On Sunday night, I attended a Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band concert in DC. I have seen "The Boss" multiple times, including my first concert ever (full disclosure: my father worked on multiple Springsteen tours and has friends with ticket hook ups). In 2009, I caught the Baltimore show: 3 hrs 20 minutes and 35 songs. No one does that, no one. And the guy was 59 years old at the time!
His latest release, Wrecking Ball, has garnered mixed reviews from both the media and his fans. It is a mixture of the song-writing prowess so apparent in his early work, his more recent American folk interest, and front-and-center political messages. Make no mistake, Springsteen's songs have always been political, but they are more overtly so on this record.
Many complaints have been directed at the so-called "preachiness" of the lyrics and lyrical delivery. To those critics, I say deal with it. Here is, I think it's fair to say, a god of not only rock music, but of music in general. At the age of 62, Springsteen has seen enough to have a formed opinion and has been successful enough to have a well-deserved bully pulpit. If you don't want to listen, then shut off the stereo and go back to whatever commercial garbage your radio is tuned to.
Springsteen has never been recognized as the best musician or singer around. His pull comes from his power and endless energy. Watching him perform puts all other bands in perspective: as one who has attended literally hundreds of shows, I believe Springsteen is the best performer around. Admittedly so, it's hard to compete with a band consisting of five guitars, two drummers, a horn section, a chorus, two keyboards, a fiddle, an accordion and at times, a harmonica. But it's the frontman that brings it home. He stalks the stage, throwing the crowd into an utter frenzy with each glance. In the past, he wore a tough-guy grimace, but that has given way to a childlike glee: he owns the crowd, he knows it, and he loves it.
His message this time around is fairly straightforward on the surface: it's not about 99% v. the 1%, it's about doing the right thing and caring for your fellow man and woman. That said, the cheering following the "Jack of All Trades" lyric, "up on Banker's Hill, the party's still goin' strong. If I had a gun, I'd find the bastards and shoot 'em on sight" was a bit disconcerting. But hey, I guess many Americans really can relate to such a feeling.
For me, however, the message has always been the same: work hard, love hard, sing loud. The songs speak to deep parts of the soul, roiling buried emotions and forcing them to the fore. This is that much more evident live. I balled my fists (unintentionally), let out whoops of anger and joy and even cried (as I always do) during the first verse of "Thunder Road." If only more musicians had the power, will and skill to affect their audience in such a way. Or, perhaps a better formulation: if only more people would channel their energy into enacting positive changes on the material and emotional world. The choice is yours folks. Let's follow The Boss.