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Watered-down Bruce Juice: stop trying to be the voice of America and sing about Jersey

April 26, 2012

I’m an alumni of Freehold, NJ and still shaking off the effects of chemo therapy and needed a shot of Bruce Juice, I went to see Bruce Springsteen perform at the San Jose Shark Tank. The Boss did 26 songs with about 15 people on stage (a five-piece horn section to replace Clarence, his nephew does the solos and is OK but can’t hit that deep round tone of Clarence, but maybe when Clarence was that young he couldn’t either) and they played for three hours. There were patches of greatness interrupted by depressing songs that critics applaud while the audience sits on their hands and endures. He’s at his best when his wife isn’t on tour with him and he clowns around and does a Frat party vibe and has fun with his boys club (The advantage of not having to throw tunes his wife’s way, who is talented but who cares? His energy lagged here and there, but the guy is 62 and you have to grade him on a curve, and I also think he was pacing himself for the big encore finish, which he truly nailed. The dark stuff is useless. I mean do you have any Woody Guthrie or Pete Seeger on your iPod after Thunder Road? He does a bipolar performance, depressing songs followed by upbeat ones, and it’s only when he links the upbeat songs together does he give people the Bruce they want. I mean how seriously can you take a guy who says these are hard times and then sells $2.50 T-shirts for $30 and $40 with none of the money going to non-profits (He’s been around long enough to make that work.) And to do songs with the word “Yonder” in them and whatever other folkie inflections he inflicts on me from the great American songbook no one listens to–hey Bruce don’t talk like that in your daily life and neither do workers in West Virginia (Oh excuse me, let me rosin up my bow and say with an allemande left “West Verginny”), and in these songs when you do a different voice would you talk like that? It’s not your voice. I don’t know anyone from Freehold, NJ who talks that way, but maybe that’s how people talk in Colts Neck where he lives and his daughter works on her dressage.

His latest album Wrecking Ball is a mess. Depressing. Unlistenable. They say he’s grown as an artist. But when he goes Americana with a side order of Gutherie like this, I feel I’ve outgrown him. There are no dreams on this album. Depressing, can I say it again? They say it’s growing as an artist. I don;t think so. Sinatra did how many albums with bands and did people say he was repeating himself? No. He kept his voice and refreshed the music with new interpretations and phrases but kept his original sound. It’s only when he changed his style he sucked and made embarrassing music.  Look at Van Morrison or Dylan for example. Enough.

Let’s go through the bipolar set list

He opened with the lame “We Take Care of Our Own,” followed by the even worse, “Wrecking Ball,” which is about Giants stadium. And I’m thinking, why deal with Yankee Stadium, the House that Ruth built destroyed so the Yank can build a giant casino type building with less seats and more luxury boxes on public park land they seized and jacked up the prices beyond what the average fan can pay and took away access for people to get close to the field to watch BP. Throughout these songs he tried to sell them stronger by raising his fists at different point of the chorus and trying to telegraph his next line so the crowd might repeat it. Showmanship to support what is essentially a song that speaks to no one but him.

Bruce tried to pump up the crowd with Badlands, which the audience sang with more enthusiasm than he did. This was followed by another depressing set of songs, “Death To My Hometown,” (Now there’s a chorus, “Death To my Hometown, come on everyone sing!”) then”My City of Ruin.” I’m sitting there with my Sorrentos, Freehold NJ shirt thinking. Hey, downtown Freehold is very tony, lined with restuarants. It’s not Detroit. And the rug factory that left town was in the late sixties and left to go down south to get cheaper labor and not deal with unions. So give me something real. And I don’t want to think this way.

These two depressing songs lead into the fun “Thundercrack,” a tune that isn’t on any album but one Bruce does live. I’d never heard it and liked it. Too bad he didn’t put it on his latest album, then at least I’d have one song I could listen to. but it’s hard to shift into them after ruin and death of a hometown.Maybe if there was a paramedic around with some paddles to shock me back into a groove.

Okay, after a happy song he has to do two more depressing socially significant songs, “Jack of All Trades” and “Murder Incorporated.” In the dirge-like Jack song he is some guy willing to do any kind of work to get by in these rough times. Willing to pound nails with his hammer, etc. I’m thinking, Bruce you never picked up a hammer your whole life, and you probably call a plumber when something goes wrong at your house and have no idea how to fix anything. And at the end of the song the guy wants to shoot the people that reduced him to this. Now there’s a message.

So the bi-polar journey continues. Two depressing and dark songs followed by “Johnny 99”!

The audience is up, now time for two more terrible songs, one depressing songs, another one that belong in a hoe-down. “My Love WIll Not Let you Down” and “Shackled and Drawn.” And again, I say, “Shackled and Drawn, come on everyone sing!”

Hit with two discordant songs and it’s time to go bi-polar again. He sings the pleasant “Waitin’ on a Sunny Day,” in which he brings a little kid to from the audience to sing part of it, which I think was part of the “Make A Wish Foundation,” and that’s fine. Sometimes I wonder if it wasn’t the kid but Bruce who wanted his wish to come true. Then kinda walks through “Promised Land.” The audience had more enthusiasm then him. And I felt a little distant. Those songs once spoke to me so deeply, and the way Bruce was going them now wasn’t as compelling to me, but back in the day they worked and I prefer that–sometimes I have to say that because of the way life has been some dreams aren’t as compelling as they once were either, because even when you achieve them you have to give your own outcome mixed reviews. Then Bruce launches into “Backstreets” and wakes up and nails it. I think finally, one solid sip of Bruce Juice, but I’ still thirsty, hoping, but I’ve be taunted.

A nice inspiring and anthem  is to be solemnly followed by a depressing song of social and useless significance: “American Skin (41 shots). I groaned and sat down when I first heard the songs opening. Yes, police brutality = bad. Where am I to go with this? Didn’t help the kid in Florida who was shot. Everybody sing or go Bang Bang Bang!  Jez, why don’t you just have monks in burnooses be your back-up singers?  Enough.

The  Bruce  shifts into happy and does this Apollo Medley which could have been titled “Up WIth White People.” It was Ok, but was real white and wholesome and felt like an oldie show. The whole group gets into it and the number comes across like a community theater group. Oh happy happy joy joy. . So Bruce doing something cute and short of soulful, go into the audience, throw yourself in the crowd, and they move you on their upraised arms to the stage. I was half-thinking what if they carried him away from the stage and threw him out on the street and said, “Come back when you want to be the real Bruce.”

OK, so the audience is happy and warm and pumped. Time to go bipolar again and do the September 11 pseudo-gospel rocker “The Rising.” Nothing like the memory of the twin towers falling to uplift me. But why stop there? Bury me deeper. Follow it with another downer: “Lonesome Day” Come on everybody sing! Then the real lame “We Are Alive” from his new album.

Now, time to go upbeat. Bruce does an solo walk through “Thunder Road,” where he throws the guitar behind his back and walks along the stage touching hands with the people in the front row, and I thought it reminded me how Elvis walked through a song and handed scarves out to the audience.

Time for the encore which is begins by calling a fat black chick in the chorus to do a duet with him. How many white bands always have to have one fat black chick to do a type of soulful song? But is it an upbeat song? No a gospel-like dirge called “Rocky Ground.” Living on rocky ground, walking on rocky ground. Everybody sing. On top of that she launches into some rap. Yikes!

Then the 62-year old Bruce wakes up and becomes Bruce. Throughout the encore, Bruce is clowning around, making jokes, and goofing and clearly having fun. The encore was what his entire show used to be. Damn Bruce, dump the woman with the fiddle! The band power drives wonderfully through “Out In The Street,” “Born To Run,” “Dancing In The Dark,” “Rosalita,” and Tenth Avenue Freezeout” (which included a heartfelt and touching tribute to Clarence that the audience clearly wanted to share and show their appreciation for the unique performer.)

I left the show slightly bipolar. I’d never leave the show listening to the Wrecking Ball CD. I grew up in Freehold, NJ. I’m thinking about all his great songs and the nice imagery such as “there were ghost in the eyes of all the boys you sent away they haunt this duty beach road and the skeleton frames of burnt out Chevrolets” or “Barefoot girl sitting on the hood of a Dodge drinking warm beer in the soft summer rain” and I think these people and worlds are still there, where the hell are you? You’re hanging out with the wrong people, Bruce. You’re singing about America like we’re living in Syria! I don’t need top know it’s hard times, I’ve been living it! If I want MSNBC I’ll tune into to watch it, I don’t need it sung to me! Bruce put down the newspaper, turn off the Tv, get in your car, roll down the windows and let the wind blow back your hair.

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