Friday, April 27, 2012

Something In the Night: Springsteen and the E Street Band at the Los Angeles Sports Arena

by Gregg Chadwick

"This was perhaps the most inspirational show I’ve witnessed in 30 years of attending thousands of concerts, including at least a dozen by Springsteen. There was maybe one better: When he played Jazz Fest in New Orleans after Katrina and turned the city of ruins into a city reborn. But Morello’s lead on “Ghost of Tom Joad” will be forever seared into my conscience as a testimonial, and a hope." 
 - Evelyn McDonnell, The Los Angeles Times 

Last night the skies of Los Angeles cleared. The storms of the past few days receded only to be followed by the fierce weather of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band's Wrecking Ball Tour. The sold out Los Angeles Sports Arena sported a new coat of paint but the ghosts of past political and musical triumphs seemed to hang in the air. 

With the house lights up, the band entered the arena with the theme from the film The Magnificent Seven blasting. This 1960 American film, directed by John Sturges, is an old-west epic loosely based on Japanese director Akira Kurosawa's iconic film Seven Samurai. Evoking both aging gunfighters and ronin battling for a cause, the band came ready to rumble, opening the concert with Springsteen's Badlands.

On November 5, 1980 at Arizona State University, the day after Ronald Reagan's  election, Springsteen famously expressed just before the E Street Band launched into a ferocious version of Badlands, "I don't know what you guys think about what happened last night, but I think it's pretty frightening."

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band 
(Live at the Los Angeles Sports Arena -  April 26 2012)

Last night's version opened without comment. But it was clear from the tone of the song and the themes of Springsteen's current album Wrecking Ball that our times are no less frightening. 

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band 
(Live at the Los Angeles Sports Arena -  April 26 2012)
photo by Gregg Chadwick

In the Los Angeles Times, Evelyn McDonnell reminds us that "Springsteen has an unmatched gift for expressing our national pain — and also delivering us from it." Springsteen's song  Badlands evokes this pain and then in a triumphal fist-pounding, arena shaking, musical catharsis propels us to “Keep pushing till it’s understood and these badlands start treating us good.”

By the song's conclusion, many in the raucous audience were hoarse voiced and dripping with sweat. Laidback L.A.? Hell no. 

The next song played, We Take Care of Our Own, has grown richer and more nuanced in the live performances since it was debuted at the Grammy's in Los Angeles the day after Whitney Houston's untimely death. Some of the shared sadness of that day has worked its way into the sometimes ironic lines of the song and the audience last night at the Sports Arena belted the refrain with Springsteen and the E Street Band as if in a bid to exorcise the demons of greed and self-centeredness that have haunted our recent history.

The night was just beginning and Max Weinberg's superb drumming guided the musical evening. Gary Tallent's, at times under recognized, bass joined with Max's drums to provide a thundering pulse to Springsteen's songs of loss and redemption. Phil Gallo in Billboard explains that the Wrecking Ball Tour is the first "E Street outing without the late saxophonist Clarence Clemons and keyboardist Danny Federici. Springsteen has opted to fill the holes created by their absence with an element no one would have believed was absent, a sweet soulfulness and militaristic percussion. Clemons' brawniness and the wails that evoked moments of isolation and desperation are replaced by a horn section that alters songs moods like lighting, blue on one song, fire-engine red on the next."  

Springsteen sang the song Wrecking Ball last night like a weathered boxer urging an exhausted opponent to continue an endless well-matched fight for the love of the sport. The audience ate it up and when Springsteen sang the repeated lines "Hard times come and hard times go" in a poignant howl, the young woman behind me laid her arms around me in an expression of empathy. The sacred moment was shared.  

The call for community continued at the Sports Arena in a passionate version of The Ties That Bind. The song was deeply influenced by the sound of Creedence Clearwater Revival's powerful Who'll Stop the Rain and in context with the Wrecking Ball material, the continual flux of life, death and shared existence embodied in The Ties That Bind proved almost overwhelming: 

You sit and wonder just who's gonna stop the rain
Who'll ease the sadness, who's gonna quiet the pain

 After this early emotional crescendo, the stakes grew higher. How would the powerful, musical and emotional connection of this evening continue? Springsteen countered all bets by bringing out the incredibly talented and passionate musician Tom Morello. Beginning with Death to My Hometown, Morello joined Springsteen on stage for four powerful songs spread throughout the night.  

Morello's searing guitar solo closed Jack of All Trades a few songs later

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band With Tom Morello
Jack of All Trades
(Live at the Los Angeles Sports Arena -  April 26 2012)

When he wasn't on stage, Morello sat with his family, close to the edge of the stage, and according to nearby concert goers sang along exuberantly with nearly every song.

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band 
Something In the Night
(Live at the Los Angeles Sports Arena -  April 26 2012)

A key moment of the evening was found in this tours' premier of Something in the Night.
This haunting song is full of an almost existential darkness. The recorded version from Springsteen's 1978 album Darkness on the Edge of Town contains one of Bruce's most heart wrenching vocal roars. Last night in Los Angeles, Springsteen growled and roared for all of us as he sang:

You're born with nothing,
and better off that way,
Soon as you've got something they send
someone to try and take it away,

As on the Darkness album, the band next crashed into a thundering Candy's Room.  Without missing a beat at Candy's conclusion, Springsteen yelled out to the band,"She's the One." 
Jake Clemons, Clarence Clemons' nephew, blistered the saxophone solos in She's the One and held his sax aloft in triumph at the song's end to roars of affirmation from the crowd.

The LA Weekly asks a question in their review of last night's show:

 "We've been watching Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band play in concert for decades, and it seems as if he and his crew get better with every tour. How? With few rare exceptions, aren't rockers supposed to kind of get stale once they get older?

Whether it's today's troubled zeitgeist or solid new material from the album Wrecking Ball or the recent passing of longtime saxophonist Clarence Clemons, Springsteen was inspired and inspiring in a nearly three-hour show, once again making fans at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena true believers in the power of rock 'n' roll."

For me, the continual growth in Springsteen's concerts is his extraordinary ability to push his art to the edge. Sometimes it involves stripping his music down to the barest essence. Other times, as on this current tour in support of Wrecking Ball, Springsteen adds to his sonic arsenal by bringing in a full horn section, backup vocalists and extra percussion to play off of Max Weinberg's bedrock drumming.

 On this tour, Springsteen is also openly embracing the music of his formative years, especially the sweet soul music of Smokey Robinson and the inclusive music of Curtis Mayfield. Each night, Springsteen sings an homage to the soul greats in what has become known as the Apollo Medley. During this stretch, Springsteen ventures deeply into the audience, often - like he did last night at the L.A. Sports Arena -  chugging a borrowed beer. Like a good natured parody of a Superbowl ad, Bruce tipped the beer back letting it spill across his face and down his shirt. Soon after, he was held aloft by the crowd and bodysurfed halfway across the arena to the main stage. Tom Morello met him at the stage with a giant grin and his guitar emblazoned with the words: 
Arm the Homeless. 

Evelyn McDonnell evocatively describes Morello's musicianship:

"Then stroking, beating, hugging and pounding his custom ... guitar, Morello made it a sword, a trumpet, a beat box, a megaphone. It was an ear-shattering, time-stopping performance to which the audience played mesmerized witness. Tom Joad was there, and Clemons, and deceased E Street keyboardist Danny Federici too."

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band With Tom Morello
Ghost of Tom Joad 
(Live at the Los Angeles Sports Arena -  April 26 2012)

Land of Hope and Dreams brought the train into the station  for the encores which ranged from the gospel beauty of Rocky Ground, to the surf guitar of a Ramones inspired cover of California Sun, to Born to Run, to Dancing in the Dark, and finally a celebratory and elegiac Tenth Avenue Freeze-out

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band  
California Sun
(Live at the Los Angeles Sports Arena -  April 26 2012)

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band (With Pam Springsteen) 
Dancing In the Dark
(Live at the Los Angeles Sports Arena -  April 26 2012)

Bruce Springsteen Is Held Up by the Audience Beneath a Portrait of Clarence Clemons 

(Live in Buffalo -  April 2012)

A Springsteen concert is a shared experience of mourning and communal rebirth. Joan Walsh writes in Salon that,"If there were a church like this, I’d be there every Sunday." Springsteen and the E Street Band play again tonight in Los Angeles and then the Wrecking Ball Tour moves on to New Orleans for the Jazz Fest on Sunday. Joan Walsh encourages us to jump on this train,"If you can see him this Sunday in New Orleans, do it. Experiencing this show in the land of stately above-ground cemeteries and glorious marching-band funerals, as well as Hurricane Katrina and the Superdome, might be the ultimate way to experience this sad, heroic, redemptive tour."


We Take Care of Our Own
Wrecking Ball
The Ties That Bind
Death to My Hometown (with Tom Morello)
My City of Ruins
The E Street Shuffle 
Jack of All Trades (with Tom Morello)
Something in the Night
Candy's Room
She's the One
Easy Money 
Waitin' on a Sunny Day
The Promised Land
Apollo Medley
The Ghost of Tom Joad (with Tom Morello) 
The Rising
Lonesome Day 
We Are Alive
Land of Hope and Dreams
* * *
Rocky Ground (with Michelle Moore)
California Sun
Born to Run
Dancing in the Dark
Tenth Avenue Freeze-out (with Tom Morello)

Song by Song Reviews of Wrecking Ball on Speed of Life:

More at:

"Bruce Springsteen's widescreen vision of America on Wrecking Ball is filled with terror, tension, tenacity and above all else, triumph which may not replenish your bank account, but it will replenish your soul."
-Anthony Kuzminski, Bruce Springsteen - Wrecking Ball, antiMusic
All Things Shining by Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Dorrance Kelly
The Working Man's Voice - The Wall Street Journal
Onstage and Backstage with Springsteen at Late Night with Jimmy Fallon
Parsing the Samples and Quotes on Wrecking Ball
Bruce Springsteen, Théatre Marigny press conferenceParis, February 2012

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