We survived the Mayan apocalypse, but if the tinfoil hats had been right and the world had gone poof from under our feet, 2012 wouldn’t have been such a bad year to be the last one. At least if you see it from a Bruce Springsteen fan point of view.
After a two-year hiatus, during which Bruce was never really that far off the radar (can you say Darkness box?), in 2012 he was back with a vengeance. The highlights were as high as they were plentiful, and the big question that fans had asked themselves and each other before the tour - is there life after the Big Man? - was answered with a resounding “Yes!”.
The year actually started in late 2011 when, out of nowhere, a tour for 2012 was announced. Usually tours are announced in connection with, or shortly after, an album announcement, but while the press release did mention an upcoming album, it would be months before the title and other details were revealed. So entering 2012, fans already knew the year would be a big step up from the traumatic 2011. However, not many dared hope it would be the kind of year legends are made of. But it was and it has been. You don’t think so? Well then, read this official Greasy Lake Top-10-Plus-1-In-Chronological-Order-List-Of-Highlights.
As always, opinions were divided when Bruce’s first album of new music in three years was released in March. Although compared to the reception of Working on a Dream in 2009, it was hailed as a masterpiece. Whatever the case, a Bruce album is a Bruce album is a Bruce album, and a Bruce album will always be a year-highlight no matter what else happens that year. And his new mix of Seeger Sessions-style folk music and traditional rock sat quite well with most fans, just as the new depression theme resonated with a lot of people, with the exception perhaps of those who happened to work in banks.
Not counting a one-song performance at the Grammy Awards, the Apollo Theater show in March was the first real glimpse the world received of what The E Street Band looked and sounded like without Clarence Clemons. The Big Man’s sad absence was compensated by no less than a horn section (including his nephew Jake Clemons), background singers, and a percussionist. The radio broadcast show served as a warm-up for the tour as well as a benefit for Sirius XM radio, but Bruce didn’t refrain from acknowledging that this was his first performance at the legendary theater that fostered so many famous black soul artists. He even climbed onto a balcony and crowd-surfed his way back to the stage during a soul medley. But perhaps the most moving part of the night was the way he commemorated the lost members of the E Street Band with a video montage and chants of “If you’re here and we’re here, they are here”.
When it was announced that Bruce Springsteen would be the keynote speaker at the SXSW music festival in Austin, not too many fans really knew what that meant. It turned out to mean an hour-long speech in front of a crowd of music industry people, media, musicians, and music lovers, and with a live stream on the internet for everyone else to enjoy. Bruce blew everyone away with his take on his own musical upbringing, the current state of music, and his advice to young musicians. He proved that if he ever loses his ability to sing, he can always make a career as a stand-up comedian or music lecturer; but most of all he drew a thick line under his status as the coolest elderly statesman of rock ‘n’ roll that the world has ever known.
Prove It All Night ‘78
We just have to include the resurrection of the 1978 version of “Prove It All Night” among the highlights of 2012. For decades the guitar solo that preceded the first verse of the song during the Darkness Tour stood as a symbol of that tour, which again, to most fans, towers above everything else the man has done on a concert stage, before or since. The resurrection of this holy, musical relic took place in Barcelona in May, and while the length of it and the guitar virtuosity demonstrated may not have been quite up to 1978 standards, it was still enough to make headlines on fan communities and blogs everywhere. While far from becoming standard, Bruce would repeat this version of “Prove It All Night” at several shows throughout the 2012 tour.
The pulled plug in Hyde Park
The event had all the ingredients of a British comedy show. Not many people know exactly what happened behind the stage on that fateful night in July, which is why it’s so tempting to picture it in your mind: a clipboard-carrying, John Cleese-like inspector from the London authorities, a few policemen with Bobby helmets, Bruce’s loud, cursing American tour manager, Paul McCartney’s personal assistant shouting threats... Whatever happened that night, the end result was a pulled plug and a show cut short while, not some young unknown punks were on stage, but two of the biggest rock ‘n’ roll stars in the world ever. Afterwards, the London authorities got ridiculed in the world press for their strict curfew rules, and Bruce got his revenge a few nights later in Dublin by reenacting the whole thing, but with himself, Steve, and the rest of the band as the triumphant victors.
“Jungleland” in Gothenburg
Since the start of the tour, fans had asked themselves and each other, “What about ‘Jungleland’? Can it be played without Clarence? Should it be played without Clarence?’” The question was answered one summer night in Gothenburg when, as the near-conclusion of an already epic show, Roy Bittan started playing those famous piano notes. Halfway through the song, Jake Clemons stepped to the front of the stage to receive the symbolic torch and thereby ensure the continued existence of this sacred piece of music that is the saxophone solo of “Jungleland”. He did a flawless job, then raised his saxophone toward the sky, and the transition was consummated. Afterwards people asked themselves why they had ever doubted it could work. It felt so right.
The longest show ever
For decades you could have woken any serious fan from their sleep and asked them, “What’s the longest show Bruce ever did?” and they would, without hesitation, have answered, “Nassau Coliseum, Uniondale, New York, New Year’s Eve, 1980, 38 songs, approximately four hours long”. Until July 31, 2012, that would have been the correct answer. But no more. The honor now goes to a show in, of all places, Helsinki, Finland, a country that, for many, many years, Bruce and his management apparently didn’t even know existed, to the frustration of the quite substantial Finnish fan community. Unlike the 1980 show in Uniondale, and a couple of other very long shows in 2012, the Helsinki show broke the four-hour mark and thereby became the new record-holder. And those four hours plus didn’t even include the impromptu 30-minute acoustic set that Bruce did after his soundcheck in front of a stunned crowd of early arrivers in the pit.
Storm over MetLife
While Europe, to many fans everywhere, is increasingly becoming the place to see Bruce, now and then the US, and not least New Jersey, can still muster one for the history books. A fine example of that took place on September 22 at the brand new MetLife Stadium. A gigantic storm approached the stadium as the show was about to start, and thousands and thousands of fans had to be evacuated from the field and the stands for their own safety. They stood in hallways, they stood in lobbies, and they even stood in restrooms for several hours before being allowed back to their spots. It was 10:30 p.m. when the show finally got underway, and since Bruce is not one to cut his shows short just because it’s getting a little late, he did his standard 3½ hours and thus didn’t call it a night till 2 a.m., well into his own 63rd birthday, which he and the crowd didn’t fail to acknowledge.
Singing for Obama
Whether you voted for Obama or not, and whether you thought it was a good idea for Bruce to go out there on the campaign trail for him, those performances are still a big part of what 2012 will be remembered for. Bruce and his acoustic guitar were utilized in swing-states dominated by white working-class voters, the segment that Obama’s campaign strategists thought Bruce would have the best odds of reaching. No one knows if he changed any minds, and his performances won’t go down in history for their quality and grandiosity, but he enthusiastically did what he could and drew plenty of attention from the media. And he debuted a new ditty called “Forward” that we’re not likely to hear ever again. He ended his mini-campaign tour in Des Moines by warming up for Obama himself and, if nothing else, securing his own spot in the soon-to-be re-elected president’s iPod.
Bruce, the book
If you’re a fan of Bruce and a fan of books, 2012 was a spectacular year. Not only did we see several new Bruce biographies, but also, most of them were of a really high standard that didn’t just repeat what we’d already read before. But towering above them all was the new book by Peter Ames, simply titled Bruce. It’s not an official biography, but it’s close. Ames had access to both the protagonist himself, several of his family members, and lots of his friends and collaborators. The result is a cornucopia of new revelations about the man and tons of little details that make this the most interesting and truest portrait of our hero that we are ever likely to get, unless Bruce decides to write his own book. Even then, it probably won’t be written half as well. Look for an official Greasy Lake review of this book in the beginning of 2013.
Sandy Relief concert
On a terribly bleak background came the last of this year’s Bruce highlights. When Hurricane Sandy ravaged the East Coast of the United States, and New Jersey in particular, in late October, it was a call to arms for Bruce, the likes of which hadn't been seen since September 11, 2001. He first did “Land of Hope and Dreams” for NBC’s telethon shortly after the disaster, but it was the highly publicized 12-12-12 Sandy Relief concert in Madison Square Garden on, well, December 12 that stood out. Opening the show and backed by the E Street Band, he set the tone for the evening with a four-song set that saw the intertwining of an emotional “My City of Ruins” and “Jersey Girl” as well as duets with Jon Bon Jovi for “Born to Run” and Jovi’s “Who Says You Can’t Go Home?”
And so 2012 came to an end, leaving quite a challenge for 2013 to surpass it, or even come close. The fact that Bruce joining the Rolling Stones in Newark a few days after the 12-12-12 concert didn’t make our list of 2012 highlights says it all about the kind of year this has been. You may also wonder what happened to his heartfelt appearance at a tribute in Oslo for the victims of the Utøya massacre in 2011. And his first show in Mexico? Or his two nights on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon in the spring. Heck, why do you think we had to make this a Top 10+1 list of highlights rather than just a Top 10? Well, because we just couldn’t prune the list any further without losing something truly essential.
Happy New Year to all of you out there, and see you in 2013!