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You’re Supposed to Be Singing

28 Jun

20-feet-from-stardom-posterWhen was the last time a movie made you want to stand up and cheer?

Like, legitimately want to stand up and cheer.

If you’re anything like me, you’ll have to reset your clock after seeing 20 Feet from Stardom, an excellent new documentary about folks you’ve definitely heard, but likely have never heard of: backup singers like Merry Clayton, Lisa Fischer, Táta Vega, Darlene Love, and Claudia Lennear.

These are people who’ve worked with the greatest legends in music — Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder, David Bowie, Bette Midler, Michael Jackson, Elvis Presley, the Rolling Stones, Sting, Joe Cocker, Ray Charles, and so on — and yet never gained similar name recognition, even though the songs they’re featured on wouldn’t be half as good or half as memorable without their vocals. Continue reading

There Was Magic in the Night at Fenway

16 Aug

What do you say about a Bruce Springsteen show that starts with “Thunder Road,” the previous evening’s high point, performed simply and in classic style, with just piano and harmonica by Springsteen and “Professor” Roy Bittan?

What do you say about a Springsteen show that includes diverse but amazing audience requests like “Thundercrack,” “Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street?,” “Frankie,” “Quarter to Three,” and “Prove It All Night” (with the 1978 intro), and where a cover of Eddie Floyd’s “Knock on Wood” (a song the band has only performed once before — in 1976) is considered by Springsteen to be the weirdest one of them all?

What do you say about a Springsteen show that also includes an excellent, powerful “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” an awe inspiring “Land of Hope and Dreams,” and a transcendent “Backstreets?”

What do you say about a Springsteen show where he sings “Waiting on a Sunny Day,” and ironically, that’s when it starts raining? Then he does an acoustic “Who’ll Stop the Rain?” and it starts raining even harder?

What do you say about a Springsteen show where he asks for a hot dog and beer so many times that someone actually gives him one — at the start of “Working on the Highway” — and he chugs that entire beer in one sip … while still playing the intro to the song!

What do you say about a Springsteen show where even the usually stoic and serious Max Weinberg smiled a few times?

What do you say about a 30-song Springsteen show where only 12 of those numbers were repeated from the night before, one of which (the aforementioned “Thunder Road“) performed so differently that it kinda doesn’t even count as having been repeated?

What do you say about a Springsteen show that ends — with Ken Casey of the Dropkick Murphys joining the band for “American Land” — and then treats the audience to a fireworks show off the Green Monster as they’re leaving the stadium?

What do you say about a Springsteen show that’s even better than the one the night before?

Really, what can you say other than that you’re lucky to have been there. Damned lucky. Continue reading

Greetings from Fenway Park, MA

15 Aug

Bruce Springsteen wrote the song “Wrecking Ball” in 2009 to commemorate the tearing down of the Meadowlands in New Jersey.

It wasn’t too long ago that Fenway Park was threatened with a similar fate.

But here we are celebrating the 100th birthday of America’s Most Beloved Ballpark, with a wrecking ball nowhere in sight, and Springsteen is back to play his third and fourth shows at the stadium in less than a decade.

These are glory days, indeed. (Someone must not have told the Red Sox, but we’ll leave that to another blog post.)

Continue reading

He Took Care of His Own

27 Mar

Hard times … Baby, well, they come to us all.

Few people understand that statement as well as Bruce Springsteen does. And that theme permeated a good chunk of Springsteen’s show last night at the TD Garden here in Boston.

With a new album out, Wrecking Ball, that addresses the tough, unfair economic climate, and a set list that drew heavily from that album, it was clear that Springsteen came to town hoping to give voice to the frustrated and angry.

And he did, beginning the show with sound and fury: “We Take Care of Our Own,” “Wrecking Ball,” “Badlands,” and the Celtic-flavored “Death to My Hometown,” one after another. That’s what he called putting “a whoop-ass session on the recession.”

Later on, he performed “American Skin (41 Shots)” as a not-so-subtle reference to Trayvon Martin.

But it didn’t take long to pick up on the fact that Springsteen had more on his mind than current events. Continue reading

The Big Man Was a Friend of Mine

19 Jun

Clarence Clemons was known as the Big Man, largely because at 6 feet, 5 inches tall and 270-plus pounds, he was literally a big man.

But the nickname was appropriate because on stage, Clarence had a presence that was bigger than life.

He wasn’t showy or over the top like some other rock stars — including his bandleader and friend, Bruce Springsteen. But he was always cool, always just to Bruce’s right, waiting to pick up his sax and do his thing.

And when Clarence got up to play … Wow.

This man of few words, this gentle giant, let his instrument do all the talking. When Clarence took center stage for one of his solos, it was a transcendent experience.

Every time you heard “Jungleland” live, it was awe-inspiring. Stunning. Powerful. An out-of-body experience.

One of my favorite parts of any Springsteen show.

So it goes without saying that the loss of Clarence Clemons Saturday night, due to complications from a stroke one week earlier, was a huge loss — for the music world and for me personally. Continue reading

Life Was Good

31 Dec

Generally, I’m not a fan of New Year’s Eve, but this year especially, I’m not looking forward to it at all.

You see, unlike many people I know, and contrary to general trends in the economy, 2009 was a great year for me. Really and truly it was.

So perhaps I jumped the gun when I called 2008 “The Year of Martin” because I enjoyed 2009 so much more.

Here are some of the reasons why. Continue reading

He’s the One

23 Aug

It was a hot night on Saturday at the Comcast Center (formerly the Tweeter Center, formerly Great Woods), but just like he’s done so many times before, Bruce Springsteen brought the power and didn’t let a silly little thing like 80-degree-plus heat get in the way of a great show.

He even replaced his familiar call of “Is there anybody alive out there?” with “Is it hot enough for you?”

But that wasn’t the only departure from the script — he frequently shook up his planned setlist, playing songs out of their intended order and inserting a few extra requests along the way.

It added up to an experience that felt significantly different from the shows I saw back in April (night one and night two). Continue reading