Archive for the ‘1990s’ Category

The second of the three Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band reunion-tour shows I attended was no mere concert, but a blow-out bash; and while not the favorite Springsteen concert that I’ve enjoyed, it ranks near the top. Originally slated to take place on September 16th, it was pushed back eight days due to Hurricane Floyd’s unexpected visit to the East Coast. That meant the shindig fell on the day following a major Springsteen milestone: His 50th birthday. 

Unlike the other five nights in Philly, the concert took place at the Spectrum, which seemed positively tiny and quaint in comparison to the barn-like First Union Center. The site holds a special place in Springsteen lore for two reasons: When he and the E Street Band first played it on June 6th, 1973, during a 13-date stint opening for Chicago, they were greeted – for the first and possibly last time – not by shouts of “Bruuuuce!” but actual boos; in response, Bruce is said to have flipped the finger to the over-eager fans, who were no doubt clamoring for “Roxie” instead “Rosalita.” (Oh, wait – wrong Chicago!) Fast forward three years, however, and he and the band played their first and second large arena shows as a headliner at the venue on Oct. 25th and 27th, 1976. (Both nights, as all nights in Philly, sold out.)

My first memory of this show: The traffic and parking, which were insane. The Phillies were at Veterans Stadium, which was situated across the street from the Spectrum, and the Flyers were hosting the New York Rangers at the F.U. Center, which was next door. The Schuylkill Expressway and I-95 were both backed up, and Broad Street was at a standstill. We pulled into and parked in a distant lot that, I’m fairly certain, was in Timbuktu.

Although – as I mentioned in my post on the Sept. 20th F.U. Center concert – my ticket stubs have been lost to time, I recall Diane and I being situated in first or second-level seats, about 5 o’clock to the stage’s midnight. Not the world’s best, obviously, but much better than one show in ’92 when I found myself sitting in one of the Spectrum’s “obstructed” seats (aka behind a cement pylon).

My next memory: Bruce strolling stage center with a boom box, which he held to the microphone. He played a song that a fan – a neighbor of his mother’s, no less – had sent to him for his birthday. After that, he launched into one of my favorite songs by him, “Growin’ Up,” and soon enough we were havin’ a party. As on the 20th and the 25th, highlights included the five-song stretch from “Youngstown to “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out.” In short, the night was raucous and meaningful at once, exactly what this thing called rock ’n’ roll is supposed to be about. 

Unfortunately, video-capable cell phones were still a ways away, so YouTube is not littered with clips of the concert. But two cool, fan-shot videos, both from behind the stage, are present. The first: the first performance of “The Fever” since the Darkness tour…

The other: the closing number of the night, “Blinded by the Light.”

All in all, for me and mine, it was a great show.

The set:

  1. Growin’ Up
  2. No Surrender
  3. Prove It All Night
  4. Two Hearts
  5. The Promised Land
  6. Spirit in the Night
  7. Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street
  8. Mansion on the Hill
  9. Independence Day
  10. Youngstown
  11. Murder Incorporated
  12. Badlands
  13. Out in the Street
  14. Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
  15. Working on a Highway
  16. The Fever
  17. Backstreets
  18. Light of Day
  19. Bobby Jean
  20. Born to Run
  21. Thunder Road
  22. If I Should Fall Behind
  23. Land of Hope and Dreams
  24. Blinded by the Light

(As noted in my first Essentials entry, this is an occasional series in which I spotlight albums that, in my estimation, everyone should experience at least once.)

Last Sunday, I tripped back to 1999 via a favorite concert; this week, I’m revisiting the same year via one of my revered albums, Natalie Merchant’s Live in Concert. Released on November 2nd, 1999, the set collects 11 songs recorded five months earlier at the Neil Simon Theatre on Broadway.

The easiest way to break it down: Five Tigerlily songs; three covers; two 10,000 Maniacs tracks; and one offering from Ophelia. But that doesn’t do it justice. In short, it’s the kind of album that pulls you into its mid-tempo (and slower) grooves. It’s low-key and atmospheric, and less a career summary and more an artistic statement. The songs rise and fall as one.

The album opens with three Tigerlily tunes: “Wonder,” “San Andreas Fault” and “Beloved Wife.”  Each is stirring in its own right, accented by gentle undertows that ebb and flow. A few songs later, on “Carnival,” the undertow grows strong and pulls the listener under.

That leads into one of the things her eyes may have seen while wandering around that street festival: poverty. “Dust Bowl Days” (from Blind Man’s Zoo) is an empathetic portrait of society’s oft-hidden underclass. It may not be the first 10,000 Maniacs song most fans think of, yet it’s here, and it’s as hypnotic and mesmerizing as “Carnival.”

The song selection is less about the hits than the feel, in other words, with further evidence provided by Ophelia’s title track in the stead of “Break My Heart,” “Kind and Generous” or “Life Is Sweet.” Back in the day, after all, it didn’t garner any airplay, so – on the surface – it’s inclusion is an oddity. As is one of her covers…

To my ears, Natalie’s reading of the David Bowie trippy classic, which was inspired by Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, is nothing short of tremendous – it takes us through the same secret doors down corridors as “Ophelia.” The same goes, to an extent, with her rendition of Neil Young’s “After the Gold Rush,” which finds her alone in a burned-out basement. At one point, the instruments drop out, leaving Natalie breathing the lyrics for a verse. It’s haunting.

As good as those covers are, however, nothing prepares one for her compelling take on Katell Keinig’s “The Gulf of Araby.”

Live in Concert was released at a time when the music marketplace was near the end of a decade-long expansion, with a slew of teen-driven pop acts topping the charts; it was a metaphoric October 23, 1929, in a sense, as the Napster-era crash was in the offing. The headwinds alone don’t explain why the album only reached No. 82 on the charts, however. I’d argue that demographics played a larger role; those who discovered Natalie during her 10K days or via Tigerlily had since become adults with adult concerns, and had less money to burn. But no matter. Twenty years on, it’s safe to say that – whether one’s a new or old fan – Live in Concert is an essential set.

The track listing:

(A live DVD culled from the same concert features a slightly different set. Unlike the CD, it’s no longer in print, but is well worth seeking out – used copies are available on both Amazon and Ebay.)

In 1999, after a decade apart, Bruce Springsteen reformed the E Street Band. March saw the band engaged in private and public rehearsals at Atlantic City’s famed Convention Hall, where the Beatles played in 1964, with the practice interrupted only by Bruce being inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. The 15-month tour began in Spain on April 8th, and remained in Europe for the next two-and-a-half months – a smart plan, really, as it guaranteed the band was in peak form by the time they hit the States.

And hit the States they did: On July 15th, Bruce and band kicked off a sold-out 15-night run at the Continental Airlines (aka Meadowlands) Arena in East Rutherford, N.J., followed by five nights in Boston, three in D.C., two in Michigan, and a half dozen in the city that championed him first, Philadelphia. (In total, including Europe and Canada, Bruce and the band played 133 concerts in 62 cities; as the tour wore on, there were more one-and-dones.) Most tickets cost $67.50 (or $103.76 in 2019 dollars) prior to the TicketMaster charges.

That six-night residence in the City of Brotherly Love, I should mention, saw him play five nights at the home of the Flyers and 76ers, the F.U. (aka First Union) Center, and one at the former home of the same sports teams, the hallowed Spectrum, the site of his first arena show in 1976. I had tickets for three (Diane had five) and, in fact, my first night of the fun was slated to occur on the 16th at the Spectrum, but Hurricane Floyd caused the concert to be pushed back to the day after Bruce’s birthday, the 24th. As a result, this night – our 18th wedding anniversary, no less – turned out to be the first that I took in.

Though the ticket stubs have been long lost, memories of each concert remain, including one (the 25th) where Diane I sat exactly opposite the stage in the last row of the second level; and the Spectrum gig (which has gone down in Bruce lore as one of his best – I plan to write about it in the future). This night, however, is the first that springs to mind – and not because of the music, but a little girl.

Diane and I were accompanied by our good friend (and Diane’s longtime Bruce buddy) Luanne and Luanne’s 6-year-old daughter Loren, with the four of us sitting in the first level – section 102 or 103, I believe, somewhere in the 8 o’clock range. Good seats, in other words, but far from great. On that tour, however, Bruce had a member of his crew roaming the hall to offer instant upgrades to the front row; while running into this person was akin to hitting the lottery, it happened, and not just for folks in the nose-bleed sections.

I know that last part for a fact, as it happened to us this very night – almost, that is. 

Let me set the stage: We arrived somewhat early, found our seats, ran to and from the bathrooms and food vendors, and sat back and watched the arena slowly fill while talking about what we hoped for from the night. I wanted “Candy’s Room,” and a set anchored by Darkness on the Edge of Town; Diane, who’d studied the set lists up until that point, thought that unlikely. Somewhere in there, we noticed the crew member navigating through our section toward us. (The backstage pass dangling around his neck was the tell.) Words were quickly exchanged. “I can’t,” he said once he realized Loren was with us. “She’d get crushed.” People rushed the stage, he explained, and little kids could get hurt.

He moved on.   

Still, it was a great show. “Candy’s Room” led into “Adam Raised a Cain,” and three more Darkness songs were sprinkled throughout the set (though not “Promised Land,” the lack of which always disappoints me). As with every night of the tour, though some sections of the set changed, others did not. So, as on all other nights, an electric “Youngstown” – one of my favorite live songs by Springsteen with the E Street Band, as it melds the folk and rock traditions (and also features a mesmerizing solo from Nils Lofgren) – gave way to “Murder Incorporated,” “Badlands,” “Out in the Street” and “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out.” Everyone was on their feet, dancing and singing along, fists pumping the air.

Everyone, that is, except for Loren. At some juncture, as only little kids can, she sacked out. Her eyes closed and head drooped, and despite the joyous din she found herself in, she fell fast asleep. (To this day, it’s one of the sweetest things I’ve witnessed.) By the time Bruce and the E Street Band lit up the arena with “Light of Day” and “Ramrod,” wave upon wave of bodies crashed upon the stage as if it was a seawall; she heard and saw it not, but she was safe while her mother, Diane and I were thoroughly enjoying ourselves, our so-so seats notwithstanding.

Anyway, since no video of this night exists on YouTube, here’s “Youngstown” from Live in New York City, which was filmed in April of 2000:

And, from the fifth night (7/26) of the Meadowlands stand, here’s “Light of Day”:

And, last, since it was a highlight for Diane then and now (“I’ve got goosebumps,” she just said), here’s “Back in Your Arms” from the 14th night (8/4) at the Meadowlands:

The set:

  1. Candy’s Room
  2. Adam Raised a Cain
  3. The Ties That Bund
  4. Prove It All Night
  5. Two Hearts
  6. Darlington County
  7. Something in the Night
  8. Mansion on the Hill
  9. Independence Day
  10. Youngstown
  11. Murder Incorporated
  12. Badlands
  13. Out in the Street
  14. Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
  15. Working on the Highway
  16. The Ghost of Tom Joad
  17. Back in Your Arms
  18. Backstreets
  19. Light of Day
  20. Ramrod
  21. Bobby Jean
  22. Born to Run
  23. Thunder Road
  24. If I Should Fall Behind
  25. Land of Hope and Dreams

So I watched the Oasis: Supersonic documentary on Netflix last night. The 2016 film, which I recommend, makes ample use of home movies, archival footage and fresh interviews to chronicle the band’s ascent to U.K. superstardom, which culminated in 1996 with back-to-back headlining gigs at Knebworth for 250,000 fans. (Some 2.5 million applied for tickets.)

A similar level of success in the States was not theirs to be had, though they did do well – especially with their sophomore set, (What’s the Story) Morning Glory, in 1995.

I enjoyed their guitar-driven music at the time, especially on that album, but found brothers Liam and Noel Gallagher blowhards and, language-wise, unnecessarily crude. So it came as a surprise to me when, during the doc, a self-aware Noel explains what made that second set resonate. “The songs on that record, they’re extraordinary songs. And they’re not extraordinary songs because of anything that I did. I only wrote them, and we only played them. It’s the millions of people who f***ing sing them back to you, to this day, that have made them extraordinary.”

It’s a remarkable observation – putting the onus on the listener/fan – because it’s a truth often missed by artists, fans and critics alike, and yet is applicable to every song ever written and every song yet written. While the inspiration, intent and development of a song are (usually) interesting, they can and will never explain why it does or doesn’t connect with the listener(s). That’s the great intangible. Or as Noel puts it, “We made people feel something that was indefinable.”

It once was customary for songs to come our way without their backstories shared in interviews for months or even years after their release. The tunes simply floated in from the ether (aka the radio or our turntables), and we made of the lyrics what we would. We interpreted them, debated them, and saw ourselves in them. In today’s age, when over-sharing has become the norm, my fear is that artists confide too much of the whys and wherefores of their art. (To borrow a phrase from Iris DeMent, let the mystery be.)