The genius of going unplugged: Springsteen...

One of the the things that intrigues me about the whole "unplugged" thing, is how making a commitment to work in an acoustic vein gives artists permission to rethink and rework their own songs. I have found this to be an aesthetically satisfying change-up, too both as a performer as well as a listening participant.  Let me offer three of my all-time favorite unplugged recreations by Springsteen who is a master of this genre.

+  Adam Raised a Cain: When the Boss took his Ghost of Tom Joad solo show out on the road, it was clear that this CD would be at the heart of the gig. It was his first solo acoustic tour in support of his second acoustic album (Nebraska being the first back in 1982.) But who could have imagined the transformation he would conjure for this once straight ahead rocker on "Darkness on the Edge of Town" as it became a chilling Appalachian lament?  I had been a long time fan, but when we experienced this song at the Cleveland Music Hall on January 17, 1996, my appreciation for his genius expanded beyond limit. I am still moved to tears listening to it 20 years later.
+ Empty Sky: When the post September 11th album, The Rising, came out , like many hardcore Springsteen fans,I loved it. I was eager to hear the band's take on these songs live, however, knowing that often after a tune is often recorded and played repeatedly in a live venue, young songs can mature - and that was most noticeably true for me with "Empty Sky." On the studio take, it is a modest musical expression of loss after the Twin Towers were destroyed. But what Bruce and Patti do with it as they perform it acoustically is nothing short of exquisite.  It was never flat or simply a filler song on The Rising, but in its unplugged rendition it becomes essential.  
+ Thunder Road:  Always a killer song in a live rock concert context, this unplugged version evokes not just the longing of a young man, but something more seasoned. It is as if playing it in this style let him enter the soul of his characters more deeply.  He feels their uncertainty right along side of their hope that maybe a road trip will be liberating. Or maybe they just have to get out of town and start again. No one is sure in this version. Having matured (and done his own share of therapy) helped Springsteen reshape "Thunder Road" in a way that resonates with a whole new level of pathos.
There are countless other reworkings of Springsteen songs that are equally stunning, too but these give a flavor of how an artist can mine new treasures from a well-worked vein.  Paul McCartney once wrote: "take a sad song... and make it better." But I've come to think you can take an old song and make it better, too. So here's one more for the road - not profound - just a whole lotta fun and ma be the most joyful transformation job he's done to date! 


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