Friday, August 01, 2008

Closing Our Eyes And Saying Goodbye To Gypsy Angel Row 

You either love him or you don't. The bottom line is not just that Bruce Springsteen owns the stadium where the Super Bowl champions play their home games, but that he deserves to.

There were only three shows at Giants Stadium this time, an impressive showing of modesty from a guy and his band who packed the place ten times in a row the last time they blew through there, five years ago. These concerts were announced in December of last year; I made the decision to catch opening night and anted up on StubHub for a pricey pair of floor seats all of five hours before showtime.

Verdict? Great call. I never saw The E Street Band before their 1999 reunion; I'd seen Bruce run through a couple Beatles songs as a surprise guest at Ringo Starr's 1989 show at the Not-Yet-Corporately-Sponsored-At-That-Point Garden State Arts Center. Caught him with "The Other Band" at the then-still Brendan Byrne Arena in '92, and was lucky enough to witness a solo acoustic rehearsal show on the Tom Joad tour at, of all places, The State Theatre in New Brunswick in 1995.

Scoring a pair of free ducats for two of the 15-night homecoming at the arena in 1999 was a true coup, and the show blew me away, with the sprawling band owning on a Sunday night in July. It's a damn good thing the show was amazing, too, since my acquisition of the tickets for it led to me giving away the Yankee tickets I had for that afternoon--which I'm glad were enjoyed by my father and my brother, because David Cone only threw a perfect freaking game that day. The experience of seeing Bruce with the band proper was redeeming and memorable, a piece of my own imagined history I didn't know if I'd ever get to see.

The one show I caught during the 10-night stadium stand underwhelmed me. No, it was far from bad, but it also wasn't transcendent. Blame it on mezzanine seats the full length of the stadium away, blame it on the fact that I wasn't a huge fan of The Rising or "Light Of Day." It was with moderate trepidation that I contemplated the band now, five years farther down the line, with Danny Federici gone, no less. You can't ask a Bruce fan how the recent shows have been, because most of them will just say it was amazing. But I'd been tracking the set lists online since last fall; they were good and getting better, and the shows were getting longer again. After working like a dog all summer, it was time to take one last chance to make it real.

Real it was. Reeling off "Spirit In The Night," "Growin' Up," "Brilliant Disguise," "Lonesome Day" (The Rising's only transcendent moment), "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out" and the revamped (a la The Seeger Sessions Band version, which more than borrows from The [latter-period] Band's brilliant reinvention thereof) "Atlantic City" within the first ten songs sealed it as a classic show. In the end, there was only one misstep, the obligatory 942-hour cornball version of "Mary's Place." And, criminally, there was not a single song from The River, which conveniently is the Bruce album I've gravitated toward the most for the last year or so, and is probably my favorite if you don't count Live 1975-85. Bruce rubbed salt in this little wound by playing no less than five River songs the following night.

But with "I'll Work For Your Love" mid-set, brilliant versions of "Tunnel Of Love" and "Long Walk Home" on the tail end, and an all-world encore that included "Summer Clothes" and "Jungleland" and "Bobby Jean" and "Dancing In The Dark" AND "Rosalita," well...really, after three hours and 20 minutes of dancing in said Jersey dark, to ask for more just wasn't fair. The new football stadium under construction about 18 inches west of the current Giants Stadium is set to open in 2010, and if last night's performance of "Rosalita" was the last time that utilitarian venue where I've screamed my head off for many memorable football and concert moments plays host to the bard of New Jersey and crew, the send-off was a proper one. And if there's another run of "farewell" shows before they tear down the home of Big Blue (and for no good reason, but that's another post), I'll see you there.

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