Friday, May 15, 2009

Road Work on E Street

There's nothing musically more enjoyable than a Bruce Springsteen show. The Boss has the unerring ability to put a genuine smile on your face and get your feet moving.

Last night, at the Times-Union Center in Albany, the E Street Band hit the ground running with "Badlands." On the drum riser was Jay Weinberg, Mighty Max's boy, easing himself into the position due to Dad's West Coast gig with Conan O'Brien starting June 1. Young Jay, who looks little like Dave Grohl and plays a little like Animal from The Muppets, was a thunderous presence throughout the night. He was in the game at all times, and, though Max's touch was missed, the heir to the throne had his own style that added much to the show. It was fun to, every once in awhile, note the elder statesmen's prompting and encouragement of their nephew, attentive uncles making sure he did well.

Jay's presence did limit the set list. The last few years, the band pulled out many a chestnut, like "Be True" (a personal favorite). With a new member on board, it's likely that there will be more hits than obscurities. In just over a year, the band has gone over an overhaul, losing Danny Federici to cancer and Max to California. Clarence Clemons can barely walk, and while he may be, in Bruce's words, "the biggest man you've ever seen," his immobility brings mortality to mind. But, like a well cared for road, the band is patched and repaved. It feels different to travel on, but it's still the best path to travel.

The highlight of the night was the camera on Nils Lofgren's guitar. The "fretcam" showed, in giant screen form, the artistry of the little man. "The Ghost of Tom Joad" was turned into a blistering guitar storm, and seeing up close the extent of Lofgren's string bending and finger work was mind-blowing. Never saw anything like it in my life. Rage Against the Machine's take on this neo-folkie has nothing on last night's live performance.

The new tunes from Working on a Dream didn't jell with the rest of the show. They are great songs, but the high production value needed to get them across doesn't quite work live. Especially when sitting next to a high octane version of "Mony Mony."

Springsteen has been ending, or nearly ending, his shows with "American Land," a tribute to immigrant America. It's the type of song that Bruce does well, and The Dropkick Murphys do better. Hearing it last night and watching the band, made me realize how much the E Street Band represents this idealized melting pot - a Polish Catholic guy everyone thinks is Jewish, a Dutch guy who everyone thinks is Italian, a young Jewish kid replacing an old Jewish man, a big black guy, a Norwegian (I guess), and some undefinable ethnics (what nationality could surnames like Bittan and Tallent be?) - Bruce Springsteen is America!

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