Paul Heinz

Original Fiction, Music and Essays

Filtering by Tag: Wrecking Ball

Rains Don't Detract at Wrigley: Springsteen's Second Night

You gotta hand it to Springsteen.  A few years ago when I was asked why I think so highly of the aging rocker, I said, “Because he pores every ounce of his being into every performance.”  Saturday night’s show at Wrigley Field was no exception, as Springsteen and his ever-growing E Street Band withstood the elements – namely, a steady rain for much of the show – to lead 40,000 fans in song for close to three hours.  At sixty-three, The Boss has lost none of the energy he possessed when I attended his concert at Alpine Valley in 1984, and it begs the question: if a 63 year-old guy can still put this much exuberance into a show, why do so many other performers phone it in?

In addition to high energy, the other element Springsteen brings to a show is surprise.  Of the 27 songs performed on Saturday night, fourteen hadn’t been performed the night prior.  So sure, I wish he’d performed “Atlantic City” and “The River,” but instead I got “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” “The Ties that Bind,” an unexpected “Because the Night,” and an even more unexpected “Rosalita,” which was presented almost as a gift for the die-hard fans who by that point were as drenched as Springsteen himself.  So who could complain?

Wrigley is a terrible place to see a concert, but that was to be expected; visual obstructions, an overpacked concourse and lines to the bathrooms are part of the drill at the century-old ballpark.  My daughter and I sat about ten rows behind a pole in section 239, but we were especially pleased to learn that despite no shelter overhead, the rain left our area dry and landed about five seats to our right. 

For the hard-core fans on the field, there was no escaping the elements.  Many had brought ponchos, but most just continued to dance and cheer and sing in unison to Springsteen’s repertoire.  The rain prompted Springsteen to play an acoustic version of CCR’s “Who’ll Stop the Rain,” but it wasn’t answered until a half hour after the show.  Aside from the main console, which was sheltered under a tent, nothing else was protected, and it left me wondering about the condition of Steve Van Zandt’s guitar and Soozie Tyrell’s violin.

The new tracks from Wrecking Ball, when interspersed throughout a long set, played better than they do on the album.  “We Take Care of our Own” sounded powerful and fit in seamlessly on the heels of “Hungry Heart,” and “Wrecking Ball” and “Death to my Hometown” worked well despite their repetitiveness.  One of the evenings highlights was “The Ghost of Tom Joad,” a raucous, balls-to-the-wall version with a spastic guitar solo by Tom Morello that left the crowd erupting.  Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder returned for the second Wrigley show, adding effective vocals to "My Hometown" and "Darkness."

After Clarence Clemons died last year, I wondered if Bruce would continue to play "Tenth Avenue Freeze Out," and was pleased to hear the song's return with a newly added pause after the line "the big man joined the band," during which a minute-long photo montage of Clemons appeared on the video screens.  It was a nice touch, and a moving one that drew applause from those in attendance. 

After the last chord of "Americanland," my daughter and I could see the various band members walk behind the stage toward the ballpark exit.  Springsteen, rather than running out as quickly as he could, spent several minutes backstage before making his way toward the right-field corner of the outfield, where he pumped his fists in appreciation for an audience who toughed it out.

I was sixteen when I first saw Springsteen, and if you had told me then that I’d one day attend another show of his with my fifteen year-old daughter, I’d have flipped.

How cool is that to share a little bit of my past with a big part of my present?

Simplicity to a Fault: Springsteen's Wrecking Ball

Some of the greatest rock and roll songs ever have also been the simplest.  Whether you’re a fan of Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly, The Clash and The Ramones or Green Day and Nirvana, sometimes the simplest songs capture emotions with a charge unattainable by more complex arrangements.  Are you telling me that “Baba O’Riley” doesn’t still give you chills?  Come on.

In two weeks, I’m attending my first Bruce Springsteen show in thirteen years, this time with my fifteen year-old daughter.  In preparation, I thought it made sense to purchase The Boss’s latest effort, Wrecking Ball, but while digesting the material over the past few months, I keep coming to the same conclusion: the album is simplistic to a fault.  There isn’t a chord or a note on the entire album that surprises me, that gives me pause or a reason to take notice.  By track six, I’m so bored, I inevitably turn it off and wait to digest the final five songs at a later listening session.

To confirm my instincts, I tracked the chord changes of each song on the eleven-track album.  Here are the results:

  • Every song is in a major key.
  • Not one song changes key.
  • Every song but one is in 4/4, with an occasional 2/4 measure thrown in.
  • On the entire album, there are a total of five chords, with an occasional altered root note: I, IV, V, vi minor and ii minor.  That’s it.   And the ii minor chord only appears on one song, so 10 songs have at most four chords in them.

Now, I’m not dissing simplicity.  Give me a good Johnny Cash album or Green Day album or classic Stones album, and I’m a happy guy.  But Springsteen’s latest album is nothing short of a bore.  Just as Yes and Genesis became too complex for their own good in the 1970s, Springsteen has become so simple that there isn’t any reason for listeners to care.

One could counter my conclusion by saying that Springsteen has always been simple, so why start complaining now?

But it wasn’t always this way.

Take a song like “Hungry Heart.”  Simple?  Yes.  But what really makes the song work is the unexpected key change leading into the organ solo, and then changing keys again for the final verse.  Nothing fancy, but just enough alteration to make the listener take notice.  The song “Born to Run” is also a relatively simply song (though the chorus alone contains more chords than the entire Wrecking Ball album), but what really lifts the song from good to great is the interlude that contains an odd key change, a chromatic descension and a four measure pause before resolving back to the one chord in an achingly satisfying way.

So much of Springsteen’s new album could have benefitted from a bridge with a different chord, a key change, a pause, a tempo or meter change, a something.  Tracks like “Wrecking Ball,” “Shackled and Drawn,” “We Take Care of our Own” are fine for a while, but listen to them successively and sleepiness sets in.

I’ve no doubt that hearing “Death to my Hometown” or “Easy Money” will be great fun when shared with 40,000 fans come September 8th, but I’m afraid that after the Wrigley Field concert, Wrecking Ball will no longer make it into my regular rotation. 

(I should note that “Land of Hope and Dreams,” which appears in studio form for the first time on this album, is on par with Springsteen’s greatest songs ever.  As I said, sometimes simple is good.)

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