Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Boss Reconnecting To Asbury

Bruce Springsteen
& The E Street Band

Monday, March 23, 2009

Convention Hall

Asbury Park,
New Jersey

Bruce Springsteen -- 3/23/09 Convention Hall, Asbury Park, New Jersey [copyright Michael Zorn]

Outlaw Pete
My Lucky Day
Out In The Street
Working On A Dream
Johnny 99
Good Eye
Radio Nowhere
Candy's Room
Because The Night
Mary's Place
The Wrestler
This Life
Long Walk Home
Surprise, Surprise
No Surrender
Hard Times Comes Again No More
Mustang Sally
Thunder Road
Born To Run
American Land
Seven Nights To Rock

Wow. This is cool. I've got to admit, I am a stranger to recent live Springsteen music. While I love Bruce more than any other music outside of the Grateful Dead family, concerts aren't something I pay for anymore and, until now, I haven't tracked down live Springsteen recordings. Unfortunately that means I've got nothing to compare this to... but that's not necessarily a bad thing as I don't really see the point in comparing. I see the point in judging something all on its very own compared only to itself (or the studio recordings the songs come from.) And what's here, the very first rehearsal show for Springsteen's upcoming Working On A Dream Tour, is something I'm sooooooo glad that I took the time to get my hands on.

As the first few songs played in my ears, I thought what a great birthday gift it might be this summer (hint, hint) to get a couple tickets, perhaps an early birthday gift for, oh, Springsteen in Dublin or Glasgow, maybe Roma or Torino? Way out of the question probably. Ahhh, but bein' more of a fan of Bruuuuuuuce [Hornsby] than Bruuuuuuuuuce [Springsteen], my lovely girlfriend probably ain't a-readin' this anyway. Oh well, still it doesn't
hurt none to drop a hint just in case, does it? I guess by summer, though, when my birthday is, a second America leg for late Summer or Fall will be announced, so I suppose an American show might suffice.

Anyway, even though the sound ain't so hot for the first few songs, it's still a GREAT feeling of being at the show on the Jersey Shore a couple nights ago. Mannn...... I'm simply in awe during my second listen right now. The first two new songs -- Outlaw Pete and My Lucky Day -- from the new album are just excellent played live. Hearing the classic Night -- from '75, I believe -- is nice but too much like the album. Yup, bein' a Deadhead, sometimes hearing certain songs played live just don't it for me when they're just a facsimile of the song on the album. It does, though, make a nice little sandwich between My Lucky Day and Out In The Street.

One thing I love here is they're having fun and the band sounds soooo good. The recording is kind of muddy and instrumentation isn't the clearest but overall it clears up during the fourth song and is a constant, relatively smooth sail to the end. Crowd noise isn't bad which really surprised me as I thought for an Audience sourced recording for a Springsteen concert it would be absolutely horrible.

The new songs really pop and with old gems and newer tunes (like from 01's The Rising and 07's Magic) sprinkled in, it makes for a great mix. A few nice surprises, too...

I Ain't Got No Home has almost never been played live. Bruce recorded this Woody Guthrie tune for the Folkways: A Vision Shared album and he's played it live, I think, only a handful of times, the last being over 15 years ago! Hell yeah, how cool is that?! Another bust out came later with Stephen Foster's Hard Times. It's funny....... ugh......... I really didn't want to get political here but Bruce is talkin' up the hard times for so many in America right now......... but......... uh......... what's your man doin' to fix it????!!!!??? Yeah, yeah, he is trying.... but not instilling a lot of confidence, eh? Bruce just couldn't bring himself to admit it. It's almost like he wanted to because it feels like he's sick and tired of those hard times for his fellow Americans. Can't blame the last guy anymore, though. (DAMN, I did not want to go there. Oh well. Maybe Better Days will be ahead. We've just got to hang in there.)

My mostest favoriteist song o' the night just might be Because The Night. Holy freakin' cow, what a bit of jam they get into! Such a peak they hit; it's so hot! Right after that came my only sad tune -- Mary's Place. This was written in the wake of 9/11 and it's on The Rising, an album I loved from first note to last and listened to two or three dozen times in the weeks following its release... but then I shelved it because it was too painful. I'm a New Yorker... sort of, I mean, I'm from the Jersey 'burbs of NYC... and almost growin' up in the shadow of the World Trade Center, 9/11 is incredibly personal to me. I just couldn't take listening to The Rising anymore and this show is the first time I've heard any song from that album. Mary's Place brought me to tears. What a sad yet hopeful song it is. So beautiful and fun, as well. Listening again now -- wow . . . it's hard. Bruce takes his time with crowd interaction here and has fun with it so that helps. On second thought, yeah, this is my favorite! Turn It Up!!!! Turn It Up!!! Turn It Up!!!!

The Wrestler and This Life really slow things down before Long Walk Home gathers some really nice steam. The weakest song of the night, methinks, follows -- Surprise, Surprise. It's just got so little substance to it. Man, that sucker can't hold a candle to Night. Eh, but to each his own. And then someone really really really jumps the gun on the transition into Badlands. Ouch! I guess that's why this is a rehearsal! No Surrender smokes to put a capper on things before the band would normally walk off stage before they return for their encores. Not tonight. They just stay and the encores commence in just a few minutes.

As old as Hard Times is (from like the late 1800's, I think) they give it a really nice modern arrangement. Fun dancin' is up next when Bruce takes a request for Mustang Sally. He brings his Jersey Shore friend John Eddie out to play and a fun is time is had by all. I do not dig the crowd singing along (often out of sync) to Thunder Road but still it's great to hear. Sho' is weird, though, to hear Bruce & The E Street Band go Irish on American Land. One must wonder if they're Riverdancing during this. Definitely way different but way fun! And one more tune I'd never heard closes it all out -- Seven Nights To Rock. I guess this is a cover tune and especially with solos and the crowd interaction, it's yet another fun one!

Basically this is a great first night in 2009! Okay, well, he did play the Super Bowl on Feb 1st but now it's time for some real shows again and this "rehearsal" session to kick things off -- not bad!

Bruce Springsteen & Steven Van Zandt of the E Street Band -- 3/23/09 Convention Hall, Asbury Park, New Jersey [copyright Michael Zorn]

from Backstreets:

"Tonight is the night you get to be the guinea pigs..." Bruce told the Convention Hall crowd, "the guinea pigs for the rest of the world!" This first rehearsal show for the Working on a Dream tour, and the first live airing of a decent portion of the new album, was a mixed bag -- and Springsteen seemed to know it going in. "I don't know if we got a show yet," he qualified at the outset, "but we'll do a bunch of songs and see how we do." You can't say he isn't self-aware: that's what we guinea pigs got, the Boss throwing stuff at the wall to see what sticks, and that was pretty much the point. It's not a show yet; it's on its way, and this is the way. Sure, we had full lighting and the semblance of a show, but tonight felt less like a dress rehearsal and more like just the next incremental step in the rehearsal process, a first stab at playing this new batch for faces looking back.

As Springsteen said later in the night, "These shows are really important to us. They allow us to get our wheels underneath us and touch base here at home... it does help us a lot. You can practice a lot in isolation... I tell myself everything sounds great! But when we come out and play [for you], we hear it through your ears, hear what works and what doesn't. So as we construct the show, it's very helpful to us."

So what worked? 12 players on stage, that worked. In addition to the full E Street Band (with Patti Scialfa present and accounted for, Soozie Tyrell and Charlie Giordano also returning), we've got two more faces up there. In between Garry Tallent (now positioned on Max's right -- shades of '88!) and Charlie are two backup singers, "the fabulous Curtis King and Cindy Mizelle from the Sessions Band." And if you thought the E Street Band had a full sound before, wait til you hear this. It's an expansion of their sonic palette on the level of Soozie's addition to the band on the Rising tour. Any question of how the pop sound of Working on a Dream might translate to the stage is answered by the presence of Curtis and Cindy. (Makes me wish they'd been there for "Girls in Their Summer Clothes" last time around.) They're still learning the E Street ropes, but especially with a full Springsteen tour under their belts already, look for them to make this tour shine in short order.

The message worked. The most clearly thematic song choices made for the most compelling performances of the night. And it wouldn't take a genius to guess what might be on Bruce's mind this time around. "A lot of folks struggling out there, a lot of hard times," he said, introducing a muscular, guitar-heavy "Johnny 99" with the Big Man on baritone sax, melding the late-'03 and Sessions Band arrangements. Another inspired song choice was "I Ain't Got No Home," originally released on Folkways: A Vision Shared. In this live version, the vocalists came down front for an a cappella intro, simply massive harmonies that recurred on the chorus throughout. (And a nice twist of the lyric at the end: "The banking man is rich, and the working man is poor.") Kicking off the encore was a reinvention of Stephen Foster's "Hard Times Come Again No More," akin to what he and the Sessions Band did with "How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live?"

The pacing worked, in a sense. Not that Bruce has yet figured out the structure or the flow; clearly that's still to come. But the relentless drive of the Magic tour is gone, and right now that feels like a good thing, letting these songs breathe a bit.

Jay Weinberg worked -- and worked hard. In the middle of the set, Bruce brought him out for a five-song stretch: "Just a little magic -- I can actually make Max 40 years younger!" Jay's big beat powered "Good Eye" first, Bruce with the bullet mic, of course, and the backup vox getting wild, callling out "Ride that train!" This was cooool. From there into "Radio Nowhere" they really put Jay through his paces, with the huge drum breakdown at the end of that song leading right into the stamina-fest of "Candy's Room." His hair flying, even breaking a freakin' drumstick, Jay came through the gauntlet with a big grin, Bruce going back for a high five. "Jay is 18!" Bruce laughed, and the implication was clear -- he's that good already?

Nils' new hips -- they worked! "Because the Night," with Jay still behind the kit, featured Lofgren's signature solo, complete with lunges and spins. Looks like the PT paid off.

Working on a Dream songs are getting up on their feet pretty nicely, though there weren't as many in the set as we might have expected. ("Kingdom of Days," for one, was on the setlist but not played.) "My Lucky Day" in particular had a good, classic E Street feel; stripped of some of the busy-ness of the album version, it was a straightahead, high-energy rocker that brought Bruce and Steve face to face at the mic and really got things going. After Charlie's swirling keyboard intro, a beautiful airing of "The Wrestler" was driven largely by Bruce and his acoustic, but it gradually built with subtle accompaniment from Charlie and Roy, Soozie's fiddle, and finally Max coming in to give it a climactic beat. "This Life" was a complexly arranged vocal showcase, with majestic, sunny harmonies -- unabashed pop, and while some hearts of stone may not dig it, it was glorious to these ears.

What didn't work? Well, teaching some of those "This Life" parts to the crowd was awkward. This half do this... now this half do that. ("Two-sevenths, five-sevenths," Steve Martin would add.) The transition from "Surprise, Surprise" into "Badlands." Structure? What structure? "Mustang Sally," played by request with guest John Eddie, was a bit of a mess, though Bruce and the band held it together, and getting a classic cover in the encore is always a good direction.

But the real issue was the retread factor. The Magic tour may have ended not very long ago at all, but the feeling among fans seems to be that we're ready and hoping for something new, not simply picking up where we left off. Maybe Bruce felt he and the band needed a few safe places to land, but while the night was surprisingly light on Magic material, too many moments felt like holdovers. A lengthy "Mary's Place," complete with "Are you ready?" intro and mid-song rap, feels more tired than ever. At this point the song feels like an AC/DC stage prop: built for touring, why leave it in storage when you can keep taking it on the road? And shouldn't that house down by the river be built by now? We can only hope Springsteen finds a new centerpiece for the show, and soon. Compulsory takes of songs like "Badlands" and "No Surrender" as the night wore on, and "American Land" at the end, just served as a reminder of the vast swaths of Springsteen's songbook he has visited all too rarely -- or in the case of Devils & Dust and a good deal of his '90s material, not at all with the E Street Band.

But all things in good time. Here in the preparation phase, getting to watch Springsteen develop a show is compelling in and of itself -- as long as you're not looking for one fully grown at birth. And with surprisingly few miscues tonight, even the goofs were fun. Like when Bruce stopped "Johnny 99" dead for a moment: "Waitaminute! We almost... We almost had it! A one-two-three!..."

"This is a run-through," he reminded us at the encore break. "We'll see what flies. Next time you see us we'll be a well-oiled machine. We're sort of a well-oiled machine tonight." At that, Steve shook his head. But "sort of well-oiled" feels about right for night one.

report by Chris Phillips; photographs by Michael Zorn

Download The Show Here

(320 kbps)

Part 1 ♦ ▬ ♦ Part 2 ♦ ▬ ♦ Part 3

Schoeps MK41's> Nbox> Edirol R-09HR (@24/48)>
Soundforge 9 ( fades,Bit Rate/Sample Rate Conversion)> CDWAV> FLAC

Recorded By FG & Daughter

Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band -- 3/23/09 Convention Hall, Asbury Park, New Jersey [copyright Michael Zorn]
mp3 (not flac lossless) download 3-23-09 aka 03-23-09 aka 3/23/09 aka 03/23/09 aka 09-03-23


Paticus said...

Nice find ! my older brother was at this show( i have not heard his reactions yet)and it actually was his birthday! How about that! Thanks for sharing this.

Zoooma!! said...

Wow, Paticus, while we're schlubs with a Jersey connection who aren't in Jersey to be able to enjoy that show, your bruddah's a lucky guy! Very cool.

Then again, I bet that show was Sold Out in about 1.7 seconds so tickets woulda been nearly impossible to get.

I would've definitely paid a hundred bucks considering all the great charities that benefited. Bruce, at one point, spent time to name them all. So it wasn't just an expensive night of great music, twas a night to help by seeing great music.

Anyway, if your brother wants the mp3's, you know where to send him! Happy to spread it around!

Ben said...

Wow! Amazing share - and so soon after the event too!
Seems mad that we in the UK can hear this stuff only 48 hrs after it happened Stateside.
Thanks a whole lot - you just made some Boss-heads VERY happy!
All best

sean said...

Ben, I know what you are saying about how crazy it is to hear this so soon. I am old enough to remember when bootlegs were records with plain white sleeves, that you could only find in the last bin of the last row or the last record store in town, and they always sounded lie they were recorded underwater. Now, it would be almost disappointing if we did not hear this within a day or two.

Zoooma!! said...

Yeah, I got this the morning after the show. I wasn't desperately wanting it but I'm glad I got it. Then I desperately wanted Night 2. And Night 2 hasn't made an appearance on the public scene yet. UGH!! For about a day I was checking like every 30 minutes for it. Nothing. Crap.

Such a high expectation we (can) have now-a-days.

one says one number and the other another
but they were set at the same time. Hmmm...

Calvin and Hobbes in the snow -- animated