- To start, another entry in my continued efforts not only to celebrate the exceedingly unheralded lighting team, but also to force theatre down my unsuspecting readers’ throats:
Though I did miss watching the crowd’s reactions on the stadium-style rear-stage screen, the Band’s return to an arena setting once again allowed the lighting team to be truly great. Better yet, they seem to be taking some (lighting) cues from my first love – theatre! – particularly during “New York City Serenade. Their highly theatrical lighting borrowed heavily from conventional musical theatre opening numbers, fitting given the fact that this has been the opener for most of these recent concerts:
First, the stage was almost pitch-black as the Band entered, making them about as barely visible as most musical performers as they walk onto a regular proscenium stage. A blueish-purple spotlight came up only on Roy and his borderline orchestral solo that begins “New York City Serenade;” in a way, it felt like a musical overture when only one light shines on the conductor – both serve the musical function of slowly bringing the audience into their respective worlds. When Bruce musically entered with his acoustic strumming, a second spotlight shone on him, ala many musicals when the main character appears in a spotlight surrounded by darkness on a barely lit stage for their introductory solo. When ‘everyone else’ in the Band added their instruments and voices to the performance – at the exact moment the world of the song opens up – the stage was slowly bathed in blue to reveal them, similar to when all of the stage lights come up on a musical revealing the rest of the company joining the lead on stage midway through the first number, specifically at the exact point when the musical’s world opens up to reveal its full scope. As much as I don’t condone filming live theatre (or concerts, for that matter, but that’s a hot take digression for another day), here’s a video of one of my favorite musical theatre openers ever – “Good Morning, Baltimore” from Hairspray – that captures what the hell I’m poorly describing here:
The bummer about good lighting is that most people only notice when it’s bad, AKA when something goes wrong. Yet even if they’re not consciously aware of the subtle ways evocative lighting affects their experience, it still has a profound subconscious effect on them, which the lighting team must realize. Supporting evidence: a surprising percentage of the lights look to be aimed at the crowd as opposed to the stage, such as this blue bath:
If the lighting team didn’t believe their work influences the crowd in any way, why would they clearly prioritize making the audience feel totally immersed in the lights? You don’t need to noticeably see something to palpably feel it…
Thus ends my weekly ode to the largely ignored heroes of E Street spectaculars…
- Some of the lighting also worked as a sort of black light to the orange Pit wristbands, making them really – even distractingly – POP. I mean, they were bright enough already:
- Another crew member shout-out: the dude tasked with quickly dismantling the string section’s stands and chairs every night. Don’t worry, at least ONE person in the place appreciates your work.
- On second thought, perhaps today IS the day for that hot take digression. A pit etiquette question: should people be criticized for videotaping all night long? Putting aside my personal beliefs regarding living in the moment, I understand that those not lucky enough to attend a concert basically live for such recordings, especially since Bruce Inc. releases so few. Even so, is that worth negatively affecting the view of everyone standing behind the videographers holding up their phones as high as humanly possible? And should Bruce’s stated preference against such behavior – which includes Periscope – sway our opinions at all?
- Just in case I lose a few of you before I’m through here, I thought it wise to make this P.S.A. upfront: since I’m sick of merchandise pictures that take me 10 seconds to post receiving more social media traction than pieces that take me 10 years to write, I shall now exclusively include such pictures WITHIN such pieces. Is this a nefarious way to artificially inflate my traffic numbers because I know some will click on my articles without actually reading them just to check out the merch?
- The official shirt and poster:
- And now, a deleted scene from my initial analysis of Sydney 1 (yes, Dad, contrary to how it may seem, I do in fact delete quite a bit from my first drafts):
One of the reasons I loved last year’s tour so much was because it highlighted how much meaning Bruce communicated through the precise order of the track listing of The River, perhaps best exemplified in the songs that bookend it. “The Ties That Bind” almost acts like an overarching primer to the subsequent heartbreaks expressed in so many of the songs; during these heartbreaks, the listener should always keep in mind the message of “The Ties That Bind” that relationship woes are almost always worth the relationship gains that they bring. Bruce saves the worst of these devastations for last: the death at the center of “Wreck on the Highway.” Even though we all know – but usually don’t think about, until an event like a car crash reminds us – that death can at any time separate us from a person filling our lives with joy, that fatal prospect should never convince us to avoid any situation that can bring about such an end, which is basically all-encompassing. Quite the opposite, in fact: when faced with the possibility of tragically losing someone, we shouldn’t try to avoid that sorrow but rather enjoy the happiness they bring as much as possible while we still can. The song ends on that note:
“And I thought of a girlfriend or a young wife
And a state trooper knocking in the middle of the night
To say your baby died in a wreck on the highway
Sometimes I sit up in the darkness
And I watch my baby as she sleeps
Then I climb in bed and I hold her tight
I just lay there awake in the middle of the night
Thinking ’bout the wreck on the highway”
Oddly, I can’t help but think about Trump when I hear/read these lines now. Yes, he will most probably do more harm than good, but let’s not forget the good that he may unintentionally foster in response to the harm. In the same way that death – the idea of life tearing someone away from us – can inspire us to hold on to each other even tighter, so too may Trump – a dangerously polarizing force – result in America (and the world) uniting together against him. In the words of Monty Python, always make sure to look on the bright side of life… while also keeping in mind all the shit. Speaking of which: though none of this obviously justifies Trump becoming President, can we at least agree that he may be the best thing to happen to Bruce in a while? When was the last time the Boss seemed this inspired from night to night? Related: Bruce’s next album will probably be his best since the George W. Bush-inspired Magic. As his memoir conveys, Bruce has always been an outsider, and thus he probably thrives by connecting to his artistic roots when he feels outside of something that should be resisted. So many of his songs can comment on today because wide swaths of Americans currently feel like their President considers them outsiders.
Back to your regularly scheduled performance notes programming:
- But first, a general note about performance notes (hehe, repetition): I’ll note (hehe hehe) every time there’s a deviation from the usual script. If it becomes a trend, I’ll report the second occurrence, and then not again until the script changes once more. I have a similar system for song analyses: I’ll analyze them – on this tour, usually through a sociopolitical lens – the first time they’re played, will hyperlink to the initial analyses the second time, and then won’t go into detail on them again unless either the performances of the songs alter in noteworthy ways or if my mind stumbles across more insights/pretentious BS to share. There will of course be exceptions to this self-imposed rule, but hopefully you get the gist…
- For example, I wrote about “Darkness on the Edge of Town” and “Downbound Train” connecting to the sociopolitical themes of the tour here and here, respectively. BUT, regarding the former, I realized in Sydney how the title unintentionally describes the communities of color (“darkness…”) that often form on the outskirts of urban areas (“…on the edge of town”). The only additional observation to contribute to the latter is that Roy’s synthesizer was real high in the mix – so 1980s!
- I found this on the streets of Philly Sydney:
- They took the stage at 7:54pm, a tad later than has been custom on this tour.
- Once again, Bruce was rocking his velvety red, working-class-looking, flannel(?) button-up. I’m a fan.
- Since apparently people are debating this on the Interweb, Soozie’s hair looks basically the same – perhaps with a smidge more red, but that may be entirely my imagination – to these vastly untrained eyes.
- Do I even need to mention the pitch perfect acoustics by this point in the tour? SHARE YOUR SECRETS WITH THE WORLD, AUSTRALIAN ARENA ARCHITECTS AND SOUND TECHNICIANS.
- And now, a note on sign-making: even though I tend to find myself stuck behind the asshole who insists on holding up his ginormous sign for the whole concert, I’m still a sign request apologist, mostly because they tend to lead to my coveted setlist diversity. Even though I never bring a sign myself, I have observed what tends to work and what doesn’t, so here are my suggestions: write less, font more (AKA signs with less words and bigger fonts are more likely to be noticed – this is directed at the people in Sydney sitting in the very top section who basically wrote a paragraph on theirs); be funny (Bruce likes to make the crowd laugh when he shows them a sign); request songs that have been either recently soundchecked or already played on the tour (thus decreasing the odds that the Band will embarrassingly mess up midway through, though they have absolutely no need to be embarrassed in such instances).
- For only being the second ever E Street Band performance, “Long Tall Sally” required very little pre-song rehearsal on their part.
- Over the last stretch of “My Love Will Not Let You Down,” Bruce started jumping to the beat in the way his Europeans fans do. This crowd may have been voluntarily louder – as in, prone to cheer even when not prompted by the Boss – and more willing to stand than most others in Australia, but as Bruce quickly learned, they were still not jumpers.
- Remember when I wrote Bruce long ago mastered the art of artificial spontaneity. Case in point: “Hungry Heart” technically being a sign request here. Another one: he waited for the “Bruuuuuuuuces” in the middle of his “Mary’s Place” shushing, but when they never came, he still went ahead with his “Don’t fucking Bruce me!” joke, which still landed (completely unrelated, but while we’re on the subject, the last downbeat of “Mary’s Place” transitioning right into the opening drum roll of “Candy’s Room” was 🔥 🔥 🔥 🔥 🔥. Also 🔥: playing “Candy’s Room” alongside his other, more explicit working class tales really emphasized how it fits in that genre as well; sex workers are often forced to obtain the “easy money” of prostitution from a lack of career options, due to either a poor economy and/or no societal opportunities open to them. Longest. Parenthetical. Ever.).
- During “Hungry Heart,” before plopping down into the Pit from the rear platform, Bruce remarked that it was “a looooooooong way” back to the Band. He was right, but of course took the plunge anyways and safely completed his surf regardless. Ironically, the diciest part was the crowd-to-stage dismount.
- AKA a donut?:
- “American Skin (41 Shots)” has tragically become even more depressing under Trump’s administration. For those wondering why, read this history of his involvement – both past and shockingly present – with the Central Park Five jogger case. Better yet, watch 13th on Netflix (if you don’t have an account, “borrow” a friend’s login information). Listening to the song again with all the recent immigrant discourse in my mind made me think about the many African American families forced to immigrate to America back in the day, yet now their descendants are being murdered simply for looking like what ignoramuses – some of whose ancestors were those who took the families away from their homes – associate with “immigrants.”
- Since I’ve stroked the crew’s ego enough already, I feel fine commenting on where they erred: during “Youngstown,” they cut out Bruce’s mic in the middle of his guttural moan, who then instructed them to turn up Nils’ guitar solo.
- To back up my seemingly-ridiculous theory regarding the relationship between Bruce caring about ALL immigrants and his commitment to play to ALL sides of the arena, he made sure to turn around to the back of the house for “The Promised Land,” a song about America! He also directed his brief guitar solo during “Badlands” – the song that perhaps best defines his conception of life!! – behind him. SO CONCLUSIVE!!!
- After not doing so at Melbourne 2, Bruce once again inserted “The way I feel under your command” from Patti Smith’s version of “Because the Night.” WHAT ARE YOU TRYING TO TELL US, BRUCE?! And yes, I’m aware the only thing we’re being told is probably: “He needs a TelePrompTer for a reason; sometimes he uses it, sometimes he doesn’t and instead sings different/incorrect lyrics.”
- The crowd sang much of the first verse of “Thunder Road,” but Bruce whispered along to keep everyone on track, thus avoiding the confusion of past performances. That Brucie is a smart cookie.
- The best “Dancing in the Dark” signs that were granted: “Sydney sisters wanna shimmy with Stevie” and “Can I dance with the spider from queens.” THE SPIDER NICKNAME IS TAKING OFF (this time, Bruce introduced him as “Roy, the Professor, SPIDER, Bittan”). None of them played the guitar with Bruce tonight, probably because he couldn’t single out just one of the rowdily energetic bunch.
- Bruce walked all the way around the Pit for “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out;” the only other time he did so was for “Hungry Heart.” While standing on the rail during the former, he photobombed someone taking a selfie in the front row.
- To introduce “Shout,” Bruce started with, “I want you to shaaaaaaake yooooooour….,” but before he could finish, the entire Pit put up their spirit fingers. When he concluded with, “…aaaaaaaass nooooooow,” the crowd was less inclined to adhere to his instructions, and most simply continued shaking their hands.
- Like “Thunder Road,” Bruce tried having the crowd yell, “VIAGRA-TAKING” with him…it didn’t go well.
- To bookend these notes, another result of being back in an arena: Bruce once again actually left the stage to poke his head up from the bottom of the stairs for the cape shtick.
- Official time below, but first and – in terms of these performance notes – last, for those complaining about these shorter durations: if they allow Bruce not only to display so much high-spirited energy, but also to construct perfectly cohesive setlists –in terms of both pace and thematic through lines – from beginning to end, then I will happily forsake the extra songs/time every fucking time.
- New York City Serenade
- American Land
- The Ties That Bind
- No Surrender
- Out in the Street
- My Love Will Not Let You Down
- Hungry Heart
- Long Tall Sally – *Tour Premiere*
- Wrecking Ball
- Darkness on the Edge of Town
- American Skin (41 Shots)
- The Promised Land
- Mary’s Place
- Candy’s Room
- She’s the One
- Downbound Train
- I’m on Fire
- Because the Night
- The Rising
- Thunder Road
- Born to Run
- Dancing in the Dark
- Tenth Avenue Freeze-out
- Bobby Jean