Article 2008-07-28 East Rutherford, NJ

These Two Lanes Will Take Us Anywhere

East Rutherford

FIFTY THOUSAND guests were gathered at a twilight party in this straitened, immobile summer, and the host knew just what was on their minds.

Bruce Springsteen had collected from the front rows in Giants Stadium the signs that fans have been bringing to concerts lately, scrawled with the names of the songs they hoped to hear. He chose from among them one that, he said, he had performed live only twice before, “Held Up Without a Gun.”

“I’m going to dedicate this to what it cost you guys to drive here,” he said, and then ripped so fast through the song — the shortest of the night — that it was over almost as soon as it started, much like the summer journeys of many in the crowd.

Gas at $4 a gallon. Mortgages past due. Canceled flights and airport chaos. Looming layoffs and truncated vacations. Where do you go and what do you do when everything seems to be keeping you in one place, with a lock on your wallet?

One lesson of this grounded summer is that if you can’t get away from home, at least you might take a new look at it. Another — for those who may not have lived here long enough to learn it already — is that New Jersey is a much bigger place than it seems: You don’t have to go far to get someplace new, which happens to be the lesson at the heart of Mr. Springsteen’s work, too.

When the great French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson was shooting images for a photo essay of the United States, he spent much of his time here. “New Jersey is America,” he said by way of explanation. Our state sits at the center of the Northeast Corridor like a natural history exhibit, a compendium of dioramas from other states, conveniently arranged at short distances from each other.

You can see Vermont in the green and rounded hills of Morris County, New Hampshire in the craggier reaches of Passaic County, the Finger Lakes of upstate New York in Sussex County. You can see Cleveland and Pittsburgh in Trenton and Newark, Niagara Falls in Paterson. Martha’s Vineyard is in Ocean Grove, Nantucket in Cape May. Las Vegas is in Atlantic City, Churchill Downs in Monmouth Park. The San Joaquin Valley is in the vegetable farms around Vineland and Bridgeton. Island Beach State Park is Cape Cod, without the houses.

Drive through the drowsy, shady small towns that hug the banks of the Delaware River and you might be tracing the upper reaches of the Mississippi. Warren County noses so far toward Pennsylvania that it is almost indistinguishable from it. The Palisades echo the Oregon coast, the salt marshes of Cumberland and Salem counties the coastal lowlands of the Carolinas. The piney, sandy expanse of Fort Dix might easily be in Georgia.

Even here in the Meadowlands, if you had detoured on the way to the concert, you could drive down an unmarked road into the marshes, stand amid the tall swaying grasses under a huge, unbroken sky, and imagine for a moment you were in Nebraska.

And what is the Shore — the part of New Jersey that Mr. Springsteen evokes more sweetly than any other — but Southern California, with a Labor Day expiration date?

“So how has your summer been going?” Mr. Springsteen asked the audience, and the answer they roared back seemed to say that things hadn’t been too bad after all, no matter how many places they hadn’t been.

Staying in one place can show you some other things, too, beyond these scenic postcards. You get to see how things turn out. New Jersey gave Mr. Springsteen — whose roots in the state predate the Revolution, and who has raised his family here — a rich store of raw material, of characters and stories and wisdom, from which to build the songs that 50,000 people knew the words to when he turned the microphone to them.

“I’ve always found it deeply resonant holding the hands of my kids on the same streets where my mom held my hand, swimming in the same ocean and taking them to visit the same beaches I did as a child,” he said in May, when he was inducted as an inaugural member of the New Jersey Hall of Fame. “That’s what New Jersey is for me. It’s a repository of my time on earth. My memory, the music I’ve made, my friendships, my life. …”

You don’t have to go far to get someplace new — over and over again, he pounded out the same message with his band. I was in the upper tier, and all through the evening, I could glance up and see the lights of the planes heading in and out of Newark. They were going somewhere else, but so was I.

By Kevin Coyne via The New York Times.

Springsteen Takes Requests, Shows How “Magic” Tour Has Evolved at Jersey Stand

Midway through last night’s Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band concert at Giants Stadium, Bruce held up a sign from an audience member that read “Play ‘Incident on 57th Street’ for your old, bald fans.” He was seconds away from complying when another sign caught his eye. “Ooh, that’s a good one — let’s do that instead,” he said, before blasting into “Blinded by the Light.” Such last-second decisions were the norm during Springsteen’s three-night stand at the venue, where he played to sold-out crowds of 55,000 fans a night — many holding up gigantic homemade signs like they were at Wrestlemania. The overall effect made night felt like a gigantic Jersey house party.

When Magic tour began last September each night was a carefully planned out, two-hour show with little room for surprises. As it winds down nearly a year later, much has changed. Many of the Magic songs have been dropped, and the show regularly stretches well past the three-hour mark. Bruce’s knee slides, preacher rants and even the occasional goofy dance with guitarist Steve Van Zandt have returned. Although the pacing occasionally felt a tad bit off compared to last fall (did “Mary’s Place” really have to be 15 minutes every night?), the thrill of never knowing what may come next more than made up for it. In total, a whopping 55 different songs were played during the three shows.

The highlights are nearly too many to list. Night one of the Jersey stand began with a bang when Springsteen and company took the stage to 1975’s “Tenth venue Freezeout,” which had the entire stadium jumping up and down like it was a Robbie Williams concert in Barcelona. The nightly cover of Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues” featured great vocal interplay between Bruce and Clarence Clemons was always a blast, while Nils Lofgren astounded everyone (including Bruce) with a mid-guitar solo somersault during “Because the Night” on night two. Quiet, long rarities like “Drive All Night” and “Incident on 57th Street” were played to perfection — but they seemed lost on the gigantic crowd who used them for mass bathroom breaks and loud conversations.

Problems like that proved that it’s very hard to play a stadium. The few acts that can fill them (Pink Floyd, U2) prepare carefully rehearsed, hit-packed visual extravaganzas that don’t vary at all from night to night. Springsteen took a complete opposite approach with a bare-bones stage and a willingness to play anything he felt like at the moment. On the second night — after seeing a sign for 1973’s “It’s Hard to Be a Saint in the City” — Sprinsteen had to repeatedly tell the band he wanted to play it in C, much to the confusion of his band who could be heard yelling something close like, “Don’t you mean A?” Such a scene sounds like something you’d see at the Stony Pony, not a filled-to-the-rafters football stadium.

Word on the street is that six nights at Giants Stadium were originally planned, but when sales were initially soft (they all eventually sold out) they scaled back to three. It sure felt like they could have done at least one more, with scores of fans desperate for tickets outside last night and not a scalper to be seen. The tour goes on for eight more shows before wrapping up August 30th at the Harley 105th anniversary concert in Milwaukee. It’s a very odd way to end an epic tour. Hey Jon Landau, how about one more Giants Stadium show in September?

By Andy Greene via Rolling Stone.
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