On December 14, 2017, I sat in the second row mezzanine at Walter Kerr Theatre, about 60 feet from Bruce Springsteen. It was the closest I’d ever been, and the clearest I’d heard him over ten concerts I’ve attended. Unfortunately, it was my least favorite of his shows.
Born To Run is really The Essential Bruce Springsteen, by His Hand and in His Voice (even if it isn’t, and it probably is; even if – and because – it could use a stronger editor.) What a book – a tour de force rock ‘n’ roll memoir/deconstruction. Here’s the rock star who decided he WOULDN’T die before he got old, because he sorta liked living.
If you want to introduce someone who doesn’t know Springsteen to his work, there’s now a definitive choice. Ten middle-set songs by a band playing as well as they ever would, among the best mixed and mastered material in the entire Springsteen archive.
Steven Van Zandt has long complained that Springsteen held back his best material. Considered with The Promise, The Ties That Bind proves the point.
The Angel is refreshingly unromantic and avoids cliche…the words work better when considered as a twilight reverie, without insisting on coherence. Musically, it’s an easily overlooked gem.
This recording is a beautiful document, with a higher-than-usual quota of “you haven’t heard this before.” At the start, Springsteen asks for “as much quiet as I can get,” and that’s a good way to listen. This is music for grown-ups – pour a Scotch, sit back, and save your red Solo cup for the Magic tour.
Lost in The Flood frequently appears on “best-of” lists by Springsteen fans, probably because it presages the clichéd cinematic imagery of Jungleland; that song is saved by magnificent musicianship. Unfortunately, in 1972 Springsteen wasn’t yet working with collaborators who could muscle out his grandiose visions.
The concert on the whole is wonderful – part of the pleasure is the thrill of discovery, and part is how much of a departure the tour concept was… If this concert doesn’t have the manic, sometimes desperate energy of Springsteen’s 1970s concerts, it solidifies his reputation as a master showman.
Springsteen at his most Dylan-esque, a mantle he wore poorly while protesting he didn’t want it in the first place. Does This Bus… is a trifle of wordplay that doesn’t quite hold together – the rhymes are sloppy, sharp phrases are undermined by non sequiturs.
Springsteen’s harmonica work on the song is beautiful. He plays mostly single, pristine notes, high above the melody. These create an air of wistful loneliness during the beginning and ending; in the middle passages the harp bounces around the voice.