The Didner Family/Jungle Gym Jam Experiences Its Main Influence Live
by Jason Didner, leader of the Jungle Gym Jam, a Jersey rock band for kids and their grown-upsAmy and I have seen Bruce Springsteen concerts together a few times now in our home state of New Jersey, which we share with The Boss. But the youngest member of our family, the inspiration for the very foundation of the Jungle Gym Jam, our daughter Holly had never been to an arena show until Tuesday, when she caught Bruce in the act. Only right, I figure, since she’s already performed at The Stone Pony! My mom had picked up these tickets for my birthday, since I had mentioned that I’m no longer really interested in getting “stuff”; I’d rather get “experiences” as gifts.
And what a gift this was! It was Bruce’s first gig back in New Jersey on this leg of his latest “The River” commemorative tour. He had just taken Europe by storm and returned to the audience who could most easily identify with his stories of his Monmouth County youth. Given that we had a 5-year-old child with us, and that we were booked to perform the next morning (at a preschool on Bruce’s beloved Jersey Shore) which would require us to leave the house by 8 AM, we were pretty certain we wouldn’t stay the whole show, but that we’d get in as much Bruce Juice as we could before heading home to prepare for the next day. I ended up loading the minivan with our instruments after helping Holly to bed.
Holly seemed positively awestruck for the first 15 minutes of the show as Bruce & band pulled off a sweeping rendition of his jazzy, orchestral “New York City Serenade” and the defiant “Wrecking Ball.” As she got accustomed to the enormity of the scene, she began belting out the audience participation – raising her fist for the words “Badlands,” answering “All Night” in Spirit in the Night, and marveling at the sax playing of Jake Clemons, who lovingly plays his late uncle Clarence’s parts perfectly, plus adds his own killer improvs when given the ball. When the crowd was on its feet, I held our child in my arms for as long as I could, then asked her to stand on her seat while I kept her steady.
The next evening, Holly was on the playground of her soon-to-be Kindergarten, spontaneously singing “Hungry Heart.” She told her friends, “I have Bruce in my head.” Mission Accomplished!
Bruce was in amazing voice and his E Street Band was right on point with every song, every texture, every tempo. Together, they served the mood and intensity from light-hearted to deadly serious as the moment called for it. The addition of a string section for “New York City Serenade” and then later on “Jack of All Trades” really stirred the emotions.
I am a student of the writings of Tom Jackson, live music producer. He helps live performers get a vision for their shows and turn them into memorable experiences made up of moments – not just a bunch of songs to be played. Tom has mentioned Bruce as one of the great visionaries of live musical performances; a frame of reference I have agreed with for a long time. But this would be my first Bruce song since reading Tom’s “Live Music Method” book. So, what did Bruce do onstage to create those special moments?
He made each song “look different.” – Tom Jackson mentions in his writings and his interviews that even if your songs sound radically different from one another, your live audience will stop noticing if the songs all “look the same.” Bruce handily avoids that trap. The first song had a string section at stage left. Then the string players left the stage. He featured different musicians, all with wireless gear, who were each free to come join him when they had their featured moments. He often put down his guitar and worked all sides of the enormous stage with a handheld wireless microphone, sometimes high-fiving the lucky fans in the front row.
Bruce also mixed things up by bringing an audience member up on stage to sing the song that the fan, a young man, requested – Bruce’s popular Jersey Shore rock rendition of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” By the way, hearing that in the heat of the summer made me all the more glad I used that song’s influence in shaping my own tune “Summertime Santa!”
In pulling out the “moments” in a song it often means changing the arrangement from the album, since things that are very noticeable when you’re listening to your favorite record through headphones would easily escape the notice of a concertgoer who has so much happening in the live environment. Bruce demonstrated a great knowledge of this when he sang “Wrecking Ball” – an homage to Met Life Stadium’s predecessor, Giants Stadium, before it was demolished. So whenever he made a Jersey, Meadowlands, or Giants reference he had to accept (and appeared to thoroughly enjoy!) the audience roaring its approval of those local shout-outs. So he arranged with the whole band to wait for those roars to die down (don’t step on your applause!) before continuing with the lyrics. That’s how you stretch out a moment in your song.
Tom Jackson’s book gets quite a bit into the difference between a band “dating its audience” – meaning that a new band often has to play in front of people who haven’t seen them before — vs. a band “married to its audience.” Bruce and the E Street Band in front of its hometown audience is a long and happy marriage – so I certainly had to adjust my observations accordingly. Tom’s book is mostly for bands who are “dating” their audience.
Putting Inspiration into Practice
The very next morning we had a concert of our own – at the Shore Academy Preschool in Point Pleasant Beach. We’d drive there on shortened sleep and heads full of great concert memories. And for me, great motivation to keep pushing ahead with what Tom Jackson had taught me and what I had seen Bruce & band execute with such mastery the night before. When we sang our signature song of the summer, “Day at the Beach” and we had a line that “We’re headed for a Jersey Shore town,” I really punched out “JERSEY SHORE TOWN” in a shout the Boss would approve of! I made sure to get out from behind the mic stand when I could, and give the show all my energy. Amy and Holly performed with an equally inspired gusto that could only come from being in the presence of one of the greats!
Were you at the Bruce concert? Ever seen one before? Ever take the kids? How did seeing one of your heroes in action influence what you do? I’d love to read your comments below!
Want to catch our live show and see how we’re influenced by Bruce? Check out our Tour page!