Caryn Rose is a Brooklyn-based music writer, novelist and photographer who documents rock-and-roll, baseball and urban life. She is the author of Raise Your Hand: Adventures of an American Springsteen Fan in Europe and the novel B-Sides and Broken Hearts. email
Raise Your Hand: Adventures of an American Springsteen Fan in Europe
Bottom Line, 1983. My first Lou show. Photo by me.
Back in the early 80s, I was lost in the back alleys of Amsterdam on a dark, foggy night. I opened the door to a bar, just to find my bearings and take a break. The interior was dark and smoky and I wasn’t sure if this was a good idea or not. Then, the jukebox kicked into “Vicious” and I relaxed, knowing without a doubt that this place would be just fine.
Variations on this scene have been repeated in Germany and Boston, Tel Aviv and Atlanta, and of course, right here in New York fuckin’ City. Lou Reed on the jukebox says, we are different here. Lou Reed on the jukebox says, different is okay here. Lou Reed on the jukebox says ‘home’.
Lou is tied into my life in so many ways I can’t begin to unravel the thread to find its origin, although I spent the better part of the afternoon trying to run it down. I blame Rock Scene and FM radio and CREEM and Lester’s ongoing battle and even Rolling Stone for dragging me into his work. I would hear things, I would read things, and I would go and track them down to try to find out more. I would buy records just to see how they sounded. I would find books just to see if I could understand them. I would go look at art to see how it felt.
Lou connected me to the Velvets and the Velvets connected me to Andy Warhol and that connected me to SO MANY THINGS. People all over the world today were quoting “Walk On The Wild Side” as it was the only song they knew and I imagine that very few of them experienced that song the way I did, as this gateway into everything Warholian. I wanted to know everything about the song. I wanted to understand it. This was an immensely powerful thing to a highly impressionable 13 year old kid. His music opened this enormous doorway to art and literature and life and the enormous, ever lovin’ greater outside world. Once I got there there were people who could and did help me, but I never would have gotten to that place otherwise.
Lou took me to Burroughs and Delmore Schwartz and Ginsberg and made me re-read Walt Whitman and got me to the New York poets at about the same time Patti did. These people got me to poetry readings, to buy or borrow or check out books of poetry out of the library. (And God love the librarians who paid attention to what I checked out and made knowing suggestions.) Even if I didn’t like it, I was exposed to so much art and opinion and artistry that I was full to overflowing at how much there was to watch and read and experience and think about. It emboldened me. It gave me an anchor to hold onto, a grounded conviction that the world was so much bigger and worth waiting for that made it easier to survive the list of typical and non-typical high school torment (getting shoved into the lockers: standard; getting pushed out of a moving school bus, kind of out of the ordinary). It might sound odd that something so dark and visceral and other could be such a lifeline to someone who had more privilege than most who underwent similar tortures, but it was. Every time I ventured in and listened to another song or found another record, the glowing bubble of hope that was fed by all of this art would blossom even bigger and brighter than it did the last time.
I think it is hard to explain what it was like to listen to things that no one else listened to, in the days before the internet. If there were five people in my high school of 2,000 who even knew who the Velvet Underground were, that would seem like an awful lot. (I am being generous here. I know of two, guess at a third based on running into him a year after graduation, and am adding two because there had to be a couple others. It wasn’t like we were getting together on this subject, in fact, quite the opposite.) If people did know anything about Lou Reed, it generally revolved around him being described using a pejorative slang term that begins with F and ends with T. (The drugs didn’t even figure into it; Keith Richards did heroin, so that wouldn’t stick.) If you were a guy who liked Lou, there was guilt by association; if you were a girl, it was even worse. But that first Velvets album held the keys to the motherfucking kingdom, and that was everything. (It still does, if you need or want it badly enough.)
I wanted a leather jacket because of Lou. I painted my fingernails black because of Lou. I tried rocking Ray-ban aviators because of Lou. (I just look stupid.) I can’t say that I moved to New York City because of Lou; my family lived 40 minutes away by train and there was, quite honestly, nowhere else I could have possibly gone after my teenage years were spent immersed in everything I had immersed myself in. Once I got here, though, Lou did, however, make me feel like I knew my way around the joint, if that makes sense. Whether it was real, imagined, or some combination of youthful arrogance and just plain wanting to belong more than anything else, it didn’t matter; for all intents and purposes, “Lou sent me” was my calling card.
The darkness on these records was an air valve on a pressure cooker. They gave me an outlet and a name to my own fledgling darkness, the nameless fog I tried to keep under wraps. The music helped me navigate its depths without getting sucked into it or pulled under. The songs offered explanations, it offered comfort–they were always there to go back to. Lou showed me how to find the beauty in the dark. He showed me how to get through to the other side, or at least that there was an other side. He showed me that there was a way to live with it. The fact that we are saying goodbye to him at 71 and not at 31 is proof of all of this. May his journey thrive.
This was, quite simply, a fantastic show. The performance was tight but still full of life and energy. The band was in excellent spirits. And most importantly, the songs are not only ready to play live, they are so much better in person than they were on SNL or that 30-minute aftershow. I walked out thinking, “Wow, now I am excited for the album” as well as, “Wow, that TV special did not do them any favors.” The difference, at least to me, was night and day. There is a depth and a intricacy to the new songs that just did not come across in the compression of television sound, but is very much there live, even in a concrete warehouse with absolutely zero acoustics. (Disclaimer: I was right next to the speaker stacks so I cannot speak to how it sounded if you were back at the bar or the soundboard.)
Night two, the band seemed to be ready to dispense with surprises or unnecessary theatrics; there was no fake stage, no false intro, just an intro from a masked James Murphy, poking his head through the curtain and then the dramatic reveal as the band began to play and the curtain came down on the performance of “Reflektor.” (Curtains are awesome things and I wish more bands would take the trouble to bring that back; there’s a mystery and a magic and an elegance that the reveal of a curtain coming down brings that’s much different than just lights on.)
The stage is white and where it’s not white, there’s a mirror or other reflective surface. The accents are red and ultraviolet and blue and silver. There were triangular beaded curtains as a backdrop behind the platforms where the new percussionists were located. Will Butler sported red suede shoes; Regine was adorned in silver beaded fringe; Win was rocking a gold lamé jacket and some kind of amazing black tie-dye/camouflage combo. I respected that Win kept his jacket on all night, heat be damned–it was so hot that by the end of the 12-song set, there was condensation dripping from the pipes on the ceiling closest to the stage–while Richard Reed Parry ditched his jacket after the first song. (Win did jettison the mask meant to replicate his Stipe-ian raccoon eyes after song one, however.)
Every single song was stronger, richer, more interesting than it was on TV. “Reflektor” was greeted like it was an old familiar friend. I loved “Joan of Arc”. “Normal Person” was a steam roller. “We Exist” was a total dance party–when the first group of 100 or so fans was let in, they held the rest of the crowd back while a choreographer taught us some dance moves. (It was a fun idea and I would’ve totally been into it during the show had it not been jam packed like sardines in a schvitz; some people tried but mostly the concept failed in this setting.) The crowd screamed en masse during Regine’s “Sprawl” ribbon dance. And finally, Win suggested that if you hadn’t unbuttoned your top button yet, now might be the time, a minor white riot broke out during “Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)”.
On the negative side: the show was too short for the ticket price (but two songs longer than the previous night, with an actual encore). The comment Win made from the stage about scalpers–well, that could have been solved if they’d made the tickets will-call only, but that would have required playing an actual venue with staffing and infrastructure. It’s a cool idea to have a show at a warehouse space in Bushwick, but when you have to truck in a massive generator, security, and have no bathrooms (porta-johns only), running water or ventilation, I have to start to question how cool it ultimately is for the people who actually attended it. Like, I dig the gesture and the intention but think the execution was only about 2/3 of the way there. I’m ultimately very glad I was there and they definitely tried to make it as cool of an experience as you can when your band is already arena-sized. I am looking forward to seeing how they take this show onto a big stage.
There has been excitement and there has been anxiety and there has been sheer fucking joy leading up to this first Replacements show since 1991. I walked through the gates of RiotFest and had a moment. I had another one when I purchased an official t-shirt. It was one of those I can’t believe this is actually happening but it is actually fucking happening moments that just well up and take your breath away.
I didn’t know what to expect when the boys finally walked out on that stage. Would I burst into tears? Would it fall flat? Did it possibly stand a chance of meeting my expectations?
The answer to the last question was a hearty FUCK YEAH, said with as much volume and emphasis as you can muster. The pre-show tape cut out and the four walked on stage, Paul and Tommy nattily dressed in button-down shirts and jackets, and after some patter – I was not going to take dictation today – they careened straight into that cascading volcanic eruption that is the intro to “Takin’ A Ride,” and it was sheer utter bliss. It was sizzling. It was perfect. It was tumbling down the hill into another dimension. It was another time and yet it was very much RIGHT HERE RIGHT NOW. Paul Westerberg and Tommy Stinson are on that stage and they are playing that song.
Go through that all over again with “I’m In Trouble.” If you had asked me what two songs they would come out and open with it would NOT have been either of those, not by a long shot; I would have also placed long odds on them even showing up in the setlist. Those were the types of songs people would give them shit for not playing back in the day. So, here you go, motherfuckers, these goddamn songs, and we are here and we are TAKING NO PRISONERS.
“Favorite Thing” was one that we thought would be here, and then “Hangin’ Downtown” and and and it’s GOOD! They are GREAT! They are loose and polished and rehearsed and happy and smiling and having fun. Paul looks fantastic and confident and all I could think was, this is what I have been waiting for you to do! This is all I have been waiting for! Yes! FINALLY! It’s not like they’ve suddenly turned into some session band or something, but they are loose and happy and nervous but they are up there and owning that fucking stage. Which is all I had ever hoped for. Paul looked happy and confident and comfortable and ready to go be Paul Westerberg for a while.
“Color Me Impressed” was where I finally lost it, Paul whistling through the intro with dogged deliberation. It’s not that this was my favorite song or the one I was waiting to hear, it was just the moment I think where my feet finally touched the ground again.
Tommy walks over to Paul and says something. Paul cracks up. Tommy opens his mouth and points at it. I think, wait, no way, but – yes! “Tommy Got His Tonsils Out,” impossibly, improbably, into this Hendrix jam at the end. “Kiss Me On The Bus” complete with handclaps from various audience members.
It was an odd crowd. There were the people totally losing it and then there were the people watching intently and I’m not sure they were there because they remembered it or if they were there because they thought they needed to see it. But there were enough euphoric looks and dancing bodies and out-loud singsongs to make it seem like home.
Paul makes reference to how they could play some more old stuff but they could always skip “Androgynous,” which is met with loud howls of protest from the crowd. This one fell apart more than a little, but both the crowd and then Tommy got Paul’s vocals back on track. “Achin’ To Be” was delicate, lovely–and then the indie rock national anthem (or at least that’s what I used to call it), “I Will Dare” – which was another fuckup, this time saved by the awesome effort of Dave Minehan. He knew the lyrics and he pulled off Peter Buck’s solo as sharp and crisp as the day he recorded it.
I cannot say enough good things about Dave Minehan and Josh Freese. Minehan “did a very solid Bob,” to quote Gorman Bechard afterwards. But it was more than that; Minehan had the parts down so well they were second nature, but he did that with heart and energy and boundless enthusiasm. There could not have been a better available guitar player for this role. And Freese was seamless, bringing equal energy and quality of performance to his role. No, it wasn’t Bob and it’s not Chris, but whatever they did to fit in with Paul and Tommy, it worked in spades.
“Love You Till Friday” segued neatly into “Maybelline,” “Merry-Go-Round” was a chance to catch your breath, “Wake Up,” was prefaced with a story that went something like, “It didn’t make it onto the record, and then the label told us you can’t do that, so we quit”. “Borstal Breakout” represented the first full fledged cover entry, into a picture-perfect, emotional “Little Mascara.” I think it was emotional for Paul and for the crowd or maybe it was emotional for one because of the other.
“Left of the Dial” was on my list of things I needed to hear, and another moment of awe and beauty and sadness and being filled up with every emotion you could possibly feel in one moment. And a moment where I feel all the years because this is a concept that you can’t even explain right now, much less in a few years. Paul looked pleased with himself when it was done.
“Instant happiness, puppies, rainbows” is what I wrote around the entry for “Alex Chilton.” Here I am on a Sunday night watching the Replacements and we’re all singing and clapping along, no hesitancy on Paul’s part, just singing the heck out of it, imbuing it with extra heart.
There was just so much heart. There was so much earnestness. They were silly and irreverent but yet they were all very very very sincerely glad to be on that stage and playing, it was so obvious and bright that it shone to outer space. There was no irony on that stage. It was very real, and very sincere, and very welcomed.
“Swinging Party” went out to Slim, “Can’t Hardly Wait” was everything you remembered it was, and then “Bastards of Young” caused the dust cloud to rise over the mosh pit again (I have so much dust coating my skin and I was on the other side of the field from the damn thing) and in this case, I was glad and happy and proud to see it. (I realize I would have probably felt differently if I was anywhere near it, and I do wish that in 2013 there was a better way to react to this music than slamming into everyone around you.)
That was the end of the set proper. I was going to protest that they JUST GOT HERE and then looked at my notes and my phone and realized it had been over an hour — which is still too short, but it wasn’t the 20 minutes that my brain was trying to tell me.
Paul walks out in a hockey jersey and by the boos I manage to deduce that this was a rival team (it was explained to me that it was like walking out in a Red Sox jersey at a Yankees game). This somehow led into “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” from Gypsy, and there is party of me that wonders if he planned to do the whole song or if he just planned to do a verse, but somehow he gets himself and the band through the whole thing, before mumbling something like, “Paul, what have you been doing for 20 years,” as though he himself wasn’t entirely too sure.
“I.O.U.” was the last number, kick-punched through the night air, before the band simply put down their instruments and walked off stage. There were some half-hearted waves but no coordinated bows (which I had been hoping for). With that unceremonious end, the house lights came on and we were left to slowly unpeel ourselves from the barrier and try to find the power of speech again.
For weeks now, months even, since the announcement, I have had to deal with endless grumpy “Well unless Bob has risen from the dead, this isn’t the Replacements” and yet tonight on that stage, it certainly felt exactly like I remembered it, the essential soul of the entire operation, the levity and the camaraderie and the heart and the vulnerability and the just plain having fun and fucking around part of it. It was all of that and it was more than that and it was just plain old coming home.
POST-SCRIPT: In my humble opinion there is no way this is put together for just the three RiotFest shows. There is lighting. There are about 20 different t-shirts. There are fancy laminates for the crew, utilizing the Facebook middle finger that’s on the “Hate Us On Facebook” shirt. Will there be new songs? Will there be a record? Gotta think this is where this is going because I don’t know that they’ll want this to be a total nostalgia fest. Maybe I am getting ahead of myself.
But go see this, if you can. You will want to see it.
It is hot inside of Nowlan Park, and then it rains. And then it is hot again. If you are close you are standing on metal plating, which has no give. You sit, you stand, you sit again. People with wristbands but no magic marker tattoo on their hands try to encroach upon your territory; it creates your ‘tribe,’ it bonds you to people from the Netherlands and Greece and Switzerland and up the road in Belfast. At this point you are having conversations like “We sat next to each other in Stockholm…”
That last interminable time span, after the stage is prepared–and you know when the stage is prepared, the Fiji water and the peanut sponge and the line checks and the spotlight operators are up in position – then the last thing is to wait for the setlists. You try to not look but then you look and try to guess from the grouping of songs whether or not there is an album or how many are there – and then you wait for the video operators.
There is a lot of waiting, which is why everyone on stage left cheers when Kim comes out and takes her position at the camera. Because at that point we are ready to go.
The pre-show tape cuts out suddenly and then there they are.
part 2. the hope
After night 1 we are all trying hard to not hope too much. Because we are here from every corner of Europe, from Italy and Spain and Croatia and Germany and Finland and Norway, and us, two kids from Brooklyn. We still danced and sang on Saturday night no matter what–even after that initial mention of “1985,” watching fallen faces and shaking heads and helpless laugher and shrugs all around and entreaties to leave early to get a good number for the Sunday show, we still waved our arms in the air and sang along, because this was Bruce Springsteen and this was Saturday night after all.
But now it is Sunday and after tonight there are no more shows, there are no more chances, there are no more queues and no more travel and no more sleepless nights. This is it, at least for a while.
That plonky-plonky dance hall piano from the Professor and it is time for church. I will sing the lines about Jesus with no problem, me the girl who used to hmm-hmm out the religious lines in Christmas carols back in school. And then we hold our breath to see what is next, what is the first step in the direction we will be traveling tonight.
“My Love Will Not Let You Down” and that is it, that is the statement of intent, that is the message from him to us. Bruce comes to the front of the stage not to urge us onward, but to be there with us, to hear it. His eyes are searching and he is making eye contact all over the place. He closes his eyes and we sing the refrain back to him. We jump up and down, up and down, singing and waving our arms in the air. I had put a moratorium on jumping to save my knees but tonight I am jumping, metal plate and all. Small jumps, but I am jumping up and down because it is the last night and I want to be able to do it all. The energy and the heat and the voices swirl around you.
There is one moment, one utterly perfect moment, that moment at the end when Bruce and Steve and Nils come together with the guitars at the front of the stage and play the melody over and over. It was picture perfect and note for note perfect and one continual flow of energy. I thought, if this is as good as it gets tonight, I have had that moment at least.
“Badlands” and more jumping, more singing, louder, stronger. This one might get the attention of the people in the stands but it is for us too, about the hope and the faith. This is not accidental. As I said to one of the stewards earlier in the morning, who told us that he had gone to mass before coming to work but had almost fallen asleep during the sermon, this is our church.
“We Take Care of Our Own” and I am glad he has not forgotten Wrecking Ball, he has not abandoned it entirely, and I am even more glad that he has put this up front for us. Even today, in the heat and the crowding and the interminable wait, everyone was kind and generous and good-spirited, they made room for you to sit down and helped you stand up and held a hand up to steady you as you gingerly made your way out of the front pit to get food or make a bathroom run. I know it was not like that everywhere, and that we were lucky, but we were lucky. We were all lucky.
“Adam.” The initial solo does not quite flow at first but then Bruce finds what he is trying to say and says it, blistering notes off the guitar frets. It is “Adam,” it is my first favorite and still favorite. Darkness was the album that opened up everything for me. I shout the HEY!‘s after the refrain, old-school style. Sometimes I am the only one. I do it anyway, so that we will remember. There are notes scrawled about punctuating and guzzling and I cannot possibly reconstruct it now. It was fierce. It was “Adam” at full throttle.
“Death To My Hometown” throws one to the rest of the crowd and lets us catch our breath. And then, it looks like Bruce is signalling ’7′ to the band but that is the signal for DTMH – it was 4 and 1, for “41 Shots.” At first I wonder if something else had happened in the States since I had been disconnected from the real world since Thursday.
“Did something happen that we don’t know about?”
“Just the same thing that happened before.”
“And before that.”
And before that.
To say that this rendition of “41 Shots” was monumental and breathtaking would not come close to accurately describing it. It was nothing short of magnificent. The saxophone was haunting, cutting; Roy and Garry holding down the rest in air tight formation. It would have filled a stadium twice the size of Nowlan Park. It filled the world, it filled your heart and your head and I could not stop the tears at that moment, tears for right now and what happened before and what will happen again until we get it right. I feel hands on my shoulders and the Irish folks behind me are making sure I am all right.
He picked up the harmonica and I knew it was “Promised Land” and was yelling, GOOD FOR YOU, BRUCE, with a vehemence that surprised the people around me and that I didn’t realize I had until the words came out of my mouth. He did this segue previously after the Zimmerman verdict and my reaction was the same, but I was not standing a few feet from it happening, feeling the notes vibrate through my bones.
I am breathless. I feel like my heart has grown three sizes since the show started.
“This is what the tour is all about,” Bruce says, introducing “Wrecking Ball.” And it is funny to remember my reaction to this song initially, and then when it made the album, and then when it supplanted “Rocky Ground” as the title of the album. But “tonight all the dead are here” was such a theme for the tour and it will always remind me of my beloved Shea Stadium, with the line about the parking lots.
Charlie plays a particularly Danny Federici-type organ riff and it is feeling a little more gypsy, a little more old-school, and “Spirit” is going to make the appearance again, this time with a new intro, talking about the fans coming to all the shows, that “there is a cumulative weight every night that we play at the end of the tour,” that “there is a cumulative weight from watching this motherucker so many times!…I want to thank you for carrying us so many nights.” And tells us that they will be back…and back…and back…and back, before swinging into “Spirit.”
part 3. the faith.
A harmonica and a 12-string guitar and I say “The River” without being able to stop myself at this point (and I yell at Glenn all the time because he can tell what song is next based on guitar changes). The power and depth of this number in Europe is always awesome and tonight is no different.
When Bruce finishes, he says something about paying debts and gives a dedication. And then he keeps talking about settling debts tonight. But no one had any idea what was going to happen next.
We met Tero and Paivi in Finland because I saw their sign and liked it so much I talked about it and wrote about it and took a picture that was still on my phone when we got to Spain, where they were in our queue group of 100. We learned that the Finns share the same sarcastic sense of humor that New Yorkers do, and as you do over four days of roll calls, we became friends. We saw them in Paris and again in London, and thought that was it–until we decided to come to Kilkenny.
And it was one of those moments when Bruce says, “This guy has been bringing the same sign to show after show after show – and I have taken this man’s sign before and not played his song.” And Tero and Paivi are standing just to our right with a contingent of Finns and they start jumping up and down and there are Finnish flags waving and they are screaming and hugging and high-fiving. And Bruce comes down to the runway to collect the sign from Tero, and out comes Clark with the tuba and Roy on the accordion and Steve on the mandolin. I had taken a photo of Tero with the reverse of the sign earlier in the day, on which he had listed every show he had taken a version of the sign to: there were THIRTY NINE cities, all of which Bruce proceeded to then hold up and read to the crowd.
It wasn’t even my sign and I am still so dazed I don’t remember it all because it was such an amazing moment. Somehow, again, this wonderful crowd pushed Tero and Paivi up to the front and the people who were #1 and #2 gave up their spots so they could be on the rail in front of Bruce for this moment. Everyone was cheering for them.
During the many discussions I have had about Wild Billy since having become friends with the Finns, is realizing that I can make a spirited defense for this particular track. That it represents a particular moment in Bruce’s childhood and that he captures it all in tight, film-like scenes. The compression of the story is masterful, and the last two lines say it all:
Hey son, you want to try the big top?
All aboard, Nebraska’s our next stop.
The first time I sang that line out loud was on Cookman Street, just up the road from where the circus used to set up in Asbury Park. I thought that was an fantastic moment when it happened. But I think singing it tonight, watching my friends get their song played, beat that just a little. And you wonder about how that song means so much to someone from Finland and someone from Spain and someone from, well, anywhere else.
The next debt was a ratty sign from the front row, the same sign that has been in, oh, the last 15 center mic pictures. It has been taped and folded and taped again, but it was that sign Bruce went to just right of center to pick up and hold up on stage in front of everybody, as the singers come down to stage left and the horns come down sans horns stage right. And Bruce holds up the sign and we are jumping up and down and yelling ‘YEAH!” like it was our sign, and then we are just as instantly quiet because this is a soft, careful arrangement of “Man At The Top” with the harmonies from each side, Curtis and Cyndi and Michelle taking one part and the horns leaning in as one to take the other, Barry rubbing his hands together for percussion. The guy standing behind me has no idea what is going on but manages to understand that some part of it is magic because everyone around us shut the fuck up.
And then, one more debt to settle (and then one more after that, Bruce warns us). This time, a shot of other friends down at the end, women who I know have seen every show Bruce has ever played in the UK (that’s *ever*). And the guitars come out and the opening chords hit and I have an out-of-body experience because HOW CAN IT POSSIBLY BE THAT HE IS PLAYING ‘WHEN YOU WALK IN THE ROOM’. Last night I tweeted that this song completed a trilogy for me, with “And Then She Kissed Me” and “Mountain of Love” and I wasn’t sure that wasn’t some kind of random grouping, except that it wasn’t; these are the great covers of the ’75 era, crackling in my brain out of some bootleg picked up at a record fair at days gone by.
part 4. the love.
Bruce then talks about how, in 1975, he walked into a recording studio and there was a skinny little Italian kid sitting there – “Jimmy Iovine!” I whisper loudly, wondering where this was going to go. There was definitely a slight lull in the crowd’s energy with the announcement of the full Born To Run album, but given that we had spent the day talking with these two kids from Belfast in front of us for whom this was their 9th show, had missed Limerick, and were sure they’d never see “Jungleland,” I was actually pretty stoked. And it could have been flat, it could have been rote, but the band kept the energy high and the performance above-average and kept plowing through from song to song, which elevated the album performance several notches. “Thunder Road” was accompanied by a deep, genuine swell of emotion rolling off of the crowd up to the stage and back again. Straight into “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” and all I can think about is how I used to dream about being able to hear the intro to this song, with horns, live. (The only thing still lacking for me is being able to hear Steve’s chicken scratch guitar high enough in the mix.) The horns! That moment where he cues them in and you hear the melody for the first time! There are few things more glorious than that. The first time I heard them on the album and wondering if this was an old Stax cover I didn’t know about, except the credits told me otherwise. My all-time favorite E Street legend is Steve in the studio, singing the parts to the horn players. I love how it is and always will be the story of the band. The tribute to the Big Man in its current version bringing the tears again at the level that they were at the start of this tour. Bruce is on the center platform looking backwards and I think they are still there for him too.
“Night,” and the clarion call of the saxophone, those opening moments you all know so well. “Backstreets” and the excitement level elevates again. It was broad and epic and intense, the vocals strong, the guitar rich and deep. You got lost in it.
I love “Born To Run” outside of the encore spot, the change of pace, the different focus makes it feel different, crisper, tighter and more compact. I love that Bruce just kept going and didn’t stretch it out like an encore version. He played it, he finished it, and he took it into “She’s The One.” And then Curt steps down and the trumpet is shining in the spotlight and people are chatting excitedly and you are waiting for them to realize where we are so they will shut up, and they do.
I think about how far we have come with “Jungleland,” how I was not only ready for it to retire, I was adamant that it should retire. Then it came back selectively and I was ambivalent. I heard it in Philadelphia and I was not ready. I was shocked by its power at Hard Rock Calling, and happy to hear it. Tonight, with the lead up into it, it felt right and proper and like order had been restored somehow. It started to rain at the end of the song and while there was the distraction of everyone around pulling on rain coats there was part of me that felt like the sky was crying in honor. At the start of the song, the two lads from Belfast threw their arms around each other’s shoulders for a moment or two, and I felt lucky to share that instant with them. I was glad they got to hear it. I was glad I was there when they got to hear it.
The next stretch was, honestly, a mix of catching your breath and thinking “Is that it?” and wondering what else could happen, or wondering if at least we would get some more of “Wrecking Ball” given the previous statement that that was why we were all there. I am always glad to hear “Land of Hope and Dreams” in the current arrangement, the horns soaring, the arrangement carrying the song and elevating it, the pogoing one last time, somehow finding the energy, ignoring the aching back and the sore knees. One more time, leaping into the air, trying to catch a little bit of the night and the notes and the magic.
After “Bobby Jean,” there was a huddle at the front of the stage and we expected something grand to erupt, but it was just “Seven Nights To Rock.” He has to play “Dancing In The Dark,” it is the song everyone comes to hear (although, having walked around the venue earlier in the day, there were plenty of normal local folk who were wearing the orange wristband that signified they had been at the previous night’s show as well). What made the song for me was the fact that the horns, who had come down front for “Seven Nights,” were told by Bruce to stay (even after some of them started heading back) so they were doing their DITD dance routine right up front, along with the singers, who Bruce also called down front and they started doing their specific dance choreography for those numbers. (When we ran into Clark Gayton out at Matt the Miller’s the night before–we tried to buy him drinks!–I asked him my burning horn section questions: who was responsible for the dance routines? did they practice them?) You can see the horns pretty well (well, you can if you pick your spot in the crowd so you can see them like we do, but I admit that that is a pathology and not a given behavior) but it’s harder to see the singers because they’re blocked by Roy’s piano. The dance routines are the outer evidence of how these factions have gelled and coalesced and become part of E Street, which was yet another element of joy at their up front presence for “Man At The Top”.
part 5. the prayer.
“American Land” was to be expected and while i was honestly wishing for another cover once “Shout” started, it is so fun and silly and goofy. You sing “shooby dooby, bop bop” and wave your arms in the air and it is contagious and joyful and the horns kick in, loud and brazen. It is truly fabulous how the entire front of pit gets down on the floor as Bruce sings “A little bit softer now.” There is no one standing up, folding their arms sternly, refusing to do it, everyone is going lower and lower and leaning on each other until your legs ache — and then leaping back up to our feet when he switches to “A little bit louder now.” I have photos but they are happy blurry messes of hands and heads and bodies. And we are ready for the recitation of the superlatives, the ones we could do in our sleep, “YOU’VE JUST SEEN…” and we shout it out loud, as loud as we can, as affirmation, as benediction, as plain old FUCK YEAH.
But then he continues: “And we want to salute…” and proceeds to read the fan-centric version of that list, a shirt that you have seen if you have traveled through Europe at all this summer or last, and if you have travelled through Europe you could not possibly disagree with any of it. (Apparently Amy Lofgren saw a photo of the shirt and passed it on.) Bruce recites all of it, and then the band all step up to the microphone en masse to yell, “LEGENDARY E STREET FANS” back at us.
If you didn’t have a lump in your throat I am not sure you are human.
The Professor on the piano and the coda of “This Little Light of Mine” to close the show out, one more time, the gospel element that could be leftover from the direction Bruce was heading before “Rocky Ground” or a clue to whatever happens next, or it really could just be, “I did this on the Dublin DVD so let’s do it in Ireland because it’s a nice nod to them.”
It was during this song that Bruce definitely hurt a finger, but we didn’t realize how much he had hurt it until he came back after showing the band offstage with the acoustic guitar and harmonica rack, and we could clearly see blood streaming down his fingers. (The guess is that he lost a nail.) “I’ve been doing this – next July – for 50 years. Feel like I just started, man! I got another 50 in me,” he says. “I’ve enjoyed this tour – we’ve been losing so many people that were so close to it, this tour has been – you’ve been really wonderful to us.” A pause. “The older you get, the more it means,” he says once, and then again.
Just when you were wondering where the theme of the tour was going to come in, the harmonica for “This Hard Land” points the way. But we were not prepared for the obvious show of emotion on Bruce’s part, the hoarseness as he choked up repeatedly, singing to us one last time on this tour, singing to this crowd that followed him and supported them and sold out stadiums all over the continent, that stood in rain and cold and slept in tents in parking lots. These are the things that Bruce remembers from the early days, it is that one part of his performing life that can still happen the way he remembered it, the obvious sign of devotion.
We wait and listen and put our arms around each other’s shoulders and sing quietly, moved by the show of emotion on Bruce’s part. And then, and then, the reward: IF YOU CAN’T MAKE IT! STAY HARD! STAY HUNGRY! STAY ALIVE! we yell at the top of our lungs with every bit of emotion we can muster. He holds the guitar aloft and we wave and cheer and shout until the spotlight is off and he has gone down the stairs and the music comes back over the PA.
And then it is hugs and tears and promises and thank you and goodbyes. We launch ourselves over to the Finnish contingent to say goodbye to our friends. We stomp across crushed bottles underfoot to look for friends from all over the Continent, from the Netherlands and Norway and Spain, we shake hands and make promises and say we will see each other soon, we hope.
Now, in fairness, the things that this show was lacking: the playing was not as consistently strong across the whole show as it should be at this point in the tour. “The Rising” was one big out-of-sync mess almost from start to finish which was unfortunate after such an otherwise mostly solid album performance. That said, the intro to “Jungleland” was very much in danger of heading that way but was fortunately rescued in time.
Born To Run should not have been the album you play on the last night of a tour in a country that got five shows, one of which already got that album, because most of which were attended by not just the tour kids but plenty of normal Irish Bruce Springsteen fans, simply because they could – the amount of arms wearing the complete set Aiken Productions wristbands wasn’t limited to the pit queue. The fact that some of the most important songs from the album that this tour was based on were nowhere near the setlist, like “We Are Alive” and “Rocky Ground,” is a disgrace. (I am convinced I will never hear “Rocky Ground” again unless the gospel project ever gets revived.) If you could play “Born In The USA” two nights in a row then you could play “Jack of All Trades” two nights in a row as well. So much thought went into the front end of the show, the requests were carefully chosen and clearly rehearsed in advance. I would have given anything to just have Bruce put together a set without signs and without worrying about the punters in the top row. They would have been fine with anything.
It was not a legendary last show, but it was a great last show, and it was still not a show I would have missed for anything.
See you soon.
I would be amiss if I did not point out what was NOT played tonight, especially since I kept getting tapped on the shoulder during the show as friends pointed it out and I kept telling them to stop because they would jinx it: No “Sunny Day”! I would love to see the printed setlist to see if this was a deliberate omission or if he thought there was enough child representation from the young boy who came up to play guitar and was gifted with the acoustic at the end of the song.
There are rules in my house about sign requests: that we don’t bring signs for cover songs, that we don’t bring signs that request items, that a sign should be for one song only, that it should be a size that will not block the people behind us. We have tried hard over the years to think of signs that will get picked or would get played or that Bruce would find amusing and therefore would get played.
In this house, we love soul music. Sam Moore is responsible for us having met in the first place. Otis Redding was an early shared interest. We had hoped to adopt two cats a few years ago and were going to name them Sam & Dave–they were already gone, so we came home with a tuxedo cat that we promptly named Jackie Wilson. We didn’t grow up with this music it but we found it at a young and impressionable age and it stuck with us, hard.
Years ago I was in favor of a “Shake” sign after it started showing up again at the various private benefits Bruce used to play for his children’s school. Glenn would tell me that it was a waste and that he would never play it. I would agree and not make the sign.
When deciding what to do for the last shows in Kilkenny, I decided to pick the song I would want to hear if this was the last time I was going to see the E Street Band. I am lucky in that I have seen pretty much everything I could ever have wanted to see. But “Sweet Soul Music” is a relative rarity for me and to me it is one of the most important covers the band has ever done because it represents the ethos of the band. Bruce could have skipped the whole “We are a rock and soul band” intro at the beginning of the tour and played “Sweet Soul Music” instead. Although I got to hear a version at the MSG River show (and had heard earlier versions in 81 and 88 as part of the Detroit Medley), I wanted to hear it with the singers and the full horn section. Instead of just relying on neon cardboard and sturdy black marker, I got creative. I researched. I borrowed the color printer at the office. I had multiple signs in different sizes.
At Saturday’s show, I was amazed that the Italian guy behind me had a sign for “Sweet Soul Music” and that during “Out In The Street,” as the camera followed Bruce down the walkway, there were two if not three more signs for the song. I don’t think I’d ever seen one, let alone five signs at one show.
So when he came back to the center mic carrying not only “Sweet Soul Music” but also “Shake,” I thought I had died and gone to heaven. I waited for Bruce to stop talking about stumping the band (because if they are stumped by songs they used to play regularly then we have a larger problem, and we are all smarter than that and he should know it) and to start playing the song so I could stand there and let the glorious horns and rnb guitar wash over me.
First, I will tell you that I guarantee no one had more fun during those two songs than Glenn and I did. We danced. We shook our asses, HARD. We sang along. We cued the horns and the beats and jumped and waved our hands in the air. We sweated. We beamed. Everyone around us thought we were completely mental (except for the other guy with the “Sweet Soul Music” sign, but even then I think he may have had second thoughts at having engaged us in conversation).
You don’t have to take my word for it because the videos are online: both versions were awful. They are even worse than they sounded standing there hearing them. They were sloppy and missed the cues and the mics on the horns weren’t turned up for the right parts. I mean, I know these songs–maybe not as well as, say, Steve Van Zandt and Bruce Springsteen and Garry Tallent, he of the massive 78 record collection, know these songs–but I KNOW THESE SONGS so I know when they are not played well. Part of it also was also that the sound mix in Kilkenny was not that great and they hadn’t soundchecked these songs most likely, so the sound people were kind of at a loss. If the singers were singing backup, I couldn’t hear them.
But, I got to hear my song, I got to dance to my songs with my fella, and that’s pretty damn good. And as for the rest of the show? While I wish he had played something else and was disappointed in the energy and sloppiness and uninspired setlist, it was still Bruce Springsteen on a Saturday night and I was three deep off the center platform. In no universe does that suck.
Lisa Simon, age 37, still loves loud punk rock and hates Dave Matthews with an all-consuming passion. April 15, 2001 should have been just another Sunday night. But a news headline landing in Lisa’s email inbox changes everything: “Joey Ramone is dead.” The death of one of her teenage heroes serves as an long-overdue wake-up call causing Lisa to examine her life and how she’s lived it, from her youth as a poet on the streets of the East Village to 10 years later, all grown up with a career and a fiance. Add to the mix Jake McDaniel, lead singer of million-selling, critically-regarded Seattle band Blue Electric, known better to Lisa as the starving renegades who lived next door to her when she first arrived in Seattle. In the midst of an unexpectedly heated argument with the fiance over the historical relevance (or not) of the Ramones – which forces Lisa to face the truth about her relationship – Jake writes and invites Lisa to LA. Throwing what seems like half her cd collection in the car, along with a wardrobe consisting of high heels, jeans and t-shirts, Lisa starts driving from Seattle to LA in the middle of the night, accompanied by music, memories, and the ghosts of the past. Arriving in LA, she finds refuge, but also collides with her past, present and future; decisions need to be made, and this time, Lisa stands her ground.
I remember the night Joey Ramone died. I remember getting the news, I remember the first email hitting my inbox with a ding and then the ding ding ding continuing, building, as I sat there reading that first email with that first news story, not believing what I was reading, and then reading it again and again as though rereading it I would find something different, that he would somehow not be dead. I remember listening to the U2 show from Irving Plaza and thinking that things sounded good, as they covered “I Remember You,” not knowing that they had just seen Joey in his hospital room and things were not good, at all. I remember sitting there feeling alone, 3,000 miles away from New York City, wanting to go into a bodega, buy a 7 day votive candle, walk down Bowery and stand in front of CBGBs and light that candle and stand there and cry for a good long while. But I couldn’t do that, because I wasn’t there.
A few months later, I started a novel about how someone’s life changed the night Joey Ramone died. It was originally titled JOEY RAMONE IS DEAD, and is now called B-SIDES AND BROKEN HEARTS.
The first time I met Nick Hornby, I took a deep breath and blurted out that my goal was to write the woman’s version of High Fidelity. I wanted to read a book where a woman could like music as much as a guy and not be called a groupie or be told that she sure knew a lot about music for a girl.
GUEST: What time opens Chelsea? CONCIERGE: Chelsea Market? GUEST: No, just Chelsea. CONCIERGE: Well it’s a neighborhood, sir. GUEST: (annoyed) Yes, I know that! CONCIERGE: It’s open all day and night. GUEST: But what time does it open? CONCIERGE: Is it maybe - are you looking for a particular…
This must be why all the tourists show up in Williamsburg at 9am.
LOU REED: “I couldn’t have been unhappier in the eight years I spent growing up in Brooklyn. But I say that not having realized what it would then be like being on Long Island, which was infinitely worse. And if there was probably a childhood trauma that I had other than the Dodgers leaving…
thank you for the lou reed baseball quote i have been looking for all night.