Friday, 22 June 2012

Rising again in The Promised Land - The Boss in Montpellier

It was 31 years since we first saw Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band play live, on The River tour. He was so mind-blowingly brilliant that we paid a tout double the odds (against a face price of £5.50!) for tickets for another show on the same tour. We then saw him twice on the Born In The USA tour in 1985 and again on the Tunnel Of Love tour in 1988. By that time, he was still producing some decent if unspectacular material (and even the odd classic), but his powers seemed to be on the wane. In my opinion, the first 5 albums (all made by 1980) have never been bettered. The so-called "lost decade" of the 90's, which coincided with Springsteen's ditching of The E Street Band - probably the biggest mistake of his life - helped to diminish my interest in his music to a certain extent, whilst also being instrumental in my voyage of discovery of so many other artists and genres. But as the old sporting adage goes, form is temporary, class is permanent. And with the return of The E Street Band in the late 1990's and some very good albums in recent years (and admittedly a couple of distinctly average ones thrown in) Springsteen has restablished himself at the very top of the tree. And how many artists can say that after 40 years in the business. The only other ones I can really think of that are still going strong (at least in terms of playing live) are The Rolling Stones and The Who.

Fast-forward to 2012 and Springsteen's latest album, Wrecking Ball, is (in my opinion, at least) a real return to form. So imagine my delight when I saw he was to play Montpellier, at the time we would be on holiday in the south of France. As soon as I heard about the tour, I contacted my winemaker friend Jonathan Hesford, who I know to be almost as big a Springsteen nut as me - indeed, at least 2 of Jon's wines are named after Springsteen songs(!) I must admit that 100 Euros a ticket ain't cheap (and TLD thought I was mad) but who's to say how many more opportunities we'll get to see the greatest live performer of them all, before he finally hangs up his boots for good? So there we were on Tuesday evening (Jon, Rachel, TLD and I) in the Park Suite Arena, a purpose-built indoor concert and sports venue, to see just how much mustard The Boss could still cut.

The view from our seats - not the best seats in the house, but still pretty good.
We're too old to be standing for 4 or 5 hours in the stalls!
Needless to say, he still cuts it big time - and TLD finally agreed that it was money well spent! Here's a link to the full setlist from Montpellier - all 3 hours and 5 minutes of it. Not the longest set he's ever played, but still a lot longer than just about any other artist you could mention. It's a shame he didn't play too many of what I consider to be the real live classics, such as Rosalita, Backstreets, Thunder Road, Detroit Medley etc, but I guess it is all about giving the audience what he thinks they want to hear, and in the case of the French, it was probably the anthemic hits, such as Born In The USA, Dancing In The Dark, The Rising, Waiting On A Sunny  Day, Born To Run. There were a good number of songs from the new album in the set too, but it is a strong collection of songs, so I'm not complaining. And with a back catalogue of such depth and quality, it would be impossible to include them all. Amongst the highlights for me were Growin' Up (I found my self singing along with youthful abandon - "When they said sit down, I stood up", "I was the Cosmic Kid!"), Candy's Room (Mighty Max Weinberg still brilliant with his machine-gun drumming), Prove It All Night (a live staple for the last 34 or so years), The River (amazing falsetto from Bruce at the end), The Rising (such a powerful, emotive song about the firefighters in the Twin Towers), Fire (given away to The Pointer Sisters, but another long-standing crowd favourite), Seven Nights To Rock (a somewhat obscure but authentic rocker) and Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out (including a big-screen tribute to The Big Man - R.I.P).
The Boss, Miami Steve van Zandt and Mighty Max Weinberg
Nils Lofgren on guitar and Jake Clemons on saxophone -
- it will never quite be the same without The Big Man, but his nephew still blows a pretty mean sax!

How many 62 year-olds can hold an audience in the palm of their hand like this?
All-in-all, it was another memorable evening in the company of Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band, and makes an already brilliant holiday even more so. And it makes me realise that the soundtrack to my life would be immeasurably poorer without this man's music being such a big part of it.

And I can't sign-off without posting at least a couple of videos from the musical goldmine that is YouTube........

Here's one that he played in Montpellier (though this was recorded on a tour a few years ago).........

............and here's one that he didn't do (from 1984 and just an extract - the full version is often 12 minutes or more). Enjoy!

Incidentally, Jon brought along a handful of wines from his recent bottlings, which I have tasted and enjoyed over the last couple of days. I shall tell you all about them in my next post. Meanwhile, the pool beckons!


Anonymous said...

Good review. Glad you enjoyed it.

Couple of points - Dylan is still "going strong" so is Van Morrison.

Where in the lyrics to The Rising are there references to the firemen? Surely you mean "into the fire"?

Leon Stolarski said...

Hi Anon (is that you, Sean?)

You are correct - Dylan and Van The Man are still going strong, although I was thinking more of the hard rock end of the spectrum. But since you mention it, there's also Neil Young, who was in great form at the Nottingham Arena a couple of years back (Dylan was OK too, if a little lacking in communicating with his audience - the only time he spoke was to introduce the band!).

The lyrics to The Rising are actually spoken from the viewpoint of an actual fireman.... "Can't see nothin' in front of me, can't see nothin' coming up behind...." :-)

Vinogirl said...

Sounds like 100 Euros well spent!

Leon Stolarski said...

Vinogirl - it was! If you haven't seen him, try and get to the West Coast arm of the tour. You'd be mad to miss it!

Anonymous said...

Fair point re: "The Rising", I'd never caught on to that. My error.

I took it to be one of several songs written BEFORE 9/11, such as "My City Of Ruins" and "Nothing Man", which are wrongly claimed by many to be about those events. They are not, just uncannily could be.

Also, Paul McCartney is still going strong too. And Elton John. Both of whose careers date from before Springsteen's. Tom Petty still plays live too.

Leon Stolarski said...

Yes, My City Of Ruins was written (if I remember correctly) about his home town of Freehold New Jersey. Still fitted rather well with the theme of The Rising, though. In a similar vein, if you have something like Spotify (or even have the album yourself) then take a listen to "Ashes Of American Flags" on Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot album. Although not officially released until 2002, it was actually recorded well before 9/11 (and streamed for free on Wilco's website in September 2001). I challenge anyone not to imagine planes flying into skyscrapers with the sound effects at the end of that song.

Agreed about Tom Petty (though not in the same league). Elton John is still around, but not doing stuff with quite the energy of Springsteen. Paul McCartney was undoubtedly one of the greats, but is beginning to look and sound way past his sell-by date!

Dids said...

First comment wasn't me Leon.

My comment would have been "wot no wine drank?"

What wiuld I know about Bruce Springsteen, I'm a bloody mod!! On that note you have to see Pirates and the amazing scientist. Has a great tune on it The Beat, Ranking Full Stop.

Glad you enjoyed the concert and truly awesome, th two Jons were there with you, Joanathan Kalman comes across as a truly great fella.

Leon Stolarski said...

Of course, Sean - I forgot you had your own moniker. My bad, as they say! What do you mean you're a Mod? Surely you can't be that old! ;-)

Jonathan Kalman is indeed a lovely chap. Shame we only got to meet him briefly after the show.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the Wilco recommendation. Liked the guitar on it. The live version on Spotify seems more cutting and appealing. I didn't think about planes crashing into skyscrapers at the end (well I did because you mentioned it) but don't think I would otherwise, probably because I wouldn't have been thinking of 9/11 at the time! On the live version the said sound effects are reproduced by searing guitar, to much better effect, I think.

Re: Elton John. I say him last summer live and the portly ageing gentleman actually did a hand spring off his piano!

Jon Hesford said...

It was a great concert and a pleasure to spend it in company with you and TLD.

Still a bit sad that he didn't play Thunder Road, Because the Night or Should I Fall Behind, which should become his tribute to Clarence Clemens IMO, but then I've listened to them so many times anyway. Nice to see "Fire" live.

I've still never seen him play one of my favourite tracks, The Promise.

Anyone who has seen Springsteen recently cannot compare him to the shadows of their former selves that Van, Macca and Elton now represent.

Perhaps one contender from that era, and suitable for Sean, is the Modfather himself, Paul Weller. Though he's replaced his youthful energy with a gritty, bitterness these days.

I'm hoping to see Sting in Argeles in the summer and hoping he is another for who'm the fire within still burns brightly. Noel Gallagher is playing too, although that tit of a brother won't be with him.

Anonymous said...

I have seen Van Morrison and Elton John in the last year and they both gave shows of the highest quality, so for that matter did Elvis Costello, Paul Weller and Chris Rea, all of who I have seen in the last few months. Sure, Springsteen still does the business but so do the other artists. Oh and before you ask, I've seen Sorngsteen 16 times.

Leon Stolarski said...

I tend to agre with you, Anonymous (by the way, who *are* you?!) in that Elton John seems to be ageing quite well and still doing some decent stuff. Ditto Van Morrison (I really should take the risk and go and see him sometime). I saw both EJ and Chris Rea play in Nottingham many years ago and both were excellent. Never seen Elvis, though again, would love to.