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As I've written about before, when it comes to rock concerts, I'll go see just about anyone and will probably enjoy it. It's something about the atmosphere and the energy of live music that I like and that's why I keep going to new shows all the time. Of all the concerts I've seen, I can only cite a few as actually being "sub par" or as environments where I didn't have fun. Of the rest, they range from good to beyond incredible. After last night, I think I have to add another into that "beyond incredible" category.
Last night I saw Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band here in Chicago.
I should preface this review by saying that I'm not a huge Springsteen fan. I definitely like his music and think he has tremendous talent, but some fans have seen him play 100+ times and own every album... that's not me at all. Still, for a long time I've heard a lot of people saying that Springsteen, whether he's with the E-Street band, other backing bands, or solo, puts on a fantastic show unlike any other. So he was on the list of bands/musicians I have to see play at least once before I die. When I heard he was going to play a few shows here in Chicago with the E Street Band, I jumped at the chance to go and see the Boss in action.
This was my first time seeing Springsteen so I can't make comparisons to other shows on this tour or past ones, but none the less I believe this was one of the best rock and roll concerts I've ever seen.
Lets start by dividing the major components of the concert into two parts. First, there's the E Street Band:
Looking at the band play, I think they have to be one of the tightest, most exciting straight up rock and roll bands I've seen. They're energetic with excellent musician ship whether it's on guitar...any guitarist who plays it with his teeth in the middle of a solo is great in my book, and the other two are pretty amazing too... or wailing sax...talk about taking rock and roll saxophone to a whole new level... or just the powerhouse drumming of the one and only Max Weinberg. I think the best thing about the band though is the way they mesh together into a unit that interacts and sounds truly dynamic, exciting and fun even with intricate parts and layers of sound are in the arrangements. I can easily see them being an exciting act to watch even if they didn't have the over powering force and charisma of Bruce Springsteen in front.
That force and charisma is just that though: a force of nature. And so we come to the second major component: Bruce Springsteen himself.
I've seen a lot of exciting performers over the years. This guy is in a class with few others, well above and beyond your typical showmen. From the very first note to the very last it's obvious that he puts his heart, soul, sweat and blood into every single second on stage whether he's singing his heart out or wailing on the ole' blues harp. His own guitar work is pretty great too, especially when he's trading licks with one of the others, but even simple chords and rhythm parts get treated to an intense strum that rips them loose from the instrument. He's even able to improvise when something unexpected happens. During one song, his guitar went out. He just launched the thing through the air back to his guitar tech, picked up his harmonica and blasted away, not missing a beat. Definitely not one of your stand and sing type of performers, Springsteen seems channel all of his energy into every song... holding nothing back... for about 2-1/2 hours nearly nonstop .
Of course the combination of these two components is like a perfect storm.
Springsteen's energy and passion on stage is absolutely infectious and you can see that he pushes the band forward. They draw from the fact that he's going all out to up their game even more. What's truly amazing though, is the way that as a whole, with all the stage lights and in a venue that holds 20,000+, they still look and sound just like a good time rock and roll band you'd see playing at your local bar till the early morning hours. It's obvious that they not only love the music, but love playing it and are having fun, sharing mics, trading guitar licks and jamming. This kind of authenticity is part of what I think fuels the show and made it so great. The crowd obviously picks up on it as I haven't seen such a large crowd so into a performance from start to finish in a long time. If you've never heard the thunderous roar of 20,000 people clapping in time and singing along to all the words, then you're missing out on one of rock and roll's great experiences.
Obviously from the crowd reactions, I wasn't the only one who enjoying it.
Here's the set list courtesy of http://www.brucespringsteen.net
Prove It All Night
Reason To Believe
She's The One
Livin' In The Future
The Promised Land
Tunnel Of Love (Tour Premiere)
Spirit In The Night (Tour Premiere)
Last To Die
Long Walk Home
Thunder Road (Tour Premiere)
Born To Run
Dancing In The Dark
I thought it was a pretty great set, although I would have liked to hear "Born in the USA" and "The River", but the fact that they played "Thunder Road", one of my Springsteen favorites, for the first time in something like 5 years made up for it. Also some people might be a little put off at Springsteen doing a little political preaching between songs, but it doesn't bother me. In fact, I can't really say I was disappointed in any part of the set. Every song was like a show stopper. The slower numbers like "Magic" from the new release, had an intensity to it's folksy subtlety with great harmonies and more restrained instrumentation, while the faster ones were complete blowouts of straight forward, no holds bar, American rock and roll. Plus, it really was almost nonstop, with often no downtime at all between songs, the band just launching from one to the next. Even the encore break was only about 5 minutes, with the crowd continuing to chant and sing the entire time.
Like I said, really every song was great so picking highlights is hard, but the songs you'd expect to be certainly were. Killer versions of "Reason to Believe" and "She's the One", the tour premiers of "Tunnel of Love" and "Spirit In the Night" were both pretty stellar as well and what better way to close the set than with an epic version of "Badlands" with all 20,000 people singing every word.
As I said, "Thunder Road" is one of my favorites and after that short break they delivered it in all it's glory. Then, what was really cool in my opinion, is that they performed both "Born to Run" and "Dancing in the Dark" with the large overhead ceiling lights on, lighting up the entire crowd. Talk about a unique experience. Seeing a band perform like that is completely different than normal blacked out shows where only the stage is lit. I was torn between watching the stage and watching the crowd because they entire place was just writhing with excitement. It really adds a whole new level of realism to a concert, even more so then a daytime concerts for some reason. It's like it confirmed in a way that this band is really made up of actual people, not just stage personae, and at the same time, the crowd is made up of people just the same. That really makes a connection between the band and the crowd and really added something unique to the experience.
Top that off with the foot stomper "American Land" and you got one heck of a concert. 2-1/2 hours went by like it was nothing and the whole crowd was left ecstatic and euphoric.
Like I said, I can't compare it to any other Springsteen concerts, but if they put on that show every night... wow... that might be all there is to say. And if by some odd turn of events this was actually an off night for them, I can only imagine what it's like when they're on... Easily one of the best rock concerts I've ever seen.
If you're any at all a fan, I highly recommend you see Bruce Springsteen and the E Street band play live if you haven't already or haven't seen them on this tour. I've heard that back in the day they used to play 3+ hour sets, which would have been incredible, but they certainly still put on an amazing show.
I'd also recommend that just about anyone who's into rock and roll check out a Springsteen concert, especially if you play in a band yourself. A lot of people think they've seen great rock shows and a lot of bands think they put on great concerts. Whether you dig his music or not I think they might be able to learn a thing or two from The Boss about what live rock and roll is all about.
You can check out a lot of Springsteen material including the set lists here at: http://www.brucespringsteen.net
Also, as was included in my previous post, you can download live clips from all the way back to the 70s here: http://www.springsteenliveinconcert.com
It has also come to my attention that entire shows are available online in both video and audio formats.
You should know that I think the sites that have these downloads often require you to register (it's free as far as I know, but they are taking donations), and they use torrents for download, which means you'll need a torrent client (do a search on Google to find out more).
Torrents are a bit of a legal gray area as sometimes they contain nothing but completely legally distributed material, other times it's questionable, and other times still it's completely 100% illegal. I cannot say if 100% of the Springsteen live torrents are legal or not. Just so you know.
Still according to this site, tons of Springsteen shows are available right up to the one I was at last night, in both high quality audio and video formats: http://jungleland.dnsalias.com/