Saturday, 27 October 2007
Bruuuuuce in Oakland
So, Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band didn't make it to Sacramento this time, but since I missed them at Arco on "The Rising" tour - their only tour I'd missed since I first saw them in 1975 - I impulsively grabbed a friend and headed down, ticketless, two hours before show time on Thursday. Rumors that this is Springsteen's last tour with the band - arguably the greatest rock 'n' soul band that has ever existed - were an added incentive.
After a brief negotiation in the parking lot of the Oracle Arena, we scored two $100 general admission floor tickets for $60 each. Had we wanted, we could have shaved another $20 off that, easy. There were a LOT of tickets for sale. For Springsteen!
Things have changed. It has long been easy to get tickets in parking lots for shows - as far as I can tell, a truly sold-out show is a thing of the past. So many tickets go to scalpers on the first day on sale that ordinary people feel instantly locked out, assuming that the prices will go up. But as anyone with a house in town knows, prices can go DOWN, too!
But especially with shows in the Bay area, who wants to drive two hours, and pay $20 to park, on the CHANCE that they'll get a ticket outside? Well, WE did! But I've had encouragement lately: A month ago, seven friends and I drove down to see The Arcade Fire - the art rock successors to the E Street sound - at Shoreline. We ALL got tickets. We all got FREE tickets.
Besides that, doesn't the audience have to make an effort to see an artist who is famous for making the ultimate effort?
But something is happening to the concert market - a lethargy and why-bother attitude among older fans in particular, who are used to, as Josh said, "Being treated well" when they spend $75, $100 to go out.
We can only hope that what's happening in the concert market is not a follow-on to what's happened to the recorded music market: music is STILL worth something, as Springsteen and the E Street proved all night with a set that focussed almost entirely on the new album, "Magic," and songs from their two great mid-'70s classics, "Born to Run" and "Darkness on the Edge of Town." But it's not worth as much to as many people as it used to.
Still: Bruce and the band delivered. He's 58 years old, and so's his band, so this wasn't one of his epic shows of legend: two sets have been trimmed to one long one, and the tear-the-roof-off encore marathons of the past have gradually been trimmed down to a couple big hits (he closed with "Dancing in the Dark").
But how many acts can almost entirely ignore two of his biggest-selling albums "The River" and "Born in the USA" and still do an epic show? They don't make rock stars like Bruce anymore, and my friend, who'd never seen him, was blown away. I was a bit more jaded on this, my 20th Springsteen show: Yes, the band is great - drummer Max Weinberg should be on a COIN or something - and Bruce is a master of pacing, mixing the mid-tempo "heartland" rockers that became his stock-in-trade in the early '80s with his explosive classics: after several pleasant tunes from "Magic," the band virtually exploded with the one-two punch of "Adam Raised a Cain" and "She's the One" before settling back into another mid-tempo groove for several songs. A rockabilly-styled remake of "Reason to Believe" was fantastic. And "Born to Run" and "Thunder Road" are so much a part of my Stuck-In -Sacramento-with-the-New-York-Blues-Again youth that I would have to have them surgically removed from my heart.
AND many of the new songs from the chart-topping "Magic" album of last month work well live. While "Radio Nowhere" and "Girls in Their Summer Clothes" sound generic to me, and "Devil's Arcade," while gorgeous on the album, sorta just stood there live. But some songs exploded on stage, especially the celebratory "Livin' in the Future." But even liberals like myself can cringe a bit at Bruce's using John Kerry's "last to die for a mistake" line as the hook of a rock song. Can't we?
"Magic" is solid, but the title overstates the case, and I would have to say that the concert was the same. "Solid" would be a better description. And the cheers were for a whole history, not just a single performance. We will not see a rock star like Springsteen again. Ever.
Just as the ample cheap tickets outside indicated, there is not the same fire for, or even perhaps IN Springsteen, or his audience. Though he caught them up by the end, it was more work than he's had to do in the past, and when the "c'mon, sing along" lights came up on the audience at several points, what I saw was a lot of people looking to be entertained, rather than connect. It is to his undying credit that The Boss was still able to rouse this crowd, but the effort it took seemed to wear on him a bit.
And I couldn't help coming away with a feeling that a whole age of rock music has passed, and is not coming back. Quick, who is the figure that inspires what Bruce inspired in his generation(s)? There is no one.
And frankly, that left me feeling a bit melancholy. Bruce is still the Boss - but he's the Boss of a fine little shop, not a factory.