There are no more piano dancing or knee slides, but even at 66, the Boss rocked Hartford, CT, for more than three hours last night, even crowdsurfing across the entire pit as part of the E Street Band’s “The River Tour.”
While I will never get tired of screaming along to “Born to Run,” “Thunder Road,” and “Dancing in the Dark” during the encore with the house lights up, the highlight of my fourth Springsteen concert in ten years was Nils’ extended guitar solo on “Because the Night.” It was the greatest guitar playing I have ever seen live, bar none, HOLY WOW. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing/seeing!!! I’ll remember that one forever.
As I noted, this was part of The River Tour, which means that every night, the band plays the 1980 album “The River” in its entirety. That made the concert a bit different than most E Street Band shows, with a lot of deep cuts showcasing the Boss’s excellent songwriting and the coherence of an emotional album (Drive All Night? Independence Day? The River itself?) to really create an intimate feel. It also meant less room for crowd favorites. There was no Born in the USA, no Glory Days, and nothing post-Rising. The band intros were also less theatrical than usual, and Patti Scialfa took the night off.
But there were plenty of other highlights to make for a great night:
Bruce’s emotional introductions to songs from the River
The inclusion of a “Shout” cover and “Cover Me” on the setlist
Amazing performances of Rosalita, Two Hearts, Hungry Heart, Ramrod, and more
As always, pulling up several women from the crowd for Dancing in the Dark (including a dance partner for keyboardist Roy Bittan – her sign said she wanted to dance with “Lil’ Boy Roy” on her birthday!)
Featured sax player Jake Clemons, four years in as a featured player, does his late uncle Clarence proud, but Clarence is definitely missed
And whenever Bruce, Nils, Stevie, Jake, and Suzie jam or sing around a single mic, they really seem like family. It’s such a close and fun feel. All the feels, in fact.
I think Springsteen will keep playing for another 20 years, but we’ll likely see more and more of his acoustic and folk-rock sides. As its members age – may Clarence and Danny rest in peace, we miss y’all – the E Street Band is probably nearing the end of its raucous run. I’m thrilled I’ve gotten to see them three times in the last ten years (in addition to non-E Street Springsteen shows); I hope this wasn’t my final one. Thank you for a great night as always!
If you haven’t seen it before, watch this VH1 documentary about Warren Zevon’s final year when he lived with terminal cancer while recording a final album, awaited the arrival of his twin grandchildren, turned in a great final appearance on Letterman (the whole hour), and felt deep sorrow and deeper love.
It doesn’t make for easy watching. I played it in the background at work earlier this week, and that may have been a mistake. His reaction to learning that his grandchild would have the middle name “Warren” is priceless, really something special. Reading his diary entries can be particularly heart-wrenching.
I hadn’t realized “Keep Me in Your Heart for a While” was his final song. That’s just… wow. Wow.
Enjoy every sandwich, friends. Enjoy every sandwich.
I wouldn’t call myself an Eric Church fan. I don’t change the station when his music comes on. Most of his stuff is middling, but every now and then he does a great song. It’s more rock than country, but at least it’s closer to rock than it is pop or rap, unlike most of of today’s radio. And since Church only puts an album out every three years and wrote 120+ songs for the new one, I do believe he’s in it for the music. Best yet, in the cover article for this week’s country issue of Rolling Stone, he praises Kacey Musgraves, rightly says “Brandy Clark should be the face of the genre,” and criticizes laundry-list bro-country as “shallow”. Bravo!
But on the giant other hand, Church is an arrogant jerk who glorifies and encourages violence, hypocritically performs with and thus enables some of the very acts he calls “shallow,” and insists he’s an “outsider” despite his industry awards, giant label, and huge sales. That’s either the biggest case of self-delusion the world has seen since Harold Camping, or just pure marketing crapola.
But my real issue is that Eric Church doesn’t respect country music or even understand what real country music is – to the point that he says that, like Santa or the Tooth Fairy, it doesn’t exist. From the RS story:
You can’t really put Bruce [Springsteen] in a box – what kind of music does Bruce do?” says Church. “It could be country. If he came out right now? No doubt, that’s where he’d live.”
Church’s music, on the other hand, could easily have been considered rock in the Eighties and Nineties… “True red-white-blue American rock & roll fans have gone more toward country. Hip-hop has gone down. Rocks’ down. People are kidding themselves if they think there’s a bigger format than country.”
“What kind of music does Springsteen do”? What a stupid question! ROCK! The answer is ROCK! Right in the middle of his own show, he’ll proclaim the concert “a rock and roll exorcism!”
Then Church says that “country” is now the biggest genre. Well, yeah, and if you want to change Alaska’s name to “Alabama,” then we could call Alabama the biggest state in the country. Which is exactly what Church is doing when he says “Born to Run” is rock if it’s the ’80s but country if its the 2010s. NO! It’s the same recording in any time, so it’s the same genre in any time! Nor is the country audience truly growing – the labels and radio conglomerates are just appealing to various portions of the pop, rock, rap, and country lite crowds all at once. It’s a bigger audience than country has, sure – the same way New York has a bigger population than Chicago. Moving from one to the other didn’t mean the city grew; you changed cities!
This “country” format Church says is so big is NOT country. It’s rap, pop, and rock thrown into a blender with a dash of banjo to mask the lack of twang and story. Simply calling it “country” is not enough to make it country.
But Church disagrees – he seems pretty adamant that rock and country are now the same thing. Last year, he told ABC, “Genres are dead. There’s good music. There’s bad music. And I think the cool thing about Nashville is it is at the epicenter of that kind of thinking.” An odd quote for a guy who says Brandy Clark should be the face of the “genre” – and complete horse hockey. To say there’s nothing more to it than bad vs. good music is to demand that we all have the same taste, to declare that if you like country then you’d damn well better like pop and rap, too, because you’re not allowed to have one without the other anymore.
This homogenization is a terrible thing. It is the true straitjacket on country innovation, and it is an attack on the diversity of fans’ tastes.
I know that a lot of people hate “labels.” They feel like you’re putting them in a box and taking away their individuality, especially in music – plenty of artists claim their music transcends genres and labels.
I understand and respect genre hopping. I do. But I also think labels can be a good thing. If I ask for chicken for dinner, don’t tell me, “There’s good food and there’s bad food, pull something out of the good bad!” No, dammit, this bag is labeled “Cheetos” and that bag “chicken” for a reason. Neither iTunes nor the last few record stores actually remaining are going to merge everything into two sections called “Good Music” and “Bad Music,” and it would be too overwhelming to have just one section alphabetizing EVERYthing. Broad labels are not a bad thing – they help us narrow things down, and give our searches somewhere to start.
Switching gears just a little bit, the RS article goes on to quote publisher Arthur Buenahora saying, “With Eric, we don’t need fuckin’ twin fiddles” – as if fiddles are a bad thing! Sure, you don’t NEED them to do country, but why is that supposed to be a laudatory goal rather than just something different?
The same giant, fiddle-appreciating audience that existed for George Strait in the ’80s, Alan Jackson in the ’90s, and Brad Paisley in the ’00s still exists today. It was only four years ago that Easton Corbin had back-to-back #1 hits! No, that audience’s taste hasn’t changed; it’s just that the music industry is ignoring that audience for a new one. It’s not about the music — it’s about the greed, the money, the bigger and bigger profits. So the next time Church defends homogenization, he should think about where that homogenization is coming from, and remember his own quote, “Once your career becomes about something other than the music, then that’s what it is. I’ll never make that mistake.”
This essay was written for a church project, and is modeled after the Edward R. Murrow and NPR “This I Believe” essay series.
I was a government and Native American studies major in college — but the best course I ever took was called “Beethoven in Context.”
When no one’s around, there are few things I love more than putting on headphones, turning off the lights, and freaking. out. to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. Not the opening notes of the famous First Movement, but the crescendo between the third and fourth movements, the sudden shifts, the way all the instruments weave together, and the way it absolutely drives forward, pushing every limit.
But Beethoven didn’t hear it the same way. By the time he finished this symphony — a process that took him four years — he was two-thirds along the way to becoming entirely deaf. He could still feel the music’s power, though — they say he sawed the legs off his piano and sat on the floor, experiencing the vibrations of each and every note.
Even Beethoven could experience music. Music has a way of reaching literally everyone.
And so, I believe in the power of music. We all know what it’s like to hear a favorite song come on the radio and be whisked away to an old memory or special place. When I hear Bela Fleck’s “Big Country,” it’s like a door opens in my soul and I’m really back in New Hampshire’s White Mountains.
If someone doesn’t love music, maybe it’s only because they haven’t heard the right song with the right voice or the right instrumentation yet. This is where my Native American studies professors come back in: Some tribes say that the most special thing you can ever receive or share is your singular song, the one that belongs only to you.
Music may not be my core belief or my mission in life, but it is what makes me who I am. It is how I best connect to God — taking in a brass concert at Christmastime, chanting psalms at a Boston monastery, or singing my favorite hymns on Easter Sunday. Why, even an atheist can say that I connect to my creator through music. My birthmother played the flute when she was pregnant, and I’m told that for years after my birth, anytime I heard a flute, I stopped what I was doing and cocked my ear towards the radio.
In a more secular sense, I most feel like myself through music, whether that’s identifying with the realistic poetry of a new Americana favorite, feeling like I’m finally home during a Steep Canyon Rangers concert, working up a sweat just watching Springsteen videos and DVDs, or ending the day with a favorite mellow playlist of Alison Krauss and Billy Joe Shaver just before bed.
I even believe that certain songs saved my life during my angsty, most-depressed teenage years, holding me back from suicide by reminding me of a better future in grace.
Music makes us all equal. The worst singer can be the most grateful audience member; the worst guitar player the best poet. A Specter-esque wall of sound greets a hedge fund manager the same way a vocal chord can lift up an African farmer. Math may be the universal foundation, but music, with its inherent power and depth and as something to be experienced rather than simply heard, is the universal language.