I don't have it in me to write an extensive review of the second Springsteen/E Street show in Mansfield. Not because it wasn't any good -- it was fan-freakin-tastic. Not because I don't want to boast about how close I got to the stage (one person between me & the stage, more or less in front of Steve Van Zandt, a great vantage point from which to appreciate all the little interactions that go on among the band members). But in many ways, that second show struck me in a non-verbal, purely physical place. Maybe because it was about a million degrees and a kazillion percent humidity in the pit and I sweated more that night than I think I ever have since back in the days of karate practice in a non-air-conditioned dojo. Maybe because it's hard for me to accept how much being at a show like that is home for me, and the brutal fact of it is that I don't get to have that experience more than a few times a year, and sometimes when I'm not actively nestled in the heart of E Street Nation I feel a little bit exiled.
I console myself with music. Right now I'm listening to the bootleg of that second night, when they took a request for a song called "Janey Don't You Lose Heart" -- an older song that I have only recently fallen quite in love with, and had not at all expected to hear performed. In a way it's a slighter song, not one of the big classics, not one of the epics. It isn't "Thunder Road" or "The Rising" or even "Prove It All Night." But it's a sweet song, and it was played with great affection.
That's part of what I love about how the band is performing these days -- the sheer fondness for the songs which is so clearly evident. I've seen & read a couple of interviews with Bruce where he talks about how it's like you're in a car with all the people you have been over the years, the crazy 20-year-old, the 30-year-old who just wants to crash the car into a wall, and so on, and you just hope the guy who's driving is one of the reasonable ones. (Completely paraphrasing there; he said it much better than that.) These days, it's clearly the pushing-sixty Bruce who's driving, taking great care, using all his years of experience to navigate the hairpin curves. But what I love about the guy and his art is that he has never kicked any of those other people out of the car. He is still solidly in touch with the youthful wildness that inspired "Born to Run," the rage that inspired songs like "Murder Incorporated," the sorrow of "Point Blank" or "The River," the complicated emotions of "Independence Day." When he plays those songs it's not with irony or nostalgia; it's with a real inhabiting of the original emotion that inspired the song, but also with a sense of affection and compassion for the version of himself that wrote the song. If that makes any sense at all.
And watching that, watching what happens on that stage as he re-inhabits those songs with compassion & affection but without losing the hard-earned 60-year-old self that can drive that car safely home -- I begin to understand something that I haven't quite put words to, yet. As Springsteen sings in "Tunnel of Love," "you've got to learn to live with what you can't rise above" -- and there's something in all this music about learning to live with yourself, with your own sorrows, your own regrets, and yes, your own sheer cussed goofiness.
So much more that I'd like to write about these shows, at some point -- in particular about watching the band members interact with one another, how a raised eyebrow or a tilt of the head can speak volumes among people who've been working & playing together for well over thirty years now, the sheer physicality of who they are with one another. And some of the music itself, too, of course: the second night saw Nils Lofgren taking a "Prove It All Night" solo that verged on the physically impossible (hitting a whole run of scorching harmonics with the guitar up over your head? Come on, Nils, that's just SICK!) and an absolutely spine-tingling "The River," among many other musical highlights.
But I'll leave you with two videos. There are a lot more out there, but these are a couple of my favorites. First up, "Thunder Road" from the second night. Because this is one of my very favorite songs, and because I think the guy who shot this video was about ten feet to my left -- yeah, I was THAT close to the stage.
And finally, just because this is so goofy and so fun, this is what happens when a fan submits a song request via blow-up doll. While Bruce & the E Street Band can make my knees weak and make me weep with deadly serious songs like "Point Blank," they also know how to play in every sense of the word. And you gotta love Stevie plopping that wig on top of Bruce's head while he's playing and singing and can't do a thing about it. :)