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Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Revisiting Nebraska - Bruce Springsteen (Sept 1982)

Richard Williams wrote in Q magazine that Nebraska "marked the point at which Springsteen the career strategist began to take over". Williams considered that Springsteen's attempts at "'honest' roughness" for his working-class characters was "at best misguided, at worst patronising" and added: "Nebraska would simply have been a vastly better record with the benefit of the E Street Band and a few months in the studio."

Whenever I read those comments of Richard Williams I always have a chuckle because whilst Q magazine were not overly thrilled with it the album far surpassed any expectations that Springsteen, Jon Landau and Columbia Records had for it. Also the affection that some Springteen fans have for the album leaves Richard Williams' comments in the dust like a piece of discarded litter!

Nebraska is probably my favourite Bruce Springsteen album, I know that sounds bizzare when you are talking about things like Born to Run, Darkness at the Edge of Town and The River (and I love all those albums by the way) but there's an absolute simplicity to this album that shows Bruce the Storyteller at the peak of his powers. The album has it all, Life and Death. Despair and Hope. Guilt and Innocence. Love and Hate. It has moments of great gentleness and moments of heart wrenching callousness.

It's a great album to pull out and play today. A couple of years ago on the 31st anniversary of its released I posted a blog that included some comments from a few fans. Go and have a read if you haven't seen it before.

 Nebraska - Bruce Springsteen
Produced by Bruce Springsteen
Released 30th September 1982
US Chart #3
UK Chart #3

Bruce Springsteen – vocals, guitar, harmonica, mandolin, glockenspiel, tambourine, organ, synthesizer

78th Show on  The Wrecking Ball Tour
Live at Centurylink Center in Omaha, NE
15th November 2012

Nebraska Tracks Highlighted
Reason to Believe
Johnny 99
Atlantic City

Hungry Heart
We Take Care of Our Own
Wrecking Ball
Death to My Hometown
My City of Ruins
Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street?
Sherry Darling
Lost in the Flood
State Trooper
Open All Night
Shackled and Drawn
Waitin' on a Sunny Day
Raise Your Hand
Highway Patrolman
Land of Hope and Dreams
Thunder Road
Born to Run
Dancing in the Dark
Santa Claus Is Coming to Town
Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out

Show Notes from Backstreets Website

Thursday night's show was in Omaha, Nebraska.  Yes, the state that gave title to Bruce Springsteen’s sixth album, and he sure was aware of it.
Things started with the album's closing track, "Reason to Believe," in the rocking arrangement that was a staple of the Magic tour, with Bruce wailing away on harmonica and the bullet-mic distortion effect applied to his vocals. This tour debut served as a great opener and had the crowd immediately energized.

As the band immediately followed this up with "Johnny 99" and "Atlantic City," many fans were wondering: could this be the night that Bruce performs the entire album? Not quite, but six Nebraska songs ties the record for a single "My Father's House,"live show. A seventh,  was rehearsed at the pre-show soundcheck but alas, did not make the set. Tour premiere number two and song number four from Nebraska was "State Trooper," a mesmerizing performance by Bruce solo on a Gretsch electric guitar.  It was reminiscent of the Devils and Dust tour version, but was sung straight (rather than in the falsetto used in 2005) and at a slightly faster tempo.

Two songs later, Bruce signaled to Roy to start the piano introduction of the jump-blues arrangement of "Open All Night," Nebraska song number five. A feature for the horn section, it included an extended trombone solo for Clark Gayton. Clark had a particularly great night, standing out not just during "Open All Night," but also earlier in the set on "Johnny 99" and "Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street?"

The final Nebraska selection was a full-band version of "Highway Patrolman," the song's first performance by the E Street Band since 1985. Bruce started out solo before the band kicked in, including some understated keyboards from Roy and prominent accordion and violin parts from Charles and Soozie, respectively.  The E Street Choir joined in on the chorus to great effect.

With such an emphasis on Nebraska, Thursday night was already a dark, intense affair, and that mood was enhanced by several additional setlist choices from Bruce. Just including "State Trooper" in the set is one thing, but then to bookend it with sign requests for "Lost in the Flood" and "Trapped" was phenomenal. This three-song run showed exactly how useful signs can be when Bruce finds ones that fit the mood of the show. Then, following "Highway Patrolman," Bruce elected to skip "The Rising," and instead cued Roy to start the piano introduction to a surprise "Backstreets" — a performance that could have been the highlight of the show, had this not already been such an extraordinary evening.

Bruce did manage to include a few moments of levity, as he granted a request for "Sherry Darling," and again used "Hungry Heart" as an opportunity to crowd surf from the middle of the floor back to the stage. Late in the encore, a fourth tour premiere came out in the form of the year's first "Santa Claus is Comin' to Town." When collecting signs earlier in the show, a Santa hat was thrown on stage and was jokingly dismissed by Bruce as being too early — "it's not even Thanksgiving yet!” By the end of the show, perhaps intending to bring a bit more fun to the proceedings, he had changed his mind.

"Santa" was predictably well received by the crowd but also bittersweet, as the song's debut reinforced the absence of Clarence. Eddie and Jake ably shared the sax solo, but the start of the song was a different matter altogether. Without Clarence on the stage, Bruce quickly realized that he had to do the trademark "ho-ho-ho" laughter himself. Raising his arms to the sky, he called out "Big Man, we need you!" When it came time for "better be good for goodness sake" he called on the entire crowd, who gleefully and eagerly filled in. - Glenn Radecki reporting  
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