Higher and Higher

I’ve been to shows, but not THAT show.

Sure, I could expound forever on the trope of a Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band show being likened to a religious experience, but I won’t because I feel I can do better than that.

Forget it. Who am I kidding?

If I didn’t before last night, I BELIEVE now.
Screen shot 2009-11-16 at 5.22.56 PM
It’s a pastiche of images swirling through my head. You have Bruce’s first descent into the middle of the crowd for ‘Hungry Heart,” crowd surfing back to the stage to continue the show – or the abscess of horns magically bringing “10th Avenue Freezeout” to life.

A marathon lasting over three hours; it felt as if no stone was left unturned, from first album classics (“Growing Up”) to the prowling, elemental (“Kitty’s Back”) to the ‘WTF?’ (“Jole Blon”?)

Of course, the main attraction came with the complete performance of the group’s 1975 stone-cold classic, Born To Run. Any way you look at it, the album is colossal. Every track has a mammoth emotional hook. The way the piano dances in “Thunder Road” as Bruce’s vocal gets more urgent each verse, his shredded vocal in the chorus of “Backstreets,” and the mournful trumpet that wades through “Meeting Across The River”. These moments are at every turn.

There’s the album’s title track, which really is the only song to actually capture the naïve, blazing intensity of being young and in love – so powerful, so hopeful, one wrong move and it could crush you under its weight.

All of these emotions translate live. The songs feel otherworldly – Clarence Clemons’s majestic solo on “Jungleland,” – yes, THAT solo – is something I could live in. It peaks and valleys with grace and complete effortlessness from it’s performer. It’s the end of a musical journey, and a hell of a fitting epilogue it is.

That wasn’t even the end of the evening; an entire set of songs followed the album. The award for “Too Soon?” goes to “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town,” based on a Christmas tree (complete with working lights) cardboard sign request collected by the Boss during the “requests” segment. Fans in the pit threw Christmas hats at the band, and both Clemons and drummer Max Weinberg obliged them. (Also, it should be said, Max wearing a Christmas hat does nothing to overwrite his classic perv supreme image on The Tonight Show in my mind.)

The one-two punch that really brought the evening full circle came at the end of the evening – the jubilant (and personal favorite) “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight),” which has been documented by us before, and it was great that we finally heard it by the person who wrote it. Jaw dropping. No other words other than those are coming.

The night’s final song – a cover of Jackie Wilson’s “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher” was the other moment. The normally three minute rave up expanded to an epic thanks to Bruce and his band, taking advantage of this by making their way to the center of the arena to sing the chorus amongst the faithful.

At that moment, it was clear: together, we were already on a higher plane, if only for a couple hours.

Why Bruce Springsteen Needs to Date Me, And A Rambling About Songwriting

They don’t make ‘em like that anymore, the sensitive working class hero who can play one hell of a guitar and will roll down Thunder Road after he picked you up from your parent’s house. Oh sure, there’s a million and one guys out there with a Hanes t-shirt on trying to BE Bruce Springsteen, but there will never ever be quite another one like him. No one will ever make people feel the way that Bruce Springsteen makes them feel, and in music, that is the difference between a Hostess Cupcake and a ganache filled torte. In laymen’s terms, he’s a classic.

Why do I want to date Bruce Springsteen? Four Reasons.

1. Atlantic City
2. Thunder Road
3. Candy’s Room
4. She’s The One

Now, of course, there isn’t really any proof that these songs are autobiographical by any means. There is such romanticism to these songs that there is no possible way that they can be completely true.

In fact, this is something that annoys me about music fans. Take some armature Fleetwood Mac fans: they think every song that Stevie Nicks writes is about Lindsey Buckingham, and vice-versa. I highly doubt it, (even though it is a known fact that “Silver Spring” is totally about Lindsay…what a creepy song.), because good songwriters, at least in my mind, can take a situation that has nothing to do with them, and run away with the story, even if they haven’t ever been a coked up prostitute or are happily married and writing songs about cheatin’ men and women.

Of course, the converse to this is “write what you know.” Every creative writing class I’ve ever taken has told me that writing what I know is going to yield better results in the long run. But that’s just the thing, what I know is boring. I’m willing to bet that the majority of musicians lead relatively boring lives too. What am not I is what intrigues me, and probably many songwriters feel the same way. Take someone else’s situation, embellish it a bit, and therein, hopefully, is a perfect song.

There are probably three billion songs about love in some way or another, but there is obviously a very sizable distinction between what is a good love song and what is a bad love song. If I may be so bold, almost anything that people can say about love has been said. But it’s what you do with those old tired clichés, and what you tie on and restitch that make it something worthwhile. I’ve reached the point in which horrible lyrics actually make me cringe now. In a kind of, “Oh, he’s not gonna….oh man…poor guy…”

Back to Bruce. There are few artists that make me feel the way I feel when I listen to a Bruce Springsteen song, and one of them gets enough play on this site as it is. “Atlantic City,” is probably the saddest song I can think of. Not only that, but it’s also one hell of a love song. It’s honest. The speaker in the song is perfectly frank with his intended, in a “hey, we’re pretty much out of luck, and I don’t have any money, so let’s go to Atlantic City and piss away what we have, because life is too short to be a sad sack about it.”

There’s this one part that just really kills me. About two and a half minutes into the song, the speaker/Bruce Springsteen, says “So honey, last night I met this guy and I’m gonna do a little favor for him,” and the way it’s sung is just so heavy with remorse it would be like squeezing a wet sponge if I could hold that line in my hand.

So yeah, hey Bruce…you know where to find me.

Bustling, Scurrying, Moving Along…

1. I started writing for Static Multimedia as an intern. So far, they’ve posted two of my reviews, one on an album by the Miniature Tigers and another by a rapper named Savage.

2. Spinning Tonight: Franz Ferdinand. Their shift in sound was an attractive move, but the results I’m not too interested in.

3. I’m very proud and very excited to announce that the new Hold Steady website was launched today! Yours truly acted as project manager. However, that pales in comparison to Mike Ross and Jersey Mike for designing and necessitating this whole project.

4. BLAGOMANIA IS STILL RUNNING WILD!!! (on Letterman)

5. After watching Katie Couric’s Grammy Special, I’m convinced that Katy Perry is an idiot.

6. The AP is alleging that Shepard Fairey’s iconic Obama poster violates copyright infringement.

7. I changed the site’s Twitter page design to reflect what it looks like on this site. Fun, AND it matches. Wheee.

8. The Hold Steady’s cover of Bruce Springsteen’s classic Atlantic City is up (albeit, likely illegally) on YouTube. I’m absolutely biased, but it’s a definite reinvention of the original. The solo is rippin’. I’m loving the horns too.

9. On that note, I very badly want to see Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band at the United Center on May 12.

10. Flipping through channels…Crispin Glover and Sam Rockwell were in Charlie’s Angels? Really?

Rock, Flag and Eagle!

1. Esquire has a wonderful feature on Joe Biden in their latest issue. Regardless of your political leaning, the VP has a hell of a compelling story, and it’s good to see things going his way for once. He looks like he’s having the time of his life. Let’s hope he can do a good job with whatever Barry gives him to do.

2. I have seen the future of Bruce Springsteen and it is Jason Anderson. July 4, 2004 is a life-altering tune. This one won’t leave you until, oh, FOREVER.

3. I accidentally found the Dancefloor Killa Remix of my favorite guilty pleasure jam, “Love at First Sight” by Kylie Minogue. Ain’t got shit on the original, but good to see this one’s still fresh after eight (!) years.

4. It looks like Mickey Rourke is facing Chris Jericho at WrestleMania XXV. This has a high potential of being supremely entertaining.

5. Glenview’s own Patrick Stump (of Fall Out Boy fame) is going to be writing reviews for Rolling Stone. Way to steal my dream, buddy.

6. The USPS is considering cutting Saturday delivery altogether. That blows. I liked getting mail on the weekend.

7. Need some album art? Try Pen & Pixel. So bad it’s good.

8. Jai-Yen is quickly becoming my favorite Lakeview sushi hangout. There’s some pretty creative rolls there – last night I tried the “Summer Roll” which is eel, masago, tempura crunch, avocado, cucumber, and unagi sauce. There’s also a good selection of standards like California Roll, etc. Great, now I’m hungry.

9. A LFTR PLLR Anthology is in the works and apparently coming out sometime very soon. I’m very excited by this.

10. The Winter/Spring copy of Columbia’s magazine, ECHO, is out now! Yours truly had a feature story and was privileged enough to get the cover of the magazine. I’m very proud of this. If you are not in the region to get it and would like a copy, let me know and I will do my best to get one to you!

Not Fade Away

After last night’s sort-of-a-bust show, I thought it would be appropriate to relive some of my more exciting concert memories to cleanse the palette. There’s been plenty of Hold Steady references here, so we’ll leave them out this round. Here’s four standouts that are seared in mind indefinitely.

Radiohead – August 1, 2008 – Lollapalooza 2008 – Grant Park, Chicago, Illinois

Their shows are of legend. The story’s always the same: anyone that’s seen Radiohead returns from the show changed: blown away and without words. My only experience with them so far was just the same. After a ten hour wait in the August sun, we had a front-row (off to the left side, natch) look at one of the biggest bands in the world. They didn’t disappoint. The LCD lights. Thom Yorke’s unusual contractions. Johnny Greenwood’s retro shoegazer look. Colin Greenwood hamming it up with a CTA shirt on. That’s just the visuals. The songs, so crisp and concise on record, are elephantine in person. They charge, sweep and attack, and not let you down until the final note. A totally unforgettable experience I’d relive again and again without a second thought.

The Strokes – April 23, 2004 – Aragon Ballroom – Chicago, Illinois

The beautiful thing about the Strokes, is that after all of these years, and through their hiatus, they’ve maintained a cloud of mystery. There is something unpredictable – an intangible element to their sound and persona that leaves you questioning why you might even like them in the first place. Bar none, they’re one of the most important rock bands to come out of this decade. Their first two albums – Is This It and Room On Fire are two sharp, immaculately produced discs of seventies punk that are just as authentic as the records they ape from, instead of making what could just be a really strong tribute record.

This tour, for the latter record, combined all of these elements to make for a completely transcendent experience. A non-smoker (I’ve never had a cigarette), there was so much smoke at this show in the pre-smoking ban era, that I craved a cigarette for three days. It’s more of a series of images in my mind than a setlist. Julian Casablancas emerging through the haze. Albert Hammond Jr.’s hole burnt into the headstock of his guitar where he placed his cigarette. Nick Valensi’s irrepressible cool, and Nikolai Fraiture’s steadfast bass playing. It didn’t seem real, but it most certainly was. The physical pressure from this crowd literally took my feet off the ground as I floated weightlessly through it. I eventually came down to the floor, but I don’t think my brain has yet.

Weezer – July 11, 2002 – Tweeter Center (now First Midwest Bank Ampitheatre) – Tinley Park, Illinois

I’ll always remember this show fondly as the first time I actually felt a connection to live music. Music was just something I watched until then. This gig, more than anything, was the first time I saw a band I truly loved, and could sing my heart out to. We sat thirteenth row, center – as close as I’d ever been to front row at the time – as Rivers Cuomo (when he was wearing suits), and company appeared on stage, and started a jam that segued right into the authoritative “My Name Is Jonas”. Three songs in, we heard the Pinkerton classic, “Butterfly”, one of six songs off of that then-maligned album that evening. At that point, many of those songs were rarely played. My favorite record at the time, and still to this day, completely overwhelmed me. For three days after this show, all I could do was smile.

Three years later, I discovered a bootleg of the show on the Internet, and it made it able for me to relive it any time I want. Incredible.

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band – October 21, 2007 – United Center – Chicago, Illinois

My New York born/Jersey raised mother likes to tell the story about how she ‘did the lights’ for Springsteen at some point in the 1970’s. That’s a true story. She’s seen him twice, once at a college show when the dude was getting his start, and once again in the 80’s at the Rosemont Horizon. I’m going to credit her for introducing me to the idea of Bruce Springsteen, but not necessarily the music. She generalized to me the songwriter’s populist, everyman approach, and that his shows had been likened to religious experiences.

When The Rising came out in 2002, we had discussed going to see him and the E Street Band play. For whatever reason, we didn’t go, but made a promise that if he came around again, we’d see him together.

That took five years. We almost didn’t go, but I reminded her of our pact, and for my birthday, she bought two first level tickets for the first of two nights at the United Center. We had dinner first, then we went to the rock show. My then (she’s gonna be pissed I divulged this) fifty-three year old mother and I. It was perfect.

Bruce played a smattering of classic songs, new tracks, and hit the peak with – well, what else? “Born to Run”. The show was a complete affirmation of life, wonderful music, and great times. Being there with my mom made it all that much sweeter.