The Rude Pundit has long been friends with members of the seminal Argentinean theatre troupe, Diablomundo. In their early days, back in the 1970s, the performers of Diablomundo would stage theatrical events in places like soccer stadiums and subways. For instance, once they put on a mock wedding, complete with food and music and dancing in the subways of Buenos Aires, and the train riders were invited to join in. And they did. Yes, it was absurd, and it was over the top. But the point, they said, was to show that in a time of great repression - this was during the Peronista reign, when people were regularly diappeared for "subversive" activity - one needed to show people that it was possible to still have joy, to tap into something deep within the culture to bring out that joy.
Last night, in Camden, New Jersey, on the edge of the Delaware River, Bruce Springsteen was after the same goal. Despite his long fandom (although not of the slavering "gimme every bootleg" variety of scary Boss pseudo-stalkers), the Rude Pundit's had problems with Springsteen the last few years. See, during the E Street Band reunion tour (or the "Clarence Needs a Retirement Fund" Tour) and the later tour for the post-9/11 album The Rising, the theatricality of his shows seemed strained, the attempts at turning the rock concert into a religious revival so explicit as to render them pedantic, and if the Rude Pundit had to hear that fucker play "Born to Run" one more goddamn time, posing with the band like a group photo at Sears, his head was going to explode with the hope of taking Springsteen down with the skull shrapnel. In other words, the band was getting more than a little filled with shit. And the Live in New York City HBO concert and DVD made him want to burn down the fuckin' boardwalk. Sure, sure, you can say that those shows were gifts to the longtime fans who just wanted to taste a little of that Asbury Park glory one last time. And there were times it was great. But if you wanted to see a Springsteen tribute band, well, the Jersey shore's filthy with them.
Now, with the Seeger Sessions band, Springsteen was looser, more really, genuinely alive than the Rude Pundit had seen him since, well, fuck, 1984. Sure, sure, the crowd was still uncomfortably older, balder, Starbucks-scented, and white. But almost no one was there to hear "Born to Run." No, what they were there to do was to join Springsteen in a big damn singalong of the American folk songs from Springsteen's recent album, along with a couple of massively reconfigured songs from his back catalog. Moving between Dixieland jazz, Tejano music, blues, and old time rock and roll, Springsteen was the ringleader, the focal point of the energy. And that energy was about creating community and instilling a notion of joy in a shared musical heritage.
There were directly political moments, like when the band did "Mrs. McGrath," the old anti-war song in which a mother learns that her son has lost his legs in battle. When Springsteen slightly revised the last lyrics (changing the nation mentioned), singing, "I'd rather have my Teddy as he used to be/ Than the King of America and his whole navy," the audience shouted in affirmation, perhaps their thoughts filled with images of the two tortured, dead Americans we found out about that morning. And then there's all the songs that celebrate the working class and surviving the Depression, like "John Henry" or "Pay Me My Money Down," which was a rave-up with the entire audience singing, "Pay me, pay me, pay me my money down." The Rude Pundit hasn't seen such a subversive moment in a concert since Beck got a crowd to chant, "I'm a loser, baby. Why don't you kill me?"
In so many ways, the show was intensely political. Hell, just the invocation of Seeger's name is enough to give it an anti-war thrust. But mostly Springsteen used the occasion to empower the audience and say that in this time of a crushingly awful war, an abusive government, incompetence that kills people, and nature itself turning on us, it is possible - indeed, it's necessary - to throw your hands in the air and dance like a maniac.