Bruce Springsteen is on Fire, The Apollo, Wrecking Ball & SXSW
The Apollo Theater, NYC, 3/09/12: A week ago Friday night, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band played Harlem's Apollo Theater in NYC. The event was organized by Sirius XM Satellite Radio to celebrate ten years of satellite radio and they broadcast the concert live. I am about to say two things that I haven't said in over twenty-five years: 1) I listened to the concert live as I recorded it, and 2) the concert was amazingly great, the best live Bruce I've heard since the Tunnel of Love tour. Bruce was energized, the band was tight (even expanded), and the performance was so intense that it left me with the feeling that I had just heard the old Bruce, the guy who in his first ten years made his concert performance a life changing experience.
Of the nineteen songs played at the Apollo, seven of them were from the new album, Wrecking Ball. Audiences often don't take kindly to new material, but in this case, all the songs from Wrecking Ball sounded great. The set construction was itself ingenious; I won't take you through the whole set song by song (setlist follows), but the first six songs will give you the idea. He opened with "We Take Care Of Our Own" and although I did not care for this song initially when it was released as a single in advance of the album, I must admit that in live performance as a set opener, it's unstoppable. Out of the end of the song comes the rhythmic cymbal opening of "Wrecking Ball"; a song that works well both on the album and live and with this pair of songs he has set the bar high both in terms of lyrical theme and musical energy.
As "Wrecking Ball" is ending, Bruce counts off and the band rips into "Badlands", the theme continues and the crowd is eating out of his hand. Out of the end of "Badlands" comes the count off and all of a sudden it's the anthemic Irish sounding "Death to My Hometown" and a subject no less weighty than the 9/11 disaster; another song that sounds great on the new album also.
From there it's on to "My City of Ruins" which after a horn driven intro drops into a soul simmer and the talkative Bruce who used to delight the crowd with stories in the old days returns to greet the audience, restate the mission of the E Street Band, introduce the players and give perfect tribute to the recently deceased band members, Denny Federicci and Clarence Clemmons, all within another song inspired by 9/11. This is a genius moment and I encourage you to listen to all 12:56. Perhaps the biggest question prior to this tour was how would Bruce handle the death of Clarence musically, in terms of the sax being so integral to Bruce's music. For this tour they use a whole horn section to replace Clarence, which takes a little of the pressure off the guy playing the sax, who as I understand it, is Clarence's nephew and although it must have been tough for him, he really played some great sax.
Listen to "My City of Ruins" (live at the Apollo)
At the end of the song Bruce says, "We're going to take you back to the beginning of it all" and with that they're off into the "E Street Shuffle" and the concert continues in that fashion for over two hours. The Apollo Theater photographs are courtesy of Gary Dell'Abate via Twitter. He tweeted that Bruce was all over the theater, singing from the audience as you can see below.
The Apollo Setlist:
We Take Care Of Our Own
Death to My Hometown
My City of Ruins
The E Street Shuffle
Jack of All Trades
Shackled and Drawn
Waitin' on a Sunny Day
The Promised Land
Mansion on the Hill (Acoustic)
Wilson Pickett Medley: The Way You Do The Things You Do / 634-5789
We Are Alive
Rocky Ground (With Michelle Moore)
Land of Hope and Dreams
Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
Hold On I'm Coming
Wrecking Ball (Special Edition)
SXSW, 30th Annual Austin Music Awards, Austin Music Hall, Austin, TX, 3/14/12: Bruce began his Texas onslaught the night before his scheduled events with a surprise appearance at the Austin Music Awards. Alejandro Escovedo was the headliner and I'll let the guy who filmed the video (DownThunderRoad) tell it.
I will not forget this night. Alejandro brought Joe Ely out first and they did a song and then Joe asked if there were any other guitar players in the house. Curtain popped open and here came Bruce. I had my camera on but was so excited when I saw him I turned it off by mistake. I was shaking!
Bruce did 4 songs with Alejandro. They started with "Midnight Train," then covered Woody Guthrie's "Goin Down The Road Feeling Bad," Alejandro's "Always A Friend" then Joe left the stage and they brought back Garland Jeffreys to finish with the Stones "Beast of Burden!"
Lord Have Mercy
SXSW, The Keynote Address, Austin Convention Center, Austin, TX, 3/15/12: It was a first for SXSW to allow live television coverage of a keynote address and NPR streamed high def video that looked great when thrown up on the big screen; as a viewer I felt as if I was right there in the room. Bruce did not just give a great speech, he Testified. He talked about the state of music now and what it was like when he started out as a kid with his first guitar. He talked about his influences and asked for a guitar to demonstrate and went on to state that everything he's ever done is derived from "We Gotta Get Out of This Place" by the Animals. He talked about a lot of things including Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie and ended with some sage advice for young bands. The speech was nearly an hour long and was as compelling as a concert. Check it out.
SXSW, ACL Live, The Moody Theatre, Austin, TX, 3/15/12: A couple of months ago, Bruce's people contacted the people who run SXSW and offered that Bruce would like to play the festival this year. SXSW now has about 2,000 bands that must be scheduled in hourly blocks for upwards of 60 venues. It's a logistical jigsaw puzzle of the highest order. Even though a lot of the scheduling was complete, that's an offer you don't say no to. SXSW could not have known that Bruce, with a great new album and a triumphant show at the Apollo still fresh in memory, would come down to Austin and totally tear the place up.
For the scheduled concert, Bruce touched on a lot of the themes that he bought up in the keynote including a couple of Woody Guthrie songs and a lot of musician guests, like Eric Burden of the Animals who joined Bruce on stage to sing "We Gotta Get Out Of This Place". There are many reviews of the show, like this one, but all the reports I heard said that this show was the stuff of Austin legend. Watch some of the better videos and check out the setlist.
Photo Courtesy Brucetapes.Com