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Bruce Springsteen in Michigan: A Sense of Place

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Detroit, 1942

AUBURN HILLS, Mi.----The last time Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band played the Palace of Auburn Hills in 2009 Springsteen made national news with the shout out:

Springsteen returned Thursday night to perform before 16,000 fans in Auburn Hills, a Cadillac of suburbs which is about half way between Flint and Detroit.
It is between a rock and a hard place.

I drove to Detroit from Chicago. I forked over $100 for a nice seat, caught the full tilt 3 1/2 hour no-intermission set where I sat next to Cubs fans from Oak Park, Ill. bought a large cup of Tim Horton's coffee and was home by 4:30 this morning.
It was worth it........

.......The "Wrecking Ball" tour is only a month old . I wanted to hear the E Street Band without saxophonist-foil Clarence Clemons and I wanted to hear how the politically charged "Wrecking Ball" material played in the shadows of one of America's most compelling urban corridors. And Springsteen knew where he was this time around.

The walk-in music blared the Martha Reeves and the Vandellas Motown hit "Dancing In The Street." Springsteen introduced himself in the frentic style of James Brown emcee Danny Ray and said, "Good evening Deeeeetroit. I know where the fuck I am."

Springsteen and the 15-piece E Street Band (his wife/guitarist/vocalist Patti Scialfa was home in New Jersey) launched into the new songs "We Take Care of Our Own" and "Wrecking Ball" before Springsteen again shouted, "This is Detroit!" and tore into a ferocious version of "Badlands."
This marked the first time of many that saxophonist Jake Clemons would step out of the spotlight and spot-on replicate his uncle's solos. Clarence Clemons died of complications from a stroke in June. He was 69.

Jake Clemons was part of a tight five-piece horn section that gently shifted the E Street sound from rock to soul, not unlike Springsteen and Southside Johnny's early 1970s salad days in Asbury Park, N.J. . Baritone-tenor saxophonist Eddie "Kingfish" Manion was an original Asbury Juke as well as a member of Springsteen's Seeger Sessions band. I liked the new material better in concert than on record because the polish and shine of the "Wrecking Ball" recording has been traded off for saucy rhythm and blues riffs.

"My City of Ruins" was one of the evening's highlights recast in a warm gospel-soul arrangement that would have made Curtis Mayfield proud. Of course the song was poignant for the Detroit-Flint setting, but then the suburban Auburn Hills audience was 99.9 percent white. The soul of all colors is hurting. "My CIty of Ruins" worked considerably better than the new "Death to My Hometown" which was overdone with Celtic flourishes and a menacing tuba.

When Springsteen plays Wrigley Field on Sept. 7, he should also find time to visit Comerica Park in downtown Detroit.
The skyline is muscular and steady although there is a void of new downtown construction. Quicken Loans is bringing a flow of young people into downtown high tech start-ups and loft living. Earlier in the week Quicken Loans offered gigs to laid off Yahoo engineers in Silicon Valley and a Detroit Free Press report said Quicken's website received 7,000 visitors on its first day. (The Silicon Valley jobless rate for February was 9.1 per cent, compared to Detroit's 10.2 per cent.)

Springsteen and the E Street Band paid tribute to grand Motown architect Smoky Robinson by covering his hit "The Way You Do The Things You Do" which he wrote for the Temptations.


In introducing the song Springsteen said, "This is about finding the beauty of that thing that is right in front of you."

The tribute began as a six piece doo-wop tune before drummer Max Weinberg kicked in for a rhythm and blues shakedown that dovetailed with the Wilson Pickett hit "634-5789." Springsteen ventured out into the audience, chugged a large beer from a fan (which has become a tour staple) and the 62-year-old singer was uplifted on his back to the stage from the center of the arena by hundreds of fans in the pit.
Arms of strangers carrying another man.
What's not to like about that metaphor?

This was my 25th Springsteen show since 1978 at the Uptown Theater in Chicago and I've grown accustomed to his late starting time in recent years. (Thursday's ticket time was 7:30 p.m., he hit the stage at 8:30 p.m.)
I brought along an interview with environmentalist-farmer-poet Wendell Berry to read during the wait. Berry is all about sense of place and commitment to community. Berry spoke of the place of wonder, a place where we live in a chain of one unexpected revelation to another. This is an endless loop.
Sometimes there is no way out.

"The place is essentially interesting, inexhaustibly beautiful and wonderful," he told the magazine Dissent in its Spring, 2012 Food issue. "To know this is a defense against the incessant sales talk that is always telling you that what you have is not good enough; your life is not good enough. There aren't many right answers to that. One of them, one of the best, comes from living watchfully and carefully the life uniquely granted to you by your place."

Less than an hour after I read that a fan held up a stark poster requesting "Youngstown."
Springsteen called an audible and delivered, debuting "Youngstown" on the tour. "Youngstown" is originally a stark "Ghost of Tom Joad" number that on Thursday was amplified and revved up with guitars raking. Again, the parallels were clear. From a worker's perspective Springsteen sang in a bellowing manner about the steel mills closing in Youngstown, Ohio.

He gave the shout out to "Detroit muscle" going way back for "The E Street Shuffle" that led into a fierce workout of "Candy's Room." "Because The Night" was ignited by Nils Lofgren's stormy guitar solo and while "The Rising" falls short with these ears, I have come to accept the song as an anthem for a 9/11 generation that is different than mine.

Mine was "Born To Run" and is there any better place to hear the ear shattering gonad shaking tribute to highway escapism than Michigan?

Curious moments included the new ballad "Jack of All Trades," about a blue-collar figure ranting at Wall Street. Springsteen sang, "If I had a gun/I'd shoot the bastards on sight" and a considerable portion of the audience cheered. ?

Springsteen continued to poke fun at his lost-in-Ohio comment. One fan scrawled out map of Michigan on a large poster with the words, "Bruce, you are HERE" near Detroit. Springsteen went into the audience to retrieve the poster and brought in on stage for a good laugh.

The energy of the show was relentless and honest. The Springsteen website ranked Auburn Hills with "Tampa, DC and Izod 2 as a contender for Best of Leg,"

The encores were generous, including the sing-along "Out On The Street" and a poignant version of "Thunder Road" featuring another tender solo from Jake Clemons.
But the best is for last, where Springsteen stopped the show in the middle of "Tenth Avenue Freeze Out" and a video montage of "The Big Man" was shown on the arena screens. It was a tribute to Clarence Clemons, for sure.

But after seeing "The Wrecking Ball" tour in Michigan I realized it is also a tribute to the enduring spirit of community.
It doesn't matter where we are. In our best moments we carry that spirit with us.

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Hi Dave,
I'm so glad that you decided to write this entry. I also appreciate the shout out to my wife and me as "Cubs fans from Oak Park, Ill." How great for me to be sitting next to a truly devoted Springsteen fan. My journey with The Boss began in New Jersey in 1969. At that time it seemed that only Jersey knew of him. How incredible to think that I used to be able to walk up to the box office the day of a Springsteen concert and get a 10th row center seat. I think you captured the essence of the Detroit concert beautifully. I left feeling as moved and inspired as I did over 40 years ago. When I first listened to the new album I liked it a lot. But upon second and third listenings my fondness faded. I agree that hearing the live versions of the songs was much better. I am also in agreement where you wrote about the cheering reaction of the audience to the line "If I had a gun/I'd shoot the bastards on sight" A little reactionary I must say. So Dave, thanks for your comments. I passed them on to my friends in Michigan who also admired your words.

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Dave Hoekstra

Dave Hoekstra has been a Chicago Sun-Times staff writer since 1985. His collection of Sun-Times travel columns, "Ticket To Everywhere," was published in 2000 by Lake Claremont Press. He was lead writer for "Farm Aid: Song for America" (Rodale Press, 2005) which commemorated the 20th anniversary of the Willie Nelson inspired effort.
He won a 1987 Chicago Newspaper Guild Stick O-Type Award for Column Writing. Hoekstra wrote and co-proudced the WTTW-Channel 11 PBS special: "The Staple Singers and the Civil Rights Movement," nominated for a 2001-02 Chicago Emmy for a documentary program/cultural significance.
He lives in Chicago.


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This page contains a single entry by David Hoekstra published on April 13, 2012 4:33 PM.

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