For me, things started to turn downhill with the release of last year's Magic. Bruce was trying to recapture the spirit of his early days, but it just wasn't there. Then came the announcement of the Super Bowl appearance, the Wal-Mart debacle and another sub-par record. I actually skipped Bruce and the band on last year's tour, something I hadn't done in seventeen years.
I was shocked to see the band start with "Tenth Avenue Freeze Out". This is certainly not an obscure Bruce song, but with not much time and an audience of millions, it was a surprise. I can only attribute this choice to his desire to reach out to his hardcore fans who have been perplexed the past few months. "Born To Run" was solid and the "Working on a Dream" into "Glory Days" string was fun. But again, this wasn't the same Bruce. For one, Steve's reference to "The Boss" would absolutely never have happened 1972-2006. Bruce abhorred this nickname. And then there was the silly referee thing. It was forced showmanship that Bruce has never needed. He's a natural showman.
I had a long chat with a friend this afternoon. He's actually one of my favorite musicians and we've developed a friendship over the past few years. We talked about Bruce and agreed on most of what I said above. But he had some great points. He said that Bruce wants to hear rock n' roll on the radio again, he wants to reclaim the spirit of rock n' roll and he continues to challenge himself and press for rock n' roll. Even if some of the new songs aren't on-par with the majority of his catalog, he's certainly not recycling the past. Maybe the results are falling short, but the effort's there, and this is coming from a guy who will hit the age of 60 in September. My friend was much more eloquent in his take, but you get the point.
After hanging up, I thought of today's music. There's certainly a lot of very good music being made, but is there just one act that touches the spirit of rock n' roll in the way that Springsteen has? I'm not talking about his performance yesterday; I'm talking about the 30+ years prior. Yesterday was fine, but what he's done for three decades has often left me gasping for breath and unable to find words. The Denton, Texas band Slobberbone had this. The Replacements certainly did. But in the past few years? The Gourds are a blast and have been for over ten years. And I suppose The Arcade Fire are the closest we have. And I'm sure there are acts out there that I'm unfamiliar with.
But all told, despite his sometimes hokey efforts to please an audience in the millions yesterday, the Springsteen I've known and seen for three decades is the pinnacle. Maybe he's lost a step, but for over thirty decades, there's been nothing like him.