May 4, 2009

Lost in the flood.

Something surprising happened last week – I reached my Bruce Springsteen saturation point.

Attending four of his concerts in eight days probably didn’t help, but at the time I bought the tickets, I didn’t expect it to hurt, either. I’m still not sure how I feel about it, and I’m kind of hoping that writing this will let me get down to the heart of the matter.

Each show offered its own experience, although as you’ll read, not distinct enough to make it as worthwhile as I’d hoped. Boston 1 was affected by a post-Marathon Monday malaise, and it probably showed in my level of rocking. The band’s impromptu cover of ZZ Top’s “I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide” was tremendous, but for the most part, it was a little Springsteen 101. Old standbys like “Rosalita” and “Growin’ Up” are always fun to hear, but not necessarily memorable in their own right. It was great, though, to see my friend Katie rocking out at her first ever Bruce show. She loved it to death, which probably was my first sign that I was approaching dangerously high levels of Bruce.

Boston 2, however, dispelled those early fears by being a masterpiece. Simply put, a show like that is the reason you go to Springsteen concerts. "Candy's Room". "For You". "Jungleland". And the cherry on top was a surprise “So Young and In Love” during the encore that got me screaming and sobbing at the same time. It’s one of my top five Bruce songs, a rarity off of his Tracks outtakes album that is certainly not on his usual setlists. But he opened the second show in Hartford with it on the Magic tour, and it’s one I’ve longed to see for as long as I’ve known it. I doubt it’s a universally shared opinion, but to me a moment like that justifies every cent of Bruce’s exorbitant ticket prices.

The final two shows took place at the soon-to-be-exploded Spectrum in Philadelphia. Philly 1 offered the opportunity to be in the pit, meaning three feet from Bruce Springsteen for the duration of the show. It sounds great in theory, and it IS great in execution. The process by which you get into the pit, though, was the concert equivalent of childbirth. It’s a slow, arduous, excruciating process that is redeemed only by the human capacity to forget the almost mind-altering pain we just endured. I’m not sure how they can make it any better – I just know that I hate it, and now that I’ve gotten in once, I’ll never try it again.

That show, while a near-mirror image of Boston 1, was lifted up a bit by “Fire” and “The Fever” in the sign portion of the show, along with a great cover of the Dovells' “You Can’t Sit Down” in the encore. Oh yeah, and by being THREE FEET FROM BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN. If luck had shined on us a bit more, we could have been as close as zero feet away, but either way, its five days later and my ears are still ringing and my voice is still hoarse.

Philly 2, though, was the letdown show. On the radio afterwards, DJs on Philly rock stations 93.3 and 102.9 were both calling it one of the best shows they’d ever seen, from any group, ever, and I understand where they were coming from. But it was still a letdown, and I think I feel that way for numerous reasons.

Reason number one was that it was the last show he’ll ever play at the Spectrum (as of right now, anyway), and I expected something special. Sure, he acknowledged that fact a few times, and he played the brief “Springsteen grand slam” bit that Harry Kalas recorded for the Boss, and songs like “Kitty’s Back” and “Thundercrack” harkened back to the old days when Bruce made his reputation with jazzier shows in the Greater Philadelphia area. But there were still the Rising songs that even casual fans must be getting tired of, the crowd-killer “Kingdom of Days” and the general jumbled pacing that has defined his setlists thus far on this tour.

Bruce has a message to get across on this tour – if you don’t notice that after the three-song Recession Package of “Seeds”, “Johnny 99” and “The Ghost of Tom Joad”/“Youngstown”, you haven’t been paying attention. It’s a build-you-down-bring-you-up type of situation, where he both laments the downtrodden and then offers an olive branch of hope and love. But the big problem is that his fans are ready to rock, and Bruce is seemingly ready to oblige. When he pops out with “Hungry Heart” or “Spirit in the Night”, the crowd gets on their feet, but he puts them down again soon after with a subpar Rising tune or “Working on a Dream”. It’s a painfully similar setlist every night, and after four shows, I think it’s fair to say that it doesn’t always work. I think it’s also fair to say that I’m surprised he’s keeping it idle for so long, and that back-to-back Bruce shows in the same city can be so alike.

The man is a master musician who’s been working crowds for 40 years, and I’m just some 23-year-old kid with a surprising amount of disposable income and a borderline-obsessive interest in his music. But I’ve operated under the ideal that no two Bruce shows are the same for as long as I’ve listened to Springsteen, and that’s because no two I’ve been to or heard about ever really seemed to be. I caught four shows on the Magic tour, and each was different enough to leave me wanting more. Right now, though, I don’t think I could do another show for a long time.

Did I bring this saturation, this feeling of overkill on myself? Certainly. But when I heard about these four accessible shows, with two of them closing down a legendary arena, there was no way I’d miss any of them. So I took the chance that they’d all be worth my money, and while they partly were, they partly weren’t. I know for a fact that Bruce Springsteen has still got it, but at this point, I wonder if what he’s offering is what I want.

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