Just back from Night Two of the Boss’s two-night stand here in Our Nation’s Capitol. I was in a better position tonight, on the floor instead of Section 116 behind the stage, which wasn’t bad either — I actually like seeing the performers’ perspective, that sea of hands and smiling faces. But the sound was much better from in front of the stage, and the band’s overall energy was higher tonight. I thought Night One’s setlist was more interesting, however, featuring the rarely-performed title track from the single most underrated album in the cannon, Tunnel of Love, the still-not-appearing-regularly Magic tune “I’ll Work for Your Love,” and of course the extended encore featuring the uber-rare two-fer of “Growin’ Up” and “Kitty’s Back.”
Tonight’s set was one song shorter than last night’s, and featured five songs not performed the first night: “The Ties that Bind,” “Jackson Cage,” Patti’s “A Town Called Heartbreak,” “Backstreets,” and — it’s hard to believe this one is an alternate tune instead of an every-nighter, though I like that Bruce is giving one of the standards a rest — “Thunder Road,” dedicated “to Jann [Wenner, sez my associate J. Freedom du Luc, whose review of Night One appears in tomorrow's Paper of Record; though I saw him at tonight's show, too] and Pat.”
I have no idea who Pat is.
Five out of 24 set-changes ain’t bad, but I thought there might be a few more: “Lonesome Day,” “Workin’ on the Highway” and even, though it pains me to say it, “The Promised Land” all felt like the could be candidates for rotation. Some of the other tunes I know have already been performed this tour that I was hoping to hear tonight are “Brilliant Disguise” (again from the unfairly shunned Tunnel of Love) and “Be True,” a Tunnel B-side. Yeah, I love me some Tunnel, even if the production does sound quite dated now.
“Last to Die” was dedicated “to John” tonight. Yeah, that John, whose testimony before Congress in the 70s inspired the title.
My overall take on the Magic tour as I’ve experienced it these last two nights is that it isn’t as thematically cohesive as either of the E Street Band tours I’ve witnessed firsthand. The 1999-2000 tour was about reintroducing the band and was possibly the least nostalgia-reliant reunion tour ever. The 2002-3 The Rising tour was about reaffirming America’s benevolent strength after the trauma of 9/11. In the years since then, the “benevolent” part of that phrase has become seriously questionable, and even the “strength” part has been eroded by a series of . . . well, you don’t need me to tell you.
Magic reflects the darker times we’re living in, and Bruce has been playing a big chunk of the album this fall: nine songs of its 11 last night and eight tonight. The balance of the set is about exposing some worthy classics that haven’t been played to death since the E Streets got back together in 1999 (“She’s the One”), rearranging and reconsidering other tunes (“Reason to Believe,” now a bluesy stomp), and reprising the worthy new song from the Seeger Sessions tour, “American Land.”
So if the Magic setlists feel like a bit more of a grab-bag than the prior two tours’ programmes, well, it may be because they kind of are. Bruce continues to wrestle with how to serve both his muse and his loyal fan base, who are there mostly to hear old tunes. (I was one of the youngest people on the floor at tonight’s show, and I am, um, not young.) That said, Bruce is more courageous in this regard than any other artist at his level of popularity. Even U2 don’t have the balls to play nine songs from their newest album anymore. And the crowd at the Phone Booth the last two nights have responded to the new songs more enthusiastically than I would have expected, singing along to “Girls in Their Summer Clothes” and “Long Walk Home” and listening in quiet reverence to “Devil’s Arcade” and “Magic.”
On a more specific note about the music, I wish there were more singing. Patti and Steve sang backup throughout both shows, and Soozie Tyrell sang, too, but “Girls in Their Summer Clothes,” particularly, and “Kitty’s Back” both suffered from a distinct lack of harmony. Maybe it’s because I just saw the New Pornographers two weeks ago, but I wanted more of that. There are plenty of decent singers among the E Street Band, so let’s hear ‘em!
Also, I miss the lengthy, funny band introductions from the prior tours. Bruce just ran through everyone’s name quickly near the end of “American Land” this time. No “star of late-night television” for Max or Little Stevie, no “professor at the university of musical peversity” for Roy Bittan, no “come on up for the rising” for Patti. It’s a chance to inject a little more humor and warmth into the show. Bring it back, Boss!