For longtime fan of Bruce Springsteen, new tour a chance to enjoy Boss again
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band’s “River” tour spanning 1980-81 didn’t make it this far up the Hudson. It’s one of the few album tours by the New Jersey rocker to miss the Albany area.
Thirty-five years later, Springsteen’s “River Tour 2016” was announced just before Christmas, and Albany made the first round of tour dates. The announcement came the same day a “River” box set was released, including 25 songs that were recorded for the album but didn’t make the cut. There’s also live video and audio of the 1980-81 tour, holy grail stuff for the die-hard fans who thrive on live performances.
I had the opportunity catch the tour’s opening night in Pittsburgh as a lucky winner of the general admission pit lottery. (Check out my photos below…that’s me by the stage!) He does the entire “River” album, start to finish.
I saw “The River” tour in Buffalo as a college student in December 1980. I remember it like it was yesterday: It was my first date with my husband, so it’s pretty easy to remember the details.
Here’s some observations and comparisons of the current “River’’ tour:
You talkin’ to me? Of course you are
When Springsteen tells a story in a room full of 17,000 people, you feel as though he’s speaking directly to you. I’ve always felt that way, and as I grow older, the message gets more personal, more complete. His description of “The River” album itself and his message before “Independence Day” especially hit home. “Independence Day,” he said, “is the kind of song you write when you’re young, and you’re startled by your parents’ humanity. You’re shocked to realize that they have their own dreams and their own desires. Because all you can see is the adult compromise that they had to make. And when you’re young, you haven’t had to do that yet. The idea of it frightens you. It frightened me. And all I could see was the world that they seemed locked into, and all I could feel was the desire to escape that world.”
It’s no longer just the son’s perspective, it’s the parent’s perspective. He’s a parent, I’m a parent.
It’s been reported that Robert De Niro borrowed his ad-libbed “You talkin’ to me?” line in “Taxi Driver” from Bruce Springsteen. It’s that back-and-forth with the audience that makes the show complete. In the early days, he refused to record many of his shows with video, for fear it would interrupt the audience/performer interaction.
The quiet songs deserve your attention
There is a reason the album cover artwork of “The River” features images of a wedding. The struggles of adult relationships are a constant theme, and Springsteen admits he was struggling personally with commitments while writing the music and figuring out what he was going to do as a 30-year-old.
Even “Hungry Heart” is a sad song: “I took a wrong turn and I just kept going.” But “Hungry Heart” and the title track have been concert staples. It’s the lesser-known, quiet songs that make the album complete. “Point Blank” is a shot straight back to the ’80s, with an intro from the past off Roy Bittan’s piano. ‘‘Fade Away,” the second single off the original album, is one of Springsteen’s most telling songs of love gone bad and sets the stage for the rest of the album. “Stolen Car,” “The Price You Pay,” (the final line, “I’m going to tear it down and throw it away,” has Springsteen digging deep and wailing wonderfully) and “Drive All Night” are a trio of songs rarely played but adored by fans. The latter is a 10-minute ballad featuring Jake Clemons at his absolute best.
Finally, “Wreck on the Highway,” is a dramatic, haunting conclusion to a stage presentation of an album filled with voices of characters finding a reason to keep going: struggling to belong, struggling to end a relationship or struggling to keep a relationship going. As the “Wreck” slowly reached its conclusion, Springsteen explains: “One of the things I was writing about on ‘The River’ was time. … Time cwatches up to us all. You’ve got a limited amount of time to do your work, to take care of your family, to try to do something good.”
Grand finale alone is worth the price you pay
The quiet songs finishing up the album will no doubt make many in the crowd restless. And the 12 songs that follow “The River” in concert are Springsteen’s way of saying “I’m not done yet.” In Pittsburgh, several fans in the pit yelled “here we go!,” delighted to reach the point of the show where it’s a mystery what comes next. With tickets ranging from $55-$150, pound for pound, Bruce gives it his all. He performs for 3 hours and 15 minutes minimum. Without stopping or leaving the stage, at this point he launches into a collection of show-stopping concert favorites that will have you shaking your head thinking, “I’m exhausted, how does he — at age 66 — do this night after night after night?”
The band is stripped down to its core, with E Street Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees “Little Steven” Van Zandt on guitar, Nils Lofgren on guitar, Roy Bittan on piano, Garry Tallent on bass, Springsteen’s wife, Patti Scialfa, on guitar and vocals and Max Weinberg on drums.
Van Zandt, who helped produce “The River,” dives back into the lead supporting actor role on this tour. Lofgren’s guitar is showcased, and Scialfa has a nightly duet with Bruce on one of their best collaborations — in Pittsburgh it was “Brilliant Disguise.” Clemons steps into the spotlight on this tour to fill the “Big Man” Clarence Clemons’ big shoes on saxophone, and Charles Giordano fills in on organ and accordian for the late Danny Federici. Soozie Tyrell, violinist and vocalist, is the only musical addition to the band not present during the ’80s.
And by the time Bruce yells “Albany” and the crowd yells back “Bruce,” you’ll realize that diving into “The River” with the “heart-stopping, pants-dropping, hard-rocking, booty-shaking, love-making, earth-quaking, Viagra-taking, justifying, death-defying, legendary E … Street … Band” is amazingly refreshing, to say the least.
Joyce Bassett is an editor at the Times Union. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @JoyceB10Bassett