Howdy. How was your weekend? Mine was filled with rain and rock & roll. Wet and wooly. The rock provided a pretty sweet book-end to a soggy few days in NorCal, with a show on Friday night and another on Sunday, two gigs that could have not been more different from each other in many respects.
First up…Bruce. Ummm, Springsteen. Man, it had been a while. I’ve never been a huge Bruce guy. Not sure why, really. I was admittedly a little late to that party, as “Born To Run” was my entry point. And, based on my love for the true epicness of that album, I remember going back to the earlier stuff and, well, just not quite getting it on the same scale. But man, did I LOVE “Darkness On The Edge Of Town.” A lot. But oddly, it didn’t really change my perspective on the earlier catalog.
And then drops “Born In The USA.” Massive. Admittedly, and likely wrongly, just couldn’t get on board. I just think the cumulative bombast of it all – it was simply hard to get away from that record for a while – just turned me off. It wasn’t him. It was me. I semi-recoiled at the ridiculous largeness of that record’s success. Didn’t say it was right, but it was what it was. And that’s pretty much how it remained. Never loving anything, never disliking anything. But always reserving respect for the man and his music.
And that is why I went to see him in 1988 at the Dean Dome in Chapel Hill, NC. I had never seen Bruce. I heard – repeatedly – every record he released during those ten years, but had never seen the guy live. I’m sorry, that was very un-rock & roll of me. I felt the need for redemption. But ya know what, I can’t say that it converted me to believer status. I enjoyed it. I may have even marveled. In fact, I’m sure I did. But it never took hold over me. Never settled in.
Forward another fifteen years in which I had listened to less Bruce than I did in the previous ten. Again, always cognizant of what he’s doing, but never generating enough self-interest to carve out the time for more than the cursory listen. But I still felt the pull to go see him one more time. Because, well, and seriously trying to not to sound precious here, but…I thought I owed it to myself. And to Bruce.
While the music hasn’t had the emotional pull on me that it obviously has on millions of others, I love the man. I love his passion. I love his love for his fans. And his band. And rock and roll. And, damn, his country. And, as a result of that last part, I admire the balls it takes to potentially risk alienating large numbers of fans to stand up for what one truly believes in. What’s not fucking awesome about that? (I suppose it helps to be in agreement with his politics. Check.)
So, upon hearing all the great reviews from this past tour, especially the crazy marathon gigs he was doing in Europe over the summer, I told my friend Steven that if he was going to the next Springsteen show, I was in. Of course he was going to the next Springsteen show. And, well, so was I.
Last Friday night. Oakland Arena. God, I hate arenas. I mean, mostly. There are a bunch of constants – the sound is always gonna suck. However, people watching rules. And I’m (mostly) sincere about that – yeah, there’s always a person or three to goof on, but I never tire of seeing people just lost in his/her/their respective vibe. That moment where you look over and see someone deeply invested in the now, the music. That’s cool. Really cool. And that’s a lot of what you see at a Springsteen show. (I mean, except for that woman in front of us who I swear spent 4/5 of the show messing with her phone. I’ll never get that.)
I once again enjoyed the show. Even got a little misty-eyed a couple of times. Yeah, the power of rock and roll will occasionally catch me off guard. Sincerity kicks my ass every time. And the bond that Bruce has with his audience is a truly beautiful thing. Kinda stunning, honestly, in these times. I don’t feel part of that. But I really love that.
As for the music, where do you start with a Bruce show? It was relatively “short”, a touch over three hours. Having previously declared my love for the album, I was thrilled to get four songs “Darkness…”, as well as “Because The Night.” “Thunder Road” is always sweet to hear. And hey, it’s the holidays, so time to bust out “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town.” Certainly okey-dokey by me. And a bunch of more recent stuff that I may or may not have known. As a casual fan, I found it to be an eclectic and generally enjoyable show.
This Sacramento to Oakland jaunt, which included a stop at Zachary’s Pizza and an interlude with Bart from El Cerrito to the venue (and back), clocked in at eleven hours. Okay, rounding up by maybe 15 minutes. And yes, we were leisurely.
This past Sunday night was a totally different vibe – King Tuff was playing Bows & Arrows in Sacramento, which maybe could accommodate 200 people. If they were all skinny indie kids. (Which, of course, they were).
Bows is about ten minutes from my house. I left at 8:40, arrived around 8:50, gotta beer (I can now personally endorse Napa Smith’s Bonfire Imperial Porter…at least on tap) and carved out a space for myself somewhat behind the tallish girl wearing a backpack (ugh) and next to the goofy guy who felt the need to both wear his hoodie up for the entire show and rudely push his way is front of other, and more polite, rock & roll attendees.
Anyway. Band hits the stage at 9pm, jams a 45 minute set of glammy power-pop and I’m out the door and home by 10. Nice. Would have been even nicer if the sound for King Tuff was, umm, tough. Or even tight. I think Bruce sounded better in a basketball area that Tuff did in a tiny art collective. Such is the nature of music venues in Sacramento. You can only go to where the show is being played. That is, if you want to see the show.
And if you can leave your house, drive to a venue, have a beer, get rocked, and return home within 90 minutes, that’s a good evening. And something that would never happen on the night of a Springsteen show.