Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Born to Run: Galloping Down to Louisville to See the Boss Yet Again -- Concert Review: Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band

Concert Review

Bruce Springsteen
and the E Street Band
KFC Yum! Center, Louisville, KY
November 3, 2012

I certainly didn’t need to go see Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band in Louisville—a 6-hour drive from Chicago and what felt much longer coming back—on Saturday night.

After all, I had seen the Boss in concert 41 previous times, all but 6 with the E Street Band, all but 4 since 1999 and most recently for two sensational shows in Chicago at Wrigley Field, the most cherished venue in which I could imagine seeing him.

I have now seen Springsteen at least 4 times in a calendar year in 7 different years, and Louisville is the 10th city outside Chicago in which I’ve seen him.

I had even taken a previous “Thunder Road Trip” this year, in April, to catch Bruce and the band do an “arena gig” at the Palace of Auburn Hills outside Detroit.

And while I enjoy Louisville and liked the other things I did there—if the trip had a theme, it would be “Pinnacle of Fame,” given that I toured the Muhammad Ali Center, saw an exhibit on Princess Diana at the Frazier History Museum and paid homage to baseball legends like Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson, Ted Williams and Joe Dimaggio at the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory, in addition to seeing The Boss—it wasn’t like I was heading to the Big Apple, which I have devoured on several Springsteen-spurred occasions.

But there are few things in life better than a concert by Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, no matter where it is, and whenever the opportunity presents itself, I’m likely to take it (though I’d be happy to let someone else do the driving).

While I have met several Springsteen fans who have seen him many more times than me (and know Phish fans who may see them more in a year or two than I’ve seen Bruce in sum), I guess I’m hardcore enough to (somewhat) judge his shows on how novel they are for me personally. Although I respect that Bruce’s first responsibility in any given city is to please fans likely seeing him for the first time on tour, or perhaps ever—and he hasn’t played Louisville since 2000—I can’t help but hope to hear some different songs than I have on previous tour dates (while always hoping for some personal favorites, like “Backstreets.”)

Suffice it to say that despite the show not being quite as special for me as the two at Wrigley—beyond the setting and my companions for the first and seat location for the second, those transcendent performances also featured guest appearances from Tom Morello and Eddie Vedder—I don’t think anyone at Louisville’s KFC Yum! Center (a nifty new 22,000 seat arena with an unfortunate name) went home unsatisfied. Or, in my case, to the Motel 6 in Jefferson, Indiana, just across the Ohio River.

In the midst of several campaign appearances for President Obama and coming off an appearance on the Hurricane Sandy telethon, with havoc wreaked on his Jersey Shore domain, Bruce opted to open the show with a couple of songs more recent and impassioned—“Shackled and Drawn,” “Lonesome Day”—than classic and ebullient.

A version of “Hungry Heart” was great fun, and everything he and the band played early sounded great but the first half-hour felt a little too familiar to quite be phenomenal on a personal level. I can’t complain about “Spirit in the Night” or “The E Street Shuffle,” as the latter sounded particularly fantastic, although I had heard both songs earlier this year.

I should note that due to not having bought a Louisville ticket when the show went on sale, I wound up fairly recently buying a ticket that was in the 3rd deck, behind the stage (though not directly behind). This gave me an interesting perspective on the band, as well as Bruce’s vantage point, but didn’t offer the utmost in immediacy.

Still, as Bruce started running through some songs he doesn’t play that often, many via fan requests—“Streets of Philadelphia,” “Growin’ Up,” a blistering version of “Open All Night,” “The River”—I was struck anew by just how good the E Street Band is.

I recently had seen a band with just 4 albums turn down a fan’s song request by saying, “We didn’t rehearse that one.” This sounds somewhat logical, but Springsteen routinely grabs signs from the audience and asks his cohorts—including a 5-piece horn section, percussionist and three backup singers besides the core E Street Band—to instantly play songs they don’t regularly perform, haven’t rehearsed and may not have played for 25+ years (or ever, in the case of cover versions). So even to someone who admittedly hopes for substantive “personal setlist variance,” the true magic of a Springsteen show—and I believe he is the greatest live performer ever—comes not in what he plays, but how he & the band play it.

Yes, “Because the Night” sounded much the same in Louisville as it did on Night 2 at Wrigley, but E Street Band guitarist Nils Lofgren does such a phenomenal extended guitar solo on it that you’d have to not have a pulse not to enjoy it, no matter how many times you’ve heard it. Though at times I felt more like an observer than a part of it—like Statler and Waldorf on the Muppets—the Louisville crowd was tremendously energetic and fun; even Bruce seemed noticeably dazzled as he paraded numerous audience members onstage during various songs and also walked out to perform on a riser in the middle of the floor a few times (crowd surfing back on one occasion).

Would I have ideally loved to hear “Backstreets?” Of course. But given that Bruce Springsteen & the E Street band performed for 3 hours and 8 minutes without leaving the stage, without playing anything I didn’t like and doing much that I did—including a rocking “Rosalita” in the encore—I really have no complaints. (You can see the Louisville setlist here.)

Was the Louisville gig as good as this show or that show?

Who knows, maybe not, only because I've caught some particularly great ones. 

But otherwise completely sensational?

Hell yeah.

And now that I'm home again, it was definitely worth the drive.

1 comment:

neal t said...

I hope you didn't spend arm and leg on your ticket. I got center court 1/2 way up for 50 bucks outside. My 61rst show and you were right on on all you said. Got to see second Wrigley show and Jazzfest show in April. Both super fantastic but something about seeing show inside increases enjoyment