Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Bruce And The Seeger Sessions Band ...

Logging in to Blogger just now, I started to type "Bruce" instead of my user name. I have Bruce on the brain.

I have Bruce on iTunes, too. Post-concert Bruce immersion.

Where oh where to begin? Mom and I arrived at (deep breath) the First Midwest Bank Amphitheater (the worst name for a venue .... EVER), formerly The Tweeter Center, formerly The World Music Theater, and parked with amazing ease, picked up our tickets with amazing ease, and then got in line. The gates weren't open yet and those of us with space in the pit were in a queue. A man with a megaphone and a folding chair worked his way down the line announcing the procedure for filing in.

Into the grounds, not into the actual venue. No, not yet. Why? Because Bruce was onstage, doing the soundcheck. How cool is that? We could hear him loud and clear. The concert before the concert. So we made it through the gates, got our tickets scanned, showed our wristbands, and the guy in charge of security eyed us and asked, "Any knives or cameras?" and didn't wait for a reply. I guess we don't look like the knife- or camera-wielding types.

So we formed a new queue, right outside the amphitheater. The soundcheck continued. There were plenty of T-shirts for sale, and $10 beers. We were being allowed into the pit in the order we were in line. "Lottery!" some people yelled outside the gates earlier. The staff put the kibosh to that, basically told the "Lottery!" yellers that they were nuts.

Soundcheck over, we were allowed in. Several people checked wristbands and tickets along the way, and then there we were. About 8 people deep from the barrier in front of the stage. Center stage. I mean center. I mean, I was centered exactly on Bruce's mic stand.

Doreen and Bill, former work pals, showed up and people were nice enough to let them stand with us. We chatted with the people nearby. At one point, I saw mom talking to a group of people and commented to Bill, "I've lost her for the night." She was already having a great time. She can talk to absolutely anyone.

The tickets said showtime was 7:30. Yeah, right. We know better. Bruce took the stage - a stage crammed with instruments - about 8:20. After the first song, I leaned into Doreen and said (you'll excuse my language), "FUCK, he's gorgeous." Matt, one of our new concert friends, smiled at me. "He looks like a legend," I said to him, which I've said before, but not to Matt.

I have never been so close to Bruce before. From our initial positions, he was less than 30 feet away. Later, toward the end of the show, space cleared as people left. (Presumably to beat traffic. What's up with that? Priorities, people!) We moved up, so that when Bruce came to the front of the stage, he was probably 15 feet from us. Or we were 15 feet from him. We were 15 feet from each other. And he was even better-looking.

I glanced up at the monitors from time to time, giddy that I didn't have any need to watch them. I turned around and took in the house. The sea of people was deep and wide.

He played a lot of songs from The Seeger Sessions, but he played some true Bruce, too. But Bruce, showman to the core, created arrangements like you've never heard before. Songs that were nearly unidentifiable until he got to the hook. "Oh," I thought to myself, "*that's* 'Further on Up the Road.' I'll be damned."

Mom, a couple people up and over, was swaying and clapping. She's the hippest 64-year-old you'll ever meet. In my view of the side of her face, I could see smile lines next to her eye. Mom has not had a lot to smile about for the past couple years. But Bruce changed that. It's what he does.

Alone on his guitar, he began a song, starting to stroll around the stage, when his banjo player walked up behind him and tapped him on the shoulder. Bruce stopped and walked back to his mic. "When they tap me on the shoulder, that means I'm in the wrong fuckin' key!", he laughed. "I've done that once before. Bad things happened!" He adjusted his guitar and started again.

He worked the crowd like only Bruce can, whipping everyone into a near-frenzy one moment and leaving us standing stock still the next as he sang solemn anthems dedicated to the citizens of New Orleans and the troops abroad.

But by and large, it was a rockin' good time. Sixteen musicians shared his stage and he let every one of them shine. He played until about 11, stopping only briefly at the very beginning of the show to let a roadie apply some gaffer's tape to his hand, which he pulled off later and threw on the stage. He was sweating. It wouldn't stick.

This was Bruce Concert No. 6 for me, my sixth in three and a half years. You'd think the guy would maybe want to stay home and catch a nap, but I couldn't be more glad that he doesn't.

Word is he has more than enough material written for another album with The E Street Band. When do tickets go on sale?

And in case you haven't read enough, here's the review and setlist from

June 13 / Tinley Park, IL / First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre

Notes: A beautiful Chicago night, my first show since DC, and this thing just keeps getting better and better. First of all, you've got Bruce playing so hard he rubs his hand raw -- he had to call for a masking tape wrap after the "John Henry"/"O Mary" openers. And then move on to some knockout songs I hadn't heard yet -- like the complete overhaul of "Atlantic City," which has been a nightly staple since Indy. It starts with banjo and Bruce on some lead acoustic guitar, before Larry Eagle's booming bass drum brings the whole band crashing in with a barrage of sound; by the end, we've got gospel vocals calling out "meet me tonight" over and over, with a "li li li" refrain. As with all of the originals on this tour, it's a completely different take on the song, and a real marvel. "Long Black Veil" was a new one for me as well, a vocal harmony tour de force with the second verse sung by the always-welcome Chocolate Genius. And then there's the one no one had heard before (unless you were lucky enough to catch the extensive work on it at the St. Paul soundcheck). Those magic words "This is a song we haven't quite worked out yet -- let's give it a shot" introduced the tour debut of "Further On (Up the Road)." Again, a total revamp, with a completely different melody. Bruce and the band gave this Rising song an Irish lilt, thanks in great part to Art Baron trading in his tuba for the flute. "Art is king of the highest instrument and the lowest instrument in the band," says Bruce, "He's known as Art Hi-Lo." Spotlight on Cindy Mizell's beautiful vocal to kick it off, and by the end of the song we also got solo vocal turns from CG, Lisa, Curtis, and Frank. "Further On" still needs a little work, as Bruce suggested, but it's a great addition to the set, and further stunning evidence of this band's capacity for reinvention. Along those lines, "Oklahoma Home" continued in the new arrangement Bruce tried out in St. Paul, adding some nice dynamic variation with a sparser, solo beginning before building to that crazy Dixieland horn business. "Erie Canal," the only time I thought previous shows dragged, dropped out tonight -- so at this point I'd be hard pressed to find a low point. Larry's mama, in the crowd tonight, must have been proud.

Setlist: John Henry/O Mary Don't You Weep/Atlantic City/Old Dan Tucker/Further On (Up the Road)/Jesse James/Johnny 99/Eyes on the Prize/My Oklahoma Home/Long Black Veil/Mrs. McGrath/How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live?/Jacob's Ladder/We Shall Overcome/Open All Night/Pay Me My Money Down

Encore: Bring Them Home/Ramrod/You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)/When the Saints Go Marching In/Buffalo Gals


Blogger Dave said...

You ... are a very good daughter. :)

1:33 AM  
Blogger Beth said...

Aw, shucks, Dave! Well, she's a very good mom. This was her Mother's Day gift.

1:40 AM  
Anonymous Doreen said...

*SIGH* and ditto to all you said :) thank you for being impulsive and being there to witness that with me!!!!!!!!!!

9:48 AM  

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