by: Ben Hasdovic
You don’t have to read the book... but you should because reading is good for you and can be enjoyable!
(The following was by memory, which can be a bit spotty after a few, so apologies if I got anything out of order. By no means is this blog a review of the show, just a personal view on what I experienced as an audience member.)
Seeing Springsteen perform solo in a 900-seat theatre would be enough for any music fan to have an incredible evening listening to his music, re-imagined to fit this scaled down solo set. However, if you only pay attention to the songs on this particular performance you are missing the forest for the trees. In between the songs (and sometimes right in the middle of them) are methodically crafted monologues of how these songs came to be, and what they mean to Bruce as a person. Many of these stories are based on concepts from his best-selling autobiography, Born to Run. Think of it as watching a great American songwriter and performer, and listening to the author of an enjoyable book expand on concepts from that book, all in one. The result for the audience is a unique experience of a multi-layered connection of not only the songs in this carefully crafted set, but with Bruce himself and a version of the “American Experience” that is easily relatable on one level or another.
The set starts off on a humble and somewhat humorous self-deprecating note with a Springsteen monologue admitting he’s never been on a factory floor or even worked a 9-5 job. (Jokingly, he explains this stint on Broadway is the first five-day a week job he’s had.) From here he goes into Growin’ Up and before the last chorus breaks, he launches into another monologue describing getting his first guitar and lesson at the age of seven, all while still strumming the chord progression of Growin’ Up. It was these moments of reflection that make this complete performance. The desctription of getting the guitar home, what it smelled like when he first opened up the case, was so vivid that anyone who is, or has been, on this great musical journey is instantly brought back to that exact point where this happened in their life.
The next four songs continued the theme of youth. Whether he was describing the tree in his front yard he played on and under (My Home Town) and coming back years later to find it was cut down, declaring his father was both his greatest Hero and greatest Foe (My Father’s House), or missing “The Blank Page of Youth, yet to be written” (Thunder Road), I found myself relating to his experiences in his monologues on such a fundamental level.
From here the set took a turn to civil responsibility in tone. This can be a tricky subject for a performer as they can run the risk of alienating a portion of their audience. His viewpoint on “no one goes to a rock-n-roll show to be told something” but “people do want to be reminded of who they (and we) are and what we can be” navigated this very polarizing theme perfectly before launching into The Promised Land.
Before going into Born in the USA, Springsteen describes his first meeting with Ron Kovic (author of Born on the Fourth of July) at a VA event and being dumbfounded and speechless at what he saw and the horror stories he listened to. This song was a highlight for me on this set. Playing a twelve string with a slide, producing an ominous droning sound, pausing only to deliver lyrics that would make Woody Guthrie proud, all in a cadence that seemed to be Lead Belly-esque, provided a whole new take on this classic (and often misunderstood) anthem.
After Tenth Avenue Freeze Out, a fun and loud ode to his friend and saxophone player Clarence Clemens who passed in 2011, the rest of the set was upbeat. Patti Scialfa, his wife, came out and performed Tougher than the Rest and Brilliant Disguise. It was here that Springsteen talked about the “shroud of youth” and, once gone, fully understanding that we are only here for a finite time. He highlighted what having someone to enjoy the good moments and endure the hard times means. (A shot of confidence for me as I ended up proposing to my girlfriend three days later.) Bringing his mother back into the set, by quoting her “When times’ get tough, lace up your dancing shoes”, before breaking into Dancing in the Dark was a perfect balance of honoring his mom as he explained the pain of watching her deal with Alzheimer’s for eight years earlier in the show. Closing the set, he brought his career--and his life--full circle with his breakout hit Born to Run.
This Broadway performance adds up to the chronological life story of a man who is pushing 70, and has been writing, performing, and recording for five decades. His complete openness in all aspects of his life throughout this performance is what shows him as truly one of the Great American Songwriters. Crafting a tight two-hour solo set is a far departure from the marathon arena shows he does with the E-Street Band and highlights his desire to create and try new things as an artist. If you have the cash and can find a ticket--two tickets and two drinks will cost you a mortgage payment, I’m not kidding--you won’t be disappointed.
1. Growin’ Up
2. My Hometown
3. My Father’s House
4. The Wish
5. Thunder Road
6. The Promised Land
7. Born in the U.S.A.
8. Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
9. Tougher Than the Rest (with Patti Scialfa)
10. Brilliant Disguise (with Patti Scialfa)
11. Long Walk Home
12. The Rising
13. Dancing in the Dark
14. Land of Hopes and Dreams
15. Born to Run