Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Bruce in our back yard

(Photos courtesy of Devin, who was smart enough to bring his camera)

In its heyday, Ypsilanti, Michigan stood as a shiny, chrome example of the best the industrial age had to offer.

In the 1930s and 40s, its population swelled with middle-class workers who manned positions in Ford's famous Willow Run assembly plant. World War II brought factories that made the Detroit suburb the epicenter of B-24 bomber production.

Like so many other Rust Belt towns now, Ypsilanti has seen better days. Many of its ornate Victorian homes are in disrepair. Its school system is crumbling.

Main Street, Ypsilanti, is the prototype of the Main Street that politicians are referencing in desperate hopes of connecting with Americans worried about their jobs and mortgages. Troubadours who sing songs about "boarded-up windows and vacant stores" would find ample fodder here.

All this is a long-winded way of explaining why it seemed perfectly natural to see Bruce Springsteen walking down the sidewalk there Monday. Ypsilanti could be Atlantic City ... or Freehold ... or any of the other places where people have been left behind, cast aside and left to linger on the fringes.

Springsteen has written about those factories and displaced workers all his life.

He was in Ypsilanti to lead a Vote For Change free concert in support of Barack Obama.

Upon reaching the stage from the sidewalk, he kicked off his eight-song acoustic set with "The Promised Land." It was not the jangly anthem that punctuates a lot of his E Street shows, but a stripped-down version that prompted listeners to reflect upon the serious cause for which we gathered.

He dove right into "Ghost of Tom Joad," which started with the same melancholy tone of Promised Land, but reached an angrier crescendo with each chorus, during which Bruce clenched his jaw and let spittle fly.

(We could see it; that's how freaking close we were in the second row of the general-admission crowd).

The song was a haunting spectacle, the lines "Shelter line stretchin' around the corner/Welcome to the new world order" seeming particularly appropriate given the stock-market turmoil the last few days.

GOTJ was a special treat for me, because it was the No. 1 song on my wish list of songs that I wanted to hear Bruce do live. In 10 shows, I had never seen this one before, and it did not disappoint.

From there, we got the rare, acoustic Thunder Road, followed by Devils & Dust. Hard as it may be to believe, the rarest of treats was still to come.

Next, Bruce played a gentle "Used Cars," a song off 1984's Nebraska album that he has only played a few times in concert, most recently in 2005. We were mere blocks from Michigan Avenue, and Bruce laughed and acknowledged that playing song here was a good way to get "cheap applause."

But it was so much more than that. It was the quiet, simple highlight of the afternoon. Here's a clip.

He followed with the political stump speech that he's delivered in Philly and Columbus, Ohio, the two other pit-stops on the three-city tour, making a couple cracks about how he had "the tequila all lined up" in 2004, and that this year, he's taking nothing for granted.

A lot of good schtick from Bruce throughout the show.

At one point during Used Cars, he forgot the lyrics, and just said "Awww, fuck off," as the crowd laughed at the awkward pause. At the end of the song, he told us that the occasional f-bomb is "one of the tricks of the trade, ladies and gentlemen."

"No Surrender," "The Rising," and "This Land Is Your Land," another excellent tune that I've always hoped to hear live, closed out the set.

Overall, an excellent 50 minutes. You know it's good when I barely mention the acoustic Thunder Road. It was a unique show, too, in the sense that he was playing outside in the middle of a gray afternoon. It's hard to place it in context with the other arena shows I've seen for the that reason, as well as the political nature of this performance.

But it was a show I'll never forget, and one that outlined a pretty compelling vision for change on Nov. 4 in this Land of Hope and Dreams.


I awoke at 6 a.m. on Friday morning to get in line for tickets. Expecting a line of thousands, I arrived to find out that it was me and one other cat on a bench awaiting tickets. By the time they started handing out the freebies, I procured not only one for myself, but one for Mrs. VFR, Reako and a few of our other co-workers.


One hilarious note from the pre-concert:

Debbie Dingell, the wife of ancient local Congressman John Dingell, gave a shrieking, boilerplate stump speech that irked the crowd because it sounded like over-amplified nails on a chalkboard.
The crowd wanted Bruce, and as is customary at any Springsteen show, started shouting, "Bruuuuuuuuuuce."

Mrs. Dingell apparently had never been to a Bruce show before and mistook the fervor for boos. "Now, let's not get negative," she said more than once.

"Who do we want to be the next president?!?!?!" she shrieked.

"Bruuuuuuuuuce," the crowd answered.

It was great.

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At 12:29 AM, Blogger Nathan Fenno said...

Bonus points for working in 'troubadour.'

In my four-plus years in the Deuce, I managed to visit Ypsilanti just twice, speeding through on the way to DTW excluded. Don't really feel like I missed out.

At 6:59 AM, Blogger Pete said...

I've now been two times in three days. ... The only two times I've been there, other than one when I first moved out and wanted to visit Willow Run Airport.


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