Friday, April 22, 2005

Bruce Springsteen - Solo In Asbury Park

Last night I saw the first of two rehearsal shows that Bruce Springsteen is performing at Convention Hall in aspire Park. My sister Luann scored these tickets on-line after being shut out of the tour's closest stop in New Jersey at the Meadowlands Theater. She is going to see him in Virginia being the non-stop mega-fan that she is.

I had my concerns about seeing Bruce solo. I have seen him perform hundreds of times over the past few decades and every show has been a memorable experience with two exceptions - his stop at the Nassau Coliseum with the "traitor" band during the E-Streeter's hiatus and the solo set at the Beacon during the "Ghost of Tom Joad" tour.

For that solo tour, there seemed to be this self-imposed seriousness throughout the entire evening. Bruce was heavy into that open-tuning twelve-string sound and stuck to guitar all night. He also seemed to be put off by the idiots in the crowd that evening who insisted on clapping along and shouting out songs during the performances, despite repeated requests by Springsteen to give it a rest. He also stuck to guitar that evening even though his solo piano performances had been highlights at E-Street shows throughout the years. He featured the Joad album but even the other material he played was re-arranged to match the somber mood of that record, making some of his darker songs down right depressing.

Last night was a whole different affair.

First of all, Bruce has come a long way as an acoustic player. He played the twelve-string on a few songs last night, but there wasn't a slide in sight. His finger picking is great and his sense of dynamics - always a strong point - was used to great success. He also played piano on a number of tunes, bringing in a different dynamic to break up the night.

The new songs also show growth - from an already excellent songwriter. Like Dylan, his ultra-wordy lyric days may be behind him, but there is a new strength in his simplicity that instantly takes hold of the listener and strokes gives you a true sense of place and character. He took the time to discuss most of the new songs, which was a great insight into the lyrics. A lot of the songs on the "Devils and Dust" album are based around the relationship between mother and son, including "Jesus Was An Only Son" and "Black Cowboys." There was a very moving tune called "Matamoras Banks" which details the story of a border crossing gone bad. The song actually unfolds backwards with the first verse finding the singer drowned at the bottom of a river he attempted to cross, the second verse making the decision to jump in and the first detailing the trek across the desert towards a hopefully better life.

He played plenty of songs from throughout his career. A couple of tunes from "The Rising" where given slightly different arrangements for the solo performance - the title track and "Lonesome Day." While it was good to hear them, I missed the emotional impact of the full band versions mostly on these two songs. However, an energetic version of "Further On Down The Road" rocked as hard as the full band's recording. Solo versions of "For You," "Highway Patrolman," and "My Home Town" were spot on. The highlights for me were a totally reworked version of "The Promised Land" on which he played flamenco-style percussion on his trademark black Takamine and a straight ahead "Lost In The Flood" on the piano. "This Hard Land" and a great version of "Tougher Than The Rest" also stood out.

The crowd was great. I don't know if it had to do with the nature of tickets - you were only able to purchase a pair for each show - but they were respectful all night long. Maybe it had to do with Bruce's introduction where he emphatically stated "Turn your cell phones off" and told audience members to "feel free and beat the crap out of anyone making too much noise." Fortunately for all involved, I don't believe that anyone in the audience came to blows.

All in all a great night. Next week - the man himself, Bob Dylan.

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