What I’ve been listening to: The River

I’ve been looking forward all summer long to seeing Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band next Tuesday at MetLife Stadium as part of The River 2016 tour. So it’s perhaps not very surprising that I’ve been listening to The River, Bruce’s 1980 album the tour celebrates.

I suppose like many people who grew up in the 80s and listening to music from that time, Born in the U.S.A. brought the Boss on my radar screen. When that album was released in 1984, I think the only other Bruce Springsteen song I knew at the time was The River, an instant favorite.

When Bruce came out with the Live/1975-1985 compilation and I noticed it included a significant amount of material from Born in the U.S.A. and the song The River, I decided to put it on my Christmas wish list for 1986. Santa was kind, and as I started listening to the 3-CD set, I quickly realized there was much more to Springsteen than Born in the U.S.A, Cover Me, I’m on Fire and Bobby Jean.

Among others, I discovered Hungry Heart, which I think is safe to assume is the best known song from the album, apart from the title track. Additionally, I started appreciating other Springsteen classics, such as Born to Run, Darkness on the Edge of Town and Thunder Road. I also had no idea that songs like Spirit in the Night, Because the Night and Fire – which I had known because of Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, Patti Smith and The Pointer Sisters, respectively – had all been written or co-written by the Boss!

So while Born in the U.S.A. and Live/1975-1985 introduced me to Bruce Springsteen, made me buy some of his other albums he released thereafter and see an unforgettable Springsteen show in Frankfurt, Germany in the late 1980s, it didn’t lead to more exploration of The River album. Given the upcoming concert, which is going to be my second Springsteen show, I wanted to change that – which finally brings me to the album.

The River is Springsteen’s fifth studio album. Initially, it was supposed to be a single album called The Ties That Bind. But Bruce had written more material than would fit on one record – at last at the time – so it ended up being two records called The River – his only double studio album to date.

According to Bruce’s official web site, The River is “split evenly between huge house-party numbers (and a wealth of live staples) and darker, real-word tales.” It was reflective of Bruce being “out to explore the emerging dualities of his music.” During an interview referenced in a 2004 Springsteen biography by Dave Marsh, Bruce explained, “Rock and roll has always been this joy, this certain happiness that is in its way the most beautiful thing in life. But rock is also about hardness and coldness and being alone … I finally got to the place where I realized life had paradoxes, a lot of them, and you’ve got to live with them.”

Two songs from The River illustrate the above: In Cadillac Ranch, Bruce sings,

Cadillac, Cadillac

Long and dark, shiny and black

Open up your engines let ‘em roar

Tearing up the highway like a big dinosaur

Contrast that with Point Blank:

You grew up where young girls they grow up fast

You took what you were handed and left behind what was asked

but what they asked baby wasn’t right

you didn’t have to live that life,

I was gonna be your Romeo you were gonna be my Juliet

These days you don’t wait on Romeo’s

you wait on that welfare check

and on all the pretty things you can’t ever have

and on all the promises

The album generated three U.S. singles – Hungry Heart, Fade Away and I Wanna Marry You – and four additional singles that were released in the UK only: Sherry Darling, The River/Independence Day, Cadillac Ranch and Point Blank. Hungry Heart became Bruce’s first top ten single on the U.S. pop singles chart, climbing up to number five.

The River has become one of Springsteen’s best-selling albums after Born in the U.S.A. and Born to Run. It has been certified quintuple platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America.

In addition to the title song and Hungry Heart, my favorite tunes from the album include The Ties That Bind, Independence Day, Out in the Street, Point Blank, Cadillac Ranch, Ramrod and The Price You Pay.

Four members of the current E Street Band were on the original recording of The River: Roy Bittan (piano, synthesizer, accordion), Garry Tallent (bass), Steven Van Zandt (rhythm guitar, lead guitar, background vocals) and Max Weinberg (drums). Perhaps the one missing member I’m going to miss the most is Clarence Clemmons, the band’s amazing saxophonist who passed away in 2011. Intriguingly, his nephew Jake Clemons took over “The Big Man’s” part in 2012 – big shoes to fill, literally!

I can’t wait to see these guys and Bruce bring The River to life and play many other great Springsteen songs next Tuesday at MetLife Stadium. Are the going to match the record four hours they rocked there Thursday night? Okay, I don’t want to get too greedy here – anything more than 2.5 hours is pretty remarkable these days, especially for an artist of Bruce’s caliber!

Buddy Guy & Jeff Beck at PNC Bank Arts Center, NJ

The second show of my concert summer season featured guitar legends (and cool septuagenarians) Buddy Guy and Jeff Beck.

Last night (July 26), I had a chance to see Buddy Guy and Jeff Beck at PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, NJ. From the moment I started exploring Buddy’s music in greater detail earlier this year (admittedly very late!) I wanted to see this amazing blues guitarist live. And when I learned he is doing a summer tour with Jeff Beck and they are playing in my neck of the woods, it was an easy decision.

PNC Bank Arts Center is a great outdoor venue, in my opinion – not too big, not to small. I’ve seen other fantastic gigs there, including Santana, Steve WinwoodThe Allman Brothers and Tom Petty. Yesterday, the weather was brutally hot, so luckily the show only started at 8:00 pm!

Buddy kicked things off, which almost made it feel like he was opening up for Jeff. While Jeff played the longer set, it should have been the other way around. After all, it was Buddy who was around first and influenced Jeff and many other great guitarists, such as Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page and Keith Richards! I read Clapton once called him “the best guitar player alive.”

Buddy was truly on a misson, saying he wants to save the blues. His guitar-playing was simply out of this world. I also thought he had a pretty strong voice. Both certainly did not give you any clue that the man is close to 80 years old. In fact, his 80th birthday (July 30) is just around the corner! In addition to playing and singing with an impressive amount of energy, Buddy also went on a little hike off the stage to walk through the audience in the front of the venue – pretty cool.

I thought highlights of Buddy’s set included Damn Right I’ve Got the BluesHoochie Coochie Man and Blues in the Night (My Mama Done Tol’ Me). He also played two songs from his latest album, Born to Play the Guitar, including the title song. Unfortunately, he did not perform my favorite from that album, Whiskey, Beer & Wine, which currently is also my overall favorite Buddy Guy song.

Next it was Jeff’s turn. He certainly delivered as well! In addition to his amazing guitar-playing, I was mostly impressed with his band, especially singer Rosie Bones who also appears on his latest album Loud Hailer, singer Jimmy Hall and dynamite bassist Tal Wilkenfeld.

I think my favorite of Jeff’s set was the version of the Sam Cooke classic, A Change is Gonna Come. Jimmy Hall did an outstanding job on vocals. Other highlights included Stevie Wonder’s Superstition and the instrumental of The Beatles’ A Day In the Life, which was the final song of the night.

Perhaps the only thing that could have made the show even better would have been at least one song both of these fantastic guitarists would have performed together, just like they do in the above photo!

My Summer Concert Season Is Heating Up

This is a little preview of shows I’m going to see later this month and in August.

It’s going to be a busy summer for me on the concert front. Following is what I’m planning to attend over the next couple of months:

Paul McCartney, Hersheypark Stadium, Hershey, PA, Jul 19: Sir Paul is going to kick off my summer concert season. I went to one of his shows in Germany in the 80s, and I’m beyond thrilled to see him again! A great friend of mine from Germany told me his previous gigs there earlier this year received rave reviews and even made the evening news! Apparently from the signature opening chord of A Hard Day’s Night until the end of the last encore about three hours later it’s an amazing journey from the 60s to the present. Some say The Beatles are overrated – they don’t know what they’re talking about. And Paul has also written some pretty good music thereafter. He has helped change rock music forever. In my of course completely unbiased opinion, there’s no doubt about that!

Buddy Guy & Jeff Beck, PNC Bank Arts Center, Holmdel, NJ, Jul 26:  Two guitar legends in one show – it doesn’t get much better than that! Admittedly, I’ve got some catching up to on Jeff Beck. The fact that Jeff played with the Yardbirds, which he joined in March 1965 to succeed Eric Clapton, already makes him totally cool in my book. And Buddy Guy? I also only started exploring his music in greater depth more recently. Wow, is all I can say – it’s like Jimi Hendrix never passed!

Bonnie Raitt, New Jersey Performing Arts Center, Newark, NJ, Aug 13: Bonnie has been on my concert bucket list for a long time. My above friend from Germany has seen her three times and told me each show was fantastic. A friend of his caught Bonnie during her current tour in Frankfurt, Germany earlier this year and called him thereafter to rave about the concert. I’ve always been fascinated by Bonnie’s amazing slide guitar playing. And she’s released many great songs over the decades as well. It should be a lot of fun!

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, NJ, Aug 30: This show will be part of The River Tour in connection with Springsteen’s 2015 box set, The Ties That Bind: The River Collection. I read the concerts feature performances of all or most songs of Bruce’s iconic album from 1980 and other tunes. The River was Bruce’s fifth studio album and includes two of my favorite Springsteen tunes: Hungry Heart and The River! I saw Bruce for the first time in Frankfurt more than 25 years ago, together with my above friend. It was truly an unforgettable gig that lasted close to four hours, including some 1.5 hours of encores. Very few artists put on a rock & roll show like that. What a way to end my summer concert season with a home play of The Boss!

I’ll be sure to post my impressions from each of the above shows, so make sure to check back if you’re reading this!

Concerts I’ve Been to Over the Years

I’ve been fortunate to have seen many terrific shows over the years, and I hope there will be many more to come.

I think my first concert was the German rock band BAP in 1983 – the same band I saw earlier this month during a short trip to Germany (see my separate post on this). Following is a list of other artists I’ve seen:

  • Johnny Winter
  • Bryan Adams
  • Tina Turner
  • Peter Gabriel
  • Sting
  • Paul Simon
  • Paul McCartney
  • Bob Dylan
  • Bruce Springsteen
  • Huey Lewis and the News
  • Simple Minds
  • Toto
  • Pink Floyd
  • The Doobie Brothers
  • The Beach Boys
  • The Who
  • Billy Joel
  • John Mellencamp
  • Earth, Wind & Fire
  • The Temptations
  • Foreigner
  • Rod Stewart
  • Stevie Nicks & Don Henley
  • The Rolling Stones
  • The Police
  • KC and the Sunshine Band
  • Rick Springfield
  • Night Ranger
  • Bon Jovi
  • Fleetwood Mac
  • The Allman Brothers Band
  • Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
  • Steve Winwood
  • The Eagles
  • Santana
  • Journey

It’s hard to say which concert has been the best thus far. Paul McCartney (who I’m psyched to see again in July after more than 25 years!), Bruce Springsteen, Pink Floyd, The Who, The Rolling Stones and The Eagles certainly are among the most memorable shows.

I know Springsteen is going to be at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ in late August. The Boss is still going strong and I would love to see him again – should be a great home play!

There are many other music acts I haven’t seen yet and would like to see: Bob Seger, Buddy Guy, Eric Clapton, Led Zeppelin (I know, unlikely Robert Plant and Jimmy Page will ever agree to a reunion!), Deep Purple, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Neil Young, Scorpions, Stevie Wonder and U2, to name some. So many great music artists, such little time – not to mention the money you have to pony up these days to go to a concert!

And then there some I wish I could have seen like Elvis and of course The Beatles – though McCartney’s show I saw in the late 80s featured plenty of Beatles music and oftentimes sounded just like the Fab Four! There are other great artists who are sadly gone like Joe Cocker, Stevie Ray Vaughan and David Bowie.

I suppose I have to be grateful for the many terrific concerts I’ve been to. Plus, there should be plenty of opportunities to see additional shows!