As one of the last true road warriors among legacy artists, Springsteen is winding down the US leg of his mammoth Wrecking Ball Tour. He will pick up again overseas in the new year, but there are only a few gigs left on this continent.
This will be one of the increasingly rare articles that won’t use the four word title of the penultimate song from Springsteen’s fourth album to describe his concert strategy.
What of other legacy artists? Roger Waters had a solid tour, reprising The Wall. Neil Young has assembled his favorite muse Crazy Horse and is stomping across the land in fine form. The Who is sadly struggling to fill arenas. The Rolling Stones will certainly expand their current handful of dates. Rod Stewart and Elton John don’t really count, their occasional Las Vegas residencies have fans come to them. That said, Stewart has announced some dates with Steve Winwood, which could prove excellent as the latter may goose the former toward his former glory. Yes, Bob Dylan has been on his Neverending Tour forever, but he is diminishing the number of fans due to his lack of respect of the audience. True fans enjoy watching an artist expand and push the edge of the envelope, but Dylan has exploded the concept. Even stalwarts scratch their heads, trying to identify what song the Bard of Minnesota has tortured. His sandpaper vocals don’t help, nor does his lackluster stage presence behind a piano.
Springsteen, on the other hand, has rewarded fans night after night with an evolving setlist, shows often exceeding three hours in length and an audience engagement unseen among his peers.
He had two stops in SoCal on this tour. The first was in April at the Sports Arena, where he played two nights. Although he could easily fill Staples (and he did so at the venue’s inaugural concert in 1999), he prefers the broken down, rusty Sports Arena to the shiny, corporate-box-seat-a-plenty Staples. Upon parking at the Sports Arena in April, I was amused to note that the cost to park was about the same as the ticket price for any of Springsteen’s four nights next door at the Coliseum in the mid 1980s.
The second Sports Arena show was solid, with a great blend of tracks across his vast catalog. Homage was paid to the late Clarence Clemons; his nephew Jake performed admirably. Indeed, Springsteen seemed to make a statement by adding Jake and 4 other brass players, as if to say that is how many it takes to fill Clarence’s shoes. It was relatively early in the tour, so the band was spry and Springsteen was in perky form. He bounded on stage and delivered a triple punch of “Badlands,” “We Take Care of Our Own” and “Wrecking Ball.” For the encore he debuted a cover of the Rivieras’ “California Sun.”
Skip ahead to the recent December show in Anaheim, and some veterans observed that Springsteen was moving a wee bit slower, and more cautiously. He still prowled the entire multi-level stage, but his domain was more constrained. Nonetheless, he enthusiastically crowd surfed and embraced a setlist extending past the three hour mark. The band was sonically as crisp as ever, but it seemed that Steve Van Zandt only perked up when frequent guest Tom Morello delivered some zinging guitar fretwork. Nils Lofgren was able to stretch out with an extended solo in “Because The Night,” his angular guitar chords matching his acrobatic footwork.
Toward the 2.5 hour mark in Anaheim some of the punters began tossing Santa hats to the stage, where Springsteen and Van Zandt gathered them for distribution to the band, leading inevitably to “Santa Claus is Coming To Town.” Shortly thereafter, Springsteen called an audible and clearly diverted from the setlist he had assembled hours earlier. Lofgren scooted around the stage, delivering the cue. The result was a stunning version of “Jungleland,” slowed to a majestic pace.
Where do Springsteen and the E Street Band go in the days to come? They just grabbed three Grammy nominations. Van Zandt this week can be seen coyly peeking from the front page of the Wall Street Journal as part of an article discussing his clever music supervision work with David (“Sopranos”) Chase on the latter’s film debut; “Not Fade Away” is scheduled in early January for a limited theatrical run.
Several of the bands Van Zandt cleared for the soundtrack will be gathering on 12-12-12 for a Sandy benefit in NYC: the Rolling Stones, Dave Grohl, Eric Clapton, Billy Joel, Eddie Vedder, Roger Waters, the Who, Kanye West and Paul McCartney. Springsteen and the E Street Band will understandably be on the remarkable bill.
As for the future, Springsteen has announced a return to Europe in the spring. But might the steam roller certainty of Springsteen and the E Street Band forge ahead thereafter? Even after a needed break, it seems that Springsteen might return to the stage in a more scaled down form. Exactly what form that might be remains to be seen. We’ll see one fine night.