Last Saturday Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band played a song they haven't performed as a band in 27 years. "Drive all night" from LP 2 of The River was seldom played on the 80-81 tour of the same name and was not played during the Born in the USA tour of 84-85. It remained unplayed in any incarnation until the 2005 solo tour Bruce did after the release of Devils and Dust. I remember how shocking it was then, even for a show in Philly that Bruce brought this song out of the cobwebs for a stirring solo piano version. As many of you know Bruce has been touring in support of his last record Magic since October of 07. Its fairly common for Bruce to undergo long tours with multiple legs that make younger touring acts (I'm looking at you Pearl Jam - 13 dates is not a "tour"!) look pretty weak. The great thing about these long tours for Springsteen fan is that the longer they run, the more individual songs are performed. All this aside I was pretty shocked to read that "Drive all night" was performed last Saturday.
This has surely been a difficult time for Bruce. The death of his longtime friend and associate Terry McGovern in the summer of 2007, the death of E Street organist Danny Federici early this year and even the death of avid fan and friend Tim Russert have all made this tour an emotional one. On top of that rumors have flown that this tour may be the last time Bruce hits the road with the E Street band. Its hard to say if Saturday's performance of "Drive all night" represents going out on a high note, or simply usual end-of-tour setlist shake-ups, but one thing I do know is that even the shaky you tube video of this performance is one of the best things I've seen or heard all year.
Before I post the video though, I feel the need to write about the song itself. Again, from The River an uneven double album (in my opinion most double albums share this inconsistency) "Drive all night" is in many ways, an uneven song lyrically speaking. The first time I heard the chorus I thought it was a joke: "I swear I'd drive all night again - just to buy you some shoes - and to taste your tender charms". Now, would I "drive all night" for my wife Amber? Hell yes. The shoe part though, raises some questions. I'm pretty sure imeldas, buffalo exchange and the red light all close before eight or nine. Even famous footwear and shoe pavillion can't be open past ten and fred meyer closes at 11. That being said, I would definitely drive until 10:45 or so, which is kind of pushing it since I know it would take her longer than 15 minutes to pick something out. Anyway, either Bruce's girl buys her shoes at a Sam Club, or there must be late night shoe stores in Jersey - thats all I'm saying. The second part - "taste your tender charms" is either some sort of euphemism thats even dirtier than "Pink Cadillac" or is, at best pretty sappy. The verses though, I dig:
"When I lost you honey sometimes I think I lost my guts too
And I wish God would send me a word
and send me something I'm afraid to lose"
There are a lot of things that would be a pain in the ass to lose, my drivers liscence, laptop etc.but there are very few things that I'm afraid to lose. Amber is one of them.
"Tonight there's fallen angels and they're waiting for us down in the street
Tonight there's calling strangers,
hear them crying in defeat.
Let them go, let them go, let them go,
do their dances of the dead (let'em go right ahead)"
"There's machines and there's fire waiting on the edge of town
They're out there for hire but baby they can't hurt us now"
This all touches a theme thats present in a lot of Springsteen songs. The conflict between "the streets of a runaway american dream" and "that place where we really want to go and walk in the sun" (Born to Run). Anyone with a significant other or even a good group of friends can attest that a meaningful connection with another human being is made even more special when considering certain surrounding circumstances such as work, death, world events, aimlessness etc. (I should mention those are examples, not things I dwell on).
"Drive all night" is, to me anyway, one of Bruce's more cinematic songs. Other people must have had the same insight as "Drive all night" was used recently in "Reign over me" and in "Cop Land" (I've seen the former, not the latter). For me its a song best listened to while walking around downtown Portland at night - or while watching a You Tube video of its first performance with the E Street Band 27 years in Sweeden: