Friday, March 25, 2016

Songs Played in L.A. on The River Tour

My uncle John asked me about the setlist over the three nights of Springsteen at the Los Angeles Sports Arena last week, specifically, “What songs were played?” That’s a loaded question because the answer is, “A lot of them.” By my count, it was 45 different songs to be precise! I understand how obsessive this comes off to the non-fan, or even casual-fan, but here’s what was played. As mentioned in my previous post, 22 songs were a given: all 20 tracks on The River album as well as the opener, Meet Me In The City, and the encore, extended version with band intros of The Isley Bros’ Shout! That leaves 23 other tunes. Among those, there were 6 other songs that were staples, and also played all three nights. Those were:

Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)
Dancing in the Dark
Thunder Road
Born To Run

And, no, despite the popularity of those 6 songs, none of those have been played at every single Bruce concert I’ve seen, but for this tour they are standards.

There were only 3 songs that were played two nights in L.A.:

Wrecking Ball (not played on night 2)
Because The Night (not played on night 2)
The Rising (not played on night 3, the first time it has been dropped on this tour)

This brings us down to the “special songs” that I’m sure my uncle really wanted to know about. These are the ones that really changed things up from night to night. There were 14 of this variety as follows:

Night 1 (Tues.)
Lonesome Day
Human Touch
She’s The One
No Surrender

Night 2 (Thurs.)
Death To My Hometown (tour premiere)
The Promised Land
Brilliant Disguise
American Land (tour premiere)
[both premieres presumably for St. Patrick’s Day]

Night 3 (Sat.)
Prove It All Night
My Love Will Not Let You Down
Tougher Than The Rest
Bobby Jean (added as show closer for only the second time this tour)

Some other notable stats: Both night 1 and night 3 got 35 songs whereas night 2 got 34 songs. However, on night 2, it seemed like Bruce extended Shout longer than either of the other two nights, to the point where he and the audience were ready to drop, in fact, by where I was on the floor, several did. Time-wise though, night 3 was the longest show, 3 hours, 45 minutes, clocking in at the longest Springsteen show I have ever seen, and one of his longest ever!

Well, there you have it. Those are the song statistics for the historic 3-night run at The Dump That Jumps, the last shows at the Los Angeles Sports Arena ever. This was the first place I ever saw Springsteen. Notably, my uncle John Lynd, the guy I’m posting this for, took me to that show!

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Personal Premieres at the Springsteen L.A. Shows

Coming into the three shows at the Los Angeles Sports Arena, there were 9 songs off The River album that I had NEVER seen performed live in person. These songs were: Sherry Darling, Jackson Cage, Crush On You, I Wanna Marry You, Fade Away, Stolen Car, The Price You Pay, Drive All Night, & Wreck On The Highway. If you throw in The River outtake, Meet Me In The City, as well as the cover of The Isley Brothers’ Shout!, then those are 11 songs I had never ever heard Bruce sing live before. It turns out that over the 3-night stand, that those 11 songs would be the “only” new songs for me. Obviously, I say that a bit tongue-in-cheek, because, for any Springsteen fan, having never-before-heard-live-TO-YOU-songs, is a huge feather in your Bruce cap. And, having 11 personal premieres is nothing to sneeze at! That my friends, is the beauty of this current tour, Bruce promised to play the entire The River album each and every night. Thus, to my uncle who asked to hear a bit more about the setlists from last week, I want to start with this post, letting you know that, for each of the three nights, the first 21 songs were exactly the same. He opened with Meet Me In The City and then played all four sides (20 songs) of The River album straight through. This part of the show took-up the first 2+ hours of each evening. He also closed his encores with Shout, except for night 3 when he added a bonus closer. That was only the second night on the current tour that he didn’t close with Shout, but more on that in the next post.

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Thursday, March 24, 2016

Point Blank in Los Angeles

Point Blank intro., shot of monitor, photo cred.: Josh Kitchen

Last week, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band took their The River Tour '16, the 35 anniversary of 1980's The River album, to the Los Angeles Sports Arena. Affectionately dubbed The Dump That Jumps, by Springsteen, his three shows there last week would be the final three concerts at the venue, ever! I was fortunate enough to catch all three shows there as follows: Tuesday, 3/15/16; Thursday, 3/17/16; and, Saturday, 3/19/16.
In a Facebook comment, my Uncle John left a plea for more information about the shows, some comments about the setlists, and a review. Since my first Facebook status update following the request turned into a rather long piece, I decided to post them here on my blog.
One of my highlights from last week's Springsteen shows was hearing the song Point Blank all three nights. I had heard it twice before, once at my first show in 1984 and once in 2000. However, these 2016 performances were better. The intro by Roy was otherworldly, goose-bump-inducing. Also, the backing vocals by Stevie were remarkable, even better than on the record, and obviously, Little Steven's critical contributions were missing in 1984. Most importantly, I had one of those experiences where, even though I'd heard the song hundreds of times on the album, and loved it, it was like I heard it for the first time last week! In particular, at the end Bruce sings "Did you forget how to love, girl, did you forget how to fight?" At least once he dropped the "girl" and asked, in a much more pronounced way: "Did you forget how to love? Did you forget how to fight?" It gave chills. That lyric was so understated on the studio version, even though The River was the first album I remember being captured by (at age 11), I'm ashamed to say I never heard those words! I had to go back and search for them, and they are there in a hushed tone. Live, they were particularly impactful to me because I'm going through a book, John Eldredge's Fathered by God, with my son, Wes, right now. In my favorite chapter, Warrior, the author talks about the importance of fighting, not quarreling or rabble-rousing, but contending, the idea that there are things in life worth fighting for, that a man must protect his heart for noble things. In this holy moment at the L.A. Sports Arena, it all came together, like the huge reveal at the end of Fight Club or Citizen Kane, and I was profoundly moved by the Great Warrior himself (no, not Bruce). I heard the Spirit tell me that I would never become passive, that I would fight! Indeed, I was born for the good fight! In particular, I knew as the song said, I would never become just another stranger in the shadows like some of the weak men I knew, my birth father among them. Most of all, I would, for the rest of my days be my wife, Chrisy's, Romeo, and, in that moment as Bruce sang and the E Street Band came to its heavenly zenith, I knew there were things I would ALWAYS put myself on the line for, my marriage, my family, the junior highers I lead at my church, the troubled youth in my classroom, all among them. I left those shows with, to quote Eldredge, "a great reservoir of passionate strength and holy desire." Unlike the protagonist in Point Blank, no matter what the state of my physical body, I would never ever wake up and be dying, oh, no, not this warrior!

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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

What makes me like a movie?

Yesterday I posted the following status update on Facebook: “With Selma this past weekend, finished-up all 8 Best Picture nominations now. I kinda put Selma in a category with Unbroken (not nominated for picture) which is “totally fine and respectable narrative history lesson”* but not astonishing in the way say Schindler’s List or JFK were. I sure hope Best Picture goes to Birdman, Boyhood, or The Grand Budapest Hotel.

*Honestly, I put American Sniper and The Theory of Everything in this camp too. Perfectly fine, but missing the “it” factor that I can’t define, but know it when I feel it.”

My friend Kelli commented and asked me a very interesting question: “What makes you like/dislike a movie?” She also commented that she liked Boyhood, but didn’t love it.
I decided to respond to her here on my blog as follows . . . .

Dear Kelli,

First, let me say that you are not lacking in expertise. One doesn’t need expertise to ponder what makes them personally like a movie or not. I’m not an expert in movies; rather, I’m only an expert in knowing what movies I like and don’t like. I could say the same thing about ice cream: I’m not an expert, but I know that mint chip is better than chocolate (hopefully you see my point there).
By the way, I agree with you about Boyhood. I too liked it a lot, but did not love it. I sure loved director, Richard Linklater’s film before this, Before Midnight, better than Boyhood. Ironically, I thought he should have won the Oscar for Best Screenplay last year for Before Midnight, but he lost to 12 Years A Slave. And, he’s gonna end up winning an Oscar for Best Screenplay this year, for what’s, in my opinion, a weaker screenplay.  That said, I rank movies on a 1 to 5 star scale, 5 being best, and I do give Boyhood 5 stars. Keep in mind that in this conversation that you commented upon, the discussion was limited to Academy Award nominations. I was talking about predictions for the Oscar. But, Boyhood was not in my personal top 10 *favorite* movies of 2014. More than I “loved it” I would say I totally RESPECTED Boyhood. Which brings me to your question, “What makes you like/dislike a movie?”

Because I really love the art of cinema, I think part of me actually decides to like a movie based on the respect I have for the craft of filmmaking. Thus, as is the case with Boyhood, I look at the craft itself and say, “Wow! What a monumental achievement that was.” So, when I see a movie like say, Lawrence of Arabia, I’m blown-away by the cinematography, the editing, the set design, the costumes, the score, the acting, and I just say, “What a well-made film” and then I love the movie! But, that is not enough! For example, with a movie like Avatar, one could clearly argue that it is well-crafted. However, I found it stupid.

If I was to say that what makes me like or dislike a movie is that it’s not stupid, that’s silly because what is stupid to one person is not stupid to another. It’s like asking, “What’s the best flavor of ice cream?” right? So, as I look deeper, a key key element to me are the characters! I love broken characters. I love real characters and real characters are broken because we’re all broken. So, back to a movie like Avatar, I couldn’t care less about any of the characters. And, most of them were not real. Like the Colonel guy played by Stephen Lang was a total cartoon, no grey area. Totally stupid. But, as you said, Boyhood had real characters and I was invested in them. Some of my very favorite movies of all time are movies that some would say are not particularly well made, but I love the characters. Elizabethtown is one of those. Drew and Claire are a mess, they’re “substitute people” and I love them. Gotta have real characters, the more complex, enigmatic, and broken, the better. FYI, that right there is one reason I hate Pretty Woman, I don’t want a cartoonish hooker with a heart of gold and a nice john. I want Ben and Sera in Leaving Lost Vegas, I want people so broken they make me cry. This brings me to my final criteria: Emotions.

I want to feel when I see a movie. I don’t go in deciding what will make me feel something down to my gut, but when I do feel it, that is when I love a movie.  If the credits are rolling and I literally can’t leave, don’t want to talk, and preferably I am literally weeping, then that’s a movie I really like! But, it doesn’t have to be sad or crying as the emotion. It can be a feeling of joy or just total intrigue. A recent example is The Perks of Being A Wallflower. That movie ended and Chrisy and I were literally crying and Max was with us and he finally asked, “Why are you guys crying?” I told him, “Because life is so painful, but life is so beautiful.” The movies I like a lot tend to make me feel that. The movies I dislike are movies that do the opposite to me.  Before they even end I know I just don’t care about anyone in the movie and I just didn’t feel anything. To be clear: I do not go to the movies to “escape” though. Many say, “I go to the movies to escape” which usually means something along the lines of just give me mindless action. That is not escape to me. That is torture.

So, there you have it. I think the answer is:

1. The totality of its craft.

2. Complex characters that I care about.

3. It makes me really FEEL something.

When all three of those come together then, no matter how hefty (or light) the film appears to be, I find it is a form of escape for me.  The two best examples of all three of those elements converging for me in my lifetime are Schindler’s List and Magnolia. Recent examples on the seemingly lighter spectrum would be both Birdman and The Grand Budapest Hotel, both of which I like more than Boyhood.

Finally, there is one final bonus aspect that is kind of the wild card if you will. Once in awhile a movie will hit me because of it's uncommon! In that case, I think there is a final aspect:

4. The uniqueness.

This is best summed up with the question I ask myself, "Have I seen this before?" Sometimes there is a movie that just blows my mind because it just something really creative and it offers me a new experience. I really hate what I call "cookie cutter" movies, films that just offer up the same ol' same ol' formulas. I guess in reality there is nothing that isn't, in some way, derivative, but movies that I really like tend to be things that are super creative, movies that stretch me, movies that are often very ambiguous. I love a movie wherein the director doesn't "spoon-feed" me all the answers, one in which the filmmaker allows me to interpret things a bit. Obviously, this year Birdman totally fits that criteria. My favorite film of the year, Jonathan Glazer's Under The Skin, did this as well. Other fairly recent examples include Lars von Trier's Melancholia and Mel Gibson's Apocalypto. I love those movies so much because they offered me a huge break from the standard fare offered up on most mega-theater screens.

I hope that answers your question. What makes you like a movie? I suspect the answers out there are unlimited.