Still away from home so my comments aren’t prompt. Still, here’s several but far from all of my impressions of Springsteen’s performance in St. Paul Tuesday night.
Twenty-five songs over 2 ½ hours. Half coming from Devils & Dust (9) and The Rising< (4); the others ranging from throughout his career. It is impossible to adequately describe the power of the man performing alone on stage with a couple guitars, harmonicas and a piano. (A couple times a subtle keyboard or synthesizer was just underneath his performance but I could not tell its source.)
Still, I thought the show started with a couple clunkers, particularly the second song, “Reason to Believe.” It was Springsteen laying down the beat by stomping his booted foot and playing a harmonica and singing through what can only be described as a fuzz box. This was deep Delta blues on bad acid. The tune was virtually unrecognizable and I only figured out what it was when a guy behind me told his wife the title when she asked at the end of the song. Perhaps experimental but it fell wholly flat for me.
Yet perhaps this was a blunt way of telling the audience this was going to be a different Springsteen than probably any of us had seen before. Among other things, Bruce did stunning versions of “The River” (including a beautiful falsetto) and “Land of Hopes and Dreams,” as well as revamped versions of “Paradise” and “The Rising” that gave different perspective than was possible on The Rising tour. For me, his performance of some of the Devils & Dust tunes added new meaning to them. For example, I was not a big fan of “Reno” or “The Hitter” even after a couple listens. But his live performance of them added nuance I had not picked up from the bare CD. And for whatever reason, “Leah” was revealed Tuesday night as a far more exquisite tune than it has sounded on any listen to the CD.
Some of this was due to Bruce spending some time between tunes to discuss directly or anecdotally what was behind them. For example, he talked about how “Jesus Was An Only Son” was prompted in part by the fact that one aspect of the story is Mary “losing her boy.” (Although I also noticed that the couple in front of me took offense when Bruce suggested Jesus might have preferred settling down with Mary Magdalene, having a couple kids and managing a bar in Galilee over his ultimate fate.) He also made clear to the audience that this was a different setting. During one soliloquy, he mentioned the loud whistling that was occurring and said, “Cut that shit out.” He also told the audience it wasn’t necessary to clap at the beginning of a song if you recognized it. “Just nod your head like this. I’ll get your vibe.”
But don’t get the impression he was impertinent or insulting. Both comments were made in a manner that did not display displeasure and served to reinforce the type of evening it was. And he tailored the show to the audience to some extent, dedicating one song (“Book of Dreams”) to a soon-to-be married couple) and in the encore dedicating “A Good Man is Hard to Find” to a St. Paul police officer killed within the last week while working undercover.
This was not a perfect performance. It was, however, a performance by a personable, talkative Springsteen that cast new light on his music and his musicianship. It was a remarkable and memorable evening.
Well there’s just a spark of campfire burning
Two kids in a sleeping bag beside
I reach ‘neath your shirt, lay my hands across your belly
And feel another one kickin’ inside
I ain’t gonna fuck it up this time
“Long Time Comin'”, Bruce Springsteen, Devils & Dust