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Review: Springsteen’s “Working on A Dream” in AZ & so are we in LA!

April 5, 2009

We are lonesome animals. We spend all our life trying to be less lonesome. One of our ancient methods is to tell a story begging the listener to say—and to feel—”Yes, that’s the way it is, or at least that’s the way I feel it. You’re not as alone as you thought.”–John Steinbeck

“Out here the nights are long, the days are lonely
I think of you and I’m working on a dream”
–Bruce Springsteen

Ron Wells, a friend of ours and a huge Bruce Springsteen fan, provided the quotes above. He traveled from LA to Arizona to see Bruce’s “Working on A Dream” tour stop Friday night, April 3 in Glendale and wrote the review of the show which follows. We’ll likely see him (as well as Bruce!) at the LA Sports Arena for the Springsteen shows April 15 and 16. Didn’t know we were Bruce Springsteen fans? Go here for more. Go here for more about the LA shows and an LA Times interview with Springsteen. Here’s Ron’s review of the Magic show last year in San Jose. Now for Ron’s review of the Glendale AZ show:

The wind in Phoenix on Friday was blowing like some erstwhile Oklahoma dustbowl, dirt and debris like dashed hopes whipping against people struggling to stand upright. It was appropriate that at a time in America when the screendoors have come off of their hinges, dresses are tattered and torn, and tents pop up housing humans who could pass for ghosts, that Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band blow in to try and build a little fortress in your heart that can hold something like hope.

There are a lot of destitute souls wandering this bankrupt landscape tonight, and Bruce comes bearing nothing more than a chance to make some connections with his own brand of faith and redemption.

In an arena almost filled to capacity with an audience that will follow him every step of the way for the next two hours and forty minutes or so, he and his band of brothers and sisters slam into Badlands because “there’s trouble in the heartland.” The clouds on the screens behind him turn dark and ominous.

But then a change in the wind, a change in the landscape as Outlaw Pete relates a tall tale, or is it a metaphor for the last eight years, and it jumps right in after the opener and includes a moment of Bruce wearing a cowboy hat just to lighten the mood. My Lucky Day soars with hope as he feels “the grace” of his lover’s smile. He counters every gut shot, every dark and dreary reference to the outside world  with a challenge to see the light and joy that linger on the edges of darkness, in the forgotten spaces of the human heart.

The night will continue like that, hope and faith standing toe to toe with misery and destitution. The band seldom slackens the pace as Bruce races from one song to the next like a man on a mission, a man trying to carry the whole arena of music loving souls on his shoulders. Connections are made,  love is offered, hope is given around every bend as he tries to end everyone’s loneliness and share his sense of community, of family, the only lifelines available to us as we watch our own friends, family and neighbors slowly sink away into statistics of doom and gloom meandering across a tv like a wall street ticker tape torn to pieces.

Bruce will have none of it. He understands he is “only” a musician, but he understands the healing, vibrant power of his art, his music, that which transcends human consciousness. For this reason he offers songs like Out in the Street, Waitin’ on a Sunny Day, Lonesome Day and others that casual fans eat up like a buffet of smiling dreams, so much so that even two young boys are allowed to sing some verses solo as Bruce comments “they have they’re own style”, as he laughs. It is that laughter, that infectious joy that he spreads in hopes that everyone will take a moment to laugh with him.

Still, reality checks in, as it has done from the moment Bruce Springsteen became a songwriter, and so he gives us a blistering Seeds where a “kid has a graveyard cough,” perhaps one of those kids who are a part of the one in five hundred currently homeless in these United States. If that isn’t sobering enough, Johnny 99 rocks with a boogie piano lead as the words counter the music with hopeless resignation as the man says “the bank was holdin’ my mortgage and they was takin’ my house away/Now I ain’t sayin’ that makes me an innocent man, but it was more ‘n all this that put that gun in my hand.” Open a newspaper these days and that fiction becomes reality. Ghost of Tom Joad brings the 1930’s into 2009 and the song unfolds slowly with just an accordion as accompaniment until the band kicks in and plays it hard and angry as Nils mimics Tom’s anger, desperation, and ultimately his faith as he shreds and plays his guitar like a life line into Tom’s soul.

The rest of the set continues on it’s relentless, urgent pace, alternately moving between bleakness and light, but never offering the option of giving in. It is not what Bruce Springsteen does. He may  sing the Wrestler as a solemn anthem of a lost soul, but turns around and gives us Kingdom of Days with his wife, his love, standing just an embrace away so that he doesn’t notice the “summer as it wanes”, but he does see “a subtle change of light” on her face.

The concert is a full of snapshots that come back now like paintings of a time and place I always want to remember. Bruce joyous over the fact that “the Big Man’s dancin’ tonight” as Clarence rocked Out in the Street and whistled on Working on a Dream. Signs came out for Downbound Train and and Rosalita, and they each sounded fresh and amazing. During Because the Night Bruce thrashes the guitar moving his hand so fast it looks like a blur as he tears into the instrument because “desire is the fire is the fire I breathe/Love is the banquet on which we feed.” He will not be stopped. Working on A Dream contains the heart of his message in which he proclaims in his preacher’s voice that he is “building a house of hope.” Before Dancing in the Dark he gets Clarence’s sax for him and carries it over to the Big Man pretending it weighs a ton, as if only a giant could play this thing. Which is what Clarence does.

The encores come and Hard Times, the Stephen Foster song from 1855, is brought front and center after a heartfelt message to give to one of two local food banks out in the lobby. The song is sung with the new back-up singers and most everyone else up front in a kind of gospel choir. It is stunningly heartbreaking and heartfelt because we know the its truth is all too real today:

“While we seek mirth and beauty and music light and gay,

There are frail forms fainting at the door;

Though their voices are silent, their pleading looks will say

Oh hard times come again no more.”

Land Of Hope and Dreams promises that we are all on this train together, that dreams will not be thwarted and that faith will be rewarded. It promises to end the loneliness and desperation we are now feeling as American Land kicks in behind it with the audience dancing and clapping. The bodies move and the souls dance. Almost as if they were one. Almost as if they are lonely no longer.

Which is what he set out to do. The show ends and the band exits one way while Bruce walks Clarence over to the platform that will take The Big Man down off of the stage, both of them smiling, souls connected forever. Bruce then turns and waves to the crowd as he follows his brilliant band off of the stage. Waves of energy still fill the arena.

As I leave, I seek out the food bank and give as much money as I am able. For tonight, I am one of the fortunate ones who can buy a ticket to hear Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. The least I can do is contribute and hope that in a small way I make a connection and that someday that unknown person on the receiving end of my donation will be able to get back on his or her feet and stand up in this American Land. And in the back of my mind, I’m thinking that just maybe, someday I might end up in that situation and I hope someone will offer to make the same connection with me. We are all in this together.

Bruce sings songs. If you think this is just a rock concert, then you haven’t been paying attention during his long hours of energy filled music and myth making. He makes connections. He lessons people’s loneliness by sharing stories of pain and hope. He gives us every ounce of his life, of his love, while he’s on that stage and offers us nothing short of the pure passion that comes from his “God-filled soul,” offering to share it with us, if we will just take it and share it with others.

It this web of connections that will form a net and allow us to catch those who are in free fall right now. He’s building a house, fixing those screen doors, working on a dream of hope, and asking us to do likewise.

In these perilous times, may we all touch someone, make connections with others, as he touches and connects his heart to ours.


Because the Night:

Build a House/Working on a Dream:

One Comment leave one →
  1. April 5, 2009 10:27 pm

    Beautifully said.
    We are researching a new tribute volume to the 1978 Darkness on The Edge of Town album and tour. We would like to contact anyone that saw any shows on that tour, please send an email to: cheers.

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