Tuesday, August 30, 2016

A Truly Outstanding Boss: Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band Rock the United Center for 3-1/2 Impeccable Hours -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band
United Center, Chicago
August 28, 2016

Last weekend, with my beloved, first-place Chicago Cubs playing the Dodgers in Los Angeles, I made a point of listening to the L.A. radio feed through the MLB At-Bat app so that I could hear Vin Scully announce the first 3 innings of each game.

After 67 years of broadcasting Dodgers baseball, dating back to their years in Brooklyn, the 88-year-old Scully is retiring at season's end.

So barring a meeting in the postseason, Sunday marked the last time the legendary announcer would call a ballgame involving the Cubs.

Hearing Scully once again was an absolute joy.

Working solo--i.e. without a color commentator--he regaled fans with his trademark storytelling between pitches, and was as brilliant as ever. (Sunday he also simulcasted the 3rd inning on Comcast Sports Net in Chicago, so geared his narrative toward Cubs fans.)

Belying his years, he sounded sharp, vibrant, buoyant and much the same as he always has.

As I remarked on Facebook, I believe Vin Scully has done his job better than anyone else I know of has done his or hers.

On an ongoing basis.

I say this with tremendous regard for many other superb baseball announcers, superlative artists and musicians and writers and others I regularly praise on this blog, as well as for the millions and billions busting their tails in obscurity.

I'd have to assume that, in truth, there may be others who do what they do as well as Vin Scully announces baseball games.

Certainly, Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt just reiterated that they deserve to be considered the greatest ever in their respective fields.

But especially if you factor in longevity and age, there's only a handful of people I would put in the same ballpark as Scully; two that come to mind are Stephen Sondheim and Paul McCartney.

Yet while I will eternally cherish, admire and appreciate the songs those men have written--and just 3 weeks ago saw Sir Paul prove that at 74 he remains one of the world's best concert performers--when it comes to the art of playing live rock 'n roll, there is no one who comes close to Bruce Springsteen.

I say this after not only seeing & relishing McCartney yet again, but just a week after attending two phenomenal shows at Wrigley Field by Pearl Jam, a band that exudes Boss-like earnestness and shares his affinity for changing up the setlist every night.

As regular readers of this blog know, I see a lot of concerts, and love most of them.

I don't bestow my highest, @@@@@ rating as easily as some may think, but have felt Pearl Jam, Paul McCartney, U2, the Rolling Stones, AC/DC and several others have readily earned it.

But on my 5@ scale, what Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band did Sunday night at the United Center--my 48th time seeing him, and 4th this year--truly merits @@@@@@.

Less than a month from turning 67, Springsteen--with most of his band in the same demographic--played for over 3-1/2 hours without leaving the stage.

This came just days after shows at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey clocked in at 3:52 and 3:59, so the fine citizens of Chicago--and those who traveled from Europe and elsewhere--could theoretically feel a tad shortchanged.

But beginning with a nearly 15-minute "New York City Serenade" lushly augmented by a guest string section--Bruce had opened the NJ shows likewise--all 32 songs played sounded tremendous.

Obviously, I love Springsteen and have for 35 years, and know all the lyrics to all his songs--like much of the crowd. I also own every studio album and concert DVD he has ever released, and a good number of the live recordings he has begun to release in recent years, of all current shows and specially-culled past highlights going back to 1975.

And still I can't wait for the chance to buy the "official bootleg" of Sunday's Chicago show. The selections played were that terrific, and Springsteen & E Street still sound as good as ever.

Although the current run of shows are still being promoted as part of The River Tour 2016, unlike the initial U.S. leg earlier this year they do not include a full playing of The River, a double album from 1980 re-released last year with 30+ outtakes as The Ties That Bind: The River Collection.

Eight of The River's 20 original songs were performed Sunday at the UC, including "The Ties That Bind," "Hungry Heart," "Out in the Street," "Cadillac Ranch" and the title track, but not sequentially.

Although I greatly enjoyed the full River shows for what they were--and even wished more of the outtakes were included--this was a much more free-form affair, very cool for me to see due to having no clue what might come next for most of the show.

As on tours over the last decade, Springsteen selected signs from the audience to determine ad hoc song choices. These included "The Promised Land" and a beautiful "Racing in the Street"--with brilliant piano playing by Roy Bittan--plus the rare Born in the U.S.A. outtake, "None But the Brave," and "Mary's Place."

The latter is a song from The Rising that became a setlist staple in 2002-03, and isn't a particular favorite. But Bruce clearly loves playing it, and coming unexpectedly, it was really fun to hear.

Similarly, The River's "Sherry Darling" isn't a song that would ever make my "What do you want to hear him play?" list, but the way the band delivered it made it a true delight.

I loved hearing "My Love Will Not Let You Down" and was completely thrilled that my favorite song--by anyone--"Backstreets" opened the encores (by sign request).

Springsteen has always written songs about economic disillusionment, blue collar struggles and other social issues, but has become much more strident about his humanitarian beliefs in the second half of his career.

With a word spoken about it, his activism was most appreciable during a quintet of songs mid-show:

"Death to My Hometown," "The River" (centered around his brother-in-law losing his job), the recent ode to working class dignity amid Wall Street malfeasance, "Jack of All Trades"--resplendent with the string section brought back onstage--followed by "American Skin (41 Shots)" chronicling a death at the hands of the police (saxophonist Jake Clemons poignantly stood with his hands up throughout the song) and with considerable resonance in Chicago, "Murder Incorporated."

The boundless energy expounded by The Boss and his bandmates--including drummer Max Weinberg, guitarists Steven Van Zandt and Nils Lofgren, bassist Garry Tallent, Bittan, Clemons, keyboardist Charlie Giordano and fiddler/singer Soozie Tyrell--was again rather astonishing to behold,  and one of my favorite moments came 3-1/2 hours into the show when Bruce flashed a huge grin during the closing "Bobby Jean."

In additional to youthful exuberance, at any age, actual youth was also celebrated as Bruce repeatedly noted a boy in the crowd (and made a point of shaking his hand), brought a young girl onstage to sing along with "Waiting on a Sunny Day" and danced with other youngsters during "Dancing in the Dark."

It made me happy to know that parents (and grandparents) are still introducing kids to the wonders of Bruce Springsteen, even live and in person.

And as I sang along, badly but loudly, to "Badlands," "Born to Run," "Rosalita" and much more, it made me ecstatic to witness such a spectacular performer once again.

One who has brought immeasurable joy--and much more--to my life.

With a nod to the similarly singular Vin Scully, nobody does it--or just about anything--better.

And per the second song played, it was truly blissful to see Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band once again "Prove It All Night."

(See Bruce Springsteen's full Chicago setlist here and read more about the show at Backstreets.com)

1 comment:

Ken said...

Nice touch comparing Vin Scully and the Boss. And a few days later, the Boss would wow a New Jersey audience for a record breaking 4 hours plus. It's good to be reminded that such performers continue going strong as we enter an era where so many of our 60's entertainment idols are passing away.