Monday, April 14, 2008

Sharing a cell with Bruce

Perhaps it's my advancing age. Perhaps it's Bruce's. Perhaps it was the fact that this was the first Bruce Springsteen concert I ever attended in which I went by myself and thus did not get to share the experience.

But, in the end, I'm going to blame the fact that it took longer than usual for Bruce to engage me Sunday night in his concert at American Airlines Center on my iPod.

Rock artists usually always go on tour to promote their most recently released CD and Bruce is no exception. So it should not come as a surprise that 8 of his 19 songs in his pre-encore set came from his latest, "Magic." This is the first Bruce release I did not purchase as an object to hold in my hand, something to play on my home or auto stereo system. "Magic" came out immediately after I had joined the iPod generation and, thus, I simply downloaded the entire album into my slim black box, where the songs became part of the 6,260 other tunes programmed to play randomly. As a result, the songs on "Magic" are not as familiar to me as those on CDS or on vinyl that I played repeatedly upon their release. (At the risk of sounding like a heretic, I am also going to suggest that perhaps "Magic" may be overrated. It's a pleasant enough pop album, but I want rock from Bruce.)

Of Springsteen's first five songs, three were from "Magic." So it wasn't until Springsteen tore into the sixth number on his set list, a rendition of Jimmy Cliff's "Trapped," that the music began to envelop me the way his concerts normally do from the very beginning. (I still remember the first time I saw Bruce and the E-Street Band live at the old Texas Electric Ballroom on Industrial Boulevard: Five seconds into the show I knew I was about to experience one of the most memorable and rewarding nights of my rock 'n' roll life.) Then, after "Trapped," Springsteen played even more familiar material -- "Reason to Believe," "Prove It All Night," "Because the Night" and a song I have loved to hear live since I first saw him perform it at the Dallas Convention Theater, "She's the One."

What came after that, however, were three "Magic" tunes in a row before he announced he was performing a song for the first time in this tour, the wonderful "Independence Day," a rendition that I must admit made my eyes water.

The 40-minute encore was pure Springsteen however, as he used "Meeting Across the River" as a prelude to "Jungleland" just as he does on the "Born to Run" album (although the Dallas audience didn't seem as enthused by Clarence Clemmons' sax solo as audiences usually are.) Following "Born to Run" (which made me wonder whether Bruce and the E-Street Band have ever appeared on a full concert without performing that song), he brought out Jon Bon Jovi to join him in "Glory Days." Bon Jovi's appearance was not a surprise. He and his band are performing at the arena tonight, Sunday was an off-day for him and he has always recognized Bruce as his hero. I have never been much of a Bon Jovi fan, but their duet was the rock highlight of the evening. I only wish it had segued into "Ramrod" or "Cadillac Ranch" instead of "Dancing in the Dark," but you can't have anything. He ended, of course, with "American Land" (I say "of course" because that has been the last song on every stop of the 2007-2008 "Magic" tour, except for a couple of European stops at the end of last year when he ended with "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town").

Of all the Springsteen concerts I have seen, this one ranks at or near the bottom of the list, which still places it ahead of just about every other rock concert I have seen. I tried unsuccessfully to convince a dear friend to accompany me to the show (as well the much superior one during "The Rising Tour"), but she declined. I really wanted her to experience the joyous exhilaration of a Springsteen concert. But it was somewhere during the middle of the show that I was glad she turned me down. Back in the mid-1970s, Bruce used to end his concerts with the cry "I'm just a prisoner of rock 'n' roll." The first time I heard him say it, I knew exactly how he felt. I grew up with rock and roll, was fortunate enough to be a teenager when Elvis Presley recorded "Heartbreak Hotel" and completely reshaped modern American music, an experience that Bruce and I discussed often in the late 1970s and early 1980s. But I realized that you have to share the prison cell with Bruce -- or at least make regular visits to the inmates -- to really appreciate the context of Springsteen live. And that's not the type of person this friend is. So I also thought during the show that I was glad she didn't come, because not having someone appreciate and enjoy the experience as much as I, even this slightly-below-average experience, would have been crushing.

I also realized that I was being somewhat selfish, trying to project my passions of Springsteen live on her. It was during one particular Nils Lofgren guitar solo that I realized that this friend is not a prisoner of rock 'n' roll, nor is she a prisoner of anything, to be honest, and that I needed to respect that. A Bruce Springsteen concert, even one that wasn't up to my admittedly incredibly high standards, has that kind of effect.

I am, however, keeping the iPod.

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