Wednesday, May 20, 2009
The Boss for God: a concert review
I don’t presume to know what God looks or acts like or what goes on in His mind. But I can hope He’s a lot like Bruce Springsteen.
We could do a lot worse in the way of deities.
Just saw Springsteen last night for something like the 15th time. If he wanted to start taking himself too seriously there are plenty of people who are ready to consider him messianic. There were about 20,000 of them there last night at Pittsburgh’s Mellon Arena.
But, thank God, he doesn’t take himself that seriously. He’s self-deprecating and that’s a good trait for a supreme being. The Boss can laugh at himself when he delivers a bombastic line like, “We’re tearing the fear out of here and building a house of love!”
That was from a playful sermon he preached during a euphoric “Working on a Dream,” a song that brought tears to the eyes of many fans who are hopeful that these hard times will soon end and tells us we are empowered to seize our fate and help our downtrodden fellow man while we’re helping ourselves.
He answers prayers. During a popular new phase of his show he’s been reaching into the audience for handmade signs suggesting songs for him and the E Street Band to play. It’s come to be called “Stump the Band” and during recent shows he’s played unrehearsed and gloriously ragged versions of “I Wanna Be Sedated,” “London Calling,” and, yikes, “Hava Negilia.”
But in Pittsburgh we were blessed to have him pick Bob Dylan's “Like a Rolling Stone.” To hear Bruce and the band play the seminal song by the man who lyrically inspired Bruce was a revelation and a show highlight many of us will never forget.
He can admit some of his creations are flawed imperfections. This he’s done with the recently released album, “Working on a Dream.” His fans have roundly rejected it since its February release. But as this is the “Working on a Dream” tour we expected that he’d cram it down our throats with up to 10 songs from the 25 song set list. That’s what most artists would do.
Not Bruce. He plucked just three -- the previously mentioned title cut, "Kingdom of Days" and what may be the most ill-conceived song he’s ever written, the appallingly hokey and nearly 10-minute long, “Outlaw Pete,” or as my friend Quinn now calls it, “Outlaw Pee.” We both despise the song, but were eager to hear if it translated better live.
After four minutes, Quinn decided nope and split to urinate while I grimly hung on to see if it would improve. It did not. During the seventh minute I, too, dashed to the men’s room. When I returned he was still flogging the piece and I was for the first time in my life wishing I had a smaller bladder.
Thus, “Outlaw Pee.”
Quinn came all the way from Columbus to see the show with me. I feel a sensation of genuine pity for people who don’t have the actual Quinn for a friend.
But most of the show was jammed with fan favorites like “Candy’s Room,” “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” “She’s the One,” “The Promised Land,” and “Thunder Road.”
Bruce has for nearly 40 years, or about the length of time Moses spent wandering the desert, nurtured a family and a love for community that transcends all the great rock. He works tirelessly for the causes in which he believes and proselytizes the crowd to contribute canned goods, cash and prayers to help the local food banks. He’s done this for years and the souls who work to feed the poor in those places consider him a saint.
His disciples are capable of miracles, too. Quinn observed on the big screens that Springsteen’s saxophone player, the monumentally cool Clarence Clemens, had painted his fingernails a vibrant shade of gold.
I told Quinn I believe that wasn’t nail polish. I believe the Big Man’s fingernails are actual gold. He’s that cool.
It was one of the greatest shows I’ve ever seen.
So many of us are out of work, homeless or struggling. We pray that God will do all He can to end the wars, the suffering, the pain and the senseless hatreds that have led to so much earthly ruin.
If Bruce could do any of that with a wave of his guitar, guaranteed, he would.
I hope someday God reveals Himself to us as the caring father we all believe Him to be. I hope He has a simple explanation for why this imperfect world is so goddamned hard on so many. I hope He has in abundance many of the heavenly attributes so many of us have come to admire in Bruce Springsteen, one of His finer creations.
And, yeah, it would be cool if He could really rock, too.
Set list, Mellon Arena, Pittsburgh, May 19, 2009
• Candy’s Room
• Outlaw Pete
• Jackson Cage
• She’s the One
• Working on a Dream
• Johnny 99
• Good Lovin’
• Like a Rolling Stone
• Darkness on the Edge of Town
• Waiting on a Sunny Day
• The Promised Land
• I’m on Fire
• King of Days
• Lonesome Day
• The Rising
• Born to Run
• Hard Times
• Thunder Road
• Land of Hope and Dreams
• American Land
• Glory Days (with Pittsburgh’s Joe Grushecky and son Johnny)
• Mony Mony