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Springsteen Gallops Home, Pauses
Now that he's conquered Europe, does anybody remember that whole Ticketmaster mess? When does Landau hold that presser?
Last week the Springsteen tour went on pause because of his peptic ulcer, next week he celebrates his 74th birthday (September 23). This made me notice how far the Ticketmaster fracas has receded. Back in March, I spoke with Joyce Millman, one of the bylines I followed before joining the Boston Phoenix back in 1989. I asked her about the Seattle show she eight months back, what her ticket experience was like, why she’ll pay for Bruce and Costello but not the Who or the Stones, and why the Born to Run memoir and Broadway stint don’t carry the same frisson as some of these shows.
Tim Riley talks with Joyce Millman about the 2023 Springsteen tour:
Then I dug up the reunion tour piece I wrote for Public Arts syndication back in 2001 for a reminder of what that earlier comeback felt like…
Live In New York City, Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band (HBO, 2001)
BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN'S PERSONA has skidded around for the past ten years as he adjusted to a second marriage, fatherhood, producer-hood, and Oscar respectability. These have been his major themes since 1988's Tunnel of Love, arguably his best work. After the Tunnel tour, and his stint with Amnesty International, Springsteen retired his E Street Band and hired a relatively heartless troupe of L.A. stud-muffins to support Human Touch and Lucky Town in 1992, and a weirdly out-of-sync MTV Plugged session. Then in 1995, he reunited the E Streeters for new songs on his Greatest Hits disc, and they performed together at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame gala. Later that year, he launched an acoustic jaunt behind The Ghost of Tom Joad, a well-meaning but soft-core social studies effort which begged comparison to 1982's Nebraska, and didn't hold up nearly as well. Finally, he put his E Streeters back on the road and embarked on dates throughout Europe and America in 1999–2000, the closing nights of which comprise this film.
The band's sound has broadened and the arrangements are spry, but it's the emotional richness and broad humor that will win over holdouts. With Springsteen's bottomless chest of material, and an ensemble that improves each time they play together, this summer's DVD edition will be an instant keeper. But perhaps more impressively, Springsteen has steered his persona toward a safe landing. At age 50 when these shows were filmed, his stamina still wows, his spirit soars. The opening trio of songs ("My Love Will Not Let You Down," "Prove It All Night," and "Two Hearts," with guitarist Little Steven) were volcanic rock fanfares that lived up to their grandiosity. "Love" set the film's overarching metaphors in motion: faith in rock'n'roll can be its own reward.
He’s back in the studio fueled by E Street’s concert smarts, and you’d have to be an idiot to prefer the Rolling Stones or Bob Dylan as rock’s elder statesmen.
Then came several completely retooled numbers: Nebraska's "Atlantic City," a band staple since 1984, stripped casino grandeur down to one gambler's curse; "Mansion On the Hill" became a stately country duet with wife Patti Scialfa and Nils Lofgren on sublime lap steel; and "The River" has grown so fraught it sounded like the shotgun marriage from the 1980 album had suffered another twenty years of misgivings ("Now I just act like I don't remember/Mary acts like she don't care..."). The CD companion to this show includes a brutal acoustic "Born in the USA," an ironic boast that only gets scarier with time.
This new Springsteen—bemused by his own self-confidence, the crowd's ardor, and the telling glances between band members—is the man who recorded "Glory Days" almost twenty years ago. He still kicks out any hint of nostalgia with hard-earned good humor; in the middle of "Out In the Street" he kissed a fan as if he were kissing the whole world. As much as this footage makes you wish for a big-screen concert film from 1978, or 1980, or at least 1984, Springsteen's reluctance may have been a good thing: it only strengthened his bond with his concert audience. Is there another major rock star, or any star at all, who commands the world's attention with such a Spartan stage set?
from the Public Arts Find Grind column, April 2001
Joyce Millman on last February’s Seattle show (“In 1978, ‘Backstreets’ was about melodrama and self-centeredness; in 2023, it’s about making peace with ourselves and our ghosts. That’s what it means to grow up.”)
Stephen Hyden on the conversion experience in Uproxx (“Springsteen still sings ‘Backstreets’ with heartfelt conviction, but prefacing it with ‘Last Man Standing’ irrevocably changes with it means. In the current set, it ceases to be a coming-of-age anthem; it is now a prequel story about a man whose age has come and gone. It is a period at the end of a sentence that was first written 48 years ago.”)
Riley on Bob Dylan’s Chronicles Vol. I, World Literature Today
More Springsteen stuff
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