June 20th 3013
The gig for James Gandolfini.
What musician would you want to help you through difficult times? Strong arms to hold you – human songs to comfort you? Bruce Springsteen entered centre stage, acoustic in hand, the E Street Band waiting in the wings. He sang, “Well the highway is alive tonight/But nobody’s kiddin’ nobody about where it goes.” This lyric comes from The Ghost Of Tom Joad. The highway, a metaphor for life. It leads to mortality. We are all susceptible to death.
This gig comes less than 24 hours after the sudden passing of James Gandolfini. Gandolfini – friend and co-star of E Street’s guitarist, Steven Van Zandt. The Sopranos had Springsteen running right through it. His songs were played, his former haunts recycled for use in scripts. And, of course, Springsteen and The Sopranos shared the same American state, for settings and for life.
The surprise of the night came, when he, after speaking of Gandolfini, announced Born To Run would be played in its entirety. From start to finish, in dedication to the actor. As Roy Bittan’s piano arpeggio’s and Springsteen’s harmonica harmonised, Van Zandt appeared to be holding his emotions together. When the second verse of Thunder Road kicked in, “You can hide `neath your covers and study your pain/
Make crosses from your lovers, throw roses in the rain,” the guitarist wiped away a tear. It was a deeply emotional moment. Although, this show was anything but solemn and mournful. It was a celebration.
Faces of respect and body movements of restrictment turned into faces of joy and body movements of free abandon, when Tenth Avenue Freeze Out started, with Jake Clemons, nephew of the late Clarence Clemons, taking centre stage. Another highlight of the night was the penultimate track from this career making 1975 release. The magic of Meeting Across the River is in its atmosphere. It’s difficult to capture that in song. This sleeper in his back catalogue oozes it.
Two Hearts, from 1980’s The River, always sounds infinitely better live. It’s one of two songs played tonight – that tell of the friendship between Springsteen and Van Zandt. When they come together to share a microphone – they’re part Paul and George, part teenage friends having the greatest time of their lives. The other song that lyrically illuminates this relationship, is Born In The USA’s Bobby Jean. “Now we went walking in the rain talking about the pain from the world we hid/Now there ain’t nobody nowhere nohow gonna ever understand me the way you did.
When the synthesized melody and louder than war drums from the title cut of this ‘84 release, reverberate around the stadium – the crowd go wild. The Born In The USA single made him a superstar with the MTV generation. The American political right, punched the air when this song graced their radios and television sets. This song would be an albatross around lesser shoulders, but Springsteen’s are broad. It has been nearly 30 years – we all know the meaning of the song, right? It was made clear through his vocal delivery of it, tonight. He didn’t sing the words – he spat them out. There was beautiful venom in his delivery. I listened to it tonight – and it just hit – it’s a stunning song.
The material played from his recent record, Wrecking Ball, proves he hasn’t changed one bit. Values, faith and human decency – firmly intact. If he was playing in front of a few – you just know he’d put on the same show. There’s never an impression that Springsteen is an extremely wealthy man when he performs. If he had not became a superstar, you just know that he’d be the same person. Writing the same songs. Being goofy, serious and above all – a genuinely sincere human being. There’s never a pretentious explanation of what is not there, but always a simple, heartfelt truth, of what is. His live shows always come with humour. When reaching into the crowd for hand written song requests and messages on large pieces of cardboard, he grabbed one about the arrival of a new born. He grinned and chuckled; repeatedly saying to the new dad, “Don’t fuck this up.” His Southern Baptist Preacher shtick.
Tonight’s show was about loss. Firstly, in memory of the passing of E Street saxophonist, Clarence Clemons, nearly two years to the day. Secondly, actor James Gandolfini. Closer inspection also revealed, it was more likely a celebration of friendship. Tonight’s show was a tale of two friends. A story of two hearts. Bruce Springsteen and Steven Van Zandt.