2023-02-07 Hard Rock Live, Hollywood, FL
Paulina Vanderbilt After a hiatus of 7 years 2023 was set to be the glorious return of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. The world is in a state of flux politically and it seems that Covid has been a catalyst of polarization rather than a new sense of community that strives towards a better and safer world. The musical landscape, too, has changed – and not for the better. The domination of LN/TM of venues and ticket sales, the unreasonable cut (sometimes up to 70%) on merch has many artists struggling to survive and even caused bands to cease touring because it is cheaper for them to stop playing than to go out and work their asses off to create that connection only music can. It came as a great shock to many of us that Bruce’s camp had decided to follow ‘what the peers are doing’ and to choose big bucks over the conversation of the past 50 years. I felt confused, shaken and betrayed. But we are talking the Boss here, my musical companion for 40 years. So I went to my only USA show with mixed feelings. Back home Springsteen’s voice and his songs still hit me where it’s real, but my faith got tainted: the ever-present morality in his songs is ultimately where I had found my firm ground all those years. What would happen when I looked him in the eyes after what had felt like such a betrayal, a slap in my face for taking his words as part of my moral compass for so long? Would all be forgiven? Or if not forgotten, reconciled enough to move on past the hurt towards a new horizon? The show to restore my faith was in Hollywood Florida, in a gaudy casino – nothing like irony, eh? I had the perfect spot to start my ‘conversation’ with Bruce. The band walked on one by one, each one briefly basking in their moment of glorious welcome. Finally, there he was: Bruce in sophisticated black, older, more fragile but still larger than life. His charisma shone all around him like a bright aura. He was less sure-footed than 7 years ago, and looked a little tired. But when he opened with No Surrender I was right back in my teenage room when I swore blood brothers against the wind – a promise not lightly made, a promise that I mean to fight for. A song that takes us back to Bruce’s own promise too, when he was a youngster and set his sights on something big. The setlist appears quite static right now at the start of the tour, which might be unusual for our grandmaster of mixing it up, but I feel the setlist is deliberate and beautifully balanced. The progression makes perfect sense, musically as well as lyrically. So it was fitting and powerful that the song right after No Surrender would be Ghosts – where Bruce recalls his musical partners of yore and how the life affirming power of the promise he made with them still holds. The song rocks hard! Bruce’s voice had a gravelly edge, which I like. Prove it all Night is really about the fire that comes with the promise made – I belted along with all my might. By the time Bruce sings Letter to You I believe his commitment, and I am right there in the moment. Promised Land and Out on the Streets both continue the theme of our commitment to rock and roll. Bruce misses a beat or two in the latter – Patti, Stevie and Nils mess up the sing-back – but Bruce is loose and laughs it off with that Scooby Doo chuckle of his, and I not only forgive him, I bask in the moment he shows us he is human after all. The songs follow one another non-stop and fast, with little room to breathe. I won’t talk you through all songs, but instead I’m going to jump to Kitty’s Back, a rarity from his earlier years, now suddenly a staple in the set. With the present band this song makes complete sense. It is one of the back ends for the new soul songs Bruce wants to showcase, the other being the other ‘oldie’ The E-Street Shuffle. The horn players each grab their moment to shine, the backing singers are an outstanding force of harmony. For the first time Kitty makes sense to me: it fits, and I am enjoying every note, whispering Kitty’s back with the singers (thinking tentatively ‘Bruce is back’). Then we get Night Shift, which lyrically harks back to some of Bruce’s musical inspiration; not just Kitty, those soul legends are back too. Truth be told, I am not that partial to the album ‘Only the Strong Survive’. On record Bruce is slick and flawless, but the music fails to touch a nerve. Unlike the Seeger sessions, this record of covers didn’t add much to the originals for me. I find I put it on as background – I mean … that’s not happened before. Bruce says he wanted to showcase his voice: for me his voice was ALWAYS beautifully nuanced. I didn’t need a record to convince me of that. Still, I love that first Marvin; it gives me delicious tingles all over. Let me tell you, live – oh boy live, the soul songs become the most enjoyable, rejuvenating part of the show. On top of that, the arrangements of the E Street choir are off the scale. Whereas Night Shift is introspective, Don’t play that Song is a party song. It’s hard to resist a Bruce who is like a little boy, goofing about – almost willing us to love it as much as he does. And you know what, there is no resisting such infectious enthusiasm. The whole band absolutely kills it, and just like that the ‘soul’ section has become my favorite part of the show. The abrupt ‘philharmonic’ start of E Street Shuffle serves to book-end the soul section and also take us out of that mood. We shift gears. And what a shift it is: the duet of Mansion on the Hill feels like a surprise to band, not in the least Patti. Both her and Bruce needed the auto-prompter for most of the song and at the start Patti is searching for the right harmonies. The under-rehearsed delivery gives us a glimpse into a private world I can imagine when the two of them sit by the fire with a glass of whiskey singing together and finding connection through song. Nils on the slide guitar – wow, what a treat this song is! Just like Candy’s Room earlier, Johnny 99 – whilst 100% enjoyable – feels a little random in the conversation Bruce is communicating tonight. It is followed by Bruce’s first bit of chat which introduces Last Man Standing. We are at the end of the journey. We began with a band of brothers swearing allegiance but now there’s only Bruce left. The moment of reflection is a beautiful spiel about the virtues of youth – where it is all about looking ahead to an unobstructed open road – and burden of old age – which is mostly about losing the past. It is a reminder to live every moment, now. Backstreets builds on the breath we are taking. Bruce speaks about the souvenirs from previous band members / friends at his bedside in the middle of the song and with hand on heart swears he’s gonna keep them there. His voice fades as he steps away from the mic, repeating the mantra, only to step right back to it with an almighty howl. If the pose with his guitar raised at the start almost felt like a gimmick, the howl goes right through the bones. Bruce continues with party songs that have long been the core of his performances. There are no surprises really. He might be trying to exhaust us, I am tireless. I know I will regret the jumping in the morning, but I ignore the ache and commit – I want to live the promise, be lost in the moment, where music opens my pores, makes my blood rush. I am in the now! Bruce is clearly loving being out there. The twinkle in his eyes when he and Jake have one of the many moments together is a dead give-away. He seems to revel in Jake’s youth, and how Clarence is living on through him. In a show about mortality Jake – who has grown into them big boots with a pleasing confidence – acts as a death-defying presence. He is also a shoulder for Bruce to lean on a little as he stumbles back up the little steps after more lively songs. Suzie is not there tonight but the violin I have grown so accustomed to is aptly substituted by the horns and choir. A very slimmed down Steve feels a little more modest than in previous tours, but his connection with Bruce is loose and fun as ever. It is neat to see Steve directing the horns. And boy am I glad with the horns. Unlike the previous tour, Thunder Road is not the acoustic closer. Seven years ago we were still pulling out to win at the end, now the full-band song is back in the main set. There’s nothing like closing the song with the stunning harmonies of the horns. Whoohooooo give me more! The songs that follow are the usual core end-of-set songs. I am a little sad we don’t get more from Letter to You. That album holds out well for me at home; it deserves the spotlight and be the main body for the show. After all, we are picking up the conversation Bruce started with it. Maybe he thinks the record’s too personal a contemplation. If anything, that personal touch is what I miss a little in the show. When Bruce goes ‘small’ is when he draws me in. The vulnerability of the more introspective of songs is where my connection with him is strongest. Instead we are Ramrodding through the set. The inclusion of it shows that Bruce is starting to take risks again – the band has not rehearsed the song but Bruce clearly feels confident to play what the moment – the now – calls for. It is a much shorter version than previously though. No booties are shaken but it is raucous and uplifting. The end of the set aims to pull in the crowds one last time. For me there is plenty on Letter to You to create a similar atmosphere, and dare I say it: a firm personal favorite from Western Stars, Sleepy Joe’s Café would absolutely fit, especially since we have the horns! Still, all is made good with Bruce’s decision to leave us with a solo acoustic See you in my Dreams. Curt Ramm’s solo, so reminiscent of the Last Post gave me goosebumps. This ending brings us right back to where the story began at a few minutes before 8: a promise to not surrender, only now that promise is renewed with a vow to meet up again in dreams and even that moment where time will stop, too, for Bruce. But I’m not even contemplating that – I’ve got a European stretch coming up. Seven years ago the awareness of mortality was present in the shows but Bruce was still running from it; there is more acceptance of the inevitably of it now. And when we embrace it like that, means we can live without regret. I don’t regret spending half a month’s salary on a ticket, the rest of it on travel and accommodation. I needed to reconnect and the only way was through Bruce’s music and him singing it to me. Faith in the music and the magic in the night was restored in Hollywood. My love is not quite as ‘blind’ as before, but I am willing to swear blood brothers again. Connecting with Bruce in Hollywood was healing. I am glad I went. Bruce clearly has rediscovered his mojo! It is great to feel the energy. He’ ready for it. So am I. I’ll continue the road in April, from Barcelona onwards. Bring it on Bruce!
Despite the lack of regret, I still think Jon Landau is wrong: this concert was not worth $699 (will you stick to your money-back guarantee Jon?). Frankly, no artist is. It is obscene. Music is too important to turn it into a rich man’s game. The musical landscape has changed, we owe it to our children to reclaim it. I hope Bruce will have enough time left to readdress the balance and use his undeniable class and track record to recreate the landscape of opportunity for the younger generation of musicians and their fans.
Taken from: Two Muppets on Tour
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