A Fan's Notes on Watching the Boss on DVD
This is a rock and roll show. This is a big, loud concert experience. This is Bruce Springsteen live.
I’m sitting watching the Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, but I’m not at the arena. I’m in my living room watching the DVD, Live in Barcelona, singing along to the songs, just as if I was in the arena with the band and the 20,000 or so fanatics like myself, though I am alone in my living room, just me and the dog and the speakers blaring.
Live in Barcelona covers the October 16, 2002 concert at the Palau Sant Jordi in Barcelona, a rollicking, rocking show, Springsteen hitting on all cylinders. It is best viewed on a large screen, the DVD player wired through the stereo with the volume turned way up.
Live in Barcelona is the first time an individual Springsteen concert has been released in its entirety, a full two-and-a-half hours plus of music on two discs, plus the useful documentary “Drop the Needle and Play”, which includes rare live footage, interviews, and unpublished photos from the tour.
The show came about two months into the 2002-2003 world tour to support The Rising, an album that represented his return to a fuller rock and roll sound. I saw Springsteen three times on the tour, including December 2002, a show that followed a similar set list and that was full of a fevered energy. I’ve seen him numerous other times, as well, and I’ve never walked out of a show feeling cheated.
I can only imagine that the folks who saw him in Barcelona that October 16 walked out feeling as I always have—exhilarated and drained. At least, that’s the impression that the Barcelona DVD leaves, as Bruce runs through a 24-song set that features a good chunk of The Rising and about a dozen of his earlier tunes.
Now, there is no way to compare being in the arena, hearing that organ slowly rise and fill the building, nothing like the sense of being swallowed in a sea of fans, of family, nothing like being a apart of the give and take of Bruce singing “Waiting on a Sunny Day”. But then, this is a DVD of a live show and not the real thing.
But Live in Barcelona does a great job of capturing as much of the excitement as it can, panning in close to capture Springsteen’s interaction with the crowd on “Waiting on a Sunny Day” or holding a tight close-up on Bruce as he blows the harmonica break on “Empty Sky”.
The camera work on the DVD captures the energy of the evening, alternating between extreme close-ups of the Boss and longer establishing shots of the band, then zooming in to catch Max Weinberg’s cymbal shimmer after being struck. There’s nothing fancy here, no tricks, nothing to distract from the show. It is all quick cuts from different vantagepoints.
As the arena darkens and the opening chants of “Worlds Apart” are heard, you can see Springsteen giving direction, his arm outstretched, waiting, then pointing, triggering Soozy Tyrell to begin the soulful violin that swings us into the song. “Worlds Apart” is one of the more beautiful songs on The Rising—a haunting tale of forbidden cross-racial love, underscored by bold guitars and a fearsome beat—and it gets a warm response from the Spanish audience, a far better fate than it received at the hands of American crowds.
On “Badlands”, the camera turns frequently to Max Weinberg, highlighting just how important his contributions are to any Springsteen show. He is the man who keeps the engine humming, driving the band hard with a flawless command of the beat, adding the occasional flourish, but rarely taking attention away from the man in front.
Everyone gets a star turn during the performance. The camera pans in tight on Roy Bittan’s piano as he pounds out a keyboard version of the Bo Diddley beat on “She’s the One”; there is Nils Lofgren—one of the great, underrated guitarists—playing lead, shifting to lap-steel (especially on the opening to “Counting on a Miracle”); there are frequent close-ups of Springsteen’s wife Patty Scialfa, who offers back-up vocals and acoustic guitar work; and there is Steve Van Zandt, all scarves and colors, playing his guitar and mandolin.
And then there is Clarence Clemens, the Big Man, with his hair in braids pulled back in a long ponytail, charming the crowd, Clarence the soulmate, Springsteen’s sergeant-at-arms. Clarence is not the same sax player he was when he was younger, but he remains a presence and a crowd favorite.
On “Mary’s Place”, Bruce teases the crowd, “are you ready,” he sings, channeling the souls of the early R&B greats as the songs slowly builds. Bruce has put down the guitar. He holds the mike and gets up to the edge of the stage, shaking hands. He jumps up on the piano and shimmies like no 53-year-old man I know. He jumps down, slows the tempo—“Are you ready for a house party now?” he asks. “Well, if you’re gonna have a house party the music has got to be righteous.” And then he introduces the band—a far shorter intro than at the American shows, where he would talk about Van Zandt’s role on the Sopranos or Weinberg’s gig with Conan O’Brien.
And then back into the song, tempo slowed, the camera panning in tight as he sings the penultimate verse, the tempo speeding up, the crowd jumping in—“turn it up, turn it up, turn it up”—Bruce high-fiving the crowd, the band pushing the tempo and the volume, Clarence blowing his tightest sax solo of the show.
And then into a hard-rock version of “Dancing in the Dark” and the garage-rock-tinged “Counting on a Miracle” and “Spirit in the Night” and a rare, sublime performance of “Incident on 57th Street” (by request) and “Into the Fire” and then the encores—on disc two—“Night”, a scintillating “Ramrod” (one of my favorite performances of the tour when I caught him in Albany), the ever-present “Born to Run”, “My City of Ruins”, “Born in the USA”, “Land of Hope and Dreams”, and “Thunder Road”.
The DVD offers a truly outstanding performance, though there is nothing like being in the arena when Bruce turns on the lights and thousands and thousands of fans chant out in unison the words to “Born to Run”. But that’s OK. There will be more shows eventually.
In the meantime, Live in Barcelona will have to tide me and my fellow Springsteen aficionados over.