Tipper Ponies Up for the Boss
Tickets to Bruce Springsteen's tour are pretty hot stuff. They're hard to get, but they're not too expensive at $77 — compared to recent Paul McCartney and Prince shows. But not everyone wants to pay for them.
Take, for example, former Vice President Al Gore and his lovely wife, Tipper. Sources close to them and to Springsteen tell me Tipper tried to get free tickets to the Springsteen show for the entire Gore staff. That didn't work, and she was then told even paid admission would be hard to come by.
"They wound up being offered four," says a source. "But when they were asked to pay $75 apiece, they said forget it. And you know, that's why Gore isn't president, in a nutshell."
A Gore spokesman disputed the report as inaccurate, and denied Mrs. Gore tried to score free tickets. By late afternoon on Thursday, after the story was first reported on Foxnews.com, the ex-second lady herself called and left a message saying she was indeed "treating friends" to the concert, adding she "was planning to pay for the tickets, and always have been."
Meanwhile, after the Springsteen show at the Continental Airlines Arena last night, Oscar-nominated actress Elizabeth Shue was one of many people who stuck around and tried to go backstage to congratulate Bruce on a job well done. But Shue was shoo-ed away — as were most of the others who milled around, including a group of polo shirt-and-khaki-wearing yuppie types. They sported laminates around their necks, but why they wanted to see Springsteen is a mystery. During most of the show they spent their time going back and forth to the beer carts in the lobby. When Springsteen sang his new songs, they belched out, "'Thunder Road,' man! 'Play Thunder Road!'"
The opening night of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band's 46-city tour was unique for many reasons. The main one, I think, is that Springsteen, after issuing a masterful new album of songs celebrating and mourning firefighters and others who died on Sept. 11, threw the audience a curve ball.
Rather than let this album be misinterpreted — as Born in the USA was by many — Springsteen pulled off a stunning performance of his controversial song "American Skin (41 Shots)." It was one of the most brilliant and courageous things I have ever seen executed by a rock star.
After all, "American Skin" is a clear reference to the Amadou Diallo shooting, when four New York Police Department officers fired 41 shots at a man in the doorway of his apartment building. Many people probably thought that, because Springsteen had shown such empathy to the Sept. 11 heroes and victims, "American Skin" was forgotten or shelved forever. The fact Springsteen is including it in these shows — when he could choose from dozens of other more popular, lighter-weight songs — speaks volumes for him.
Here, was Springsteen performing to a crowd of "his people": the local New Jerseyans who are his constituency. But there was a disconnect. This crowd wanted to hear "Born to Run" and "Thunder Road" (see above), to wave their clenched fists in the air and chant "Born in the USA." But Springsteen the artist is working in a different medium right now. His album, The Rising, is full of the kind of poetry that fueled his first two recordings. The songs are precise and heartbreaking — not about having a kegger and throwing up, or being nostalgic for high school days. The Rising addresses something real and tragic that has happened. This seemed to throw the crowd in many ways.
Only during "Waiting on a Sunny Day," an up-tempo pop song, did the audience at the Continental Arena embrace the new material. In fact, as they sang along, Springsteen twice said, "I'm impressed! This is the first time!"
In fact, that moment gave hope that the crowd had really listened to The Rising But during the album's three key numbers — the exquisite "You're Missing," "Empty Sky" and "Into the Fire" — an aerial view of the arena would have shown a room quickly balding of people. Even in the so-called "VIP" area, invited guests (I could only think of calling them "youts," from My Cousin Vinny) talked loudly and ate like they had been on a desert isle.
It was only when Springsteen finally did perform "Born to Run" and "Glory Days" with the lights up that we could all see the party atmosphere for Bruce, circa-1984, take hold. Compared to the somber, mature material of "The Rising," it felt like schizophrenia had settled into the room. Springsteen may have sensed it, too. When it came time to sing "Born in the USA," he slowed it down and seemed to make it deliberately morose and angry. The lighting even changed, starting in near darkness and never lightening up enough to turn the song into a cheer of any kind.
The show ended not with a hit, or a populist rouser, but two new Springsteen classics: "My City in Ruins" and "Land of Hopes and Dreams." Preceding the former song, Springsteen spoke first about Asbury Park, New Jersey — how it was changing and improving, and mentioned charities that were present to collect money that night which helped the poor and the hungry. (They were largely ignored by the crowd.) "My City in Ruins" had been written originally for Asbury Park, but was subsequently adapted to the Sept. 11 tragedies. It met, as "American Skin" did, with a muted response. How completely bizarre. In the 1970s, if Paul Simon had performed something similar, it would have been revered and given the Grammy for Best Song. Here it was greeted with apathy.
And while the audience may have been sub-par, Springsteen and the E Street Band were spectacular on every level. Max Weinberg is driving the band behind a wall of powerful drums. Steve van Zandt's and Nils Lofgren's work gives Bruce more depth and texture. Clarence Clemons' saxophone is still the joyful noise of a trademark, like Stevie Wonder's harmonica. The women, Patti Scialfa and Soozie Tyrell, do the important embroidery, while Garry Tallent, Roy Bittan and Danny Federici are like the Scotty, Sulu and Chekhov of the Starship Enterprise: the finely-tuned machine doesn't work without them.
For Springsteen fanatics, there are some interesting tidbits about opening night. Nearly all of The Rising was performed, while only a few old songs were mixed in before the encores. Four of those songs — "Badlands," "Promised Land," "Prove it All Night" and "Darkness on the Edge of Town" — come from one album, named for the latter song and released in 1978. There's one clunker — "Two Hearts" — which should be removed and never heard again. And while the set will undoubtedly change a bit, it will not lengthen. Both Lofgren and Tallent told me before the show that Springsteen wants to keep it concise. None of those famous four-hour long shows from years past. This one runs a tidy two hours and fifteen minutes, give or take.
And what are the band's favorite songs from the new album? Tallent said, "'Waitin' on a Sunny Day,' because it just fell into place and it was obvious." Indeed, it could be a hit single. Also: "'Into the Fire,' it's so beautiful." Lofgren likes "The Rising," but also chose "Nothing Man." My own personal favorite is still "You're Missing," which, like "My City of Ruins," should get some kind of award. In the meantime, it will be interesting to see how the Manhattan audience responds next Monday to the Sept. 11 material. My guess is they will take it more seriously and show more appreciation for Springsteen's art.