Because the snowstorm called Jonah caused the cancellation of a gig in New York City, the Springsteen organisation made available a free download – for two days only – of a Chicago gig of a few days before. It was the 19th January 2016, just the second date of the 2016 River Tour. You can still buy the gig for $9.95, but it’s no longer a freebie.
Being unaffected in any way by the cancellation or the snow, I availed myself of the free download.
I have mixed feelings about tours where an artist plays through a whole album. When I go to a gig I want to hear the favourites from all eras. Usually I wouldn’t play a record all the way through at home. I’m an inveterate track skipper. The whole of The River? Really? All of it? But then you realise that there isn’t a single bad track on The River and that songs like ‘Wreck on the Highway’ or ‘Drive All Night’ aren’t performed live that often – and deserve to be.
Bruce Springsteen is 67 years old this year.
By coincidence, this night in the Chicago was the night Bruce played an encore that included ‘Take it Easy’ in tribute to Glen Frey, who had just died – at the age of 67. One of the things I’ve been wondering is whether the Springsteen of pensionable age would still be able to do justice to the songs of the 30-year-old Bruce who was angry enough on his 30th birthday to throw a cake into the audience. It’s true that his voice isn’t the supple and subtle instrument it was when he was recording in the 70s and 80s, but he’s doing a lot better than Sinatra was at the same age, and better than Macca, and certainly better than Dylan.
Personnel on this tour seems to be somewhat stripped back. I guess the point is, they’re trying to play The River, not reinvent and re-arrange it. No extended horn section, no row of backing vocalists. We’re back with Steve, Nils, Patti to supply the ragged BVs and just Jake Clemons to supply the sax-ulacrum of the Big Man.
The gig opens with ‘Meet Me in the City’ – a perfectly fine, stomping song that was rejected in 1980 and didn’t make it onto The River. The band then play through the actual album – yes, all of it, even ‘Crush on You’ – in sequence. The concert finishes with a whistle-stop song selection (‘Night’, ‘No Surrender’, ‘Cover Me’, ‘She’s The One’, ‘Human Touch’, ‘The Rising’, ‘Thunder Road’), followed by an encore of ‘Take it Easy’, ‘Born to Run’, ‘Dancing in the Dark’, ‘Rosalita’ and ‘Shout’. Nothing from Darkness on the Edge of Town, nothing more recent than ‘The Rising’.
So if you were to go to one of these gigs, I guess the non-River part is going to be a kind of pot-luck, but you’re going to be short changed if you don’t want to hear all those River tracks.
The first disk of the double tends to get all the headlines: ‘Ties That Bind’, ‘Hungry Heart’, ‘Independence Day’, title track, and so on. But when you listen to the album you always remember that the real emotional climax of the cycle is ‘Drive All Night’, which on record is a tour-de-force vocal to match ‘Jungleland’. Can the older Springsteen pull it off? At first he sounds tentative, not reaching for the hard stuff. But then, he starts to warm to it, and it builds to a satisfying and sensitive finish. The lack of finesse on the BVs this time around really helps show how plugged in to classic 60s pop The River was. You can hear the Crystals and the Ronettes in all those ‘Don’t cry nows’.
Jake Clemons manages to play the solo just like Clarence did. It must be hard to subsume your own style to ape another’s. His is a thankless task: the audience applaud his ability to reproduce what his uncle did so many times, and he must know that the applause wouldn’t be quite so enthusiastic if he did his own thing.
So we want to see this. Portugal in May, Italy in July. Does that mean London in June?