From the Dept. of Straight Talk for My Heroes: Western Stars, the new motion picture from 1st-timer auteur Bruce Springsteen, is only the 4th or 5th most exciting filmed record of The Boss in performance, & it doesn’t really work as an essay film, either.
My abiding love and respect for the work of Bruce Springsteen is a matter of public record and of a couple dozen records. But I must report to you that Bend It Like Beckham director Gurinder Chadha’s new movie Blinded by the Light, about how The Boss inspired Pakistani-British journalist Sarfraz Manzoor to pursue his dream of becoming a writer despite the poverty and racism that surrounded him in Margaret Thatcher’s England, is the jazz-handsy Springsteen jukebox musical that Springsteen on Broadway was supposed to protect us from. It boasts some wonderful performances, though, as well as a previously unreleased Springsteen song that at one point was going to appear on the soundtrack of… Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Huh.
Anyway, my NPR review of Blinded by the Light is here.
My first Washington Post byline in two years in a review of Steven Hyden’s new book Twilight of the Gods: A Journey to the End of Classic Rock. I had it with me on my own journey to the end of classic rock, when I caught an Amtrak up to New York two months ago to see Springsteen on Broadway. (I wrote up my impressions for Slate.) Strangely enough, my prior Post item was a review of Hyden’s previous book, Your Favorite Band Is Killing Me. That book was good. This one is better. Maybe your mom would enjoy receiving a copy on Sunday. I don’t know. I don’t know your mom.
I’ve got a piece on Slate today arguing that the element that makes Springsteen on Broadway—which I saw on February 28, the night after I saw Hello, Dolly!—worth the difficulty and expense of getting tickets is quiet. You can read that here, and it is my fond hope that you shall.
And in the spirit of Bruce Springsteen having written more worthy songs for Darkness on the Edge of Town and The River and Born in the U.S.A. than he could possibly use at the time, but contrary to the spirit of him waiting 15-30 years before releasing all those unused songs, which I as a diehard am legally required to claim were better than the ones he put on the albums which by the way is true in many cases… here’s a deleted scene from that piece, wherein I expand upon my 20-show record as a Bruce Springsteen fan:
As someone whose Bruce fandom had bloomed improbably in the mid-90s, when—an Academy Award for Best Original Song notwithstanding—his stock was as low as it’s been in my lifetime, I’d never imagined I would have so many chances to see him. But he called the E Street Band back together in 1999 and kept them together, even once its founding members started dying. (Organist Danny Federicisuccumbed to cancer in 2008; saxophonist Clarence “Big Man” Clemonsdied from complications following a stroke in 2011. Both men had been in Springsteen’s band since 1972. ) Continue reading →
I started making these goofy holiday-themed mixtapes in 2006, inspired by the yule-mixologist Andy Cirzan‘s annual appearances on the great WBEZ radio show and podcast Sound Opinions. I was honored to interview Andy for a Washington Post piece about my mixtape several years later, and to appear with him on a Minnesota Public Radio segment that I’m glad to tell you did not involve Garrison Keillor in any way.
So I’ve been collecting and compiling weird old Christmas-themed recordings for a long time now, but I didn’t buy a turntable until the latter part of 2016. I’d refused to even entertain the possibility of joining the vinyl resurgence, because I knew my discipline would crumble and I’d feel compelled to drain my banking account re-buying dozens of my favorite albums in the most expensive, space-consuming, fragile, and heavy music-distribution format ever conceived, with the possible exception of the wax cylinder. Which is exactly what happened. I have four working turntables in my apartment at this moment. Four. If I had any reasonable estimate of how many LPs there are, I would be too embarrassed to share that number with you. Continue reading →
…wherein I join PCHH host Linda Holmes and regular panelists Stephen Thompson and Glen Weldon to talk about where the beloved hit movie fits into director Ridley Scott’s oeuvre and its fidelity to Andy Weir’s novel.
I suggested How-To Stories as a companion topic, since The Martian — in both its incarnations, albeit moreso in prose than onscreen — goes into unusual detail about the stuff its stranded-astronaut hero Mark Watney must do to survive on a planet that (so far we know) does not sustain life. We all struggled to come up with suitable examples of favorite stories in this genre, and to thread the needle between a How-To and a Procedural. I could’ve talked about several different Michael Mann films, but particularly Thief, Manhunter, Heat, or even The Insider. As is often the case, I didn’t think of that until later. Continue reading →
Last Thursday, I attended the seventh of U2’s eight concerts at Madison Square Garden, which concluded their U.S. tour. It was my 18th U2 concert since 1997. Here are my notes, assembled in mostly chronological order, which is the most boring possible method of review-writing. Let’s go!
1. Bono took the stage by himself, at the opposite end of the arena from the band. Most of the folks surrounding the B-stage on the floor where we were (though it’s called the E-stage now, being that this is the annoying capitalized iNNOCENCE + eXPERIENCE Tour) were staring at one of house-right floor entrances to the arena, smart phones at the ready, from the moment Patti Smith’s “People Have the Power” started playing on the P.A.
I don’t like that he enters on his own. It contradicts the “just the four of us” narrative U2 have always fostered, and it’s worth fostering. What other band has stayed intact with its original lineup for just a year or two shy of four decades?
2. My fellow superfans were really nice. We were in the G.A. line ahead of a guy named Bob Springsteen, of the Arkansas Springsteens — he showed me his I.D., unbidden. He was at the show with a pal on this evening but returning with his wife and young daughters, he said, the following night.
So Bob Springsteen was in the house the night Bruce Springsteen joined U2 on stage. (I was not.) I’d been reading rumors of a Bruuuuuce appearance on fan sites for a week, and I figured, accurately, that if he showed up he would join in on “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” which he played with U2 after inducting them into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 10 years ago. (He was returning the favor. Bono gave Bruce’s induction speech in 1998.) He also played it with U2 at the 25th anniversary concert for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2009. So a not-especially-surprising surprise. Continue reading →
That’s The Boss’s imminent album up there, all right. Over at NPR Monkey See this morning, I ask why it — like pretty much every album Springsteen has made in the last 30 years (except for The Ghost of Tom Joad) — must have such a terrible, awful, no good, inexpressive and irreducibly goddamn fugly cover.
My love of Bruce Springsteen is not exactly news. It may no longer even qualify as infotainment. He played the single best concert I’ve ever seen anyone play, out of hundreds of bands and artists. (This is merely a partial list.) There is nothing remotely controversial about the assertion he is the greatest live performer in the history of rock and roll.
I wrote all of this down three years ago, after I saw him play his penultimate show of 2009, in Baltimore’s appealingly small and out-of-date sports area, the end of a busy two-year tour wherein he also made one of his worst albums. Basking in the glow of that remarkable show in the days afterward, I knew if I were never to see Springsteen and the E Street band play again, I’d be fine with that.
I had a Born in the U.S.A. on cassette when I was a little kid, but it wasn’t until college that I became a hardcore Springsteen fan. His Live 1975-85 album (three discs, because I got it in the CD era) and his solo acoustic, recorded-in-his-bedroom Nebraska album were the documents most directly responsible for my conversion. At the time I was discovering this music, Springsteen hadn’t toured with the E Street Band in seven years. Another four would pass before they’d announced they were reuniting.
Those reunion shows in 1999 and 2000 were remarkable. I saw five concerts on that tour. They were different from the shows Bruce and the band had played in the 70s and 80s, the ones I had heard only on cherished (and in the pre-broadband era, expensive) bootlegs. There was no intermission. Bruce’s meandering, easily parodied, improvised on-stage stories were gone, replaced by a gospel preacher schtick. The shows tended to be about two-and-a-half hours long — a generous amount of stage time from anyone but Springsteen, who had regularly broken the three-hour mark all through his twenties and thirties.
"44 years of performing experience! 30 years of psychiatric evaluation!" Photo by Erica Bruce.
Last Thursday, I road-tripped up to Philadelphia for what I think was my 15th Bruce Springsteen concert (but only my 14th with the pants-droppin’, heart-stoppin’, Earth-shakin’, booty-quakin,’ love-makin’, Viagara-takin’ etc., etc. E Street Band) since 1999. Three nights later, I saw my 16th (15th) here in DC at the Verizon Center.
For the City Paper, I wrote up some thoughts on the DC show, which differed significantly from the Philly one as you can see from the handy setlist table I have prepared below. Clip it out of your iPad’s retina display and post in your cubicle as a source of hourly inspiration! Continue reading →
One thing I brood about when I read a really great memoir, like Keith Richards’ Life, just for example, is that I have a poor memory. There is no good reason why this should be. I’m only in my midthirties and I’ve never touched hard drugs in my life, so the fact that 70-year-old Keef can write in vivid detail about his postwar boyhood after a lifetime of committed drug abuse makes me feel like I just got dealt a bad hand. (Keef takes pains throughout his book to attribute his startling longevity to the fact that all the drugs he did were of the finest quality; Merck medical-grade cocaine and so on. I have no idea if that’s a real thing or not, but it’s in his book.) Continue reading →
Bruce Springsteen announced U.S. tour dates this morning. He’ll be here in DC on April Fool’s Day. So I’ll just get this over with: Bruuuuuuuce!
Thank you. And now, let us proceed.
When The Boss announced the title and release date of his forthcoming album Wrecking Ball last week, I just couldn’t see past its abysmal cover, an area in which he has been a career offender. I noted that Wrecking Ball is also the title of a very fine Emmylou Harrisalbum from 1995. Dana Stevens, Slate’s superb film critic, noticed that too.
Anyway, we exchanged a few Tweets about that title. “Title re-use doesn’t infringe copyright, but it’s crass,” Stevens wrote. I pointed out that Emmylou got the title from Neil Young, whose song “Wrecking Ball” (from his 1989 album Freedom) Emmylou covered on her album Wrecking Ball. Got all that?
“If Bruce covers the Neil Young song on this record, then the nab is vindicated,” Stevens concluded. Continue reading →
You can’t judge an album by its sleeve, and that’s good news for Bruce Springsteen.
My admiration for The Boss is a matter of public record, and it was from a place of love that I took the occasion of his last album’s release three years ago to point out that nearly all of his album covers are terrible. Today he announced that his 17th studio album will be called Wrecking Ball and will be released for sale on March 6. Any resemblance to Emmylou Harris‘s great album from 1995, Wrecking Ball, is completely coincidental, probably.
That’s the cover of Bruce’s Finger-Painting With Bird Shit Wrecking Ball at the top of this post. Hideous, right? He probably paid Danny Clinch a lot of money to take the photo before scrawing his name over it in Wite-Out. What this says to me is Eh, only a fraction of those of you who bother to listen to this at all are actually going to pay for it, so why I should I sweat the packaging? Just sit tight, we’re gonna play “Badlands” later.
I am pleased to present Santa’s Magickal Ho-Ho Bag, the fifth (!) in my annual (so far) series of radio Christmas cards featuring yule-tunes eclectic and inexplicable (TM), for your hall-decking enjoyment.
If they’re loading slowly and that’s cramping your style, you can also listen here.
By Thursday morning last week, I had made up my mind to give the show Bruce Springsteen played in Baltimore on Friday night a pass. My attempts to procure a ticket through honorable means had failed. The aftermarket bidding for general admission tickets to the arena floor, where my friends would be, had inflated beyond my rationally justifiable price range. I’d already seen the great man perform with the E Street Band twice in 2009; five times in the last 24 months. That’s enough Boss, surely.
Even before I was a semi-pro critic, I was skeptical of superlatives. To me, they always reduced criticism to mere marketing. I don’t even like the year-end lists nearly every professional critic is compelled to compile. So that’s why, after returning home in the small hours of Saturday morning having experienced a concert that left me elated like no rock show has in years, I hedged. “One of the three or five best gigs I’ve ever seen,” I wrote in a excited Facebook post before going to bed.
But after chewing the matter over in the cold, clear light of a couple of days, I’m prepared to go all in: Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band’s first show in Baltimore since 1973 was the best concert I have ever attended, by The Boss or anyone else. Continue reading →
Look, Bruce Springsteen and Joe Strummer didn’t invent this stuff, either. The greased hair and the leathers and the overdriven takes of Mad Men-era rock standards already had a blanket of dust on them a generation thick by the time The Boss and The Clash got around to them.
Jersey pomade-punks The Gaslight Anthem are the most persuasive current exponents of this tradition, and they don’t hide it. Hell, they called their latest album The ’59 Sound. At a sold-out 9:30 Club last night, they ripped through that nostalgic long-player in its near-entirety, frontman Brian Fallon balling up his handsome face to yowl about Redemption and car crashes and good girls in trouble with archaic-sounding names like Gale and — of course! — Mary. Continue reading →
My preview of Drive-By Truckers frontman Patterson Hood‘s gig with The Screwtopians at the Black Cat tonight is in today’s Examiner. It’s always a delight to talk to Patterson. We had an even longer, more freewheeling conversation two Sundays ago than when I interviewed him for DCist in May of 2008. Though the Examiner piece was focused on Murdering Oscar, his new-but-not-really “solo” album, we talked a lot about upcoming DBT projects, too. I hope I’ll be able to get that material out sometime soon. Continue reading →
. . . for which I will be departing directly, a porkpie-tip (though I’m more into Western shirts just now) to the Paper of Record’s ace pop critic Josh Fredom du Lac for posting all these old reviews of DC-area Springsteen concerts on the Post Rock blog. (Also for his interview with local boy and E Street Band guitarist Nils Lofgren, required reading for any E Street fan.) As someone who reads old rock journalism obsessively, I love this. Continue reading →