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Springsteen @ Bonnarro

Kanada Kev

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Here's an accounting of the Boss' sets and appearance with Phish, from a hardcore Springsteen fan:




Saturday, June 13, 2009

Tennessee Stud

By Jeff Vrabel

Even setting aside the Tennessee hot, the sprawling carnival-world landscape, and the frequent need to avoid people who are hula-hooping where you need to be walking, it's safe to say Bruce Springsteen has never played an environment like the one he burned down Saturday night at Bonnaroo. The night was jammed full of Bruce-time idiosyncrasies: it was only the band's second-ever festival date (after Pinkpop), and it unfolded not in the relative safety of an arena but on a lush, pastoral and almost entirely inaccessible farm that 48 hours prior had been prolifically drenched by what amounted to a freak one-night hurricane season (and spent all of Friday being dried out by a sultry sun that seared the grounds and turned the place into a wonderland for fans of the smell of fast-drying mud).

But more than all that, it provided for Springsteen what was maybe as fierce a battle as he's likely to find these days: Instead of looking down to see a sea of veteran, graying, obsessive bootleg herders, Springsteen walked out to probably 60,000 sun-baked, sleep-deprived faces, the vast majority of them young, and a good percentage of them not on hand for the sole purpose of seeing him. In short, here was a challenge to break, a mountain to climb, a—oh, fine, we'll do it—river to cross. A challenge that Springsteen does not find himself facing often these days, and one that he spent the entire near three-hour, 28-song set attacking with a relentless abandon that is getting really, really close to inhuman.

Truth be told, it didn't happen immediately. The early part of the Bonnaroo set was front-loaded with new stuff—including the still-weird "Outlaw Pete," which clocked in at a Phish-length running time but made fully 2/3 of my traveling party roll its eyes—that seemed to struggle to find footing with the massive crowd. This, of course, would not stand. So Bruce went to work.

He stood center stage facing the crowd and screamed like the devil, daring people; he crashed into them for "Out in the Street," he delivered his preacher-man speech early in "Working on a Dream," a challenge about collectively using music to build houses out of faith and love and sexual healing. The Bruce contingent in the crowd probably found it a bit much, but this was not a night for sermonizing to a safely converted congregation, this called for scorching, revival-tent hook-jab-hook '70s-era brushfire evangelizing, and the entire first hour was given to dragging people into that house. With the exception of the volunteer crews scrubbing the grounds nightly of empties and recyclables and expired pot, no one worked harder at Bonnaroo.

And with the stage set, things quickly fell into place: "Seeds" seethed and roared, the boogie version of "Johnny 99" left room for some "Bonnaroo-roo!" train noises, and Nils ate up "Youngstown." But the swing moment came in the requests, before a sweet "Growin' Up" and a lovely "Thunder Road": an appropriately incongruous "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town." "It's too f---ing hot for Santa!" Bruce howled with a wink of his eye and a twist of his head, before leading what could safely be christened Bonnaroo's best-ever 60,000-strong mass caroling session.

From there, it was off and running: Jay Weinberg, who is a monster, stepped in on "Radio Nowhere" and drove it twice as fast. He gave "Lonesome Day" a loose groove, he beat "Born to Run" into tiny bits. In a fest full of blog bands and buzz, Jay Weinberg might have been the breakout star. And it goes on like this: "The River" under the stars, "Tenth Avenue" in the encore, a "Hard Times" that makes one wish for a Seeger Sessions revival soon.

But it wasn't over: Most fans figured (and heard eyewitness reports) that Springsteen vanished from the foothills. Not so: Bruce was spotted throughout the weekend taking in sets by MGMT, Band of Horses and Neko Case (evidently I missed him backstage at Neko by minutes, which is EXTREMELY DIFFICULT TO THINK ABOUT).

Now, full disclosure: I was back in the press tent during Phish's Sunday night show, when my wife texted that Trey Anastasio had just said something about Bruce (that he was his "boyhood hero and still hero"). As such, the subsequent seconds involved a ridiculous frenzy of instinctual Daffy Duck commotion that culminated with a plunging sprint into the massive mainstage crowd, a sweaty throng that was making it rain glow sticks all the way down to the pit (many hippies were injured during this part--sorry, fellas). And with Bruce taking the stage in the meantime, I screeched to a stop just after the beginning of the 10-minute Vermont bar-band version of "Mustang Sally," which was followed by "Bobby Jean" and, for the second time in two nights on the What Stage, "Glory Days" (if you haven't downloaded them already, they're available from livephish.com). Phish fans, as near as I could tell, ate up every second like ice cream, and Phish members had grins on their faces that you couldn't have chiseled off.

But for the Bruce contingent in the Phish crowd, that was the dessert. The main course was Saturday night's sweat-and-sponge-water soaked virtuosic clinic of rock-show stamina, one that, without sounding too cliched and superior about it, felt like a clinic, a showcase, a lesson to the kids about how it's done. And if Springsteen's fest blowout didn't necessarily convert every last fan in the house, it absolutely left scorch marks on them.

Edited by Guest
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i thought bruce's set takes top honours for being one of the worst things i've ever seen at bonnaroo. and 2nd place for worst headliner ever just after the police.

it was my first and last time seeing that cheese ball.

Hey, understandable. He doesn't float everyone's boat. I'm sure you'd hear a lot of other people saying:

i thought phish's set takes top honours for being one of the worst things i've ever seen at bonnaroo. and 2nd place for worst headliner ever just after the police.

it was my first and last time seeing those cheese balls.

justsayin' ;)

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