Bruce Springsteen's new album is entitled "Magic." Quite fitting for an artist whose live shows have been often been described by that very word. A week into his tour I've seen 4 shows.
They've been different of course, that's a huge part of his appeal. Every night he changes it up. But there is also a common thread to the tour so far, held together by the new music.
The songs on Magicsound very good on CD. Live they breathe. On opening night in Hartford I was amazed at how much a couple of the songs were already changed from their studio versions.
"Gypsy Biker" which I had envisioned to be performed acoustically is invigorated with sizzling guitar work from Bruce and especially Little Steven. Free of the time commitment to the Sopranos Steven seems to have refocused his energy on playing guitar.
The title track as Bruce explained is not about magic per se but about tricks. The way truths are turned in to lies and lies into truths by the government. With his wife on a beautiful backing vocal this has been one of the quieter and prettier moments of the evening amongst the songs that appear that they'll be stalwarts of the set.
Amongst other strengths he has an ability to pair his new material with older songs that help strengthen the musical and lyrical narrative of what he is trying to say on stage each night and each tour. On this tour "The Rising" has been paired with "Last to Die" a song that quite simply asks who will be the last to die for a mistake. The transition from one to the other is done as more of a segue. It's the sort of thing you'd expect a jam-band to do more so, but it works beautifully.
Another strength is his ability to read an audience and sense what they want or need on a given night. There have already been numerous spots in the 4 shows I've seen where he clearly called an audible and strayed from the written set-list. This practice tends to happen more as a tour progresses and increases dramatically when Bruce plays a multi-night stand in a city.
The 2nd night at the Meadowlands he pulled the song "Cynthia" seemingly out of nowhere. An album outtake that had been released in 1998 on his box set of outtakes it had been played live by the E Street Band exactly once. The crowd ate it up and went nuts.
Five shows into a new tour Bruce & The E Street Band are already firing on all cylinders. There's a lot to be said for people who have played together a long time and can sense the others next move. That's how it is with this group. No surprise they're often referred to as "The Human Jukebox." Bruce yells them out and counts them off and the band follows Max's beat and more often than not nails the song, whatever it is, cold.
There will be plenty of time to see this tour as it's expected to last well into 2008. Do yourself a favor and go to a couple of shows it'll help you really understand what a Springsteen tour is all about.