25 enero, 2011

With a little help for my friends

Despite being a year without an official tour, 2010 has been no lost year for Bruce Springsteen. Two new titles have been added to his already extensive discography (Live in Hyde Park and the impressive boxset The Promise: The Darkness on the Edge of Town Story) and he’s kept his public profile alive, with several appearances in charity concerts and television programs. On Saturday, January 15th, Springsteen joined again the Light of Day benefit festival, guesting with Jesse Malin, Willie Nile and Alejandro Escovedo, and performing for nearly two hours with Joe Grushecky and the Houserockers. The concert was a far cry from his regular appearances at clubs as a guest artist. The precedent for this performance can be found two months earlier, in Pittsburgh.

On November 4th and 5th Springsteen was the special guest at the special anniversary concerts by Joe Grushecky in Pittsburgh, his hometown. It was the 15th anniversary of the release of American Babylon, the 1995 album produced by Bruce Springsteen that brought Grushecky’s career back. That album had the inestimable help of his friend from New Jersey, who took command of the record production, performing and co-writing many of the songs on the album.

The Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall is a splendid classical theater at the University of Pittsburgh, with capacity for 2,300 people. It goes without saying that tickets sold out in minutes for both nights. You could feel that a good part of the audience were Springsteen fans. When he came on stage the audience exploded. He surprised everyone when he announced himself as ‘the opening act’, then performing amazing acoustic versions of «A Good Man is Hard to Find (Pittsburgh),» «For You» and «This Hard Land.»

He left the stage after introducing Joe Grushecky & The Houserockers. Two songs into the set Springsteen joined the party and gradually took complete control of the night, acting as a singer, guitarist and frontman. Bruce was in great shape, eager and full of energy and joy, which he spent in abundance. He nailed the vibrant guitar solos of «Never Be Enough Time» and «Another Thin Line», walked in the front row interacting often with the audience, inviting them to sing and participate. A show in such a small and beautiful theatre offered an intimacy that is rarely seen on his massive stadium tours.

The Houserockers looked thrilled and let Springsteen lead the show. Along with classic Grushecky tunes («Homestead», «American Babylon», «Talking to the King,» «Pumpin ‘Iron» or «Down the road apiece») there were quite a few Springsteen songs, with considerable emphasis on the Darkness era, with «Adam Raised a Cain», «Fire,» «The Promised Land» or «Darkness», along with the recent «Save My Love», undoubtedly one of the highlights of the show, with its long and effective guitar ending that gives new life to the song. After the final «Twist and Shout» de rigueur, Bruce again closed the night alone, with a heartfelt rendition of «Thunder Road.»

The second night Bruce was the ‘opening act’ again, opening with beautiful acoustic versions of «Your Own Worst Enemy», «Bobby Jean», «I’m On Fire» and «This Hard Land.» The concert with the Houserockers was almost identical, with minor changes. Namely: «Johnny 99», «Pink Cadillac», «Light of Day», «Glory Days» and «Burning Love.» The conclusion we draw is that Springsteen is eager to play live again and recent insider infos point to a tour in 2011.

Fast forward two months and we are now in Asbury Park, where the Light of Day festival runs for 3 days, to raise money for the research of a cure for the Parkinson disease. More than 70 bands play for 3 days at different venues in the re-born Asbury Park (now full of clubs, bars and restaurants along its famous boardwalk).

The highlight came Saturday night at the beautiful Paramount Theatre, located at the beginning of the boardwalk in Asbury Park. After several opening acts it was the turn for Jesse Malin, possibly the best performance of the night. Accompanied by a solid, strong band, Jesse electrifyed the audience from minute one, and ended his magnificent performance with «Broken Radio», sung as a duet with Springsteen himself, who made his first appearance of the night. Willie Nile was next with his usual amount of passion and energy and, again, Springsteen joined at the end of his set, for a long version of «Heaven Help the Lonely.»

Alejandro Escovedo was next up on stage, this time for an acoustic set with his guitar player David Pulkingham. And once again Springsteen joined the stage, this time for the song «Always a Friend». What happened next was probably Bruce’s best performance at Light of Day ever. Joe Grushecky was due next, but once again, as they did in Pittsburgh, Bruce appeared onstage with his acoustic guitar to act as the opener for Joe, and delivered a beautiful, majestic version of «Your Own Worst Enemy», followed by «This Hard Land.»

With Joe and the Houserockers onstage, we got a repeat of the Pittsburgh shows from last November, with a nearly identical set list (just a bit shorter). Springsteen led the show and was very enthusiastic for the next 90 minutes. The highlight was the debut of a wonderful rendition of «One Way Street» from The Promise boxset. «Thunder Road» was again chosen to close the night, with an unforgettable version sung by all the artists onstage and the whole audience.

See complete set list from Pittsburgh Nov. 4th 2010

See complete set list from Pittsburgh Nov. 5th 2010

See complete set list from Asbury Park Jan. 15th 2011

photos: John Cavanaugh/Rocktography