Friday, September 28, 2007

There's a reason he called it 'Magic'

Maybe it's the limited sleep I've had in the past 30 hours or maybe it's the rough month certain sports teams I follow have had, but there might be a bit of hyperbole in the words that follow. I'm OK with that.

I arrived at Rockefeller Center in a cab at 4:30 a.m., having dallied for a couple extra hours at work rather than sit in line on the sidewalk fighting off sleep with the other fans. They had just started letting the first fans into the plaza -- the very first in line were a few women who had stepped off a plane from Cleveland and arrived at the Rock at 8 a.m. on Thursday. Why tour New York City when you can get to know half a block of 48th Street so well? That's what I always say.

My wait in the line was no more than 15 minutes, and I easily made it into the first section between the studio and Dean & Deluca. Armed with Wes Anderson's new short "Hotel Chevalier" and the pilot of "K-Ville" on my iPod, I settled down alongside one of the barriers to wait.

It wasn't even an hour later when others around me began to stand up, so I paused the 'pod and strained for a look myself. And there, somewhere in front of the colored lights on the curtain backdrop, sat the tiny head of Max Weinberg. The problem with the concerts on the plaza is that the stage -- at least for this show, perhaps because of the size of the E Street Band -- is little more than a riser, a few scant inches above the street. So most of my morning consisted of straining for a glimpse; hoisting my camera and blindly shooting, hoping for something I could crop and enlarge later; and watching the screens in the studio for my best look at Bruce at 6 in the morning. (He wore sunglasses and sounded like he just woke up.)

The five-song rehearsal consisted of "The Promised Land," "Radio Nowhere," "Living in the Future," "My Hometown" and "Long Walk Home." The first number was rough as the band and the technicians worked out the kinks, but beginning with "Radio Nowhere," everything went smoothly and the band sounded as good as it does at 8 p.m. on a performance night.

Those five songs went by quickly, but when I looked at the time, it was 6:45. We were told the on-air performance would be in the 8:30 half-hour, so we had some more time to wait. Again, it went quickly, in part because Bruce and the band showed up again shortly after 8 a.m. and played "The Promised Land" once again -- much more tightly this time. At 8:30, when the live concert portion began, we got "The Promised Land" one more time -- no complaints here -- followed by the next three he'd played earlier. But instead of "Long Walk Home," we got "Night" for the "set" closer. Ironic, and outstanding.

It says something about Bruce and the band in concert that I stood there at 8 a.m., approaching 21 hours since I'd woken up on Thursday, and didn't feel tired, didn't feel hungry, didn't feel sore or achy or weary. Not until 10 a.m., when I started filing out of the plaza, did I feel the pain in my feet, the wobble in my legs. Until then, not a thought of it.

From what we heard off of "Magic" -- "Radio Nowhere," "Living in the Future," "Long Walk Home" and, later, for the 9 a.m. last hour of the show, "Last to Die" -- it sounds like a phenomenal album. The band pours out the songs as a wall of sound, those drums and those guitars sending shockwaves through the pavement so that you feel it from your feet to the ends of your hair. Musically, it may be his best album since "Born To Run," based on the potential conveyed through these four songs he's chosen to reveal to us so far. Rolling Stone gave it five stars.

"Living in the Future," I thought, was bouncy and catchy and seems to carry the heaviest message on the album.

"It's really about what's happening now," he said on-air. "It's kind of about how the things that we love about America are cheaper. The french fries, the Yankees battling Boston, the Bill of Rights, impeachment, motorcycles, Tim Russert's haircut, trans-fats, the Jersey Shore. About how we love all those things the way the womenfolk all love Matt Lauer.

"But over the past six years, we've had to add to the American picture: rendition, illegal wiretapping, voter suppression, no habeus corpus, the neglect of our great city of New Orleans and her people, an attack on the Constitution and the loss of our best young men and women in a tragic war. This is a song about things that shouldn't happen here, happening here.

"And so right now, we plan to do something about it. We plan to sing about it. I know it's early, but it's late. So come and join us."

So that's why he didn't play on "Fox and Friends."

He performed the song solely with microphone in hand, leaving the guitars to Nils and Steven. He looked into the camera, his left hand waving with forefinger and thumb extended the way Kanye West might tomorrow on "Saturday Night Live," singing the words with emotion, punctuating them with his eyes and his gestures.

Exhaustion at last hit me at Penn Station as I waited for the train to Secaucus. On the train home to Clifton, I thought of when and where I'd go on Tuesday to buy the album. The online presale was tempting, but I can't wait for this album to arrive in my mailbox, free lyric booklet or not. I need it in my hands shortly after I wake up, then in my CD player moments later.

It's not easy staying up for 24 consecutive hours, but when the last four go by in a blur of guitar strings, drumsticks and the arms of fist-pumping fans in the air, you don't notice it until your head hits the pillow -- or even hours later, when you finally wake up again, not sure if it's the same day or if it was a spectacular, musical dream.

Make it stop

Friday is all about the music.

Today, that is, considering the time.

I usually relish September. College football begins. Baseball's regular season comes to its thrilling conclusion. Summer humidity turns to Indian summer warmth and the approaching autumn.


This September, Notre Dame has been stagnant -- if that. The Mets have been plummeting. The last two days were in the mid-to-upper 80s and we actually had to use our air conditioner last night. Air conditioning! On September 27!

So today, forget baseball. I'll dawdle at work until 4 a.m. or so, then head up to Rockefeller Center to stake my spot for Today's Friday concert series, featuring Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. The schedule worked out nicely -- working Thursday night, off Friday. I'm already in the city with only a few hours to go and no commitments for the rest of the day. Might as well take in the free show, then head home to sleep it off.

The music will be the focus today. And perhaps some catching up with all the TV premieres I've missed this week, once I've slept some. Friday night? Maybe a little West Virginia-South Florida, but no Mets-Marlins, no Phillies-Nationals. I need a break. Maybe, if I don't watch, things will turn back to good. The storm system that moved across Pennsylvania this afternoon and evening was supposed to cool things off around here. Maybe that will bring about the feeling of fall.