May 24, 2013

Notes from the road: Naples, Italy

Ninety-two years ago, the coffin of Enrico Caruso was carried inside the Church of San Francesco di Paola, while twenty thousand Neapolitans gathered together in the opposite Piazza del Plebiscito were singing “‘O Sole Mio”, the song that ensured to the tenor a number one hit on Billboard Charts in 1916.

Last night, in that same square in the very heart of Naples, Bruce Springsteen emerged from the backstage and conducted the accordions of Roy, Charlie and Nils, and the big chorus of the crowd singing: “‘O sole mio sta ‘nfronte a te!” Then he picked up a big foam-rubber sign shaped as a sun (prepared by a proud fan whose name is Chiara Matteucci) and said, in the language of his ancestors, “This is the sun of my family. I am Italian… a Southern-Italian,” before starting an appropriate “Long Walk Home.”

It was the beginning of a unique concert because of the venue’s neoclassical square, with the stage set under the big dome of the Basilica and between two ancient equestrian statues and the strong link that connects Bruce with this land: Antonio Zerilli, Bruce’s grandfather, owned a restaurant in Vico Equense, a small town 30 miles away from Naples. “I could have been serving pasta if my grandfather hadn’t moved to America,” Bruce said as he picked up a sign picturing the entrance to the Gran Caffè Zerilli.

Southern Italy is beautiful, but this land is also terribly afflicted by social and economic problems. When two hours before the show Bruce entered the stage playing an acoustic version of “This Hard Land,” his homage sounded particularly true and meaningful. “Growin’ Up” followed, closing this unexpected moment.

During “My Love Will Not Let You Down,” “Out in the Street,” and “Hungry Heart,” the square echoed with enthusiasm the energy of the band, while the sunset dyed the sea red on the gulf behind the old King’s Palace. “Buona notte,” Bruce shouted at the moon when, after the triple shot of Wrecking Ball songs, the sky finally went black and Charlie Giordano played the first notes of “Spirit in the Night,” one of the highlights of the concert.

What happened next was a real surprise. “We never ever, ever, ever played this one in the middle of the show,” Bruce said picking up a sign from the crowd and showing it to the cameras, so we all could read: “My love Rosie he’s here.” The loose and joyful “Rosalita” got the square singing and dancing, before the harmonica intro of “The River” turned the atmosphere into a quite intensity. By the end of the song, it started to rain: not that much during “Prove It All Night” (with the ’78 intro and a smoking, acrobatic solo by Nils), but by the middle of “The Promised Land” it was pouring. Any other artist would have panicked. Not Bruce: he seemed excited and challenged, as he exposed himself to downpour. The result was a complete empathy with the crowd, which hadn’t moved an inch from their places. “Pay Me My Money Down,” with the horn section marching on the platforms under silly Tropicana umbrellas, brought the show to an even more galvanized level; and twenty minutes later, when Bruce left off running back and forth along the crowd and called “Who’ll Stop the Rain”… magically the rain stopped, showing his unknown shaman powers.

“The Rising,” “Badlands,” and “Land of Hope and Dreams” closed the main set. “My Hometown” opened the encores, with Bruce dedicating the song to “Vico Equense, my Italian town” and unrolling a long banner which said “This land is your land.”

“Born in the U.S.A.” and “Born to Run” followed; the Courteney Cox of the night was pulled on stage for “Dancing in the Dark”, along with a female extra-guitarist; and with “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” and “Twist and Shout” the show seemed to have reached his conclusion.

But Bruce had a last surprise to offer to Naples and, alone on the stage, he played a beautiful version of “Thunder Road” as he had done sixteen years before at the end of his acoustic show from the balcony of Teatro Augusteo, a stone’s throw from here.

It was the perfect conclusion of a magical night, that we could entitle: Back to the Roots.

– Leonardo Colombati,