Saturday, October 27, 2007
Bruce Springsteen and E Street Band: Bad Sound or Just Moldy?
The formula was the same as his past tours with the E Street Band, but Friday at Oakland's Arena, there was something missing from Bruce Springsteen's 2 hour and 15 minute hour show.
It wasn't just that the man used to play longer and this set seemed like a warm-up.
And it wasn't that he didn't try an ambitious set: he pulled out three chestnuts for the first time on this tour, including "Two Hearts," from "The River"; "Racing in the Street," from "Darkness on the Edge of Town"; and a bluesed-up "Working on the Highway" from "Born in the U.S.A., that started out with the Boss on harmonica playing over a ZZ Top "La Grange" beat.
He also played the rare 1973 oldie left off his first disc, "Thundercrack," (on Tracks) and everyone's favorite B-side, "She's the One," a healthy dose of new material and an elegaic "Tunnel of Love."
But what should have been jubilant moments were killed by a terrible sound system, and just too many musicians on stage. The 10-person E Street Band worked the highway like a bad union crew.
They didn't need five guitarists--ever--but with Patti Scialfa and Soozie Tyrell strumming, that's what they had for some songs. They made a wall of sound that was was more like a wall of mush. Two keyboards? Five voices? All overkill.
Clarence Clemons, who used to punctuate the show often in the early days, looked bored and frustrated all night. He got in a few solos and spent the rest of the time mucking about with some maracas and percussion instruments.
"Miami" Steve Van Zandt, Tony Soprano's go-to-guy, was also Springsteen's. But despite Springsteen yelling out his name all the time, you could barely hear his vocals or leads over the oatmeal. Nils Lofgren was there, I think. I caught a couple of slide guitar leads, somewhere in the mix.
Springsteen seemed a bit tired, maybe of the working class personae that seems to be more than a bit of an anachronism in what he describes as these evil times.
He took off on George W. Bush at one point, and the loss of freedoms under this presidency, and added "we're just musicians, playing songs. It's a start."
From his mansion on a hill, it seemed more frustrating and frustrated, than a real call to arms.
One friend of mine suggested that maybe Springsteen should run for office or become Democratic Party chair. He could wrap it up for the party.
I imagined him as our Governor Arnold, our Reagan, with manager Jon Landau playing the part of Dick Cheney. But maybe it's time for Springsteen, whose music represents a generation, to do something more than sing.
Back to the music: This show might have worked better in a bigger place, or outdoors, but this indoor arena was too small for that much sound.
Springsteen pulled off the same big band arrangement in 1999 and 2001, alternating the full band moments on anthems and quieter times on new material. But the sound was less muddy then and he made up for it all on the quieter moments, when not everyone was playing.
(bruce, with body guard, signing two autographs and shaking everyone's hand outside the arena at 4:20 p.m.)
All through the Seeger sessions, which I loved, I kept wishing to hear Springsteen rock out again. But all through this show, I wished I could just hear Springsteen rock out too.
I missed the "Human Touch/Lucky Town" tour (not a big fan favorite), when Springsteen had to play harder in front of an anonymous band and showed his mettle.
He's a better guitarist and singer than most anyone he plays with, and it's more like he brings out this full E Street Band out of friendship and loyalty, than a musical need. Sure, they are an All Star team, but this show was like the All Star Game, played for looks, not really for fire in the belly dire competition.
Maybe he should just bring half of them out on each tour, and let us hear more of what we came for: the Boss, not all the employees.
(top photograph by Jere Visall)