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Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Bruce Springsteen: Live In New York City


1) My Love Will Not Let You Down; 2) Prove It All Night; 3) Two Hearts; 4) Atlantic City; 5) Mansion On The Hill; 6) The River; 7) Youngstown; 8) Murder Incorporated; 9) Badlands; 10) Out In The Street; 11) Born To Run; 12) 10th Avenue Freezeout; 13) Land Of Hope And Dreams; 14) American Skin (41 Shots); 15) Lost In The Flood; 16) Born In The USA; 17) Don't Look Back; 18) Jungleland; 19) Ramrod; 20) If I Should Fall Behind.

While it is common (and reasonable) to state that the last and, from a certain point, the most stable, predictable, and self-assured stage of Bruce Springsteen's career began with The Rising, which was itself triggered by the events of 9/11, in effect The Boss's transformation into the solidified «elder statesman» of rock began earlier — the most solidifying event being his 1999 reunion, after more than a decade of wandering, with The E Street Band. The «Reunion Tour» was a huge event, and culminated in a series of MSG shows, some of which were professionally shot with all the benefits of modern technology and broadcast on HBO. Since then, Bruce and the camera became almost inseparable on all his subsequent tours, but in 2000, this was still relative news, and thus Live In New York City — the video and the accompanying 2-CD package — has quite a bit of historical significance.

And not just on a purely technical level, either. Most of the young people these days are only really familiar with this 21st century edition of Bruce Springsteen — one for which certain changes had to be introduced, given some limitations imposed by the aging process. Although for a 50-year old he was still in great physical shape (hey, those body-building years couldn't just go to waste, could they?), his voice had aged, and he could no longer sing and strut with the same amount of energy and precision as he used to — not to mention that, had he tried to, it might have looked just a bit silly now. So this new look Springsteen is quite a bit less stage-crazy than he used to, and everybody else in the band has put on a bit of weight as well (literally, figuratively, or both), and the resulting sound is somewhat more «imposing» than it is «invigorating».

Not that this is in any way tragic if you tend to value The Boss for his «Soul» as much as you value him for his «Raw Power». Of the former, there is a lot here — starting with the hugely ex­tended, atmosphere-above-all-else version of ʽThe Riverʼ and ending with the exaggeratedly tear­ful ʽIf I Should Fall Behindʼ, where all standing members of The E Street Band take their turn at the microphone, and Patti Scialfa's hiccupy "wait for me...e...e...e...e" refrain garners as much acknowledgement from the crowds as anything uttered by her husband. Of the latter, there is ex­pectedly somewhat less than there was in evidence on Live 1975-86: in particular, simplistic rock'n'roll-de-luxe crowd pleasers from The River, namely ʽTwo Heartsʼ, ʽOut In The Streetʼ, and ʽRamrodʼ, seem overloud, lumpy, and perfunctory, but how could a legit Springsteen show do away with all of these? It cannot, and you just gotta have 'em.

Bruce does everything in his power, though, so as not to make it all seem like a has-been parade of old glories. The hits are cleverly interspersed with rarities and obscurities: the album even kicks off with an ancient outtake (ʽMy Love Will Not Let You Downʼ) that surprisingly turns out to be a perfectly anthemic, rabble-rousing little gem of an opener, and later on, you get ʽMurder Incorporatedʼ, dating back to the days of Born In The USA, on which it could have easily been the angriest, most fucked-up song, had Bruce decided to make the album any more angry and fucked-up and compromise its commercial success.

New material, premiered during the tour, is also well in evidence — including ʽAmerican Skinʼ, a poignant topical tune based on the shooting of Amadou Diallo; and ʽLand Of Hope And Dreamsʼ, a gospel-rock inversion of the old ʽThis Trainʼ chestnut. And some of the old songs continue to undergo renovations — the formerly acoustic ʽAtlantic Cityʼ and ʽYoungstownʼ are given full band arrangements that work very well: the fanfare-piano riff works brilliantly as a counterpoint to the "meet me tonight in Atlantic City" chorus, and as for ʽYoungstownʼ, well, anything to re­lieve the tedium of a generic Ghost Of Tom Joad number is always welcome, and you just can't go wrong with the fully unleashed fury of a complete E Street Band, even past its prime.

The shows are also almost completely free of story-telling this time (perhaps the stories were simply edited out, but they didn't tell us anyway), which I personally find a blessing — especially since the only track on the album that does have a long spoken interlude is rather embarrassing: in the middle of the overall entertaining ʽ10th Avenue Freezeoutʼ, Bruce takes a lengthy detour, im­personating a gospel preacher of the (sexual) healing powers of rock'n'roll, which goes on for way too long before we eventually understand that this is just a pretext for a really pompous introduc­tion of each and every member of the E Street Band. For a couple minutes out there, the thing is hilarious, but eventually it just ruins an initially fine performance. (The good news is that the other extended foam-at-the-mouth prayer to the delirious god of rock'n'roll, inserted in the middle of ʽLight Of Dayʼ, was left off the album and is only featured in the video version — maybe because the audio ecstasy was already presented to us on MTV Plugged).

Other than this bit of misguided misdemeanor, and a few other minor complaints (such as the attempt to transform ʽBorn In The USAʼ into a steel guitar swamp blues tune — I understand the desire to get away from its arena-anthem appeal, but not at the expense of losing the pop hook, please!), anyway, aside from that, this is a pretty damn good live album for someone reshaping his stage image for age purposes. This is certainly not how the «Bruce Springsteen Live» brand will go down in history in the long run, but it's a fairly accurate picture of it for the age of the Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame, social networks, hipsters, hi-def audio/video, and glamorization, to the latter of which not even Springsteen remains completely immune. No matter how healthy, sweaty, sincere, and «real» it all seems, do not forget that essentially, the B.S. live show is as much an in­tegral part of the show-biz machine as, say, a Rolling Stones show, or even a Britney Spears one, and I am fairly sure The Boss is more aware of this than anyone.

Still, it's a fairly close approxi­mation to «real», and quite a few moments here cause real heart-throbbing — be it the powerful intro to ʽProve It All Nightʼ, or the seconds when Cla­rence kicks in with his frenetic sax solo on ʽBorn To Runʼ, or his extended soulful workout on ʽJunglelandʼ, or the way The Boss gets it so perfectly right at the climactic releases of each verse of ʽLost In The Floodʼ. Since the release of Live In New York City, the floodgates have really opened, and lots and lots of newer shows are now available in pristine audio and/or video quality — but this one is still a bit special, since you can clearly feel the atmosphere of excitement about working with his home band once again, and turning over a new page in his life; if just for this reason alone, the album deserves a thumbs up. For a fuller appreciation of whatever was going on, though, you'd really have to see the video — while Steven Van Zandt's Baba Yaga stage image leaves something to be desired, Clemmons and Weinberg cut even more dramatic figures as they get older, wiser, and grander, and hey, priceless close-ups of thick drops of sweat on The Boss' guitar! The man ain't making his money for nothing, that's for sure.

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