Springsteen Retrospective: Greensboro, May 2009
“We’re in Steensboro now!”
That was the line Bruce Springsteen shouted, he and guitarist Steve Van Zandt dancing across the stage, each holding one end of a fan-made “Steensboro” sign during the final minutes of “Glory Days.” That about summed up nearly the entire night. The show that started off with Bruce and the band hovering somewhere between second and third gear, Springsteen appearing a bit under the weather, turned into overdrive on a single cover song and remained that way for the rest of the evening.
There were no ghosts this time, no public grieving. This was to be a show partially about the times we live in and mostly a showcase of the healing power of rock and roll. Springsteen had called this final part of his career his “victory laps.” If these were his victory laps he’s showed no signs of slowing down or taking a thing for granted.
Counting down the days to Bruce Springsteen’s return to Charlotte, we take a look back to one of the highlight nights of the Working on a Dream tour, a show that assured the Carolinas as being one of THE places to see the band with five of the best moments of May 2, 2009:
5. The Ghost of Tom Joad: The third song in the “recession arc” of the setlist, it had been reworked from its stripped down acoustic form and turned into a scorcher. While a solid version in its own right, it’s Nils Lofgrin’s guitar solo that sets this song above twenty two others that were played. I don’t know if there are any superlatives beyond the word “searing” to describe Lofgrin’s solo, but at least you start getting the drift. Think to any full band version of “Youngstown” that you’ve ever heard and you’ve got an inkling as to what took place here: a firestorm of guitar licks, the band building up to a loud crescendo with Springsteen leading the frenzy. If you haven’t heard a full band version, youtube is definitely your best friend.
4. Human Touch: The title track to arguably the most mediocre release of his career (and I think I’m being kind here because the word “sucks” does stick out more prominently) “Human Touch” was one of that release’s very few bright spots. E Street Band versions of “Human Touch” are rare enough, one can only assume that he was having a great enough time to pull this one from completely out of left field. You wouldn’t know that it was a rarity as the band nailed it. If it weren’t for the status of “hardly played” it might have flip flopped with “The Ghost of Tom Joad.” In my book it stands at number four. Outstanding.
3. Thunder Road: One of the quintessential songs in Springsteen’s canon and the track that kicks off one of the great rock and roll albums, 1975’s “Born to Run.” A song that could be about any one of us who ever dared to dream of something better, have the audacity to chase it and bring someone you love to share that dream with, this was Bruce Springsteen’s invitation to his audience to join him for that ride. It would be impossible for me to hear this song live and not thrust my fist high in the air, singing the final lines at the top of my lungs . . . “It’s a town full of losers, we’re pullin’ outta here to win”
When it comes to hearing “Thunder Road” live, beyond it being beautifully performed I don’t need to say anything more than that.
2. Cadillac Ranch: As with Charlotte a year earlier, we got ourselves a gen-yoo-ine Carolina Special. With the houselights still up after “Born to Run,” clearly having a good time, decked out in a cowboy hat and in no hurry to end the main set, drummer Max Weinberg and Bruce brought that portion of the show home with an absolutely rocking version. As if the country rock sound, the car imagery and the initial Carolina reference weren’t enough to associate it with North Carolina (“Junior Johnson runnin’ through the woods of Caroline”), the lyric changes certainly did the trick with “Wisconsin night” changed to “Carolina night”. Each state reference got a huge response from the crowd.
1. Hang On Sloopy: I mean seriously, who woulda thought that a fan-requested one shot hit by The McCoy’s, the official rock and roll song of Ohio (OF ALL STATES!!) could turn an entire concert around? The ten songs prior were great versions and the show was already on its way to being “pretty good” but certainly nothing to really write home about. It took Bruce and the band a couple of minutes to work out the chords and their changes before kicking off the evening’s showstopper. The band was in a loose enough mood but it was the fans that drove it over the top by collectively singing louder than anything I’d ever heard before. Consequently, never have I seen a show jump so many notches after one simple song and stay there for the remainder of the evening. After “Hang On Sloopy” everything got better. I think the air even seemed cleaner. It could’ve made a simple peanut butter and jelly sandwich taste like the best sub sandwich you’ve ever eaten. Regardless of all the classics that were performed and the way in which they were performed, it was this one song that quickly became something of a legend from this tour. I’ve played it over and over and it never gets old; easily my pick for the best moment from Bruce Springsteen’s appearance in Greensboro.