Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Album Review - The Rising

On this day in 2002, Springsteen released The Rising, reuniting him with the E Street Band and rejuvenating his career.  It's not just an album I love, but an album that is absolutely ingrained in me.  When I've reviewed past albums, I usually need to listen to the songs a few times to try to form a strong opinion or find new aspects of the song I may have missed before.  However, I did not need to do that with this review, as each song had already carved out a distinctive feeling in me over the last 12 years.  It makes this review both easy and difficult, as I could have written it without even listening to it, but I worry my nostalgia will overwhelm me.  I will do the best I can, and if you end up hating my review, I encourage you to read the much better article written by Steve earlier this year.

Well, let's start with the nuts and bolts.  This album is 72 minutes long, second only the The River in length.  The length, while daunting, is oddly appropriate, as it shows that, after an 18-year hiatus, Bruce and the E Street Band had a lot to get off their chest.  And boy, does this album fly everywhere.

The album starts with a quartet of "welcoming" songs, easing you back into the band's sound.  "Lonesome Day" is a solid rocker that lays out the underlying themes of the album: this is a time of sadness, but also a time of gentle comfort.  "Into the Fire" introduces the more international aspects of the music that infuse many tracks of the album.  "Waitin' On A Sunny Day" lightens the mood a bit, with funny lyrics a simple chord structure.  "Nothing Man" is another slow and humble song, such as "Into the Fire".  The songs are emotionally, catchy, and easy to listen to.

The E Street Band truly returns, however, on "Countin' On A Miracle", blowing the doors off musically.  The tone shifts continue on "Empty Sky", as a kiss is followed by "an eye for an eye", allowing some of the anger bubbling beneath the surface of the record to leak out.  This is then followed by one of Bruce's most experimental song, "World's Apart", which seems to be heavily influenced by the styles in popular music at the time (think of Sting's "Desert Rose").  It would be a signal of the experimenting Bruce would continue to do throughout the next 12 years, notably on Wrecking Ball.

The album dips around this point.  "Let's Be Friends (Skin To Skin)" is another song influenced by current pop culture (Sheryl Crow's "Soak Up The Sun"), and is a fairly weak track.  "Further On (Up The Road)" is a solid rocker, but Bruce ends up capturing this sound and feeling better on the future Magic track "Gypsy Biker".  "The Fuse" is another more "experimental" track like "Into the Fire" and "World's Apart", and doesn't quite stand out.

However, the album goes out with a big bang.  "Mary's Place" is a strong rock song, and it is no surprise that this has become a concert staple.  "Your Missing" is a song I want played at my funeral (and sung by fellow blog contributor OB).  "The Rising", as cliche as it might be say, is the best song on the album, and is easily one of Springsteen's best songs.  Finally, the album concludes with "City of Ruins", a powerful song about overcoming hard times that is just as relevant today as it was 12 years ago.

By the end of the album, you are left bewildered, wondering what just happened.  It is truly a roller coaster ride of rock songs, pop songs, experimental Eastern sounding songs, and funeral dirges.  Emotions go from loneliness, to hope, to joy, back to fear, and then it starts all over again.  It is one of Springsteen's best albums, worth a 5 star rating.  If you haven't listened to it yet, quit wasting your time on this blog and go out and give it a listen!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Bruce Vs. Bruce - Springsteen versus the Hulk!

In an effort to give you the most comprehensive Springsteen coverage, I've started a new series I call Bruce Versus Bruce.  In BvB, we will go over how our favorite Bruce matches up against histories greatest Bruces.  In our first (and hopefully not last) match-up, I've set the Boss up against Bruce Banner, also known as the Incredible Hulk!  It will be a tall order for the Boss, but let's see how he handles it:

The Hulk
The Boss
Real First Name
Advantage: Springsteen

Advantage: Springsteen

Identifiable Colors
Red, White, and Blue
Advantage: Springsteen

Purple Pants
Blue Jeans & White T-Shirt
Advantage: Hulk

Known Associates
The Avengers, Earth’s Mightiest Heroes
The heart-stopping, pants dropping, house-rocking, earth-quaking, booty-shaking, Viagra-taking, love-making, Legenday E Street Band
Advantage: Springsteen

Gained Powers Via:
Gamma Bomb
Born In New Jersey
Advantage: Springsteen

Has Been Portrayed in Movies By:
Eric Bana, Ed Norton, Mark Ruffalo
Bruce Springsteen
Advantage: Springsteen

You Won’t Like Him When:
He’s Angry
It’s the 1990s
Advantage: Hulk

And there you have it!  In a 6-2 rout, Bruce Springsteen trounces Bruce Banner, and continues his reign as the strongest one there is.  Stay tuned for the next opponent to step into the ring with the Boss.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Video Spotlight - Jozef Sabovcik, The Man Who Figures Skates To Springsteen

Let's discuss this:

What you have just witnessed is the heart-stopping, high-jumping, quick-spinning, jeans-wearing, mullet-styling, legendary Jozef "Jumping Joe" Sabovcik.  Now, I have next to zero knowledge about figure-skating outside of Nancy Kerrigan and Tanya Harding, but this I could get behind.  Every time I see figure-skating, I see very little variety - just people in elaborate sequined outfits spinning around.  However, good old "Jumping Joe" here is a wonderful showman, doing his best to take Bruce's stage moves to the ice.  The man doesn't just take classic Springsteen songs, but rather sticks with live songs, such as "Trapped" (above) and "War" (below):

Good lord, this man's hair is glorious.  And, with these two videos, I believe I've seen all the figure-skating I'll ever need to see in my life.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Video Spotlight - "Talk To Me", Live At Virginia Beach

"Beach music!"

Yes, as we reach the apex of the summer, my mind goes back to that wonderful night in April, the last time I was able to see Springsteen live.  This performance of "Talk To Me" was a true highlight of the night, punctuated by Bruce's bizarre magazine rant.  Even though it was the tour premiere of the song, the routine felt so natural that it made "Talk To Me" feel like a concert staple.  Either way, it made me take notice of a song that I hadn't paid much attention to in the past (and, it further supports the popular opinion that The Promise disc two is much superior to disc one).  It's a fun and bouncy song, perfect for those long summer nights.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Album Review - Men Without Women by Little Steven & The Disciples of Soul

After a month dedicated to breaking down one of Springsteen's most famous albums, I needed a bit of a breather.  With that in mind, I went back to the E Street Band, and dug out the debut album from Little Steven & the Disciples of Soul: Men Without Women.  I had some trepidation going into this album: I was disappointed by Clarence's solo album, the promotional music video was incredibly goofy, and, I mean, just look at that cover.  Little Stevie looks like a nerdy kid who just moved to a new school and decided to adopt a "tough guy" personality.  Plus, the title Men Without Women invokes a feeling that this album will be an angered-fuel tirade against women who have done Steven Van Zandt wrong.  In actuality, the title is a Hemingway reference, and the title track talks about how men act foolish without women.  But the "Rory was wrong" theme doesn't end with simply the title.  My doubt going into the album was immediately erased by the first song.

"Lyin' In A Bed Of Fire" is the perfect song to kick off the album.  We are immediately blasted with powerful drums, followed by a catchy guitar riff, and topped off by a blast of the horns section - all within the first 20 seconds.  It's sets the template for what to expect from the rest of the album, as the guitar, horns, and percussion create the signature sound of Little Steven & the Disciples of Soul.  The lyrics tumble out of Little Steven one after another, reminding me of the Boss in his debut album.  The album is full of passionate, catchy, horn-driven rock songs to the point where they do start to blend together a bit.  However, Little Steven has frequently credited R&B and soul musicians from the 60s as big influences in his music, and that shines through in several songs, such as "Until The Good Is Gone".

 "Until The Good Is Gone" mixes both rock and soul, sounding like a mix of Springsteen's "Factory" and the Temptations' "I Wish It Would Rain". With Springsteen's raspy voice backing up Little Steven in the chorus, this song becomes an instant classic that I would love to see live. "I've Been Waiting", the last track on this album, is another attempt at blending the two genres, but is just too close to "Until The Good Is Gone" to really stand out.  

The true gem of this album is "Angel Eyes".  Like "Lyin' In A Bed Of Fire", it is another uptempo rocker, but with catchier riff, a fantastic build right before the chorus, simpler lyrics, and backing vocals from Springsteen.  It is easily the most memorable song on the album, and one that will stick with you from the first listen.

After the first few listens, the tracks do blend together a bit, as there isn't that much range and experimentation.  However, that's to be expected in many albums, especially a debut album.  It all depends on how you digest music.  If you are listening to the whole album, a song like "Save Me" might get lost in the mix; when pulled individually, you can better appreciate its strong lyrics ("As the things we need get closer, I feel the things we want slipping away.").

I'd give it 4 out of 5 stars, and would highly recommend it to all Springsteen fans.  If you are jones-ing for an E Street Band fix, and have been disappointed by the last three albums, go out and give this a listen.  The only difficult part is actually finding this album.  It is not available for a digital download as far as I can see.  I purchased the Men Without Women/Voices of America two-pack (and yes, I plan to review Voices of America some time in the future).  However, if you are really cheap and need this album, please reach out to us via Twitter or GMail and we'll try to help you out.

Monday, July 14, 2014

"Hunter of Invisible Game" - Short Film / Music Video

After just remarking a few weeks ago that the music video for “I’m on Fire” contained the closest thing to acting that we’ll ever get from Bruce Springsteen, The Boss goes ahead and creates this short film / music video for “Hunter of Invisible Game.”

Seemingly inspired by the films of Terrence Malick and Beasts of the Southern Wild (and perhaps even Sony PlayStation’s The Last of Us), this 10-minute short depicts a future where the world has been ravaged by an undisclosed calamity. As expected, Bruce takes center stage in this lyrical, expressionistic video that also includes a heavy focus on nature and wilderness. The second half of the video is a more traditional music video. I think it would have been more powerful if it had eschewed lip-syncing like they did with “I’m on Fire” but it’s definitely worth a watch for some great location shooting and Bruce’s solemn expressions. Gotta give credit to Bruce for constantly experimenting like this.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Rock and Roll, Rebellion, and Bruce Springsteen

As always, when it comes to my political rants, these views are mine alone.  They do not reflect the other posters, or as a whole.  You know the deal, by this point...

Earlier this year Macklemore and Ryan Lewis made headlines when he did a mass marriage of same-sex couples at the Grammy awards.  The next day the mainstream media praised this huge step forward for same-sex couples and talked about how "brave" Macklemore was.  Brave?  Really?  After years of being against same-sex marriage, I am happy to say that I now support what really seems like a no-brainer.  But is it really brave for a celebrity to support same-sex marriage?  Especially in front of a liberal-Hollywood crowd.  Everyone there supported it is as well, so how is it brave?  Ten years ago, it would be brave.  Now it's not only safe, it's downright predictable.

It got me to thinking about the sorry state of rock music today.  The genre has basically died.  It's a shame because I still love it so much, and I would love to see it make it comeback.  But I don't even know where to hear new bands anymore.  But, back in it's hey-day, rock music was all about rebellion.  It was about stating what you believe, no matter how unpopular it is.  I remember Guns N' Roses getting in all sorts of trouble for their song "One In A Million".  It was deemed racist, homophobic, insulting to cops and immigrants.  Axl Rose simply defended it by saying it was how he felt.  They had plenty of other incidents where their lyrics and content would cause trouble.  In the late 80's when Bono was trying to help AIDS research, Skid Row's Sebastian Bach infamously wore a shirt that said "AIDS Kills Fags Dead".  Bodycount got in trouble for their song "Cop Killer".  2 Live Crew's album was deemed too offensive to even sell!  Now I don't really support any of those ideas, but I absolutely support their right to express it.  My point is, even though most of these bands would probably say now that they wouldn't do it, at the time that's how they felt.  That's bravery.  That's what made rock and roll music.  I would love to a return to this.  It would be so cool to see someone support the second amendment, come out supporting fracking, or something else totally radical.  But in today's corporate sponsored environment, I just don't see it happening.  I'm sure we will just get the same hypocritical comments from musicians who try to support laws that deny citizens their right to guns while being followed by armed security guards.  Perform concerts for "climate change awareness", while touring with a monstrosity stage set up that is putting forth an enormous carbon footprint.  Predictability is what killed rock and roll.  And just so I don't sound completely like a right-winged nutjob, Ted Nugent's conservative predictability is every bit as tiresome as its liberal counterpart.

It got me thinking about Bruce Sprinsteen and his Born In The USA era, expertly covered by this blog last month.  After President Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan brought the country back to conservative values.  While some tend to look back at this era with rose colored glasses, the truth is, for many, this was when the gap between the haves and the have-nots got larger.  Bruce Springsteen didn't like what he saw and wrote albums like Nebraska and Born In The USA to highlight the struggles of the American dream that Bruce thought Reagan was ignoring.  That's true rebellion.  When Reagan campaigned in New Jersey in September of 1984 he said "America's future rests in a thousand dreams inside your hearts; it rests in the message of hope in songs so many young Americans admire: New Jersey's own Bruce Springsteen. And helping you make those dreams come true is what this job of mine is all about."  A few days later Bruce responded "The President was mentioning my name the other day, and I kinda got to wondering what his favorite album musta been. I don't think it was the Nebraska album. I don't think he's been listening to this one."  Now that's a rebel!  Bruce would later return to these rebellious roots, 20 years later when George W. Bush was president.  But by that point, it wasn't rebellion, it was simply the norm in rock music, and therefore it didn't carry the same weight.  But as long as their is someone out there fed up with what they see in the world, and willing to pick up a guitar and fight against it, rock and roll will never die.  For now though, it's just very very quiet.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Lyrics Spotlight - "Long Walk Home"

My father said "Son, we're lucky in this town,
It's a beautiful place to be born.
It just wraps its arms around you,
Nobody crowds you and nobody goes it alone"
- "Long Walk Home", Magic

There's nothing that takes me back to my care-free childhood than long summer days spent exploring for adventure in the suburbs.  When hitting those teenage years, though, those small towns become even smaller, and I yearned for more.  It's the sentiment perfectly captured on "Thunder Road": "It's town full of losers, and I'm pulling out of here to win."

However, in "Long Walk Home", written over 30 years since "Thunder Road", Bruce is now softened to his hard stance on those small New Jersey communities, talking about how they accept you and will make you stronger.  I can't quite decide if Bruce is speaking as the father or the son in this song, but I feel either interpretation could work.  While I wouldn't throw the same accolades on my hometown as Bruce does in this song, my angst-driven feelings on it have softened throughout the years.  I don't feel it's arms around me, but it isn't a town full of losers, either.  Perhaps in another 30 years, I'll have come around to Springsteen's point-of-view.  So, please make sure to e-mail me on July 8th, 2044, just to see where I'm at.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Song Spotlight - "4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)"

Much like in 2012, Independence Day has fallen in sync with our posting schedule.  Rather than spotlight "Independence Day", a somber tune about leaving home, I figured I'd double-dip and go take yet another look at "4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)".  When I previously discussed "No Surrender", I praised the lyrics for their ability to paint specific images in my head.  In "4th of July", Bruce nails the feeling of youthful adventure you'd have on the boardwalks of South Jersey.  Springsteen is able to capture all the highlights of a trip to the boardwalk: the old arcades, the fortune tellers hustling for a buck, and, finally, to the fireworks that cap the weekend nights.  Listening to this song, you can practically feel the ocean wind blowing sand in your face.  It takes a lot of guts to name a song for a specific time and place, but this song lives up to its own billing with a perfect encapsulation of the moment.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Exclusive Interview with John Murray of Springsteen Prov

We are excited to present our exclusive interview with John Murray, the man behind Springsteen Prov. We mentioned John last year (along with his interview in none other than Esquire; he was also covered in Rolling Stone) when he debuted Springsteen Prov at the 15th annual Del Close Marathon in New York City. For those who aren’t familiar, the Del Close Marathon (DCM) is an annual improv festival where NYC’s premier improv theater Upright Citizens Brigade hosts three days of non-stop improv featuring performers from across the country.

John and his group of Bruce acolytes reprised Springsteen Prov this past weekend at the 16th annual Del Close Marathon. Read on for our exclusive interview, video from the performance and the full roster of performers.

Legends of Springsteen: What is your earliest Springsteen memory?

John Murray: My earliest Springsteen memory is listening to my uncle's cassette tape of Born in the USA. This was probably when it came out in '84 or the year after. I loved the album so much I made my Dad take me to a Bradleys (Remember those stores? Anybody?). They didn't have it, so my Dad got Greetings and Billy Joel's Greatest Hits. I didn't take to Greetings, it sounded so different from Born in The USA I couldn't understand it (Everyone cut me some slack I was six, I've come around to Greetings since.) We got Born in the USA the following week and the rest is history.

LOS: What is your favorite Springsteen song?

JM: This is a tough one. I'm not sure I can name a specific favorite but I feel like I usually lean towards the more depressing songs. Don't get me wrong I love the stadium anthems and the party songs but it's the quieter songs that usually hit me the hardest. There's an intimacy to them, when Bruce explores emotional pain he really brings you on the journey. So I'd say "One Step Up," "New York City Serenade," "Wages of Sin," "The Losing Kind" (wish this one was released on Tracks, great song) & "County Fair." Just to name a few.

LOS: What is your least favorite Springsteen song (if you had to pick)?

JM: You're just going to have to shoot me, I'm not answering this question. :)

LOS: Do you have a favorite Springsteen concert memory?

JM: I have a collective favorite memory. I've seen the Boss five times in five very different ways. Let me list them:

A Christmas Show at the Asbury Convention Center
MSG Playing all of The River
At the Apollo Theater being interviewed by Elvis Costello for Spectacle
A tour rehearsal at the Asbury Convention Center for the Working On Dream Tour
On the floor of MSG for the Wrecking Ball Tour

All of these different shows have stories and memories to why they’re important to me. For example for the Wrecking Ball show I waited in line all day. When I got into the show I was general admission and got to touch The Boss. Amazing, right? But that's just one memory, I wouldn't put it over any of the others. Like that Christmas show is important to me cause we were invited to that after my Dad died. It was something Bruce was doing for 9/11 victim's families. This is just a long way of me saying what I said at the top: all the concerts are great and full of awesome memories.

LOS: How did you get the idea to do Springsteen Prov? Is there anything in particular about Bruce as an artist that makes it a fit for this art form?

JM: My good friend and fellow improviser Brian Barrett (now the editor and chief of Gizmodo) and I used to joke that we should do a DCM show of bunch Bruce Springsteens performing. I could never figure out a hook but Brian was always encouraging me to submit. Last year I said, "Ah screw it, I'll submit it and figure it out." It got in and was a hit. (Sadly Brian has yet to be in it, he's too busy.) It's actually ridiculous that I sat on the idea for so long because the whole Springsteen ideology is perfect for DCM. Bruce's live shows and music are very much about bringing people together to have a good time and build something cathartic. That's what improv and DCM are all about as well, it's a time for the improv community to come together. Springsteen Prov is just an incarnation of the greater theme of DCM.

LOS: Having performed Springsteen Prov at Del Close Marathon twice now, did you notice any difference in the audience response between the two years?

JM: I would say the biggest difference was there was more of interest in participating this year than last. No one knew what it was last year. I had people asking me to be part of this year because either they saw it last year or heard about it from last year. As for the actual audience response, the audience gets to come up on stage and dance, then do scenes with us. So the response for both years is pretty positive because they're part of the show. If you're not having fun at Springsteen Prov, you only have yourself to blame.

LOS: Improv is all about specificity and details. Were you ever concerned your Bruce references would get too esoteric? How do you balance it enough to make it appeal to non-fans?

JM: Here's the thing, I feel like people have enough of general idea who Bruce Springsteen is and what he stands for. Those general ideas (like: "Fighting for the Working Man") are specific enough to build scenes. Our suggestion from the audience this year was "Unemployment Line". People get the show and are on the same page.

LOS: Was there a certain Springsteen reference that you were most proud of slipping into the set?

JM: Getting to do the call and response with the audience. You know what I mean, "NEW YORK CITY!!" crowd screams "YOU WANT'EM TO HEAR YOU IN JERSEY RIGHT? NEW YORK CITY!! crowd screams louder. It feels pretty awesome to be able to hype a crowd up like that, it makes ya understand why Springsteen is still doing shows at 64.

LOS: There's a popular Salon article that says millennials hate Bruce Springsteen, yet UCB audiences skew young. Were you concerned about the reaction you'd get? Did people see this act as paying a playful tribute to Bruce? Or lampooning him? And do you think there is any truth to millennials hating Bruce?

JM: Well first off I'm uncomfortable with that language because it generalizes, which I'm not a big fan of doing to people. I can only go off of my experience of doing this show and what I've run into the most is people just not being familiar with Springsteen's music. So it's been tons of fun when people ask me, "What should I listen to before the show to get ready?" I'm able to drop a huge list of songs and maybe get some people interested in the music. As for lampooning, that's not really what the show is about, it’s more a celebration. We're really trying to do comedy through the viewpoint of Bruce's music. Improv in general isn't about going for a quick joke, it's about commitment and bringing comedy to the scene by being truthful. Everyone who participated in the show is a committed Bruce Springsteen trying to do a scene.

LOS: How has Springsteen influenced your work outside of Springsteen Prov?

JM: Ah man, how hasn't he? I mean I'm 35 years old and started going to go to the gym regularly this year cause I read that's what Springsteen did when he was 35. My interpretation of Bruce's work and from what I can see of what he does as a person is to try and be helpful and understanding of others. That matches up with my own sense of self, which probably explains why I'm such a huge fan.

LOS: What else are you working on? Anything else coming up?

JM: Right now I'm shooting a web series with a friend Geoff Garlock. It's a web series about being married and being in your 30s. I'm always doing improv every Saturday at 9 p.m. at UCB with Death By Roo Roo. My sketch team Stone Cold Fox is always cooking up something new. In July, I'll have been hosting a show out in Williamsburg called Low Standards for a year. Low Standards is a show where we get stand ups to do a set then talk to us about their favorite bad movies. I'm gonna be on some podcast coming out. I'm always busy. Here's my website so everyone can keep up with what's going on with me:

DCM 16 SpringsteenProv Cast:
John Murray, Connor Ratliff, Erik Tanouye, Brandon Gulya, Ben Rameaka, Casey Miko, Hannah Blechman, Maggie Maxwell, Mark Dowling, Jonathan Murray, Michael Drosos, Zeke Smith, Matthew Mancini, Ashley Medeiros, Orlando Olier, Mark Ledgerwood, Partrick Reidy, Kelley Quinn, Rafael Suero, David Greenslade, Chris Zalis, Matt Rubano, Jason Dewall, Chelsea Grogan, Courtney Cresap, Shenovia Large, Lisa Tanisawa, Chris Stewart, Michelle Pastor, Nicole Adsit, Joe Guzzardo, Richard Krysztoforski, Chris Schell, Julien Darmoni, Marisa Bramwell, Suzie Cho, Jeremy Chao, Par Juneja, James McCarthy, Ken McGraw Jr., Meg Shah, Matthew Mancini, Jillian Richardson, Sam De Roest, Jenna Short, Lauryn Torch, Stephanie VanDuinen, Alex Adan, Andy Bustillos.

Springsteen Prov from John Murray on Vimeo.

Video Credits: Ken Beck, Connor Ratliff, Denis Cardineau