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Review of LA “Dream” Tour Show #1: Fallen Angels in the Darkness Seeking Light

April 16, 2009

LA #1: Fallen Angels in the Darkness Seeking Light
by Guest Blogger Ron Wells

Lives on the line where dreams are found and lost,
I’ll be there on time and I’ll pay the cost,
“I’ll be on that hill with everything I got,
For wanting things that can only be found
In the darkness on the edge of town.”

Bruce Springsteen

“Watch out now, take care…..beware of darkness.”
George Harrison

The Los Angeles Sports Arena, which opened in 1959, stands weathered, beaten and bloodied like one of the boxers who used to fight here in its glory days. It stands down the street from brightly lit, commercialized and hyped Staples center and the Nokia Theater, where the beautiful people go and “rattle their jewelry” rather than applaud, as John Lennon would say. This small, forgotten and neglected little arena stands not far from Hollywood where George Harrison finally got his star on the Walk of Fame this week, but it also stands on the darkness on the edge of all the glittering lights of LA, a city that is, more often than not, nothing  more than a somber refuge and a last resting place for the fallen angels who came here seeking light and glory, and found only darkness and despair.

And this is the place that Bruce Springsteen has chosen to play his concert.

For it is here where memories reside along lost treasures: where he played Halloween shows after rising, smiling, from a coffin; where he led everyone in singing happy birthday to Roy Orbison; and where he brought the wounded and noble Vietnam Vets on stage to remind us of the true cost of war.

It is here then, with nary a luxury box to seen, that Bruce Springsteen proclaims, “This is the joint that don’t disappoint.”

And in his power and imperfection, he and his band sing in this darkness attempting to shine a little halo of light on all of us, living our own lives of power and imperfection. He will heed George Harrison’s call to not let the “hopelessness around, in the dead of night” bring us down. “It is not what we are here for.” Not tonight, not ever.

The band comes on stage and it is immediately noticed that Patti is not here.  He will later dedicate “Kingdom of Days” to her and  the kids, but the song, though stunningly beautiful, seems to resonate less without her presence.

“Badlands” has the entire arena standing and singing and it segues into “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” seemingly the touchstone for tonight’s show. It is played with such intensity that Bruce seems to be singing from a place deep in his soul and sharing it with us all.

“Out in the Street”, like “Waiting on a Sunny Day,” and “Lonesome Day,” are still the songs that the casual fans love and whether one likes them or not, it is such a joy to see an entire arena of people standing, singing, waving their arms in pure delight and exhilaration.  There may be small sections of people who remain seated, but on this night they are a very small minority, for this crowd understands its responsibility in giving something back to Bruce, just as he is giving to them.

“Seeds,” “Johnny 99” and “The Ghost of Tom Joad” are absolutely stunning in their power. Bruce spits out words in anger and fury at what has become of this country and the obscene callousness with which those in power have tried to bring us all to our knees. Nils and Steve play guitars like their lives depended on it in “Johnny 99,” and never did guitars wail, screech, and moan with such desperation and anger as they do in this song. Then, just when you thought all emotion had been drained from you and the band too, on comes Tom Morello in a reprise of the Anaheim show of last year and Bruce welcomes him like a long lost friend. “Tom Joad” starts slowly enough, but then it builds and builds and builds until Morello plays that goddamn guitar like an obscene curse against those who would leave our fellow citizens downtrodden, destitute and begging for work, food, and shelter in this country of ours. It is like a raging, rampaging roar for the multitudes.

Yet John Steinbeck saw redemption even in this uncaring world, for he saw spirits that would not be defeated. I look in the eyes of Bruce Springsteen and Tom Morello and I see the spirit of Tom Joad fightin’ to be free, and then their eyes mirror Tom Joad’s face that is reflected in  “the campfire light.” A  small, burning light that shines into and through our darkness. Like flames of hope.

For most bands, this would have been the highlight and end of the night. But this is Bruce Springteen and the E Street Band.

And so Bruce chooses a sign and says this is going to be a challenge for the band. Nils shakes his head and runs to the back of the stage and grabs another guitar. Then, and the sense of relief is palpable, Bruce kicks the band into “Raise Your Hand.” Like some church tent revival, the audience laughs and screams and dances and raises their hands touching the light spreading through the darkness. It is just so much fun.

“Spirit in the Night” follows and Hazy Davy, Crazy Janey, Killer Joe, Wild Billy and other old friends all come out seeking the “gypsy angels” while Billy and Davy are “dancin’ in the moonlight.” Then all of us closed our eyes and “together we moved like spirits in the night.” Once more boys and girls, into the light.

Yet, over on the side is one who is not dancing. It is “The Wrestler” and the more you hear this song the more its intensity grows. Bruce, alone in the spotlight, as the wrestler, barely audible, says that “the things that comforted me, I drive away.” His only “faith” is the “broken bones and bruises” he displays. And as Bruce stands alone in that light, the darkness creeps ever closer.

“Racing in the Street” follows and starts slowly, just a tale of a man who loves racing his car and even was able to find the love of his life by winning a race against “a Camaro driven by some dude from LA.” But now, time has passed and there’s “wrinkles around” his baby’s eyes as she stares off into the night “with the eyes of one who hates for just being born.” The man promises to drive himself and her to the sea and “wash these sins off our hands.”  The music slowly begins to build and swell, over and over again as Bruce tries with all his might to drive his character and his band into some divine redemption of faith and hope. The music is majestic and fills our souls.

“The Rising” and “Born to Run” soar into the uppermost reaches of the arena’s old rafters with everyone up dancing their cares away. There is only the moment, and that moment is nothing but joyous exhilaration.

For the encores, Bruce comes out and once again pleads for us to give to the local food banks. For those of us here tonight, how can we afford not to, for this is not about feeling guilty, it is about hope and connection. And then Tom Morello joins the band once again as they open with “Hard Times,” a song that is becoming anthemic in its power, voices raised in pleas of desperation and hope that these times will come no more. Morello is right there and his guitar screeches in fury and salvation.

Bruce will not stop and so he is all over the stage in “Tenth Ave. Freeze Out,” until not even that stage can hold him, and he jumps off and moves down the side of the pit and back, laughing, singing, touching the people who have supported him all these years. It is an exhilarating moment of connection.

“Land of Hope and Dreams,” “American Land,” and an amazing “Rosalita” close the show. The audience moves as one body, one soul, as they clap, sing, and rock this world, seeking nothing more than one glorious moment of joy in this life that is often filled with harsh reality and pain.

The show ends as Bruce helps put Clarence’s black jacket over his shoulders, a la James Brown, and the entire band waves to everyone in front of and  behind the stage as they march off together.

I have read great books, seen powerful films, looked at sculptures and paintings that touched me deeply, and yet I am so lucky to have lived at the same time when Bruce Springsteen and the E street Band have played  music that has resonated with me so deeply it is difficult to put into mere words. The friends that I have made, the sadness and laughter we have shared, all because one man from the Jersey shore had a vision and a desire to connect with other human beings in such a way as to lessen his, and our, loneliness in this this life of what Thoreau called “quiet desperation.”

John Lennon said: “A dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together is reality.”

As I walk out of this aged arena, I share the dream of Bruce Springsteen. It is a part of my reality.

And I swear to you, with his music playing on in my heart, on this night I saw before me even the fallen angels, wings intact, begin to rise from this darkness into the light. May it ever be thus….

Note from Art Predator: I’ll be at the show tonight and will get up a set list with some comments ASAP!

One Comment leave one →
  1. October 19, 2009 10:18 pm

    A beautiful review. You have captured the power and poignancy of Springsteen’s music in your prose. I was at this show as well and I must say that the Sports Arena itself did seem to be an architectural embodiment of “The Wrestler.”
    Inspiring stuff.

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