Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The legends give Milwaukee an incredible show for St. Patty's Day

photograph by Danny Clinch

“Is there anybody alive out there?” “Is there anybody ALIVE OUT THERE?” “IS THERE ANYBODY ALIVE OUT THERE?”

Bruce Springsteen shouted out the question to the packed Bradley Center in Milwaukee after the lights suddenly snapped off. The crowd, after an hour of waiting - an hour! - was very much alive and ready. Their response was beyond energetic, but didn’t come close to the power that Springsteen and the E Street Band displayed with their opener “No Surrender,” the first of many songs that left me with goose bumps.

This concert comes almost 35 years after he first played Milwaukee, and the intensity, charm and emotional impact that have characterized Springsteen - particularly when he’s playing with the E Street Band - were in full effect. He has a reputation for surprising song choices, often playing completely different sets from night to night, so I heard some tracks I was not expecting (and, unfortunately, did not hear some that I was). After “No Surrender” Springsteen asked once again if there was anyone alive out there (we affirmed), before playing a few tracks off Magic and The Rising. They then launched into an exhilarating version of “Streets of Fire,” which judging from the reaction of those around me, was a crowd favorite that raised the pitch of the show even higher.

One of the keys to Springsteen’s success is that the man knows how to put on a show. Not only does he leave everything he’s got on the stage, but he controls the pace of his concerts like no other. This is was seen as he moved from the joyous, rollicking “Cadillac Ranch” to the stripped down, moving rendition of “My Hometown,” followed by the searing anti-war song “Devil’s Arcade” off the new album, only to bring us back up with “The Rising.” They ended the first set with a version of “Badlands” that once again had me in goose bumps.

The preacher side of Springsteen wasn’t as apparent as I’ve seen in past shows, but he did take time here and there to make his points clear. While introducing “Livin’ in the Future” he briefly railed against the Bush administration and their various encroachments on our civil liberties, saying that while we may think we’re safe because of the color of our skin, our religion, our wealth, we need to realize that attacks on the constitution are attacks on all of us. Frankly, this got a bit of a mixed reception, with what I think were many boos mixed in with the frenzied cheering - and one man near me standing up to boldly flip the Boss off. Later, Springsteen talked passionately about some food programs doing work in America and the world, asking us to remember and support organizations like Second Harvest.

A highlight of the second set was when Springsteen took a moment to praise Van Morrison’s album Astral Weeks, and explain the impact it had on him early in his career. He then introduced musician Richard Davis, the man who played bass on Astral Weeks as well as Springsteen’s Born to Run. Together they performed, with just a few other members of the band, the chilling “Meeting Across the River.”
From here on out, it was a balls to the wall run to the finish, with “Jungleland, “Born to Run” played with the house lights up and the entire place, finally, standing up, and “Ramrod.” They ended the show with “American Land” off of the Seeger Sessions, with a couple band members wearing St. Patty’s day hats from the audience. It was an appropriate choice to finish, a song of immigrants, the working class, and the hope of America, “There's diamonds in the sidewalk/ There's gutters lined in song/Dear I hear that beer flows through the faucets all night long/ There's treasure for the taking, for any hard working man/Who will make his home in the American land.” - Ben Madeska