Sunday, April 19, 2009

Leonard Cohen at Nokia / Bruce Springsteen in L.A.

I'm running way behind again these days. Last weekend we went to the Nokia theater to see Leonard Cohen. It was my first time and I had to put up with the jokes from friends who thought the ticket price was a bit high for an artist in their 70's, who can't really sing well. But Saturday night we were treated to an amazing event, watching this 75 year old move around the stage like he was in his 30s, a band that is as good as they get, and overall having a wonderful time. I actually believe LC's voice has gotten better with age, dropping to a lower, richer level and then letting the background singers add the highlights. Every member of the band, from the Spanish guitar player to the background singing Web sisters nailed their parts. Now you could say that they have been pretty much doing the same show for over 100 shows so they should be good at what they do. And that may be true, but it is still impressive to watch. And Leonard... Leonard had the women swooning. With his rich and sensual lyrics, women were either screaming out or quietly moaning in their seats. It was an impressive performance by one of Canada's best poetic songwriters. And even more impressive watching him skip off of stage after each encore. Yes, you heard right. If you missed the show though, don't worry, you can buy the CD or DVD, "Live in London" and get almost the exact same show. 

At the exact opposite end of the "exact same show" performance spectrum is Bruce Springsteen, who put on 2 shows at the Los Angeles Sports Arena this week. Bruce changed 11 songs on the second night truly giving his fans 2 very different shows. Opening night was part of the standard set list for this tour supporting "Working On A Dream". The focus of the shows is "Hard Times" along with hope and dreams for the future. Bruce has lots of music to help focus on the hard times and the new CD brought the dreams aspect into the show. "Seeds" has been pulled out for this tour to help us hear the feeling of despair that so many are going through these days. Driving home his point during the encore, Bruce performs "Hard Times", a Stephen Foster song from the middle 1800's. The set list continues to be from all over his career and from the second leg of his last tour he has added a request section where he pulls signs from the audience. We got a wonderful treat on Wednesday as he pulled "Raise Your Hand" from a fan. He liked it so much, he added it to the set on night 2. The second night was one of those fun shows. It was obvious from the second song, that he wasn't interested in playing the typical set. There were at least a few audibles called during the night, bringing us lots of interesting songs. During the request section, he said something like, "So you want to stump the band", and proceeded to perform "Proud Mary". It was a great WTF moment for those of us who have learned to expect anything and yet are constantly surprised by his choices. 

For night number two I was in the lottery again for the pit and although I didn't win, I did get in the pit and was about 4 or 5 people from the stage on Little Steven's side. At one point, Bruce came over near us and laid down on several of my friends; most of whom are now sick (Bruce was obviously pretty sick both nights and his voice had gotten pretty raspy by night 2). As I spend more time chatting with Bruce fans, I find myself running into more and more people (you know who you are) I know. I now find myself looking over my shoulder more when I hear my name at the shows; which, as you can guess, is pretty much non-stop because of the shared name. :-) 

Okay, I'm off to L.A. to see the Danny Federici benefit. The odds are now very much against Bruce showing up, but we'll see who else decides to drop by. If nothing else, seeing Tom Morello play some guitar will make the $20 tickets worth every penny. 

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Bruce Springsteen and the story of the “Number One Guy”

Lots of little things go into a lucky moment; some good and some bad. You can’t stress the bad stuff because sometimes it is what makes the great moment. Going through the details of my day yesterday, there were both and yet, I had this weird feeling all day that things were going really well. I know I said it out loud to Deb and Mike. You know that feeling: “I love it when a plan comes together”.

I wanted to get out the door by 6am, giving me time to settle in to my hotel room before meeting up with friends, but was delayed because the first boot of Springsteen’s San Jose concert showed up and I wanted to make a few copies before leaving. It tuned out the timing was perfect. After settling in, I called Deb and she also had just finished settling in. We decided to meet up at my hotel since it was closest to the arena. Mike picked a hotel room near the airport, so Deb and I waited, longer than we wanted, for him to show up. We then met up with Marcus and his brother at Native New York for a quick meal. The waiter was a bit slow and didn’t hear Deb’s request for 1s. Mike, it appears, is a slow eater. :-) Suddenly, it was 2pm and we had not left the restaurant yet! I think we made Mike leave some of his sandwich behind and headed over to the arena. We were 20 minutes late. It felt wrong. And we got our numbers 161-163.

The three of us spent the next 2 hours sitting in the complex twittering, doing phone calls and swapping stories. We talked about our giving spouses who put up with our passion. We talked about concerts and stories and favorites and least favorites (I now fully understand the shoe reference… Thanks Deb). One of the things I love about Springsteen... about music, is that the passion binds us together and we can make wonderful conversation with complete strangers. In fact, on a hunch, I wore my Alejandro Escovedo t-shire and got more comments and conversations started than any t-shirt since my friend hand made Scorpion t-shirts back in the70's (the shirt would probably get me arrested today). 

At 4:30 we were ushered in past the gate at the arena and lined up. There were over 900 of us trying to get into the pit (limit was 400 that night). I think the number was 962. Just after 5pm, the number was announced: One Sixty something. We couldn’t hear. Someone said 161. Someone else said 167. I headed to the front to find out. We were either in or totally out, depending on which number. Jerry, the man with the megaphone, was walking past the line giving instructions and I asked what the number was, “161” he said. THAT’S ME! At that point everything became a blur. I remember shouting “Yes!” and raising my arms in the air. I may have been jumping up and down. I don’t recall. I was the number one guy and Deb and Mike were following me into the empty pit. People kept coming up to me and giving me the high five or shaking my hand. It was all amazing. I was even congratulated by a couple of the security staff. Over the next hour we were slowly walked through the bowels of the arena. I was in total nervous mode, but having a great time chatting with security and the other excited people that were right behind us. At around 6pm, they led us into the empty pit and Deb, Mike and I took our spots at an inlet next to the center ramp on the right side of the stage. I thought it would be good to control this corner so I let Deb lean on the stage while I stood behind her leaning on the ramp. This turned out to be a good idea since it let us be right up there when Bruce came out front to let the fans adore him.

We had a great group of people around us, with no one pushing until near the end when Bruce was on the ramp. The woman behind me was originally from Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. Her husband was going to his second concert ever (the first was Simon and Garfunkel in Central Park... which is a long time between shows). There was a cute couple on the other side of the ramp from San Diego and behind us were a couple of women from the bay area who had dumped their husbands for the show (and got pictures and autographs from Bruce right before the sound check). 

As for the show, how do you even begin to compare a show where you are hanging on the stage, front and center? It really felt like I was watching a video, because that is the only thing I can really relate it to. You saw their looks. You could feel the joy. You could even hear the mistakes. I don't know if it was the arena or what, but the sound was perfect up front. I could actually distinguish the separate guitars. I could even hear when they missed chords (what? someone made a mistake?!) Of course the entire arena probably realized that Bruce totally flubbed the lyrics to Rosalita. I'm not sure if he forgot the line but the moment came and went and nothing came out of his mouth. He had to count down the band to continue. 

My friend Rocky told me later that you never get eye contact up front. He is always looking 9 or 10 rows in. But Deb got it long enough for him to shake her hand. She was in heaven. I had to settle for Patti slapping my hand. She, by the way, gives great eye contact. She looks right at you and smiles like she knows you. I kept waiting for the crew to slip over and hand me a backstage pass. Deb also caught his eye long enough to take my sign. I don't think he really read it (it was written to make him laugh) but "Trapped" would have worked so well after "Downbound Train" and "Because the Night"; the two requests he did in a row. 

There were no "Oh My G-D" moments for me; like "Kitty's Back" in L.A. But we got Rosie and an intense solo from Bruce on "Because the Night". His version of "Hard Times" was wonderful, but if you really want to hear a great version, check out Eastmountainsouth's. I really enjoyed the show opening with "Backstreets" and felt the show was paced well. But again, being in the front makes everything work. I loved the arrangement and the lighting for "The Wrestler". The back screen was there for you to enjoy or ignore (I hardly looked at it). But when I looked at it, the images were fitting and not overwhelming. Watching Bruce power slide up to the camera at the end of "10th Avenue Freeze Out" made me wonder how long it will be before the near 60 year old will be needing new knees. And speaking of replacements, Nils showed no sign of dual hip replacement surgery, bouncing around and lifting one leg up to hold his guitar while he played slide on it (for long stretches). Amazing! 

Most of my Springsteen friends have been this close before. It is an amazing couple of hours. But, to win the Bruce lottery, is something that will never happen to me again and it will be a long long time before I forget this day. And I can't finish this without a BIG thank you to Deb. I wrote asking if people were meeting up before the show. Deb wrote back and offered meeting for lunch. That altered the angle of the Roll of the Dice, leading to My Lucky Day and moving right to the front of The Promised Land. 

And listen to my interview with Nicole Sandler on Air America

Music Hall Link - Alejandro Escovedo listen