CHUCK BERRY AND BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: SEEING THEPROMISED LAND FROM DIFFERENT SIDES OF THE DIVIDE
Chuck Berry's "Promised Land" was the first single he released after his 1961 imprisonment for 20 months on charges related to The Mann Act, officially entitled "The White-Slave Traffic Act." This federal law, on the books since 1910, resulted in many double-standard arrests, convictions, and sentences over the years, for reasons of racism, sexism or classism.
In his 1986 book Written in My Soul: Conversations With Rock's Great Songwriters, Bill Flanagan wrote, "People who knew Berry before he went to prison in the early sixties say he went in a great guy and came out two years later a cold, bitter man. In the twenty-five years since, his reputation has been of a performer who trusts no one, handles his own business and must be paid in cash before he sets foot on stage. Then he runs through his oldies (and whatever else pops into his head) for the contracted number of minutes and splits without doing an encore. He almost always plays with pickup bands hired by the local promoter, and almost never rehearses with them."
That certainly doesn't mean Chuck Berry never had to deal with racism before his imprisonment. In The Heart of Rock & Soul: The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made, Dave Marsh analyzed the revelation in Berry's autobiography that in 1955 he first wrote the line "There lived a colored boy named Johnny B. Goode" but felt forced to change his lyric out of fear that too many white radio programmers and listeners weren't ready for a black hero in their music of choice. "By changing 'colored' to 'country,'" wrote Marsh, "he found that, instead of speaking for himself alone, he'd created a character who also symbolized the likes of Elvis Presley, another kid whose momma promised that 'someday your name will be in lights.' Horrible as the source of the compromise may have been, its effect was to treble the song's force. For ultimately, if you could identify with either Presley or Berry, there was a chance you could identify with both. The result is history — and not just pop music history."
When Berry wrote and released "Promised Land" in December 1964, the Civil Rights Movement was in full swing. W.T. Lhamon, Jr. noted in his book Deliberate Speed: The Origins of a Cultural Style in the American 1950s that many of the locations Berry sang of passing through on his journey to "the promised land" actually were key battlegrounds in the Civil Rights struggle, including where Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner were murdered in the heat of Mississippi Freedom Summer 1964. "Beneath his smiling patina," wrote Lhamon, "Berry's song is as apocalyptic as Martin Luther King, Jr.'s last speech [during which King concluded in the midst of known threats to his life, "I may not get there with you, but I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the promised land!" Less than twenty-four hours later, he was assassinated.]… Reverend King and Chuck Berry shared images and concepts that stem from a root source… But so much incantation of the phrases betrays doubt about their claims. King, Berry and their followers both believed and disbelieved in America as a promised land, were sure that democracy was real and sure that it was a carrot cruelly eluding its most dogged pursuers."
Bruce Springsteen's "The Promised Land" was written more than a decade after Berry's "Promised Land." Since its 1978 release on Darkness on the Edge of Town, it has been played almost every night on almost every subsequent Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band tour (the Tunnel of Love Express Tour being the sole exception,) and at almost every show of most of Bruce's non-E Street Band tours, as well (the 1992-93 tour being the sole exception.) It also has become one of Springsteen's "go-to" songs when performing at various political events over the years, beginning more than three decades ago with the 1982 Central Park Rally for Disarmament. Usually he sings it by himself, standing on stage alone with just his guitar and harmonica.
This proud child of Chuck (to paraphrase Bob Seger's "Rock and Roll Never Forgets"), who has sung, spoken, and written so knowingly about how racism is used to divide and conquer people with common needs, always closes with those last lines of that final verse: "Blow away the lies that leave you nothing but lost and brokenhearted."
Just before he performed the song at the 1996 Anti-Proposition 209 Rally in Los Angeles, Bruce said, "I believe that Promised Land that Martin Luther King so eloquently envisioned and died for is still attainable, but it's not here and we're not there. It's somewhere up ahead... maybe in my kids' future, maybe in your kids' future. I hope so, but right now we need to protect the tool that will allow us to build the kind of country where future generations will find their opportunities, their rights and their dreams well-protected. That's our job now... Let's stand together in defense of that Promised Land."
Chuck Berry died in the same year that will mark the 50th anniversary of the federal trial related to the Mississippi Freedom Summer murders. None of those convicted in that trial served more than six years in jail. Nevertheless, during Chuck Berry's ninety years on this planet, he witnessed many sweeping changes in our nation's history, and his music helped greatly to break down so many important barriers. In this week following his passing, watching and re-watching those great Rock and Roll Hall of Fame videos of him so deservedly becoming the first person ever inducted into the Hall, or of him, Bruce and the E Street Band playing the first number at the concert to celebrate the opening of the Hall ("Johnny B. Goode," of course,) has me hoping that in his later years he was able to find something far better than just the pain, bitterness and distrust of those earlier days.
Rest in peace, Chuck. What Bruce said back in '96 is still true, of course. It's still not here and we're still not there, but here's hoping that one day we'll finally reach that Promised Land that your music mapped, and will continue to map, for so many of us still making the journey. - March 24, 2017 - Shawn Poole reporting
THE 1980s: BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN'S GOLDEN CHUCK BERRY DECADE
Sure, it was back in the 1970s when Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band performed a ton of Chuck Berry covers in concert. During that decade, Bruce also began quoting Berry's "You Can't Catch Me" at the end of live versions of "Growin' Up." ("...and it was bye-bye, New Jersey... we were airborne!") And yes, in the '70s he even borrowed a song title from Chuck for "The Promised Land."
It wasn't until the 1980s, however, that Springsteen began releasing tracks where you actually could hear the musical influence, as well as the lyrical influence, of Chuck Berry in his own songwriting. Here's our Top Ten list of 1980s Berry/Springsteen intersections:
1. "Cadillac Ranch" - The first officially released Springsteen recording that actually sounds like a Chuck Berry record. No wonder Bruce often preceded live performances of it with some of Berry's "No Money Down" on the 1980 leg of The River Tour. It's not just the guitar lines and clever, detail-packed lyrics (focused on car imagery, of course.) It's also Roy Bittan channeling the late, great Johnnie Johnson, the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer who played the piano on many of Berry's greatest records. Hiding deeper meaning (in this case the inevitability of death) just beneath the lyrics' surface is a very Berryish move, as well. Note: The alternate take of "Cadillac Ranch" recently unearthed by the Odds & Sods bootleg drops the saxophone in favor of even more Berry-like guitar.
2. "I'm a Rocker" - A la "The Promised Land," did Bruce swipe the title for his song released on The River from an earlier Berry recording, this one from Chuck's 1970 album Back Home? For that matter, did this song later provide Bruce with an idea or two for Born in the U.S.A.'s "I'm Goin' Down," too?
3. "From Small Things (Big Things One Day Come)" - A wonderful story song, in the grand Chuck Berry tradition of great storytelling and clever wordplay. Springsteen wrote and recorded his version for his first 1980s album, The River, but it remained unreleased until 2003's The Essential Bruce Springsteen. Before that, Bruce allowed Dave Edmunds to record the first officially released version, which appeared on Edmunds' 1982 LP D.E. 7th and saw some action as a mildly successful single, too.
4. "State Trooper" - The first of two Nebraska tracks with strong Berry connections. This one doesn't sound much like the music in any of the most famous Berry records, but it bears some musical similarity to his lesser-known, quieter and spookier bluesy tracks. More important, the whole scenario about a wet night on the New Jersey Turnpike and encountering a state trooper in "the wee, wee hours" comes straight outta Chuck Berry's "You Can't Catch Me." Incidentally, "You Can't Catch Me" also is where John Lennon got "Here come ol' flat-top..." for "Come Together."
5. "Open All Night" - Can't get more Berry-like than this, Nebraska's most upbeat track. The closing line, "Hey, ho, rock 'n' roll, deliver me from nowhere," echoes "Hail, hail rock and roll, deliver me from the days of old" from Berry's classic "School Days." And hey, there are those "wee, wee hours" again.
6. "The Big Payback" - A Nebraska outtake first released as a B-side in the 1980s and later re-released on the bonus disc of The Essential Bruce Springsteen. Bruce channeling Chuck once more.
7. "Downbound Train" - Chuck Berry's "Down Bound Train," aka "The Down Bound Train" or "Downbound Train," was released in 1955 as the B-side of "No Money Down," a record with which Bruce Springsteen certainly was familiar. (See the entry for "Cadillac Ranch" above.) Berry's "Down Bound Train" has an eerie quality to it, relating a drunkard's dream of traveling to Hell on a train full of losers and sinners who've squandered their lives. Perhaps the eeriness of Berry's record and its focus on those whose lives have become a living hell helped to inspire Springsteen's "Downbound Train," featured on Born in the U.S.A.
8. "I'm Goin' Down" - See the entry for "I'm a Rocker" above.
9. "Johnny Bye Bye" - First released in 1985 as the B-side of the "I'm On Fire" single. A slightly different mix, with a hyphenated "Bye-Bye" added to the title, was released later on Tracks. This sounds almost nothing like a Chuck Berry song, though Berry actually shares a songwriting credit for it with Bruce. That's because Springsteen used the opening line from Berry's "Bye Bye Johnny" for this song's opening verse, as well as a slightly altered version of Berry's song's title. Berry's song was a rocking sequel to "Johnny B. Goode" in which Johnny finally became a star. Since Berry's "Johnny B. Goode" saga could be taken as an allegory of the rise of Elvis Presley, it was highly appropriate for Bruce to incorporate some of Berry's lyrics into his song about Presley's tragic downfall and death.
10. "Stand on It" - a Born in the U.S.A. outtake that first was released in 1985 as the B-side of the "Glory Days" single, then later released in a slightly longer version with an extra verse on Tracks. Another fun Berry-style fable, built around a series of immensely descriptive vignettes filled with auto-racing terminology and topped off with a nice little Berry-flavored guitar solo smack dab in the middle. It's all over in about three minutes, too. Oh, and Christopher Columbus and Queen Isabella drop in out of nowhere, just like the Venus de Milo did in "Brown Eyed Handsome Man." - March 24, 2017 - Shawn Poole reporting - special thanks to Ryan Hilligoss - For more on all things Springsteen/Berry, check out Ryan's Let It Rock!!! The Music of Chuck Berry and Bruce Springsteen, a 2013 blog entry written to salute Chuck Berry on his 87th birthday.
The night after the APMFF's Upstage Jam — with Southside Johnny just added to the bill — Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul will play the Paramount Theatre, Saturday, April 22. Tickets go on sale at 10am tomorrow, Friday, March 24, through apmff.com and Ticketmaster. - March 23, 2017 - photograph by John Borden [Silver Spring, MD, 3/18/17]
THROWBACK THURSDAY: 40 YEARS AGO, BOSTON MUSIC HALL '77
In early 1977, not quite done with the lawsuit that had been keeping him out of the recording studio for his Born to Run follow-up, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band kept the shows rolling in February and March. A spectacular if undersung run of concerts, debuting unreleased cuts like "Action in the Streets" and "Don't Look Back," we can only hope '77 gets a little love from the Live Archive series.
Forty years ago, Bruce and the band were in the midst of that tour's legendary closing stand — four shows in four nights — at Boston's Music Hall, March 22-25. With the end of the lawsuit in sight, the E Street premiere of covers "Little Latin Lupe Lu" and "Higher and Higher," and of course the Miami Horns in tow, these performances are still considered some of Springsteen's greatest. Photographer and longtime Friend of Backstreets PJay Plutzer was there for three out of the four and shares these images with us.
- March 23, 2017 - photographs by PJay Plutzer
ASBURY FILM FESTIVAL CELEBRATES THE UPSTAGE ON 4/21
Davey, Boom, and Mad Dog to jam following documentary premiere
Just Before the Dawn, a new documentary focusing on the Upstage Club and Asbury Park in the '70s, will premiere at the Asbury Park Music and Film Fest in April. As you can see above, the film includes interviews with numerous musicians from the scene, including Southside Johnny and E Streeters Garry Tallent, David Sancious, and Vini Lopez. The trailer also reveals the doc to be about more than just the music or the mecca that was the Upstage, with the "troubled times" Springsteen alluded to in "My Hometown" — and specifically the town's 1970 riots — crucial to the story.
"When we started making Just Before the Dawn, we thought we were making a film about a single place, the Upstage, and the young kids who played there and went on to stardom," says director Tom Jones. "What we found was so much more... a story that affects all of us about a town that has learned some hard lessons and has something to tell the rest of us about hope, strength and our future."
Jones will be there for the world premiere of his film on Friday, April 21, at the Asbury boardwalk's Paramount Theatre, taking questions after the screening. The night will conclude with an all-star jam session to include E Streeters Sancious, Lopez, and Ernest "Boom" Carter, along with Sonny Kenn, Ricky DeSarno, Joe Petillo, Richard Blackwell, Albee Tellone, Chris Plunkett, Paul Whistler, Billy Ryan, Gerry Carboy, Tommy Labella and the Lakehouse Jr. Pros. Jeff Kazee, current member of the Asbury Jukes, will serve as the night's music director. Tickets are available now. - March 22, 2017
MORELLO BACKS BERRY ON "BIG BOYS"
The late, great Chuck Berry's final album, and his first since 1979, will be released posthumously by Dualtone Records on June 16. Simply titled Chuck, the 10-track release features sometime E Streeter Tom Morello guesting on "Big Boys," unveiled today (listen above). As the L.A. Times reports, the new track is one of eight Berry wrote for the album, which was announced on his 90th birthday last fall. According to a family statement, "Working to prepare the release of this record in recent months and in fact over the last several years brought Chuck a great sense of joy and satisfaction."
DISCIPLES OF SOULFIRE The U.S. gets its first peek at Little Steven and his band's "rebirth"
On Saturday night, the 21st-century version of Little Steven & The Disciples of Soul made its U.S. debut. The band's special headliner performance at the 2017 Rock and Roll for Children benefit at The Fillmore in Silver Spring, MD followed its European (and world) debut last October at London's BluesFest 2016. As previously reported, both of these "one-night-only" shows precede a planned full-scale European/U.S. tour, as well as the release of a new album, Soulfire, coming later this year.
While it's been far too long since we've gotten to enjoy all that Stevie Van Zandt has to offer as a solo artist, bandleader and live performer, I am very happy to report that it has been well worth the wait. Saturday night's show fully confirmed that a very special record and concert tour is indeed headed our way.
The show opened with a performance of the upcoming album's title track, "Soulfire," a song that Little Steven co-wrote with Anders Bruus of Denmark's The Breakers (their version of the song was produced by Van Zandt and released in 2011 on his Wicked Cool Records label). It took very little time to see and hear just how radically Little Steven and his fifteen-member band (including two special "guest Disciples": former Asbury Juke and ex-Blackheart Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Ricky Byrd along with Christine Ohlman of the Saturday Night Live Band, both of whom also performed earlier in the evening as part of The Rock and Roll For Children Foundation All Star Band) can transform a song like this into something much more expansive and downright awesome than even The Breakers' already excellent version. Having such a... well, soulful five-member horn section (featuring original Disciples of Soul Stan Harrison and Eddie Manion) and a trio of great backup singers (including Ohlman) helped much, of course.
The key ingredient, however, remains Little Steven himself, a fact that should come as no surprise to any longtime Van Zandt fans who know and love his skills as a songwriter, arranger, guitarist, and vocalist. With the exception of a few smartly chosen and highly appropriate covers, all of the material performed on Saturday was written or co-written by Steve. His personal connection to these songs serves as the glue that holds together a show and an upcoming album consisting of a wide variety of material written for and originally recorded by such different artists over the years.
Other Van Zandt compositions we got to hear on Saturday were originally recorded from the 1970s all the way through the 2000s by artists as diverse as Jimmy Barnes ("Ride the Night Away," co-written with Steve Jordan,) Gary U.S. Bonds ("Standing in the Line of Fire," co-written with Bonds,) The Cocktail Slippers ("St. Valentine's Day") and Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes ("Coming Back," "I Don't Want to Go Home," "Some Things Just Don't Change," and "Love on the Wrong Side of Town," the last of which was co-written with Bruce Springsteen). We also got to hear two great Van Zandt songs written for and recorded by the original early-1980s incarnation of the Disciples of Soul: "Until the Good Is Gone" and "Forever."
Yet this project definitely is not an attempt to relive past glories. It's clear that Van Zandt and his collaborators, especially musical director and guitarist Marc Ribler, have worked very hard and successfully to reshape all of this material into something different and fresh, based on distinct and modern Disciples of Soul musical approaches. There's also great lyrical unity across these songs. Taken together in one setting, they allow you to experience all of the continuity, depth and breadth of Steven's lyrical vision: one that is well aware of pain and heartbreak, but refuses to give in to despair and instead embraces joy, love and a hard-bitten but hopeful belief that the world still can be made much better than it is now.
Saturday's show was somewhat shorter than the October show in London, most likely to better accommodate the triple-act bill of the Rock and Roll for Children benefit, but we still were treated to performances of two Van Zandt compositions that London didn't get. Both of them were major highlights of the show.
The first, "Standing in the Line of Fire," allowed Little Steven to display once again his immense creativity as an arranger. This new Disciples of Soul version combines elements of Steve's score for Lilyhammer with the more familiar rock and soul elements of the song. The pleasingly unique result, as Van Zandt himself noted from the stage, is "Gary U.S. Bonds meets Ennio Morricone."
The other Little Steven composition, "The City Weeps Tonight," had never before been performed in public by anyone, let alone Steve. He told the audience that it originally was slated to be the first song on his first solo album. "I was gonna write the history of rock 'n' roll," he said, "but then I went political for a while... lost my mind. Feelin' much better now." Then the main person responsible for "Sun City," one of the most successful mergers (if not the most successful merger) of popular music and politics, paused for a few seconds. "Except... just when I thought I was out, somebody might be pullin' me back in." Many cheers erupted from the crowd, in a venue just a stone's throw from Washington, D.C. Stevie laughed and then quickly added, "Not tonight, though... just love songs tonight." What followed was a beautiful doo-wop-styled love song that Steve just nailed. He also talked a bit more about his love of doo-wop music and how his Underground Garage terrestrial- and satellite-radio project remains the only place where you still can hear doo-wop played regularly on the radio.
In fact, Stevie's role as founder and chief proprietor of The Underground Garage, as well as the main force behind the Rock and Roll Forever Foundation, shone throughout the evening as he drew many important historical connections between the songs that he and his band were playing. Just a few hours after Chuck Berry's passing had been announced to the world, Steve dedicated the evening's performance to Berry. Before performing a tasty cover of Etta James' minor latter-day hit "The Blues Is My Business," he reminded us that James was a labelmate of Berry's at legendary Chess Records and spoke of the important role that Muddy Waters played in bringing Berry to Chess. Later he noted the impact of 1970s Blaxploitation films on popular music before performing his version of James Brown's hit "Down and Out in New York City" from the soundtrack of Black Caesar. And when he performed the night's penultimate number, a cover of Marvin Gaye's 1963 Holland-Dozier-Holland classic "Can I Get a Witness," Stevie hilariously vamped it up about how it was "so good to be in your beautiful city tonight" a la Solomon Burke in his 1964 sound-alike hit "Everybody Needs Somebody to Love."
The final song of the show was something special "for Chuck," as promised onstage earlier in the evening: a beautifully appropriate and rockin' cover of "Bye Bye Johnny," Berry's lesser-known sequel to "Johnny B. Goode" about the guitar-slinger's rock 'n' roll dreams finally coming true. Back in the 1980s, of course, Bruce Springsteen sampled some of Chuck's lyrics and created his own "Johnny Bye Bye" as a mournful meditation on Elvis Presley and the tragedy of rock 'n' roll dreams destroyed.
On Saturday night, however, it was all about celebrating the virtues of living a long, meaningful life, creating and appreciating music for the ages, and making our best rock 'n' soul dreams come true. After all, Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul are back, baby, and you are gonna love what they have in store for you. Hold on, they're comin'! - March 21, 2017 - Shawn Poole reporting - photographs by Guy Aceto (1-3) and Jerry Frishman (4-7)
"Bruce Springsteen has had an illustrious career spanning over 40 years of unforgettable cultural achievements. The musician sits down with celebrated actor and longtime friend Tom Hanks to discuss Springsteen's unique place in American musical history and look forward to the future."
BRUCE BRINGS THE HAMMER FOR RECORD STORE DAY
An exemplary forerunner of Bruce Springsteen's current Live Archive series, Hammersmith Odeon, London '75 was liberated from the vaults back in 2005. Capturing Springsteen and the E Street Band's first show outside of North America, on a quick overseas jaunt for Born to Run in 1975, it was initially released as a concert film included with the Born to Run 30th Anniversary box set. You likely already have it in that format, and/or the 2CD audio release that followed
in 2006. But this year's Record Store Day offering from Springsteen will be a treat for those with active turntables: Hammersmith is the first live album from Springsteen to be issued on vinyl since 2001's Live in New York City.
The vinyl edition of Hammersmith Odeon, London '75 will be available from participating independent shops on Record Store Day 2017, in a numbered first run. It's a four-LP set — so don't expect it to be cheap — with the album's 16 songs spread over eight sides of wax (the sprawling, 17-minute "Kitty's Back" takes up an entire side).
Inside, four inner sleeves with photos also reprint Springsteen's orginal notes from 2005. After recalling the hype he and the band were confronted with after touching down for their first-ever European show, and the "pre-show chaos" he caused as a result — for decades, that was the story of this night — Bruce gets to the tale of the tape:
Later that evening an E Street Band, with a good deal
of the carnival still in it and armed with a set list I still dare any young band to match, strode onto the stage of the Hammersmith Odeon. The tempos were fast. A Jersey stew of almost punk soul, fueled by the visionary songwriters, '60s records, garage bands, and Rhythm and Blues we loved. For me, the set went by like a freight train. Later, all I remember is an awkward record company party, that "what just happened?" feeling, and thinking we hadn't played that well. I was wrong. With the keys to the kingdom dangling in front of us and the knife at our neck, we'd gone for broke. Whatever happened, it became one of our "legendary" performances, marked only in memory, bits of bootleg tape, and "I was there when" stories. It was the show that put us on the map in England and began a long and beautiful relationship with our fans overseas.
The performance, captured on this set in its entirety, was filmed on 16mm and recorded to 24-track on November 18, 1975.
The audio was mixed by Bob Clearmountain and mastered by Bob Ludwig. Record Store Day is April 22. - March 20, 2017
HAIL HAIL CHUCK BERRY
It's not accidental that Bruce Springsteen and Chuck Berry both have songs with the words "Promised Land" in their titles. Berry, who died on Saturday at the age of 90, was a rock 'n' roll pioneer, a true singer-songwriter who employed devices of cadence and rhythm differently than his peers, who pragmatically seized on subjects he felt everyone could relate to, but told stories within his songs. His music would become a clarion call across oceans and continents, to become part of the definition of rock 'n' roll.
As Bruce says in Hail Hail Rock and Roll, the 1986 documentary about Berry, "I think I learned my first Chuck Berry riff from Keith Richards." In that way, he's like many of us who also came to Chuck Berry through the interpretations of the various members of the British Invasion. As Bruce says in Born to Run, "The Rolling Stones breathed punk life into Chuck Berry's greatest hits…." Bruce, along with Bob Dylan, would also be influenced by Berry's lyricism. "I think that his influence on my own writing came out more later on, when I wanted to write the way I thought people talked, because that's how I felt he writes," Bruce shared in the '86 documentary. Singing two lines of "Nadine," he continued, "I'd never seen a coffee-colored Cadillac, but I know exactly what one looks like."
Bruce and the band would back Chuck Berry twice: once, in 1973, on a bill where they opened for and then backed both Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry (a sadder phrase has rarely been read than the line "Sadly there is no known audio of this show" in Brucebase), and of course in 1995, at the opening of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, when Bruce and E Street (along with other guest musicians) backed up, once again, both Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry. While Bruce has related the typically off-the-cuff experience of supporting Berry in 1973 — Chuck was well-known at this point for touring solo and requiring the promoter to supply a backing band — one would have thought the circumstances would have been different more than 20 years later, with Bruce's considerable success behind him.
This, unfortunately, was not the case, as Nils Lofgren related in an interview for the RRHOF: "Somehow, a minute or two in, he… shifts the song in gears and a key without talking to us," Lofgren says. "Now, we all… okay, we're pros, right? So, we're all like… trying not to make a train wreck, and it's tricky. Okay, what key is he in? Let's start playing there." Despite the years of experience assembled onstage, things did not improve. "At the height of it, when no one has any idea how to fix this, Chuck looks at us all and starts… looking at us, duck-walking off the stage, away from us," Lofgren said. "He leaves the stage, leaves us all out there playing in six different keys with no band leader, gets in the car and drives away."
Some Chuck Berry covers of note:
BACK IN THE U.S.A.: Main Point, February 5, 1975
NO MONEY DOWN: Tempe, AZ, November 5, 1980. Utilized about half a dozen times as an intro to "Cadillac Ranch" on the River tour.
LITTLE QUEENIE: St. Louis, 8/23/08 - I believe the correct word should be "incendiary."
YOU NEVER CAN TELL: Leipzig, German, 7/7/13
Of course, there are many more to enjoy through the magic of bootlegging.
On Saturday, Bruce offered this statement on brucespringsteen.net: "Chuck Berry was rock's greatest practitioner, guitarist, and the greatest pure rock 'n' roll writer who ever lived. This is a tremendous loss of a giant for the ages."
Little Steven writes: "Chuck Berry was the King of Rock and Roll. Period. Richard brought the Passion, Elvis the Heartbreak, Bo the Beat, Jerry Lee the Abandon, Buddy let the Everyman in, Chuck brought the Storytelling. The words that Bob Dylan would evolve into an Artform. He led the teenage takeover of Pop Music that the Beatles and Stones would complete. He invented Rock guitar and made it look like fun. He gave the previously ignored age group between adolescence and adulthood an identity, a mythology, a chance to see themselves. He gave them Respect. And those teenagers would return that respect to Rock and Roll for the next 60 years and counting."
- Updated March 19, 2017 - Caryn Rose reporting
JOHNNY BYE BYE
With the news coming last night that we'd lost rock 'n' roll founding father Chuck Berry, Little Steven closed his first U.S. performance with the Disciples of Soul since the '80s with Berry's "Bye Bye Johnny." Thanks to DJ Rich Russo for the video. Springsteen also offered his thoughts on this "tremendous loss." More to come on all fronts.
Chuck Berry was rock's greatest practitioner, guitarist, and the greatest pure rock 'n' roll writer who ever lived.
WEARING OF THE GREEN
Today's a good day to pick up the latest Boss offering from our friends at printmafia.net — this green E Street patch, three-inch embroidered felt which can be ironed or sewn on to the duds of your choice. It's another in their line of E Street Nation signage, also including an E Street keychain and enamel pin, and a frozen-out 10th Avenue pin, too.
If you like the looks of those, Print Mafia also custom-made a few such goodies for us — check out the Backstreets keychain and enamel pin in our own online shop, and order both together to save some dough. - March 17, 2017
BEER FLOWS THROUGH THE FAUCETS... HAPPY ST. PATRICK'S DAY!
A year ago today: "American Land" at the L.A. Sports Arena. Though the "immigrant song" returned to a prime spot in the E Street Band set for very different reasons in 2017, this was its only performance on the entire 2016 River Tour, a St. Patrick's Day special. - March 17, 2017 - video by Mitch Slater
LITTLE STEVEN PREPARES NEW ALBUM AND SUMMER TOUR
This weekend brings first 2017 show with Disciples of Soul
With the E Street Band on hiatus for the foreseeable future, Little Steven is now turning his attention to his long-abandoned solo career, with a new album coming this year and live dates with the Disciples of Soul on both sides of the Atlantic over the next few months, following on from his London concert last October. "I haven't visited The Artist Formerly Known As Little Steven for a long time," he recently told DC-area station WTOP. "It's probably been 15 or 20 years since I toured or put out something of my own, so this is a rebirth and I'm gonna keep it together. I'm gonna continue to be touring. When the E Street Band's not touring, I will. We'll alternate between the band and solo. It's wonderful to have both things going. You can express yourself on the one hand, and then do the E Street thing, which has become such an institution now. Nothing quite like it."
First on the agenda is a show with the Disciples of Soul this Saturday at The Fillmore in Silver Spring, Maryland (north of Washington, DC). The March 18 performance will be the centerpiece of the annual Rock and Roll for Children concert, a benefit for the Children's Inn at the National Institutes of Health. Following a memorabilia auction and a set by opening act The Peacemakers, the first half of the show will feature the Rock and Roll for Children Foundation All Star Band. Another once-only line-up of the Disciples of Soul (which borrows several members of the all-star band) will then take to the stage for the second half. While Marc Ribler (guitar and musical director), Ed Manion (baritone sax and horn section leader), Andy Burton (organ), Danny Sadownick (percussion) and Jack Daley (bass) remain from the London show, the advertised 14-piece line-up will include Asbury Jukes alumni Rob Clores (keyboards), Ricky Byrd (guitar) and Stan Harrison (tenor sax), Sessions Band trombonist Clark Gayton, plus Steve Jankowski (trumpet), John Martin (drums) and backing singers Elaine Caswell, Amy Keys and Christine Ohlman.
"It's extremely important to support what the National Institutes of Health and Rock and Roll for Children are doing," said Little Steven. "You can't do enough for kids and this is one of the best in the country. They take special care and it's run very well. Friends of mine have been doing it for years and they're very happy with everybody, so they got me involved. That alone is a good enough reason to come, but we always put on a good show. There's gonna be great music all night long. It's an entertaining show for a very good cause. What's better than that?"
"By paying for a ticket, you'll be helping the cause and be witnessing some amazing music by some of the world's best musicians. It's a win-win all around," echoed Marc Ribler.
Although touring plans are still taking shape, it's apparent that the initial focus will be on Europe, with U.S. dates tentatively set to take place in September. Eight European appearances have been announced so far, spread throughout the summer, with more to follow. Little Steven said that he was "still waiting for details" but that a full itinerary would appear on Facebook "as soon as we have it." Fan inquiries about dates in London, Dublin and elsewhere have been met with the usual response of "working on it." A suggestion that the tour may consist of two parts (June and August) may no longer apply, given that there are now shows in July.
The majority of the confirmed dates are festival bookings, but a notable exception is the appearance at the historic Theater Carre in Amsterdam (capacity approximately 2,000) on Sunday, June 25. Originally booked to take place on Saturday, June 24, the show was moved back one day to avoid clashing with a concert by Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes at the nearby Paradiso. Although their respective travel plans may prevent it, the potential for guest appearances at one or both of the shows is hard to ignore. Either way, it promises to be a memorable weekend for followers of two of New Jersey's finest musical exports.
Recorded between Halloween and Christmas last year and originally rumored for release in May, the new album Soul Fire has now been delayed until after the European tour. "Looks like September," said Little Steven recently, "not sure yet, it'll be announced eventually." Although the track list is yet to be revealed, we know that the record is not a collection of newly-written material. Instead, it largely comprises recordings of songs written for other artists over the past 40 years.
"The album is basically me covering me," said Little Steven. "I'm doing songs I've written for Southside Johnny, Gary US Bonds, Jimmy Barnes in Australia, groups in Europe like the Breakers and Cocktail Slippers. I put one blues thing on the record. I also have a James Brown song." This suggests that Van Zandt originals like "I Don't Want to Go Home," "Trapped Again" and "Ride the Night Away," and covers of "The Blues Is My Business" and "Down And Out in New York City" (all played in London) may be included, but that's pure speculation at this point.
The first song to see the light of day from the 2016 sessions was "Saint Valentine's Day," appropriately released on February 14. (Check out our news archive for Shawn Poole's full report on the song's previous incarnations). It's a five-minute prime cut of Jersey Shore rock and soul, with infectious horn riffs, powerful drum fills, strings, female backing vocals, irresistible hooks and insistent rhythms, powered by the Van Zandt work ethic and wrapped up in a modern-day Spectorian production. Thrilling stuff, and Little Steven promises that "there'll be tracks escaping now and then in the meantime" until the album is finally released.
Fans attending the Silver Spring concert will be the first to hear the majority (if not the entirety) of the new record performed live. "It's not going to be out for a little while, but this is going to be the first preview of it," said Little Steven. "So that's really quite something special, I think. It's going to be the debut performance for whoever's there."
Those who have already heard the album or took part in the sessions have reacted enthusiastically on social media. Steven's wife Maureen said, "You may think I'm biased, but I tell it like it is. And it is FAB. There will be soul. And dancing." Ed Manion added that "recording this album was a joy," and co-producer Marc Ribler said that he felt proud and honored to have worked on "what I feel many will agree is one of the finest albums to be released in this decade, if not this millennium." Bring it on! - March 16, 2017 - Mike Saunders reporting - thanks to Carina Vier for the concert listing - all quotes taken from Twitter, Facebook, and an extensive interview feature by Jason Fraley of WTOP
OH, PRETTY FOOTAGE
For the 30th anniversary of Roy Orbison & Friends' Black and White Night, Roy's Boys went back and recut the entire concert special, revisiting the original footage from five cameras for a brand new edit.
Online, they've made all five angles available for a complete song — it's an "interactive experience" of "Oh, Pretty Woman" from that 1987 performance, with Orbison backed by Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello, Tom Waits, Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne, and more. You can pick cameras on the fly to watch your own edit. See all five angles in HD here.
Black & White Night 30 is available now from Backstreet Records, on CD/DVD or CD/Blu-ray. For a taste of the extensive bonus features, you can also watch a clip of the artists talking about Orbison, as well as footage of Bruce and Roy working out vocal harmonies, at Vevo.com. - March 13, 2017
MIGHTY MAX: "I FEEL A THOUSAND PERCENT GREAT"
This week, Rolling Stone ran a post-tour interview with Mighty Max Weinberg, back home from New
Zealand but still fired up and ready to go: "If Bruce called today and said, 'We're going to do another six months,' I would have let out a yell of exultation." Max spoke with Andy Greene about the past year of E Street touring, as well as recent major surgeries ("I'm here to report that I feel a thousand percent great"), leading his own bands, and his son Jay's career in Slipknot: "Two years in a row he's been named the best metal drummer out there." As for E Street, Max has "no idea" when they might play again, but, he says, "I don't think anyone walks away from any of these shows we did in the last six weeks and thinks, 'Guys, it's time to hang it up.' I think we're breaking new ground. I think we're like the old bluesmen that just keep playing. What else are you going to do?"
- March 10, 2017 - photograph by Rene van Diemen [Melbourne, 2/2/17]
Back row, L-R: Barry Schneier, Bob Santelli, Eric Meola
Front row: Danny Clinch, Frank Stefanko, Ed Gallucci
All photographs by Mark Krajnak
ON A ROLL
Bruce photographers reconvene to discuss their photographic journeys
Eric Meola once suggested to Bruce Springsteen that he shoot a portrait of him and his father, only to be met with a look that killed that idea immediately. Danny Clinch once watched his father head off with Bruce for a drive around Asbury Park, before he could grab his camera and go along. Barry Schneier's now-historical images of the Springsteen show at the Harvard Square Theater in Boston would have been sitting in a box forever, were it not for his children asking about his concert pictures and Boston.com's photography contest. Ed Gallucci used to buy film in bulk and wind his own canisters to save money, until he went to shoot Bruce at Kenny's Castaways, only to discover that a mis-wound camera sprocket caused him to walk out with only five images. And Frank Stefanko's classic image of Bruce sitting on the front of his Corvette in the snow, the number one-selling image at Morrison Gallery and now indelibly linked with Springsteen forever as the cover image of his biography? It was an afterthought, almost; Stefanko only shot one frame.
These and other fantastic stories came out on Sunday, as these photographers, now known for capturing classic images at various points of Bruce Springsteen's career, appeared together at a panel discussion at Princeton University to discuss their work and their history with Springsteen. Moderated by Bob Santelli, the event was organized around the GRAMMY Museum's traveling exhibition Bruce Springsteen: A Photographic Journey, currently on display at Princeton's Morven Museum. (Pam Springsteen was originally on the docket but had to bow out due to family issues.)
All of the photographers started their careers in the era of physical film, a time when you dealt with the limitations of 36 frames to a roll, as well as having to wait to get to a darkroom to process negatives and generate a contact sheet in order to see if they'd gotten that one image they'd seen through the viewfinder. Each of them waxed rhapsodically at some point in the afternoon about their favorite brand of film, now extinct, from a not-so-distant past when the phrase "I shot Tri-X pushed to 800" was the common lingo of the live concert photographer.
Ed Gallucci told of the difficulties of having a very Italian name in the '70s, only to arrive at Kenny's Castaways and see "Bruce Springstein" on the awning. "I thought, here's a guy who's proud of his heritage." He made $15 per photograph back then and was very happy to do so. Barry Schneier relayed his story of getting to know the local promoters in Boston and becoming the guy they turned to as their house photographer. A friend suggested one day that they go to a bar called Charlie's Place to check out a new artist. Barry was blown away, calling his promoter contacts and insisting that they had to listen to this guy, loaning them his albums. "My first reaction was, 'I'm never going to see those records again,' because in those days, when you shared music, you physically gave an album to someone and hoped you saw it again," Schneier remembered. Those promoters were also Bonnie Raitt's managers, and this was how Bruce ended up opening for Bonnie Raitt at the Harvard Square Theater in 1974.
Schneier, Santelli, and Meola
Eric Meola began his retelling of how he came to shoot the cover of Born to Run by noting, "When this all happened, Bruce wasn't Bruce yet, the way we know, and I wasn't Eric at that point. I was working on my own career." Meola lived around the corner from Max's Kansas City in 1973, and he walked by one day and saw Bruce's name on the marquee. "I had heard the first two albums and decided immediately I was going to go see the show that night." After he saw Springsteen play, Meola had a new goal: "I'm going to follow him around. I'm going to photograph him."
A year would go by before Meola would see him again, at Wollman Rink in Central Park. "I went up to Central Park and it started raining, and I ran under the awning, and who should be standing there but Bruce. I didn't know what to say, I don't really remember what I said; I went up and asked him about some of the lyrics, because some of the lyrics were hard to understand on the second album, and the second album didn't have the lyrics printed on the back. And we talked for a while. The next month I drove down to Red Bank, New Jersey, and I saw him in Red Bank. I got there a few hours early, and Bruce walks in, and we start talking again. So little by little, I got to know him."
The months went by, and Meola kept in touch with then-manager Mike Appel, and "Clarence put in a good word for me." But they kept cancelling on Meola. "There was part of me that realized, this was going to be it. Either I got this or I didn't get it, because they were really busy. I had no idea if other photographs had been taken, and I finally said to Mike, 'Look, you've cancelled six times on me. You've got to get him to come in.'"
Meola continued: "I decided to shoot in the studio, rather than try to do something at his house, or outdoors, because I wanted to have total control of the light. My background at the time was advertising photography, and I looked at this as a job, in the sense that I had a job to do: I had to come out with the greatest photograph possible for the album cover. I really wanted to get the cover of that album."
"So they came in, right on time, 11 o'clock in the morning. I got two hours, I shot 700 or 800 photographs. I only had one mantra at the time: 'Shoot as much as you can.' Try as many poses, as many changes of clothing. I'd also scouted some locations around the corner with a fire escape. The idea was that I wanted to give the art director as many possible choices for the album cover... I put on the Rolling Stones, I put on Van Morrison, and we just shot very, very quickly, and the rest was history."
"I was just kind of a kid with a camera," Frank Stefanko began, "It was something I had been doing since I was very young." He related that his introduction to Bruce's music came from the radio, via the great Philadelphia DJ's Ed Sciaky and David Dye, both early Springsteen boosters. Stefanko said his reaction was, "I know this guy. I don't know him, but I know him. He's Jersey, and, hell, we could be brothers. So I told my friend Patti Smith, 'You gotta look out for this guy Bruce Springsteen, I think he's really going somewhere.' And as fate would have it, Bruce showed up at a concert Patti was doing at the Bottom Line, and Patti said, 'You're going to be famous some day — my friend Frank from South Jersey said so.' So that was kind of it. Shortly after that I received an album in the mail, and it was Bruce's first album, Greetings From Asbury Park. And in those days, the postcard actually opened up, and on the back of the postcard it said, 'To Frank: My biggest fan. Patti says.' Signed, 'Bruce Springsteen.'"
Another Bruce photographer, Jim Marchese, snapping Frank and Carol Stefanko
Later on, Stefanko related, "Bruce had seen some of the work I had done with Patti Smith, and he felt that maybe there was a shot there, and he called me up and said, as he always does (imitating Bruce): 'Hey, Frankie! Let's get together and do some photos and have some fun.' So he came down to my house, and it was the beginning of quite a few sessions. We just shot randomly, in Haddonfield, NJ, in my house, outside my house, down the street, where people said, 'Is that…? No, couldn't be.'"
"Unlike some situations now, because Bruce's time is so valuable, in those days, we had the luxury of time. And so like Eric (Meola) said, shooting 700, 800 shots, we just shot away, and you hoped you had something good in there. And so, we shot; went up to New York, we shot; and then you just sit there and you wait. And one day, I got a call and (Bruce imitation again): 'Hey Frankie, you got the cover for Darkness, front, back and inner-sleeve.' And that was the beginning of three album covers now. That's how that started."
"I would often go to the Stone Pony, hoping I would see him," Danny Clinch shared, "And I saw many really great shows at the Stone Pony... without Bruce there." He continued, telling the story of splitting up his camera, film, and lenses between his friends in order to sneak his equipment into concerts. He believes that his first photograph of Bruce was from Amnesty International, onstage with Sting. "Bruce is one of the great collaborators," he continued. "He studies the history of rock 'n' roll, he's seen every pose that Elvis has given, and he's made some of them his own. And we've had that conversation before, he's like, 'I've spent many times in front of the mirror, working out my look.' So my goal is not only to accept what he's giving me, but also maybe to catch something that he's not giving me."
Towards the end of the talk, Santelli asked each photographer to discuss one photograph from the exhibit. Stefanko discussed the image now known as "Corvette Winter," wondering why it was so popular. "Wait a minute: there's a house in the background. And there's a front porch in the background. And he's leaning by a car. Is it possible that this is Thunder Road incarnate?" Barry Schneier talked about being at the Harvard Square Theater and shooting the band, and after a certain point deciding that he was done and going to sit down, only for Bruce to walk over to the piano and sit down right in front of Schneier. "My first thought was: 'I didn't know that he played piano.' My second thought was, 'I'm reloading my camera.'"
Eric Meola decided to flip the question around: "I don't like so much to talk about the shots I got as much as the shots I didn't get." That was when he described the moment when he asked Bruce if he could take a photo of him with his father: "To be honest with you, I had no idea how I would photograph him, but I decided to broach the subject. And I asked him, and his face just went — down. I instantly got the impression that it was completely off-limits and wasn't going to happen." The second moment that got away from Meola took place at the start of their famous trip through the Utah desert in 1977: "I get to the airport and I'm looking around for Bruce, and I see him sitting on his suitcase. He's got the newspaper open, with a big headline on the front of the Daily News: 'ELVIS DEAD.' And I'm thinking, 'Wow. This is a great shot.' But no sooner did I see it than he happened to look up, he saw me, and I was not about to ask him to hold the newspaper up again."
Ed Gallucci related the heartbreaking story of shooting an entire show with his hand-rolled film, only to discover his camera malfunction moments before the band ended their set, leaving him with only a handful of shots from his second camera. "When they called the second time, I bought the Tri-X in the box!" And Danny Clinch's nod was to his photograph of the band on the plane, coming back from the Buffalo show in 2009, describing that after he'd taken the photo, Bruce came on the plane PA system, making announcements as though he was a flight attendant.
The event was a great afternoon of Springsteen oral history and photography history, with the only negative that it ended after 90 minutes. There are two other discussion panels planned to coordinate with the photography exhibit, including one with Tom Cunningham and David Dye — Bruce Springsteen on the Radio — on April 6. - March 8, 2017 - Caryn Rose reporting - photographs by Mark Krajnak/JerseyStyle Photography
REMINDER: BRUCE PHOTOGRAPHER ROUNDTABLE THIS SUNDAY
Sunday afternoon in Princeton, NJ, many of our favorite photographers — including Danny Clinch, Ed Gallucci, Eric Meola, Barry Schneier, Frank Stefanko, and Pamela Springsteen — will talk about their adventures photographing Bruce Springsteen over the years, dating back to 1972. The March 5 panel discussion, moderated by Bob Santelli, is in conjunction with the GRAMMY Museum's traveling exhibition Bruce Springsteen: A Photographic Journey, currently on display at Princeton's Morven Museum.
Morven Museum & Garden has theBruce Springsteen: A Photographic Journey exhibit on view trough May 21, surveying Springsteen's career with 42 photographs as well as video interviews with the artists behind the cameras. - March 3, 2017
THROWBACK THURSDAY: RETURN OF "THE CHAMELEON"
Seeing Steven Van Zandt sport those rockin' shades a few days ago during "Glory Days," on the final night of the Summer '17 Tour, got us flashing back to 2014, right around this time of year. That was when Stevie finally revealed himself to be a true master of brilliant disguises: in a trio of hilarious television commercials for Norway-based telecommunications company Telenor, Van Zandt played "The Chameleon," a secret agent investigating the company. Not surprisingly, The Chameleon's stock-in-trade consisted of disguises, allowing us to see Little Steven as we've never seen him before. If you thought his role as Silvio Dante on The Sopranos was a transformation, you ain't seen nothin' yet.
Check out all three of Steve's 2014 Telenor "The Chameleon" television commercials on YouTube:
And here's a gallery of all of The Chameleon's undercover characters from the ad campaign — six mind-boggling looks in just over four minutes, baby!
- March 2, 2017 - Shawn Poole reporting - special thanks to Ryan Hilligoss - Auckland 2/25/17 photograph by Joe Wall
SWEETER THAN HONEY: CLASSIC '70s JUKES ALBUMS REMASTERED The Fever collects eight album sides on two CDs, due Friday March 3 In 1976, 1977, and 1978, Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes released their first three albums on Epic Records, a string of stone Jersey Shore classics culminating with Hearts of Stone. Steve Van Zandt and Bruce Springsteen famously contributed numerous songs for each record. Along the way Southside and the Jukes also recorded a live album, Live at the Bottom Line, released at the time as a promotional-only LP. All four records were produced by Miami Steve.
Now, all four have been remastered — for the first time since the dawn of the compact disc — and are available together on a two-disc anthology, dropping this Friday from Real Gone Music (officially licensed from Epic/Sony). The Fever: The Remastered Epic Recordings presents the four-album sequence, 40 tracks in all, remastered from the original tapes by Mark Wilder.
Hard to believe this much great music fits in one jewelcase, music that means so much to us and probably means so much to you, too... and for a lower price than the Japanese Live at the Bottom Line CD alone used to command... but we won't argue.
FEBRUARY 25: ASS-SHAKING TIME FOR AUCKLAND'S LAST DANCE As it did in 2014, the Springsteen 2017 tour of Australia and New Zealand finished in an industrialized section of Auckland on a warm summer's night. Three years ago Born to Run was played in its entirety and "My City of Ruins" was dedicated to the people of Christchurch. On Saturday night the show began with three Born in the U.S.A. songs and reprised "My City of Ruins" on the heels of the band's first-ever Christchurch concert. Both tour closers sent Kiwis and Aussies and global denizens of E Street Nation into the night with aching feet, strained vocal chords and the usual conjecture about when (if?) Bruce and the band would be back again.
There was a marked difference Saturday night from the 2014 tour finale, however, and it wasn't found on stage. It was dripping from the eyes and down the cheeks of people throughout Mt Smart Stadium. Tears. Buckets of them. Women, men, young, old. Tears that fell throughout the night but poured during a final acoustic "Thunder Road." Tears that sprang in group hugs and lingering goodbyes. Tears of joy and sadness like I've never seen at a concert before. We're all getting older; appearances to the contrary the man himself is closing on 70, and the E Street Band has herculean numbers on its odometer. Does that explain it? After losing so much grace and greatness in 2016, are we more aware of the mortality of our heroes? We know this won't go on forever: every show is a tick on the countdown, every goodbye a roll of the dice. If so, Saturday night in Auckland — and I don't care how corny this sounds — was all sevens. (Blatant, unapologetic corniness is a symptom of repeated exposure to Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.)
Each Springsteen concert is like a beam of white light through a prism that results in a rainbow of perspectives and opinions. One person's Good-time Party Show is another's Safe Setlist Letdown; one's Rarity Bonanza is someone else's Night of the Unknowns. This 2017 summer tour closer would be the rare gig that all factions could agree on — it was a Get Off Your Ass and Dance show through and through. And that's clearly what Springsteen had in mind: unlike Tuesday night's first-ever Christchurch concert, which saw him collecting signs after the opening number, no requests were taken or played. Bruce had a firm hand on the wheel all night, the collective eyes of the band locked on him even more than usual, a breakneck pace maintained by The Boss from the band's entrance at 7:25 to Bruce's lone departure at 10:10.
You'd be hard pressed to find a trio of songs less open to misinterpretation than "Darlington County," "Working on the Highway," and "Glory Days." After a hearty "Good evening!" the opening guitar cry of "Darlington" was as blatant a statement as "American Land" had been earlier in the tour. Darkness had yet to fall on Mt Smart Stadium, so no spotlight was needed to watch Bruce saunter from the stage to the lip of the pit, all Stones-y riff and working-man shirt. In his Born to Run book Bruce wrote about knowing that he "played," not "worked," for a living, but on this night he was working hard to connect with people in the rectangular, rugby field dimensions of Mt Smart Stadium. During a typically exuberant "Working on the Highway" he put a fine point on it, challenging the crowd — "Lemme see ya work that thing!" — from the lip of the pit.
An audibled "Glory Days" — the mic guy was sent scurrying back after retrieving it from the pit stage and Kevin had to be told directly by Bruce which guitar he needed — had Bruce imploring his consigliere ("C'mon, work that thing Steve!") and the crowd ("Let's hear it for Steve… not too much…"). At one point Steve slipped a pair of party glasses on Bruce's face. "How do I look?" he asked. A quick peek at a video screen provided an answer. "I look fucking ridiculous." This didn't stop Steve from wearing them as the two traded vocals beside the pit. "Is the band with me? Are the people with me?" Bruce asked. A sufficiently affirmative response made him cry "It's ass-shaking time!" and the tuchases of two street kids from New Jersey were shaken for the final time on this tour.
These Born in the U.S.A. rockers normally benefit from the momentum of a set in progress, so it was odd to hear them kick off an evening. But as Bruce drew a "99" in the air for another audible it was clear he was going with his gut, and his gut said roadhouse. The band modified accordingly and a trashy, honky tonk "Johnny 99" ensued with Soozie, Nils and Jake doing solos and joining Bruce on the pit stage lip to a stomping finish.
An extended guitar duel during "Prove It All Night" made Steve smile while "Out in the Street" and "Hungry Heart" had Springsteen literally running the airport runway of a stage. "C'mon Jake!" yelled Bruce to a man 30 years his junior. And c'mon the sax man did, all for the sake of those "in the stands."
Back on stage ("Whew! Man!" he exhaled) Bruce stood still at the mic and focused on the task at hand: "My City of Ruins." Here's how he introduced it: "This is a song about putting things back together… after they've fallen apart. Putting things back together… after they've fallen apart. 'Cause everything falls apart." Now singing: "You gotta use your heart now. You gotta use your hands now." He summoned Max's snare like a whip and prompted organ and sax solos with "C'mon Charlie" and "C'mon Jake."
He continued: "I originally wrote this song about my adopted hometown of Asbury Park, [which] was going through a lot of hard times for more than a quarter of a century but slowly put itself back together again. Since I've written [the song] it's become about a lot of different things, mainly about the things that we lose as life goes on. The older you get, the more that loss weighs on you." Now singing: "Well they made that change uptown now…" Standing alone. "Now there's tears… teardrops on the city." Clarence. Big, bad-ass, beloved, missing Clarence. Bruce out amongst us before directing his band to the song's gentle finish. Magnificent.
Nightfall blanketed New Zealand's North Island as Jake held onto his anger during a roaring "Wrecking Ball" and the show's core temperature began to rise. "The River" was bathed in blue and Bruce's falsetto, and "Youngstown" saw Nils ripping a solo like a puppet on a string. "41 Shots" brooded and cried as first a few and then many hands joined Jake's in the air by the song's humming close. Bruce yelled "Promised Land" to his bandmates before his harmonica sang and we were reminded that the quality of our lives may rise and fall but Springsteen's catalog of songs never wavers. We just relate to those songs differently.
Max's high-hat signalled "Candy's Room," and we were in that rare concert zone when it feels like the ground below us could fall away but we'd remain floating in place. Max's jackhammered snare gave way to Bruce's wailing guitar and in a few seconds Roy's intro to "Because the Night" unleashed the most intense version of the song on this tour. By the time Captain Lofgren finished his whirling dervish solo we were swept up in a current and dropped on our heads and barely had time to breathe before "The Rising" started and the cycle repeated. For one last time the furious perfection of "Badlands" had us bouncing in place and shouting like mad. A wild, joyous, goofy, exhausting "Rosalita" ended this foursome of '70s thunderclaps that's a fountain of youth to older fans and an affirmation of rock 'n' roll's power to those weaned on a variation neutered by corporate-owned radio monopolies and TV "talent" shows.
After thanking Auckland and saluting the Auckland City Mission for doing God's work, Bruce said "This is the last night of our tour down here" and breathlessly thanked a litany of tour personnel with special shout outs to longtime concert producer George Travis and "Ms. Barbara Carr" of Jon Landau Management.
"Go ahead Roy" brought a sublime "Backstreets," played once previously on this tour and seemingly at the top of everyone's wishlist tonight (besides "Born in the U.S.A.," Bruce's biggest hit in Australia and New Zealand and the one most griped about due to its absence on this tour). Bruce repeated "until the end… forever friends" in a whisper and pointed to the heavens with both hands, acknowledging a stadium full of forever friends (while my ex-pat heart broke for so many friends left behind in the States) Max pounded the "Hiding on the backstreets" crescendo into our skulls, and Bruce delivered a vocal performance as raw and real as the words themselves.
The big four of "Born to Run," "Dancing in the Dark" (the only song to acknowledge sign wavers on this night), "Tenth Avenue Freeze-out" and "Shout" got one last blowout before a tear-jerking acoustic "Thunder Road" brought the tour to a close. Bruce said, "Thanks for a great night. We'll be seeing ya." And it was... oh shit… what now?
Friends huddled in circles, others stood alone, smiles creasing faces that ain't that young anymore. Glistening eyes took one last look around the quickly dissipating closing-night crowd, paths crossed on tour about to bring us home to our everyday lives. Lives that, unlike a Bruce show, offer no guarantees. Lives that for some had been on hold for five weeks after this tour began on a January night in Perth, Australia when Bruce declared the band's allegiance with a "new American resistance." All that was history now, as were 14 nights of shouting, fist-pumping, ass-shaking, jumping, sign-waving, hand-clapping salvation. With a raw longing for this magical circus to continue we bade tearful goodbyes and told each other we'd do it again someday. While that may or may not be true, we also swore forever friends. And that, my friends, will be true… until the end.
For the full setlist from this and other recent performances,
see our Setlists page
- February 28, 2017 - reporting and photographs by Joe Wall
2017 CALENDARS ARE HERE Plan ahead for the new year (or for the hoildays) and grab the new official Springsteen calendar for 2017.
In stock now!
Backstreet Records is the mailorder division of Backstreets, delivering Springsteen merchandise to fans for more than 25 years. We carry numerous collectibles, tour shirts, books, magazines, and imported CDs and records.
The world's best selection of Springsteen collectibles, all available by mail.
"Friend of Bruce Springsteen Has Been Thinking of Excuses to Avoid Checking Out His Band for 50 Years" [The Onion]
Summer '17 Tour grosses $38 million [Billboard.com]
Monologue: Mary, 487 Thunder Road, Neptune, NJ [mcsweeneys.net]
We also post all known concert dates for some of our favorite Jersey Shore (and Shore-adopted) musicians:
Joe D'Urso... and more.
For more information on upcoming shows such as these, check out our Concert Calendar.
Many from the Springsteen community banded together to preserve this Asbury Park landmark.... and Tillie has now been saved!
Check our Save Tillie page for the latest developments.
THE SPRINGSTEEN SPECIAL COLLECTION
Organized by Backstreets in 2001, this storehouse of Boss books and magazines is the largest such collection outside of Bruce's mother's basement. Thanks to the generosity of fans around the world, total holdings are now well over 15,000. But the collection is by no means complete.