Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Last Laugh: Bruce Springsteen and Joe Grushecky in Pittsburgh


For almost two weeks now, I've been meaning to write about my latest concert experience--two nights of Joe Grushecky and the Iron City Houserockers with special guest Bruce Springsteen.  The shows were excellent--does Bruce ever give less than 200%?  And the setting was thrillingly intimate--"a lovely little jewel box of a venue" as promised by my friend Diane, who had seen Bruce and Joe at Pittsburgh's Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall before.  It was Diane who talked me into this outing, who scored us excellent tickets, and whose company made the long trip to and from Pittsburgh go by in a flash.

After the shows, I struggled to find a way to write about the experience.  First I thought I should discuss how different the Soldiers and Sailors shows were in feel from E Street Band shows; I could focus on the acoustic mini-sets he played at the start and finish of both shows, and how, in this setting, Springsteen the storyteller really came out to play.  

Or maybe I should talk about the many setlist surprises--the gorgeous acoustic rendition of Incident on 57th Street that closed out night one, or how both shows were studded with rarities like Mary Queen of Arkansas and Leavin' Train.  

Or maybe I would focus on one surprise in particular: this soulful song, written by Bruce but recorded by Clarence Clemons and the Red Bank Rockers:  





There was so much to say, but every time I tried to say it I had this uneasy feeling I was burying the lead.  As unusual and varied and exciting as the shows were, the thing that needed to be said was the thing I didn't much want to discuss: the rumors that started swirling right after the second show ended.  

Word spread quickly on the fansites and Facebook: Bruce had injured his back and would be going in for surgery.


Bathed in white light

Word was, he'd hurt himself before the Pittsburgh shows, on the last night of the official tour, jumping down from a piano.  Then he'd exacerbated the injury with a backbend from the mike stand during Tenth Avenue Freeze Out. 

The rumors rang true.  On the second night of the Soldiers and Sailors show, we could see something different in the way he held himself, the way he seemed to be soldiering through.  Usually Bruce makes it all seem effortless.  That's the legend Ben Stiller spoofed on his t.v. show way back when:



How does he crowd surf like that? the fans ask each other.  How can he run around that stage for three and a half hours a night when it hurts me just to stand in the audience and pump my fist? 

The news about Bruce's impending back surgery forced us to face Bruce's mortality--and our own.  But guess who got the last laugh a few days later, jumping on stage with those other Energizer Bunnies of Rock, the Rolling Stones?




So maybe those back surgery rumors were wrong after all?  If not, here's wishing the man smooth sailing and a speedy recovery.










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