1. Well, that was interesting. 2. Thank god for Tom Morello.
It wasn’t a cookie-cutter show, that’s for sure. The Boss and band began the final week of their five-month “High Hopes” tour with a wild, sometimes hysterical, sometimes bizarre three-hour show of oddities, covers, and requests. It appears that Albany, believe it or not, is a special Bruce place; I just read on a Springsteen fansite that the TU is the only place he’s hit on every tour since the ’90s. Which I don’t think is quite accurate, but, hey, somebody said it.
If you’ve been following the YouTubes, you know that this tour has featured unusual covers, usually related to the town the band was playing in. Yes, I know what was being said around here, and no, I didn’t have my hopes up. The mere idea is kind of silly. But it was still a little weird that he opened with INXS’s “Don’t Change,” one of several native covers unleashed during the Aussie leg of the tour. Then the set rambled on with a handful of album cuts. “Badlands,” five songs in, felt like a wake-up call. But then, you know, these things are relative. A sleepwalking Springsteen is like almost anyone else at a full sprint. Dude was, as usual, carrying on like his life depended on it.
And then things turned seriously left. He started pulling people onstage; he started playing requests. He played “something we worked up in soundcheck,” a blazing version of Roy Head’s classic “Treat Her Right.” Now, the audience-on-stage thing is a good gimmick, it’s good schtick, and the dancing-with-Mom moment during an impromptu “Save the Last Dance for Me” was priceless. But four straight songs of this? I had one word stuck in my head and that word was “Engelbert.” Don’t hit me. Oh, and they played their killer version of “Stayin’ Alive.” Yes they did.
The show ended as oddly as it started and, from my perspective, “Badlands” was the only true flag-waver in the main set. Which wasn’t a bad thing. I mean, who does that these days? And, of course, the hour-plus cavalcade of hits “encore” took care of that omission in spades. It was a crazy, spontaneous, loose, and ultimately cathartic ride.
Little Steven and Patty Scialfa were not in attendance. But Tom Morello (Rage Against The Machine, Audioslave) most definitely was. Holy. Freakin’. Moly. Talk about breathing new life. . . . Morello’s solos, alternatively soaring rock-star wails and agro-noise, brought a startling new dimension to the proceedings, and improbably fit the E-Street Band like a loud hand in a louder glove. And his vocal duet and guitar playing on “The Ballad of Tom Joad” was, for me, the emotional and musical high point of the show.
Like all of the shows on this tour, this one will be available for download from Springsteen’s website, maybe even by the time you read this. You know I’ll be on that like a fly on a meat wagon.
UPDATE: The spelling has been corrected to reflect the fact that none of us smartasses can spell “Engelbert.”