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Bruce Springsteen in Anaheim: Magic Tour set list & notes from a 30 year & 90 shows fan

April 12, 2008

The Big Monkey’s friend Ron Wells went to both Anaheim shows as well as San Jose (see subsequent post) and this is what he wrote for friends and fellow fans:

“I figgered, ‘maybe it’s all men an’ all women we love; maybe that’s the Holy Sperit-the human sperit-the whole shebang. Maybe all men got one big soul ever’body’s a part of.’ Now I sat there thinkin’ it, an’ all of a suddent-I knew it. I knew it so deep down that it was true, and I still know it.” —Jim Casey, in The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
“Tom laughed uneasily, “Well maybe like Casey says, a fella ain’t got a soul of his own, but only a piece of a big one–an then—. Then it don’t matter. Then I’ll be all aroun’ in the dark. I’ll be ever’where.” —Tom Joad, in The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
The “Ghost of Tom Joad” was the heart and soul of both Anaheim shows. It was the be all and end all, the past connecting to the present with Bruce bringing Steinbeck’s Oversoul by way of Walt Whitman and tying into an arena rock concert for the masses. With homes being blown away by foreclosures and people making similar treks as those of the Joad family, on comes Bruce Springsteen with Tom Morello to remind us of those whom we’re losing connection with. It’s hard times and people are out on that road again seeking food, gas, shelter. And it doesn’t play in the media because homeless, desperate people don’t make for good photo ops, but the Joads are out there again on that long and desperate road and this time they got company once again. Morello uses his guitar, Hendrix style, to scratch out that dirty truth that America’s roads are crowded with the teeming masses searching for a job, a home, a lifeline of hope. The song brazenly screams out from the band all the rage and anger that it can muster in the face of this American Land. The sleeping ghost of Tom Joad comes forth cursing with his own rage and despair, even into Orange County, that bastion of conservative America where the poor are despised for nothing more than being poor. Still, amidst these haunting, proud, Okie ghosts, Springsteen searches for that One Big Soul that Tom and Casey spoke of.
Some of us were fortunate to get glimpses of it in Anaheim.
Thirty-something years later after seeing my first Bruce show, and I’m seeing friends I’ve known from the beginning. People who love Bruce , but love other musicians, films and anything creative this world has to offer. Friends who have stayed out into the wee hours of 1978 or 1980 and talked of life and all that that entails. Friends who have had babies who then grew up into young adults. Friends who have had parents die. Friends who waited to talk to Bruce Springsteen and got their wish. And yes, some friends who are now gone, but remain within us still. All of us sharing the joy and pain that life has to offer, and here we are once again under that all encompassing, vital force that Bruce sings about and is also a part of.
Both nights blend into one big heartbeat, one dream of hope and faith amidst a country struggling for connections. And so Bruce starts off in the dark talking to his friend Steve about seeing the coming Light of Day because “things can’t get any worse /They got to get better.” But it ain’t long until we find that there’s a bad world out there of Murder Incorporated, where you better not look too closely or you’ll realize “everywhere you look life ain’t got no soul,” which really seems correct, but which then begs the question about where those wonderous and profound connections he so often sings about are living or hiding.
Once again, “Trapped” and “Reason to Believe” present that dichotomy of “prisons” inflicted upon us as we find ourselves trapped and lost in this world, and yet we somehow, someway, find a reason to believe.
“Devil’s Arcade” presents death front and center, and haven’t we all seen enough of that in these past few years. Bruce sings that it is the beating of the heart that we must believe in, and yet Max pounds those final haunting beats until one last big bang, and then the heartbeat stops. Just like that. And the ghosts come forth.
But Bruce, like Tom Joad, never gives up. He never gives in. “Blow away the dreams that tear you apart/Blow away the the dreams that break your heart/Blow away the lies that leave you lost and broken hearted,” he sings in Promised Land. There’s a better place. You just must continue to search for the soul of the universe and become a part of it by finding all that is good within you and then connecting with that which is good in others.
On the first night, I watched closely as the band began to return for the encores. Bruce patiently waited until all had entered the stage except Clarence. The Big Man finally struggles up the stairs with Bruce’s help, and they hug. It is a touching, fitting moment of love and compassion and friendship.
With the band all on stage, Bruce rocks the arena with “Rosalita”, “Born to Run” and “Ramrod”. This is the counter balance to all the despair that has come before it. It is the connection that Bruce throws out into the arena for everyone to latch onto, as if to say, “Here are the ties that bind. Grab on to them and pass them along.”
The second night begins with the hope that we’ll “show a little faith, there’s magic in the night,” as we start off down Thunder Road. But the ghost has not left the building and it is again Tom Joad’s soul that anchors this show.
Tonight though, Bruce seeks different answers, with the possibilities of sex, relationships, and love, or at least some semblance of the love we all seek. But even in “Candy’s Room” “there’s a sadness hidden in that pretty face.” In Because the Night the one lover pleads with his partner that “Desire and hunger is the fire I breath/Just stay in my bed until the morning comes,” but eventually ends up begging “to forgive me now.” The ties that bind, those connections of the heart, aren’t easy to find. So in “Brilliant Disguise” he painfully sings, “So when you look at me you better look hard and look twice/Is that me baby or just a brilliant disguise.”

Then here comes the “Ghost of Tom Joad”, yet again, in it’s same screeching, haunting, soul stirring rendition as the night before with Bruce and Tom Morello once again tearing the guts out of that song with all of its anger and rage filling both the living souls listening intently and the ghosts of the Dust Bowl hovering nearby.
And then I saw that connection that Bruce so adamantly believes in, preaches about, and tries to convey on a nightly basis. After the joyous “Out in the Street”, the band leaves to a thunderous ovation as the arena goes dark with thousands of flickering lights dancing like stars in some finite galaxy. Being close to the stage, I notice that Clarence does not walk off with the rest of the band. Instead, he sits and waits patiently for their return. Finally, Bruce comes back and sings a quiet, piano driven “Meeting Across the River”. The arena, rather than exploding, goes quiet, mesmerized by the story of a desperate man who’s about to connect with his pal Eddie so that “Cherry won’t take a walk” out of his life. Bruce sings it as if the guy has just lost his home, his lover, and may now lose his soul.
But an amazing thing is about to happen. The piano starts anew and “Jungleland” begins in all of its splendor, a place where “lonely-hearted lovers struggle in dark corners/Desperate as the night moves on, just a look and a whisper, and they’re gone.” And the Big Man walks slowly to the center of the stage and proceeds to blow his sax like his life depended on it. The horn sends notes of hope, despair and beauty out into the night-like darkness of the arena. Soon, it quiets and Clarence stands strong and proud at center stage. Bruce waits and then walks over in the darkness of the back-lit stage and puts his arm around his friend and whispers something into his ear. I can barley contain myself. Time stands still and all the friendships this life has presented come roaring back into focus with this one embrace. Souls connecting into the One Soul that we all share.
Bruce finishes the song, “The poets down here don’t write nothing at all, they just stand back and let it all be.” Words no longer suffice, as humans look for that connection, those eternal moments that transcend time.
People say it’s only rock and roll, but an autistic boy begins to speak after listening to Springsteen songs. A mother takes her son, who is undergoing treatment for a terrible disease, to the show because she understands that you can’t put a price on one’s attempts to heal the body and spirit. A little girl dances on stage with Bruce, timeless in its simplicity and joy. Yes, it’s only rock and roll, but it’s also the redemptive power of muisc.
As the band leaves the stage, Max grabs a poster and holds it up for all to see. It reminds us to think of Danny Federici, a soul not with us tonight, but with us all the same.
I walk out into the night of thousand chattering voices, all filed with the exhilaration this life can provide, withg the power of Bruce Springsteen and the E street Band. I look up into the night sky and somewhere John Steinbeck is looking down, knowing that we are all in this together, and its our responsibility to rescue those in need, to rescue each other, for starting on the day we were born we are all enveloped in this One Soul for all eternity. You see, there are no ghosts. There are just spirits of that Soul moving around us, moving within us.
Bruce moves off into another city with Steinbeck’s Tom Joad along for the ride, while I head off in the night to meet up with my friends. The same as it’s always been. In some way, the same as it will be forever.
“I will provide for you and I’ll stand by your side

If you need a good companion for this part of the ride…”—-Bruce Springsteen (The Land of Hope of Dreams)

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