Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Springsteen v NRBQ

Erik Kirschbaum, writing for Reuters, is all impressed that Bruce Springsteen, on his current tour, is challenging himself and his band to play a random song, unrehearsed, chosen at random from the audience:

Bruce Springsteen jumped off the stage and into a frenzied German crowd of 45,000 fans on Sunday in Leipzig to pluck a sign with a hand-written request scrawled on it - as he has been doing all summer on his popular tour across Europe.

But when Springsteen whirled around and held up the name of the song for his band to see, jaws dropped and a frightened look crossed their faces. The sign read "You never can tell" by Chuck Berry, a 1964 tune made popular in the 1994 film "Pulp Fiction."

"Every night we try to pull one out that we haven't played since we were, I dunno, 16," Springsteen said, savoring the challenge of figuring out how to play an unfamiliar song from another artist on the spot in front of a stadium audience.

Now, I hate to throw water on the party because I am a big Springsteen fan. But let it be known that another one of my favorite bands, NRBQ, played essentially the same game decades ago:

NRBQ soon became known as one of the wildest and most enjoyable live acts on the rock scene. Unpredictability became the group's trademark, as Village Voice critic Jon Páreles explained: "At some point in their live set, NRBQ generally reaches into 'the Magic Box,' which contains song titles tossed in earlier by audience members. Whatever comes out, the band plays: [English rock legends the Rolling Stones' early single] 'Under My Thumb,'[the standard] The Shadow of Your Smile,' anything. They may not play it straight, but they play it, and that's something."

This loyalty to the spontaneous, Páreles noted, "smacks of foolhardy bravado as well as craftsmanlike pride. We play popular music, they seem to be saying, and we play it all." As Terry Adams declared to Eckhoff, "I'm never happy unless something happens I didn't know was going to happen."

Everybody knows Bruce Springsteen, but if you are unfamiliar with vintage NRBQ it's worth listening to some of the music from their prime, the mid-70s through early 90s.


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