Bruce Springsteen concert Vancouver August 13, 2005

Bruce Springsteen in Vancouver… the last stop of his “summer
extravaganza,” as Bruce described it.  The GM Place hockey rink
was transformed into the Pontiac Theatre for this “intimate solo
concert in a theatrical setting was extraordinary!

Described as having the best concert sound ever in GM Place, and
supplemented by two giant screens on either side of the stage, Bruce
Springsteen took the traditional concert and raised it to a higher
level.  It was filled with theatrical staging and pacing, gospel
and blues references, intimate conversations with the audience,
reworkings of his famous and obscure songs.  Springsteen
definitely put in the work and re-invented both his stage show and his
songs.

The “Devils and Dust” album released earlier this year is an
introspective album that examines the choices that people make and the
situations that challenge them.  He writes about fatherhood (Long
Time Comin'), Mexicans trying to immigrate illeagaly into Texas
(Matamoras Banks), being an American soldier in Iraq (Devils and Dust),
and what it might have been like for Jesus to be a normal human being
(Jesus Was an Only Son).  It's a far cry from the over-worked and
wordy tone poems of his early writing, and the more simplistic anthems
about cars and girls from the River/Born in the USA albums.

Bruce shared his ideas and thoughts with the audience, telling stories
about growing up in New Jersey with a Catholic background that he
resisted, all the while observing that his Italian side of the family
never mixed with his Irish side of the family while they all lived
across and down the street from each other.  His own 13 year old
son Evan brought a guitar on stage, in his role as guitar tech for the
weeks worth of concerts, which prompted Bruce to remark after
introducing his eldest son to the audience, “He's travelling with Dad,
and that cost me $100 for him to do that…  and it's interrupting
his tv and playstation time backstage.”  Family is important to
the Boss, and he shared how his son is now challenging and rewriting
the words to dad's songs.

Springsteen has a long history of “rooting” for the underdog.  He
wants to draw attention to those left outside the social safety nets
which is why he has always invited local food banks to come to his
concerts and asks his audiences to support them.  Springsteen
supported.  Long described as a “working class hero,” he writes of
people's struggles in the tradition of “folk music” and of their
choices and journeys – some triumphant, many tragic, as well as their
personal transformation both situational or spiritual – so well
revealed on The Rising album, inspired by the situations of 9/11.

Springsteen's own bands have always been racially inclusive of
African-American musicians, and since the late 1960's!  It's hard
to think of another white band leader that featured black musicians so
prominently.  His early versions of the E Street Band included
keyboardist David Sancious.  Clarence Clemons, saxophonist – so
integral to the Born to Run album he was featured on the cover, as well
as the “Live in NYC”cover for the E Street Band reunion concerts.

I have followed Springsteen's career since 1980, and saw him in concert
in 1984 and 1987 on the Born in the USA and Tunnel of Love tours. 
There has always been a “Church of Rock & Roll” feel to his concert
shows, as his stage presence would at times resemble a preacher
ministering to his faithful.  One time duing the 1980's, I shared
with a friend who had recently become a born-again Christian, the
spiritual poignancy of Springsteen's lyrics with its many biblical
references in stories of transformation and spiritual healing or
challenges.

Last Saturday's show in Vancouver was all of the above and more. 
Springsteen opened the show with the song Living Proof, played on a
pump organ, an almost archaic instrument that my
great-great-grandfather the Rev. Chan Yu Tan, used to play for his
congregations of the Chinese United Church.  The sound was
ethereal – changing chords without percussion… with the only sense of
rhythm or percussion coming from Springsteen's vocal phrasing…

It's been a long long drought baby

Tonight the rain's pourin' down on our roof

Looking for a little bit of God's mercy

I found living proof


The second song opened with Bruce solo on harmonica, stamping his foot
for percussive shots of sound.  The microphone was distorted,
sounding like an early blues record from the archival depths of the
Smithsonian Institute.  While many concert goers were dismayed by
the distorted sounds and the reworking of “Reason to Believe,” this
revealed Springsteen's roots found in the folk music traditions of
Woody Guthriem, as well as the blues, gospel and country of American
roots music.  Springsteen shed the gloss of 21st Century
production and musical popular trends, and revealed his strengths as a
songwriter to write timeless songs and poetry, transformed onstage
without radio playlist boundaries, or genre sub-listings.

Picking up his guitar, for “Devils and Dust”….

to be continued later…

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