perfect for the occasion.  The band was proving Bruce's thesis, working together perfectly to create a fantastic moment.

The set lasted roughly 20 minutes, and, with that, the E Street Band were officially Hall of Famers.  They were immediately followed by Hall and Oates, who had technically difficulties when beginning their set, joking that Bruce has broken all the monitors.  Given both the time constraints and the format, the E Street Band did a solid job this night, and hopefully won over some KISS fans in the process.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Bruce covers Van Halen

Yep, it's another cover that I wouldn't have suspected in a million years.  This past weekend, as part of the NCAA Final Four celebration, Bruce played a full concert in Dallas, kicking it off by covering Van Halen's "Jump".  Now, I love Van Halen, but this is just getting crazy.  What does Van Halen have to do with Dallas or the NCAA tournament?  Yeah, I know basketball players "jump".  But come on, he's really stretching on this one, even more than Rory did with his Springsteen songs for every NBA Team.  And the jump ball was pretty cheesy.  It reminded me a lot of Bruce's Super Bowl Half Time performance in 2009.  The music is great but bringing out a referree is not needed at all.

However, Rory and I will be at the Virginia Beach show on Saturday, and I can't wait to see what he busts out for that show.  God willing it will be more 80's metal.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Bruce Springsteen's High Hopes (HBO)

For a Springsteen fan, getting insight into his creative process is like eating just enough candy. It makes you giddy and leaves you wanting more. Thom Zimny’s new 30-minute special Bruce Springsteen’s High Hopes gives you just enough interviews and, better yet, fly-on-the-wall recording studio footage to satisfy your sweet tooth.

Released nearly three months after the High Hopes album debuted, this very carefully timed piece of content marketing serves two purposes. First, it extends the conversation around the album when its natural lifespan on the charts was dying out (it’s currently at 189 on the Billboard 200). Second, and more importantly because this is Bruce’s real money-maker, it primes audiences for the new smattering of US concert dates (things officially kick off in Cincinnati this Tuesday).

To the non-enthusiast, Bruce Springsteen’s High Hopes offers little more than an extended commercial for the album. It gives you a healthy sampling of the music (often with lyrics on screen, which is helpful when it comes to Bruce), live performance footage, and interviews with the band about how the songs were created.

My favorite moment featured Bruce and Max Weinberg in the recording studio discussing the drumming on “Frankie Fell in Love”. Bruce, donning a black hat and wife beater, instructs Max that the drums need to sound “half-drunk” and “the sloppier, the better.” We hear a sample of the track pre-instruction and post, and you know what, he’s right. That moment alone is enough for a Springsteen fan.

Bruce Springsteen's High Hopes is currently airing on HBO and HBO Go.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Song Spotlight: "Wonderland" by Nils Lofgren

A good friend of the blog named Tom recently tipped us off to the song “Wonderland” by Nils Lofgren. The song is off his album of the same name from 1983. It’s a lovely track that has a real Paul Simon feel to it. The original album isn’t on iTunes, but you can also hear Wonderland on the album Nils Lofgren: Ultimate Collection.

We’ve highlighted Nils Lofgren’s solo performances in the past, and comparing this song with “Miss You C”, you can see that Nils’ voice has gotten even gruffer than Bruce’s has over the years. There’s also a live acoustic version of "Wonderland" available on his live album which strikes me as even better than the studio version. Both are included below for your listening pleasure.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

"The Dark End Of The Street"

I'm not usually one for soul music but a few years ago I heard this song covered by The Allman Brothers.  I was barely familiar with the Percy Sledge version, but I gained a whole new respect for the song that night.  It was definitely the highlight of the concert for me, and I've listened to several different versions of the song on YouTube since that night.  So you can imagine my delight, when I recently discovered that Bruce covered this song in Europe last year.

Bruce doesn't really do the song justice unfortunately, and I'd love to see him right that wrong on this tour by doing a proper cover.  He does a great monologue in his preacher voice and gets the crowd into the song, but some of the intangible soul of the song is missing in Bruce's version unfortunately.  And, as with all artists who I've heard covered it, romanticizes infidelity and cheating on your significant other in a justifiable way that only music seems to be able to do.