Blood Brothers

April 19, 2008

For the past four decades, the Rolling Stones have affixed the moniker World’s Greatest Rock And Roll Band to their business cards. They’ve been wrong.

At the risk of provoking some legal smackdown from the ever-litigious Stones’ camp, I offer to you an entity every bit as worthy – if not more so – to claim the title…

Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band

I’ve seen the Stones live and they are inarguably legends, having produced some of the most memorable and defining rock music of all time, but they’ve done little – very little – to add to their legacy during the past quarter century. Albums seem to be nothing more than an excuse to hit the road for a high-ticket, mega-grossing tour and the shows I’ve seen, while unremittingly professional, have hardly been transcendent.

As for Bruce and company, there are a lot of adjectives which come to mind regarding the E Street Band in concert, but the one that sums up the experience best to me is joyous. I’ve never seen a band live that seemed to have more genuine affection for one another, more obvious delight at being on stage together than Springsteen’s and the result has been intoxicating performances that broke down the barrier between artist and audience in a rare way, especially for a large-venue event.

At a Springsteen show, you are a member of the band for the evening. It’s difficult to imagine being invited into Mick’s circle unless you are a banker, a barrister, or a Brazilian supermodel.

So, it was sad to read of the passing on Thursday of E Street organist Danny Federici, who lost a three-year battle with cancer. Federici, an original member of the outfit, had been playing in bands with Springsteen for nearly forty years.

For a band whose whole is definitely greater than the sum of its parts (no matter how wonderful those parts), there is now a hole.

Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band – Hungry Heart
As I was discovering music, Hungry Heart most likely served as my introduction to The Boss. The River was his current release and this song – along with Cadillac Ranch, Fade Away, and the title track which were all over rock radio – captivated me with the flesh and blood characters of Springsteen’s world. It would take more time for my young ears to embrace the stark brilliance of the follow-up Nebraska (actually a solo release), but I was on board for the long haul.

Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band – Jungleland
Simply epic. It’s almost dizzying trying to focus on any one element of Jungleland with its rich, image-laden lyrics and the driving force of the music. And no matter how many times I’ve heard the song, Bruce’s closing wail never fails to give me chills.

Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band – The Rising
Paloma constantly tells me that I’m a sucker for an anthem and perhaps she is correct. But it’s difficult to deny the power of this post-9/11 track which seems to spiral to the heavens and captures the near-religious experience of the band’s live performances.

Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band – Blood Brothers
There’ve been innumerable love songs written and, to me, there are few more poignant than this one. The unusual aspect is that it’s not the typical fare inspired by or dedicated to a significant other. Instead, Springsteen produced a deeply moving expression of his feelings for his band and every single word rings true.