Saturday before the Bruuuuuce show Cat and I hit a local Thai place called, er, “Eye of the Thaiger.” (There is also a “Thaifoon” and a “Thai Thai”).
The fact that the restaurant actually has a name is almost unusual, as nearly every other store in Phoenix has on its sign the simple name of what product or service they’re providing: PAWN, Tacos, Furniture, SHOES, Belts, Pets, LIQUOR, &tc. Sure, there’s some stores that have been so adventurous as to rowdy it up to be “Mike’s SHOES,” but it’s truly striking how generic a lot of the names are. My favorite one? “My Florist,” which is, of course, a restaurant.
Which is not to say that Phoenix has bad signage; on the contrary, it’s quite wonderful. There’s oodles of throwaway 50’s & 60’s architecture, and there were so many truly unusual buildings that I had to make the decision to not take a foto or try to draw any of them, as to prevent a flood of blurry and/or poorly-sketched curiousities to overtake my rapidly growing trove of mementoes.
The appetizers at Eye of the Thaiger were smashing: a platter of vegetarian delights—firm tofu on skewers with a sweet peanut-buttery sauce; delicate spring rolls sliced lengthwise, with a sweet & sour (but mostly sweet) dipping sauce; and, well, okay, those two were awesome, and then some really fried-up corn fritters. Cat got an underwhelming and under-spiced pad thai, and I got an unflavored pad pak that was allegedly the chef’s speciality. It was really just lightly stir-fried vegetables and tofu. Ho-hum; Thai House is still the king in my book!
Cat and I were both getting jittery about the concert; we’d been listening to Devils and Dust a little bit—it’s not exactly driving music—and we’d downloaded “For You” and “Real World” so as to properly prep for the concert. I had that sorta lump in my throat feeling of, please don’t suck please don’t disappoint me, that happens when I’ve gotten waaaay overexcited about something (see: Star Wars Episode I: Your Childhood Disregarded). Also not unimportant was the fact that we’d spent $200 on the tickets—$85 plus some sort of online Ticketmaster gouge. So, anxious but a bit thrilled, we made our way to the middle-of-nowhere suburb of Glendale (or, to hear me say it, the way I’ve said it since I’ve gotten here, completely unintentionally: Medvale).
Getting in was fast and relatively painless, despite the thousands of people milling around. All they did was scan the barcode on our printed-out page. Hmm. Computers actually made something faster. At the same time we walked in, we were handed a little card from the Glendale Arena, which included the following information:
Tonight’s show is a solo acoustic performance, set up in a theater-style arrangement.
There will be no intermission.
All guests must be seated by the start of the first song. Guests arriving to their seating section after the start of the show will be seated following the third song.
There will be no seating during each song.
Curtains will remain closed during the entire performance.
All concession stands will close 10 minutes prior to the start of the show and will remain closed for the duration of the show [READ: You ain’t gonna get any beer, drunky!].
It’s noteworthy because there’s so many damn rules.
Also weird is that no-where does the card say “Bruce Springsteen;” it’s as if they have smallish concerts with all these damn rules all the time.
I was not happy about the, essentially, no-drinking rule. If you haven’t gotten this from reading Pretty Fakes, I like to drink. A lot. And, one of the best things in life is getting drunk to live music. Meh. And, they had a one-drink rule at the concession stand. So, Cat and I stood in line for twenty minutes to get one beer a piece. (I guess that was better than the alternative: one beer to share.) BLAH.
As aggravated as I was, it was probably more that I was just antsy. We finally made our way to our seats—not bad, right of the stage and with a decent view. Some pretty old-timey stuff was playing in the background, nothing I recognized, but all sort of Jimmie Rodgersish. The stage had these elaborate velvet-y looking curtains, a chandelier, a piano, a stool, and two large video monitors on either side. We really didn’t have to wait long before, with no fanfare, the Boss himself walks onstage.
And . . . starts playing . . . something. I can’t tell what it is. It’s ancient-sounding. He’s playing harmonica and it’s distorted as all hell, to the point that I wondered for a millisecond if something was wrong, there’s so much reverb, and there’s a huge drum noise and I can’t find the drums, and I realize as one of the monitors zooms in on his foot tapping the stage that they’ve miked his foot, somehow, and his body is bent into a question-mark, and the song is getting LOUDER, and I can’t understand a goddamn word he’s saying, like it’s been recorded on a wax cylinder in 1932 and melted and stretched all the way forward to 2005, and he whoops! Into the microphone and is yelling, his whole body still contorted, and I the one lyric I catch is “take his body,” and I think, this is what the blues of the 21st century sound like, and I am amazed.
I wouldn’t know what the song was until I did a little research after we’d gotten back. It was “Reason to Believe,” one of my favorites. I used to ride around in the Camino and listen to my Nebraska cassette and sing it over and over. I couldn’t even recognize what it was.
That set the tone of the show: reimagination, translation, connection. I’m not going to try to transcribe everything he said (cause I missed a lot of it the first time), but nearly every song was introduced by a little story that essentially said, care about the people around you, value life and the people you love, because that can be oh so fragile.
I can tell you that a minute into the second song, “Devils and Dust”—a song I’d only heard, max, six times—my eyes were welling up. I do not know why. It’s not my favorite song, it’s not the best song I’ve ever heard, but I am not overstating it when I say that I felt such a palpable emotional connection at that point with life that I was literally overwhelmed. It was like being in church, a church I didn’t know even existed where they preached a kind of truth I did not know, and hearing something wonderful, something true and kind and sweet that just makes you say, thank-you.
I looked over at Cat and she was the same way. Nothing in the rest of the show would hit me with such emotional force, although during the song “For You” there were visible tears and audible sniffles throughout the audiotorium. Amazing. Somehow this guy—and he’s just a guy, you know—bent his body and rose his voice and made thousands of people laugh, and cry, and feel.
It was, without a doubt, one of the finest performances I have ever seen. It makes his records, all records, sound like tearing paper, a thin reminder of what could be, once removed. It makes me yearn for something more, to feel the way I felt during that second song, when I was moved to tears by sheer beauty.