True to his word, two years later, that's exactly how he ended this tour: no time for sentimental goodbyes, mentions of a "last dance," or even a glance at the notion of retirement. There were still too many other good stories to tell. Some showgoers were expecting "Blood Brothers" or something like it here in Buffalo, and for good reason, but Springsteen seemed determined not to put any kind of real punctuation mark on the evening. Excepting, of course, the exclamation points spread throughout this 34-song, nearly three-and-a-half hour show.
Of course, everyone in the room, onstage and off, was well aware of the momentousness of the occasion. In "Working on Dream," there was considerably more weight to the usual building-a-house spiel: "The E Street Band has come thousands of miles tonight to be here one last time... for a little while... to fulfill our solemn vow to rock the house!" He soon added, "Really, it's been just about the best time in our band's work life. We want to thank you for supportig our old music, our new music, our tour."
But up next, they plowed forward, doing something they'd never done before "Tonight! One time only!" the Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. album, start to finish. Whatever partciular significance the night's album choice might wind up having in terms of ending where they began, if tonight was indeed any kind of ending went unspoken. Springsteen merely put the record in context, as he has with other album performances on this fall leg. "This was the miracle," he said, "This was the record that took everything from way below zero to... one." That got a big laugh. Bruce went on to speak of John Hammond, "one of the great legends of music production," and of manager Mike Appel, whose "incredible talking" got him a crucial audition with said legend. Tonight's album performance was dedicated "to the man who got me in the door. Mike Appel is here tonight Mike, this is for you." He added, "We've never done it... hope we can do it!"
Each of the full album performances on this tour have come loaded with their own questions. Born to Run for starters, who would handle trumpet on "Meeting"? Curt Ramm has since elevated every show, through tonight, with the addition of his horn parts. The River would Springsteen and the E Streeters be able to maintain the intensity required for a 20-song sequence? Absolutely, it turned out. And for Greetings, would Springsteen finally grace "Growin' Up" with a full-blown story once again? The answer came with three magical words: "There I was...."
There have been plenty of near misses in recent years, just as Springsteen almost revisited the "Sad Eyes" portion of "Backstreets," so has he come close to true storytelling in "Growin' Up." But tonight, the interlude was fully realized, and it was one of toight's most powerful moments.
"It was a dark and stormy night in Asbury Park, New Jersey," Bruce began, "Me and Steve were in a litle club on the south end of the street." He proceeded to once again tell the story of his first meeting with Clarence Clemons, starting with the door blowing off in the Big Man's hand. "King Curtis?" Bruce recalled thinking, "King Curtis has come out of my dreams and landed right here!" Here in Buffalo in 2009, Clarence joined Bruce at the center to reenact that fateful night. "He walked to the stage and said" Clarence speaking now "I wanna play with you." "What could I say? I said....'Sure!'" Then, step by step, Bruce and Clarence recreated the pose from the cover of the Born to Run album right there on the HSBC Arena stage. It was a wordless act, unfolding slowly, inevitably, engendering one big smile throughout the building. The full-bodied laugh would come shortly, as Bruce concluded the story: "We got into a Cadillac at the end of the nght, drove out to the outskirts of town.... we got very sleepy and we fell into this long, long, long, long, long dream. And when we woke up, we were in fuckin' Buffalo, New York." Crowd goes nuts, in no small part due to the way Springsteen just compressed 35-plus years of E Street Band history. And tonight it does feel like a dream.
A furious solo from Bruce on "Lost in the Flood" has to be another of the night's highlights Garry, meanwhile, playing complex runs behind him, the bassist being the guy who can easily fade into the background if you let him but who, anytime you choose to pay attention, is always doing some seriously interesting shit and Bruce's solo contines, building, as Max matches his intensity, the two facing off until the end. Roy brings it all back home, spotlight on the white baby grand.
Another question that came with the Greetings performance: could Bruce actually make "Mary Queen of Arkansas" and "The Angel" compelling? A resounding yes on both counts, particularly "The Angel." With Bruce lit up at center stage, the only other accompaniment for most of the song came from Roy Bittan, who segued right into this number from his "Lost in the Flood" coda. Roy gave the song a Born to Run-era majesty, capped by the surprise addition of a viola toward the song's end. Much of what made it work was Bruce's vocal as a friend of mine turned to me and said, "He knows how to sing now." Coupled with Roy's piano work, it came off as a beautiful, lost '70s vignette... which I guess is exactly what it is. "Mary," too, was surprisingly successful, with Bruce on acoustic guitar in Devils & Dust mode, accompanied only by Nils on harp.
And of course Bruce and the Band brought all the right moves to the remainder of the Greetings sequence, including a rollicking "Does This Bus Stop" with a stand-out solo from Charlie; a full-band "For You," as opposed to the solo piano version Bruce has been doing lately; "It's Hard to Be a Saint in the City," ending with Bruce and Steve facing off, flashing guitars like switchblades, while Max is a perpetual drumroll machine.
And that's just one of the night's stories. After "Sunny Day" and "The Promised Land," it's on to the next: "We've got a birthday boy in the house tonight!" Yep, Steve Van Zandt's birthday just happens to coincide with the final night of the tour, and Bruce decides on an extended fete.
First up: "Restless Nights." "Stevie is... my age, and for years he's been asking to play this one song. This is Stevie's very favorite song of all time, it's very obscure, it's on the Tracks record. We're gonna do this for his birthday tonight." If The River at MSG seemed like a gift for Steve, this outtake performance was the icing on the cake. "By request!" Bruce said at song's end, pointing at his old pal, "Dammit, he might have been right all these years!"
But the party wasn't over. Speaking of cake, guitar tech Kevin Buell emerged with a guitar-topped birthday cake, covered in lit candles. With a little help from Max, the crowd sang "Happy Birthday" while Bruce and Steve blew the candles out together. "For Steve!" Bruce cried as the smoke rose, taking the band into "Surprise Surprise." And while some fans have heard this Working on a Dream song as too frivolous, it was hard not to appreciate the apropos lyrics at this moment:
Bruce fed Steve a piece during the song, and by the end was still licking icing off his fingers, mouthing to Steve, "Not bad!" Darned if the song didn't serve as a fitting benediction, too:
But again, tonight there were other stories to tell. After the "Green Onions" sign collection it was a holiday double-shot, with Bruce taking "Merry Christmas Baby" right into "Santa Claus is Comin' to Town." In between, channeling Christopher Walken, he said, "I feel Santy fever coming on. You know what this night needs? More Santy. We need more jingle bells...." The second of these came with a sign so nice, "I'm gonna put it on my front door!"
A left-field request from some Italians, Chuck Willis's "(I Don't Want to) Hang Up My Rock and Roll Shoes," brought us close once again to some closing night sentiment: "This sort of captures the theme of our feelings this evening," Bruce said beforehand. But the song was a blast, blowing away any poignancy with it's full-throttle rock 'n' roll. And followed by "Boom Boom," also by request? We're back in the moment. "My Love Will Not Let You Down" and "Long Walk Home" continued this forceful stretch, Steve shining as always on the latter. Following the setlisted "Born to Run" set-closer, Bruce called an audible of "Tenth Avenue Freeze-out" for another theme he wanted to hit, hollering, "I wanna tell you the story of the band!"
For the encore, Bruce led off with his take on what the tour has meant to him, a nice reprise from the Magic tour: "It's been a pleasure being out here working for you.... I'll work for your love any day!" By the time we got to "Higher and Higher," with special guest Willie Nile, there was no longer any escaping the inevitable. "We don't wanna go home!" said Bruce from the rear-pit platform. But at the end of the song: "We ain't going home yet!"
And amid speculation about the last this or the last that, talk elsewhere of retirement of the E Street Band, one more song kept the ending on a high note, John Fogerty's "Rocking All Over the World." It was a celebration of the tour, of the band, of rock 'n' roll... not of a band on the verge of retiring, but of a band firing on all cylinders at this very moment. Bruce's final words matched the mood: "We appreciate you coming out to see the E Street Band. So we're gonna say goodbye, but just for a little while... a very little while... because... because..." before singing again, "I like it, I like it, I like it!"
After acknowledging fans who came from all over other states, other countries to take part in these shows, Springsteen said, "I want to thank our crew, who work all day and all night to bring this show to you in your town." He thanked the E Street Band, the road crew, the truckers, carpenters, and everyone in every department by name, from security to sound, video, production, management... and while tonight was certainly the end of something, and no one's quite sure what he means by "a very little while," the overwhelming feeling at the end of the show was summed up by a sign that Bruce and Steve grabbed and paraded across the stage during the encore, laying it to rest below Max's drumkit, Steve every once in a while checking to make sure it was still visible:
It's only rock 'n' roll, but it feels like love.
- Chris Phillips reporting - photographs by A.M. Saddler
November 20 / 1st Mariner Arena / Baltimore, MD
This was a long-awaited return to Baltimore, which hadn't seen a Springsteen show since the earliest days of the now-legendary E Street Band. "We haven't played here since 1973, I think," said Bruce, recalling opening for Chicago back then with a ticket price of two bucks. What stayed in his mind was someone saying, "Hey, man, we didn't come here to see you." To which he replied, "Oh yeah? Well, the next time you do, it's gonna cost you five bucks."
With question marks surrounding the post-tour future of the E Street Band, a palpable feeling of finality coursed through tonight's performance of Born to Run the very real possibility of finality, if not finality itself. Could this be the last time we'd hear some of these songs with the E Street Band? Certainly on this tour, with Greetings slated for Buffalo. Springsteen confirmed it was on his mind, too, at the end of the album sequence: "Born to Run for the last time." In addition to the album's original players, Springsteen gave an extra shout out: "Produced by Jon Landau... he's in the room tonight."
After chasing the clouds away with "Waitin' on a Sunny Day," Springsteen took note of the newsboy cap worn by the girl he'd brought on stage, and decided, "For you, in honor of this hat.... in honor of this hat, this song." And right into "Spirit in the Night." From there, a spontaneous new sign collecting vamp: "A little 'Green Onions,' everybody, key of E!" Booker T and the MGs transitioned right into "Santa Claus is Comin' to Town" (for a sign that pictured the Big Man and even provided hats for both Clarence and Bruce) followed by "The E Street Shuffle." "For You" was Bruce alone at the piano "This is dangerous ground over here," he said, "I only semi-know what I'm doing." And though his fingers may have demonstrated some truth to that statement, his vocal was out of this world.
"Radio Nowhere" led to "My Love Will Not Let You Down," as it always seems to want to. And then, an all-too-rare performance of "Long Walk Home." Building on Steve's solo vocal turn at the end, Bruce began a gospel call-and-response with his old friend, the kind of intimate, spontaneous moment that both depends on and displays the level of wordless communication these guys have developed over so many years.
While "the end" had hung heavy over some of the main set, the mood shifted in the encore as they blew it out with "Ramrod" to start. Instead of saying "You've just seen... for the last time for a while..." as he had at other recent shows, the encore found Bruce not going gentle into that good night. Well, he went with Frost, actually, not Dylan Thomas: "We're shutting down for a little while, but we will see you in the future, further on down the road, because we have miles to go before we sleep!"
A couple laides got to dance in the dark with Clarence; Ali Weinberg guested on both "American Land" (accordion) and "Higher and Higher" (tamborine and vocals). After the now-standard Jackie Wilson closer, it looked like that'd be it once again. Springsteen embraced his bandmates, and most of them left the stage. But after an extended hug and chat with Clarence, Bruce called 'em all back for one more. "Well, we ain't in no rush," he said, kicking into "Glory Days." "Steve, take this thing home!" Sez Steve: "I don't wanna go home!" Bruce: "Are you with me?" Steve: "I don't know!" Stevie, we know just how you feel.
November 18 / Sommet Center / Nashville, TN
As great an opening stretch as that was, the album performance of Born to Run was the jewel in the crown tonight, as it often is. Stellar work from Roy Bittan, a reminder of what how piano-driven that record is, and live, Roy more than meets the challenge every time.
Following "Sunny Day," the request set again began with "Santa Claus is Comin' to Town," Santa hats everywhere and holiday signs aplenty, too. A call for "Two Hearts" showed that it's not only fans in the Big Apple who want to hear The River, but when in Rome "Darlington County" was clearly the better received. A gaggle of gals up front, a half-dozen or so, were all wearing pink cowboy hats, and soon one was on Bruce's head. Then Steve's: "Brother, you look good!" Eventually Bruce got all of the "Darlington Cowgirls," as he called them, on stage for a dance. Nice countrified fiddle from Soozie on this one, too.
Before the set's final stretch, a total audible followed, call it Boss's Choice: "You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)" was a thrilling dip back into The River. Fast-paced, vocals on target, the duet with Steve sharp, it was just as good as at the Garden, and great to see more of this material in the show. After "Lonesome Day" and "The Rising," "Badlands" remains a strong set-closer, with "Born to Run" knocked out early.
A killer request to kick off the encore, June Carter Cash and Merle Kilgore's "Ring of Fire." "We've never played this one before," said Bruce, and though the song was known to pop up in E Street Band sets in '73 and '74, that might as well be true considering how much they had to wing it. No matter: it rocked, they nailed it, Curt took care of the mariachi trumpet, and it was a perfect selection for the locale. "Thanks, Johnny!"
"No Surrender" again featured that great montage on the big screen, of instruments and old band shots; "Bobby Jean" subbed in for the setlisted "Seven Nights to Rock." While the remainder of the encore was now "standard," it didn't feel that way more of a reminder of why these songs have been picked to close out the night in the first place, showcasing a band truly firing on all cylinders here in the home stretch, far superior to where they were six months ago. Peak energy, and despite a less-than-full house, a crowd to match, up on their feet and engaged all night.
"I'm sorry, ladies and gentlemen, I must apologize. Apparently I'm a little underdressed." And boy was he, appearing at Carnegie Hall in what seemed to be his backup getup for the WOAD shows and I mean waaay back. "I thought it was Carnegie Deli. Sorry... I see some high rollers out there. Forgive me.... Ehhh, whatever."
After a beautifully deliberate version of "No Surrender" with Bruce alone on an acoustic, which is how he'd remain throughout (deliberate and solo acoustic), he said to himself, "Sounds good, Boss, this place is all it's cracked up to be." Given the sound of the opener, he was surely right. "My Mom is here," he went on, "she was talking to Jerry before the show. She was explaining about the time I opened a Shop Rite supermarket... Now I'm at Carnegie Hall!"
Next Bruce delivered an absolutely stunning "If I Should Fall Behind." The lyrics seemed to hit home with many in attendance, as there were quite a few teary eyes. After the applause, Bruce rubbed his stomach: " Send me over one of those hot corned beef and pastramis... and some damn cole slaw, too. I'm working up here gotta work!"
"Working on the Highway" was an unusual choice given the event and the venue, and it was performed was about half the tempo of what you'd see on the road. But it brought a good dose of fun: midway through, Bruce dedided to "test the acoustics of this Carnegie Hall," abandoning the mic and relying upon the venue's famed acoustics as he walked around the enormous stage playing to the crowd. Most notably, he played to the "Lincoln Seats" and tried to get them "off their asses." "C'mon, lets get working!" Lots of clapping along, and it got this who's-who crowd up and alive, all the way down to the front of the parquet where you could see even Mr. and Mrs. Trump getting their groove on.
Finally, "Thunder Road." Bruce called on the audience to sing the usual part, and though they were a little slow to respond, it was nice to hear this full of CEOs, Wall Street execs, and celebrities singing "Show a little faith..." "Not bad," Bruce said, "We'll get it next time."
After a lengthy applause/"Bruuuuuuce" session, Seinfeld came out to join Bruce; they exchanged a hug, Bruce took several more bows, and he was on his way. "You want him to come to your house?" Seinfeld asked, "That's the best we could do. It's like he was in your living room. What a beautiful guy [laughs all around], what a beautiful thing. You know how they always do the 'world's most beautiful people.'... why not him? He's beautiful, just gorgeous."
Jerry delivered a 50-minute set, took his bow and the house lights came on at 9:20 p.m. All in all a shorter evening than most expected; nevertheless, millions of dollars were raised for a very important and worthy cause, Autism Speaks.
November 15 / Bradley Center / Milwaukee, WI
This was the band's eighth performance of the Born to Run album in its entirety this tour and, let's just say, they have it down. Roy's piano was sparkling throughout the sequence, and Curt Ramm's trumpet, particularly on "Meeting Across the River," was again off the charts. Ramm brings so much each time he's on stage I wish he'd been added several tours ago to flesh out all songs with horns.
Following a massive ovation for "the guys that made this record... plus Phantom Dan Federici," the band drove straight into "Darlington County." The song's intro evoked a few extra tantalizing chords of "Honky Tonk Women" but did not spark an impromptu cover as it did so magically in Hartford in May 2000. Bruce asked "Are there any volunteers?" during "Waitin' on a Sunny Day," eventually giving the on-stage sing-along honors to a boy about ten years old. The kid handed Bruce a note to give to Max, which prompted Bruce to invite him to deliver it personally to the man on the drums. It read simply, "Can I have your drumsticks?" Max obliged, as Bruce kept time with the song by tapping his finger on the high hat.
Santa Claus hats made an appearance one landed on stage, and Bruce said, “It’s too early! It’s too early!” They played it anyway. He motioned for the audience to throw more hats up, but instead he got one of the most creative signs we've seen (courtesy of of Christine L. from SC): a five-foot-tall paper Christmas tree replete with battery-powered lights and a message that read: "I need some Bruce Juice because the Big Man is Coming to Town. Merry Christmas Baby!" The next sign request came in the form of a T-shirt-shaped item, also trimmed with lights, that prompted Bruce to declare “There are some creative motherfuckers out here in Wisconsin!” And then, "Oh I get it, 'Are you Loose, Ends!" The River outtake's lush orchestration and beautiful harmonies seemed to win over many in the crowd who had not heard it before. The wild, wild request ride rolled on with a Cajun-infused "Jole Blon" featuring Soozie and Charlie Giordano center stage with their violin and accordion, respectively. "Growin' Up" followed, by request, and once again Roy’s piano just blew the whole place apart.
Next he paired a rare "Into the Fire" with "The Rising," honoring those who gave their lives to save others on September 11. I missed Patti's eerie, mournful notes that opened "Into the Fire" on The Rising tour. That said, the band performed both songs with the same solemnity and gratitude as they did six and seven years ago when the nation’s emotions were so very raw. A manic "No Surrender" closed the main set, enhanced by a black and white photo montage on the big screen featuring pictures of the band circa 1973 to 1984.
The show's big shocker and tour premiere was "Living Proof" to open the encore set, played at the request of a sign from a new father. The sign had a pic of the two-week-old baby wearing a onesie that read "Future Boss Fan" Bruce remarked that he hoped he wasn't dead before the baby was old enough to see him. Showing the sign to the band brought on full panic mode they looked terrified ("The band is panicking right now!"). After some discussion ("The bridge is the only tricky part") and debate ("I could do it alone...") they managed to get the song going with Bruce directing Max after the initial intro bore no resemblance to the album version ("Just the foot... on the four"). Bruce and Charlie directed the band as they felt their way through the song, and damned if they didn't make it work. This one shouldn't stay on the shelf.
Saying "I've seen a few requests for this one," Bruce launched into the searing guitar intro of "Kitty’s Back." The crowd camera honed in on a group of three college-aged guys who were who pogo-jumping with glee, their hands covering their faces as if in disbelief at their good fortune in hearing this old gem. During "Dancing in the Dark," my pal Emily's sign “May I Have a Dance with Stevie?” caught Bruce's attention. He initially looked at Steve as if to ask if he was game he wasn't!. But sensing it was a moment to give his old friend a good hard time, Bruce brought her up anyway. She politely asked Steve for a dance, and then proceeded to dance near him more so than with him. Afterward Bruce joked: "Steve’s working hard these days. Last night he had to sing lead. Tonight he had to dance. It's hard being the Boss. It is not all it's cracked up to be!"
November 13 / Palace at Auburn Hills / Auburn Hills, MI
Michigan, on the other hand, is a big state with no history of being someone else's suburb; Bruce has played here at least once every year since 2002. Imagine, then, Bruce coming onstage and greeting the crowd with a salute to Ohio! And then sticking Ohio in to the lyrics of "Wrecking Ball" of course, a Michigan audience tends not to object too much to lines such as, "tonight Ohio is going down in flames." Finally, Bruce put Ohio into the rap for "Working on a Dream." This last actually managed to get a few boos, and prompted Stevie to inform Bruce that they were, in fact, in Michigan. Bruce took it well, and periodically shouted out, "Where am I?" throughout the evening after that to get a rousing Detroit answer.
Fortunately, while Bruce was forgetting where he was, he wasn't forgetting how to put on a magnificent show. By the conclusion of Nils's indendiary twirling solo at the end of the evening's second song, "Prove It All Night," it was already clear that Bruce and the band were intent on taking no prisoners.
Several notable things have changed on this latest tour, as compared to prior tours: Bruce using a rear riser and crowd surfing during "Hungry Heart"; the set including a full album, usually "Born to Run," early in the setlist; audience members bringing signs, with some signs being accepted as song requests; the de-emphasizing of the current album. All of these changes had the effect, tonight, of drawing the audience more in to the show. The use of the rear riser and the crowd surfing literally puts Bruce face to face or closer with several hundred fans. And I confess that I had contact... with Bruce's right shoe. Nice shoe, very sturdy.
Not that all of the changes are necessarily for the better. I'd have preferred to hear more content from Working on a Dream than just the title song, for example. That said, the crowd responded well to the show, and was as loud as any crowd I have ever heard at The Palace.
The performance of the "Born to Run" album was spot on. The songs were crisp, impassioned, and uniformly attacked, hard even "Meeting Across the River," which was enhanced by trumpeter Curt Ramm's playing.
The accepted requests had a distinctive Michigan flavor, first with Bob Seger's "Ramblin' Gamblin' Man" (played one time previously on tour, also at the Palace, back on August 18, 1992), and then with the "Detroit Medley." Bruce started "Ramblin' Gamblin' Man" by playing the distinctive opening keyboard riff on guitar, and with that started a three-pack dance party right in the middle of the set, with Bruce playing guitar slinger throughout. By the end of his blistering solo in "Because the Night" during which Bruce proved he could blow a snot rocket and play a guitar solo at the same time my voice was gone, my hearing was shot, and my legs were jell-o. He's a freaking force of nature, is all I can say... and that band is pretty damn good these days.
Show highlights including a roaring version of "Johnny 99" early on (perhaps a bit of a reference to the state of the auto industry), and also a thundering performance of "Born in the U.S.A." During "Rosalita," Bruce handed the mic to Steve at the beginning of the second verse and Steve survived it, as Bruce went to check something side stage (maybe the woman who stole the spotlight during "Dancing in the Dark" by jumping on stage from the pit and dancing much too wildly). Finally, the closer, "Higher and Higher," which finally allowed Cindy Mizelle to get a bit of the spotlight, closed the show on a high.
November 10 / Quicken Loans Arena / Cleveland, OH
In introducing the Born to Run set, Springsteen noted that the band is "very, very, very, near the end" of a long run of shows. He thanked people for supporting "both the new music and the old music" over the last couple tours, adding that they are finishing the tour by playing full albums as a special way to thank the fans. About Born to Run he said, "This record started the life-long conversation we've had, so, this is for you." Then, with the opening harmonica strains of "Thunder Road," the show took off, not letting up until the last note had been played two-and-a-half hours later.
Bruce prowled the stage during "Tenth Avenue Freeze-out," imploring the band to “Bring it up! Bring it up! Bring it up!" He sang "Backstreets" with such feeling it was as if Terry's betrayal happened yesterday. The song included a lengthy interlude of lyrical wisps: "Me and you darling, me and you darling, until the end, until the end, like an angel on my chest...” and on and on. "She's the One" ended with him waist-deep in a big group of grabbing women on the rail. The coveted pairing of "Meeting Across the River" into "Jungleland" was spoiled a little by a brief pause in the action as Soozie was late getting back to her spot with her violin; "Jungleland" more than made up for it though, and Curt Ramm's trumpet on "Meeting" was phenomenal. Roy, Garry, Steve, Clarence, Max, and Bruce all took a front-and-center bow at the end as the remainder of the band applauded them, with Bruce noting, "These are the guys that made that record; and Phantom Dan Federici!"
Kicking off the requests, he said, "I think I saw this sign somewhere!" and launched into "Red Headed Woman," which sent several redheads in the pit into paroxysms of glee while stumping much of the crowd. "Pink Cadillac" was next, a fun romp with Bruce pressing the sexual, Viagra-taking metaphorical accelerator, singing, "Some folks say it's too fucking old....”
"Back in Your Arms" was the indisputable emotional centerpiece of the show. With the band laying down a languid, soulful backdrop, he asked: "Do we have any lovers in the house? Is there anyone here who's blown a good thing?" Not getting much of a response he said, "I don't think everyone is telling the truth!" He went on, "Are there any women out there who feel unappreciated by their men? Men, do your women somehow misunderstand the finer points of your character? Everyone's been at that place where you let something go and you want it back. And if you need it, you hunger for it, it's a part of your soul, don’t be ashamed to fight and beg for it." And away he sang, "In my dreams our love was lost...." By the end he was on his knees, begging, "Baby, just give me one... more... chance to show you the love I feel in my heart for you. Just take me back. Just take me back." The crowd went nuts as Bruce went to get a drink of water; returning to the microphone he kidded, "Goodnight everybody!"
"No Surrender" was dedicated to the Cleveland Food Bank followed by "Bobby Jean," which he sent out to the "Cleveland Boys" and to Joey, one of the Boys who died recently. Three or four of the Boys were in the pit hugging and weeping throughout the show. Bruce mentioned how nice it was to see so many familiar faces that have been coming to the Cleveland shows over the years.
A surprise "Can't Help Falling in Love" was inserted between "Dancing in the Dark" and an over-the-top "Higher and Higher," which ended with Bruce, Curtis, Cindy, and Soozie on the small platform at the back of the pit. Bruce had declared, "You've just seen, for the last time in a while, the heart stoppin', earth shockin', history makin'... legendary E Street Band," and at show's end Bruce clearly didn't want to go. Clarence chidingly took the Fender from him as they stood for the ovation. The band filed off stage as the two of them stood side by side, alone on stage for a long goodbye, leaving us to wonder if they'll be gone for good.
November 8 / Madison Square Garden / New York, NY
Springsteen introduced the 20-song cycle as a "gateway to my future writing," singling out "Stolen Car" and the title track as seed work for Tunnel of Love and Nebraska, respectively. He also mentioned the album was "made during a recession," an obvious connection to the hard times of the present. Then he lit it up, and as he made his way from "The Ties That Bind" to "Wreck on the Highway," Springsteen positively radiated with passion and energy.
On the rockers, Bruce got physical: that was evident by the last verse of "Jackson Cage," where he sang with the force and conviction of a young artist trying to win over an audience with a new song. That investment extended to the fun rockers, too: "Crush on You" and "I'm a Rocker" weren't simply dusted off for the night. Rather, they were full-tilt, all-in exhibits A and B of what attracts fans to rock 'n' roll in the first instance, and to Bruce Springsteen's music in particular. Simply put, Bruce couldn't have put any more of himself into those two songs if he had tried. He prowled, vamped, sang, and played guitar as if his very life depended on it. Call it Springsteen uncorked, vintage 1980.
But there's another side to the music from this album, and there Springsteen made an equally resonant connection. "I Wanna Marry You" stood out, as did Bruce, singing at the front of the stage, maracas in hand to keep time. His voice sounded sweet and soulful, his delivery balanced in sentiment and sincerity, and he ended it by taking Patti Scialfa for a slow dance. "Fade Away" was equally resplendent, but this time Bruce ended on his knees as the song faded away. "Drive All Night" was perhaps the evening's emotional high-water mark: the band found one groove after another, and Bruce asked Clarence Clemons for a second sax solo to put a stamp on the crescendo. Steve Van Zandt had a great night too. He was all over the guitar for "Crush on You" and "Cadillac Ranch," and his background vocals as integral to the album as his role as its co-producer sounded exactly as they should have: right behind Bruce's voice in the mix. That made for an especially strong version of "The Price You Pay" in only its second appearance since 1981. Props, too, to Charles Giordano for his stately organ playing on this song.
At the outset, Springsteen said that the album would be played like this just once because "it's too long to do it again." Clocking in just shy of two hours, The River felt like a show in and of itself. Afterward, he wasn't ready to end the set, and appeared unknowing of how to end the set. So he departed markedly from his handwritten list of songs, adding a thunderous "Atlantic City," and a romping “Seven Nights to Rock.” In the encore, he treated the audience to a work-up of and then a fine, off-the-cuff "Sweet Soul Music." Another treat appeared as Bruce led the band through "Can't Help Falling in Love." Throughout, he appeared to be a bottomless well of energy. At the end he escorted his vocalists to the platform at the back of the pit to conclude "Higher and Higher."
On this night, where the past met the present, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band lifted the veil, lifted themselves, their music and their audience. Bruce may be wise to let this performance stand alone, because it's one that even he probably can't replicate.
November 7 / Madison Square Garden / New York, NY
So began the first-ever top-to-bottom performance of The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle. Bruce shushed the audience, tapped a baton against his microphone stand and turned to face the horn section (set up on the back riser behind the piano) to conduct them as "The E Street Shuffle" kicked off an amazing seven-song performance. Bruce completely followed through on his intent to treat the audience, as he unquestionably went above and beyond to ensure a performance that did his second album proud.
Richard Blackwell (who played on the original record) was on stage to add conga to "New York City Serenade." There was a full five-piece horn section for "The E Street Shuffle" and "Kitty’s Back." There was an eight-piece string section (led by the Session Band's Sam Bardfeld and conducted by Charlie Giordano) for "New York City Serenade." Bruce had even started the evening's proceedings with "Thundercrack," indicating that it was "an outtake" from the album (here's hoping for "Restless Nights," "Take 'Em as They Come," or "I Wanna Be With You" for Sunday!)
Highlights from the performance of the album... well, it was an embarrassment of riches. Some of the most prominent included Bruce's fantastic guitar solo at the end of "Incident on 57th Street," finding variations of the melodic theme to end the song; Roy’s piano introduction to "New York City Serenade," with Bruce on acoustic guitar to replicate the album arrangement; various members of the band and horn section soloing on "Kitty's Back," or even the sparse "Wild Billy’s Circus Story" with Roy on accordion and Garry on tuba.
The energy in the building, with an elated New York City crowd well aware of the momentousness of the occasion, was off the charts for most of the night. With the album understandably the predetermined highlight, it was difficult for Bruce to keep the entire show at that same level how could he? But "Bus Stop," via sign request, and an intense "Human Touch," with Patti Scialfa back on stage tonight, were additional high points. And the encore wrapped up quite nicely as surprise special guest Elvis Costello joined the band for "Higher and Higher," singing lead on the first verse. Back on stage with Bruce after the taping for Spectacle six weeks earlier, Elvis brought much of the same soul-singer showmanship that Bruce does and that the song requires to great effect.
But really, the story of this show will always be the magnificent recreation of Bruce's second record. That performance, "something that’s never been done before," will forever be in the "very special" category of the Bruce history books.
November 4 / Town Hall / New York, NY
After saying he was "honored and humbled" by the service of the men and women in those three rows, Springsteen told a pun-filled joke about a new soda containing Viagra (this was a New York Comedy Festival Event, don't forget). He began his acoustic set with a heartfelt and jagged (but not ragged) "This Hard Land." Another joke, about the housewife who isn't Betty Crocker, preceded "Born to Run," which wasn't universally recognized until the first chorus.
Bruce told his third joke about a fiendishly trained chihuahua, punctuating a door knock with three raps on his guitar, and then started to play "The Rising." Unlike "Born to Run," it was immediately acknowledged and appreciated by this New York crowd. The lyrics seemed particularly appropriate for those who have been harshly dealt with by the "fiery light" of IEDs. I noticed Brian Williams and (I think) Bob Woodruff watching intently behind the stage.
Afterwards, Williams and legendary Sotheby auctioneer Jamie Niven (son of actor David Niven) joined Bruce onstage and together auctioned off the black guitar Bruce had just finished using "for the past 20 years." As the bidding increased, Springteen whispered in Niven's ear an offer to sweeten the pot four tickets to one of this weekend's Madison Square Garden shows.
This increased bidding, and there was an added benefit for the winner, actress Mariska Hargitay of Law and Order: Special Victim’s Unit: backstage passes. And if that weren’t enough, Bruce went into the audience and personally delivered the $50,000 guitar.
Over six million dollars has been distributed by the Bob Woodruff Foundation to individual soldiers and their families, along with service organizations who assist our wounded military personnel. More than $100,000 was pledged last night to this excellent cause.
November 3 / Time Warner Arena / Charlotte, NC
The Born to Run album sequence continues to catch fire, not at all dampened by repetition (or by the word, just beginning to circulate prior to showtime, that Bruce would be digging deeper this weekend for his buddies in New York City). "This record... this was the record that started a lifelong conversation between our band and you," Bruce said before beginning with "Thunder Road," adding "Shout if you remember this one!" clearly knowing that this room would shout it out loud. "Night" was particularly intense, and "Meeting Across the River" keeps shining bright, Garry working the frets downstage and Curt's clear trumpet doing all the right things.
Following "Sunny Day," an armful of signs kept the "Darlington" party vibe going: "I Fought the Law" first, previously played just twice in Europe on this tour. Next Bruce hollered, "The biggest sign of the evening!" and he danced across the stage with it: "I'll Have Sad Eyes if You Don't Play Sherry Darling." That might seem like two requests in one, but they just took it literally, with Roy, Charlie, and Nils strapping on their accordions for "Sherry." The requests kept rolling: "We're gonna take one from the upper balcony," Bruce said, pointing up to the rafters, "Get a spotlight on that sign!" It was a horn-heavy "So Young and in Love," Curt Ramm joining back in, Bruce working the stage and dropping to his knees, and the whole band all smiles.
A fourth request was for one that the band had never played before: "Play 'Brown Eyed Girl' For My Brown Eyed Girl," read the sign. "We're figuring it out!" said Bruce, lightly practicing the riff before diving in. It didn't always groove, but it was a whole lot of fun: lights up, all hands in the air, and hey, as Bruce had already figured out, this was a crowd that liked to "Sha La La." "Just like that!"
In the encore, "Cousin" Frank Bruno Jr. joined in for "American Land." Heading from there into "Dancing in the Dark," Bruce was apparently as excited as the crowd: "Ladies and gentlemen, I've had an erection lasting more than four hours I should get to the emergency room. But first!..."
One more after "Rosie," and one that's become an instant E Street classic since Bruce and the Band debuted it on night four in Philly: Jackie Wilson's "Higher and Higher." "You think we can take it any higher? Are you ready to help us take it higher?" They did, and we did, and I'd be surprised if this one didn't appear at every show from here to Buffalo. It's as perfect a show-closer, with sweet horns and killer vocals even better now that Cindy and Curtis are taking verses, too, as they began to do in DC. The background vocalists are the tour's secret weapons that have never quite felt fully deployed until now; Cindy and Curtis already elevated "Hard Times" at the beginng of the encore, but their solo turns on "Higher and Higher" were breathtaking. Bruce got so inspired, he had to join the crowd to dance he ran back around the pit, up to the platform in the middle of the floor (from which he'd earlier gone crowd surfing), and practically boogalooed. Soon back on stage "We ain't done yet! Is the band ready? Is the people ready?" Bruce took the sucker up like "Jacob's Ladder." "Up to C!" "We got one more build left!" "Up to D!" And if that was the top of Bruce's range, it was more than enough.
November 2 / Verizon Center / Washington DC
Bruce had been picking fewer request signs at recent shows, to the point where it was beginning to feel like an obligation. But in DC he was ready to take plenty of setlist input from the fans in the pit, and he had fun gathering a good number of signs before making his picks. The tour premiere of "Stand on It" segued into "Seven Nights to Rock" in a transition that took the band a little by surprise, but came off pretty smooth regardless a high octane medley with the sort of energy usually saved for the encores. "Growin' Up" was prompted by a very impressive sign; no story this time, but a great choice nonetheless.
"Pink Cadillac" returned to the set due to popular demand three separate signs. Bruce had a lot of fun with this raunchy crowd favorite (probably his best known B-side), sheepishly declaring it "a masterpiece" at the song's end. The requests choices were all upbeat and fun numbers, and that was no mistake. The DC crowd tends to take some convincing to party, especially on a Monday night, and the cavernous, skybox-heavy Verizon Center seems better suited to corporate events than rock 'n' roll shows. But throughout the main set, Bruce put on a muscular and fun show despite poor sound quality, and by the encores he was winning over the fans in the nosebleed seats.
The encores had a couple of great moments. Ali Weinberg joined the band on accordion for "American Land," and Clarence's solo during "Hard Times” reminded everyone that he still knows how to bring it. Curtis and Cindy got their usual chance to shine during that song; but the real treat came after "Rosalita." Bruce led the band into a stunning and celebratory "Higher and Higher" and, in a clearly unrehearsed moment, brought the backup singers over to each sing a verse center stage at his microphone. When Cindy initially seemed unsure of the lyrics, Bruce started her out with some call-and-response vocals until she was ready to soar on her own, her soulful voice quite literally bringing the song higher. This was a truly wonderful surprise performance that deserves to be repeated over the next few weeks.
Spotted in the crowd: Rahm Emanuel (back for more Bosstime after catching the DC show this spring), David Axelrod, and Vincent Pastore.
October 29 / Madison Square Garden / New York, NY
Bono noted that Madison Square Garden was a "very special venue for this band" and accordingly, they were going to do a song that was "very special... It's a Bruce Springsteen song, so we'd like to ask him to join us, and it's also a Patti Smith song" as a second surprise guest came on stage, with Bono noting there was "royalty in the house."
The crowd went appropriately nuts as Roy Bittan started "Because the Night" on the piano, but all of the stars performing weren't quite properly aligned; as a result, cues were missed, choruses sung over a hot Bruce solo, and things ended in shambles. No worries: the collabaration was so important that after some brief discussion, "Take 2!" got off the ground and the moment's potential was much better fufilled as Bruce, Patti, and Bono all took lead vocals (using the Patti Smith lyrics) on what ultimately was one of the big highlights of the night.
Bono then took a moment to speak about the importance of rock 'n' roll, noting that "for a lot of us here, rock and roll means just one word: liberation political, sexual, spiritual liberation." As he finished Bruce added, "Let's have some fun with that!"
And they certainly did, as Bruce and Roy remained on stage for a reprise of U2's 2005 induction ceremony: a very strong version of "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For." Bruce played rhythm guitar and took the second verse's lead vocals, and he also traded lines and echoed Bono's call-and-response at the end of the song.
October 29 / Madison Square Garden / New York, NY
Bruce, too, had several friends in the house: backed by a full-strength E Street Band plus a horn section including Curt Ramm, Clark Gayton and Eddie Manion, Bruce and his special guests recreated many of his greatest live collaborations from the past decade. Returning to the E Street stage were John Fogerty, Tom Morello and Sam Moore, plus new friend Darlene Love and surprise guest Billy Joel. Bosstime was an hour and 45 minutes, closing a show that didn't end until 1:30 in the morning.
After Bruce opened with "Tenth Avenue Freeze-out," he brought out his mentor Sam Moore, the man from whom Bruce has frequently admitted including during this show he's "learned so much about leading a band." "The Original Soul Man" traded verses with Bruce on "Hold On, I'm Coming" and "Soul Man," instantly elevating the show the way they did in Asbury Park in 2003.
After Springsteen and Fogerty repeated two of their prior duets, Bruce took an opportunity to recall playing with one of his heroes at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction in 1988, Roy Orbison. Bruce admitted, "I wouldn't try by myself," but with John present they were able to "take a ballpark swing at Pretty Woman," a highlight of the evening. Darlene Love brought her "one-woman wall of sound" on "A Fine, Fine Boy" and "Da Doo Ron Ron" while Tom Morello turned heads not only with his now-familiar solo on "The Ghost of Tom Joad" but also with his solo and lead vocals on an exciting performance of "London Calling."
With many of the guest artists' songs being performed, Springsteen songs only made up a small portion of the setlist, yet a very strong performance of "Jungleland" mid-set was not only perfect for the event and the location, it made it clear that Bruce was capable of transfixing a crowd with his own material as well.
The encore opened with a humorous introduction, reminding the crowd that prior to the continental drift, "New Jersey and Long Island were actually joined in one continuous land mass" and "tonight there will be a reunion," as Bruce welcomed "the king of Long Island," Billy Joel, to "the bridge and tunnel summit meeting right here right now." Joel played piano at center stage, singing three of his own songs as well as a verse of "Born to Run." Bruce contributed vocals to "New York State of Mind" as well.
The night's festitivies ended as Springsteen brought all of the guests back on stage for another exciting take of "Higher and Higher," with each singer, including Darlene Love and Sam Moore, taking a different verse for lead vocals. Bruce was again at his most energetic and loose as the song provided a fitting cap to an evening not to soon be forgotten by lucky showgoers.
October 25 / Scottrade Center / St. Louis, MO
Need we say that a by-the-numbers E Street Band show is still a hell of a show? At this point, we'll take that as a given. Hey, we got "Wrecking Ball" to open (demonstrating that the song ain't just about shutting venues down), and some sweet fretwork from Nils Lofgren on "Prove It All Night." The Born to Run live sequence holds up the album's masterpiece status, and "Backstreets" was truly a stunner tonight. But post-"Jungleland," the main set was as pedestrian as it gets.
Where things got interesting was the encore. Sign collection brought an open-ended request for Bruce to play piano "An elegantly made sign... somebody wen to the stationery store and did themselves proud!" and he obliged with a solo rendition of "For You" at Roy's station. "Roll Over Beethoven" was a late shot of adrenaline: very little prep, just slam-bang into it, "This is the way it's done on E Street!" "Surprise, Surprise," a request for a Sweet Fifteen birthday, was a refreshing and rare offering from the new record, and the "Detroit Medley" got things rocking the way an encore should. Too little, too late? Perhaps. But of course, they're just warming up for a Kansas City blow-out, right?
The main set was bookended by another mind-blower, Jackie Wilson's "Higher and Higher" by request. "Curveball, curveball, curveball!" Bruce warned as he showed the sign around to the band. After working out the riff, the piano and the horn parts, Bruce took them into an absolutely phenomenal performance. Of "The Price You Pay," Bruce told Backstreets in 2007, "It's become a thing just because I haven't played it. If I had played it, nobody would give much of a damn if they heard it or not! Just because it hasn't been played..." We'd say he gives the song too little credit. But if "The Price You Pay" was a thrill on an intellectual level tonight, "Higher and Higher" was all visceral. Says one regular showgoer: "It was the best, most exuberant Bruce Springsteen performance I've seen since the end of the Seeger Sessions tour. He was so into it. His hands, his posture... he became Jackie Wilson performing that song." Great solo work at the bridge, too, from Curt and Roy.
In between, they broke out "Wrecking Ball" one more time, and Bruce sang the Spectrum's praises: "This is our last night in this old sweatshop... We're so proud to be in one of the last great rock 'n' roll arenas." He offered up Born in the U.S.A. start to finish, windmilling hard enough to gash his finger on the intense title track. "Cover Me" was rocking, too, with a fiery solo from Nils. A swell moment during "Dancing in the Dark" as Bruce brought his mom Adele up for a dance. Following the album sequence, "The River" was an unexpected highlight.
More curveballs in the eight-song encore. First up, a real taste of the old days, as original E Street drummer Vini "Mad Dog" Lopez took a seat at the kit for "Spirit in the Night." "Behave yourselves," Springsteen told the crowd, "Or he'll come out there and slap your asses around!" But Bruce himself was the one who came out, circling the pit and singing "Hazy Davy got really hurt" from the riser at the back.
By this point, the air in the venue was electric, the crowd in a frenzy, as "Loose Ends" came next by request. The great, long-lost River outtake (and eventual Tracks track) doesn't always go over with audiences the way it should, but tonight, at this point, Springsteen could do no wrong. And following that with "Kitty's Back" didn't hurt matters at all. "Kitty" kicked ass, with Charlie's organ solo kicking over to Curt's trumpet, then Roy's piano, then finally over to Bruce's searing guitar, his body torqued.
Introducing the band that needed no introduction during "American Land," Bruce hollered, "Spectrum!... You've just seen... for the very last time... the heart-stoppin'..." you know the rest. But there were still four more to come: by request, a very nice, and nicely apropos, take on the Drifters' "Save the Last Dance for Me," followed by "Sunny Day," "Thunder Road," and, we imagine, the last Rocky-fied "Rosalita." Three hours and 20 minutes, the longest show yet of the tour. That's how you close a venue. Bring on your wrecking ball. And Pearl Jam, you've got your work cut out for you.
"When You Walk in the Room" may have moved a tad slow, but the Jackie DeShannon classic was a holy-shit flashback to Bruce's Main Point era, performed by the E Street Band numerous times in 1975 and last in 1976. With "My Love Will Not Let You Down" in slot three, it was a particularly strong start tonight.
A little strange that the place wasn't packed to the rafters to witness it: this third of four final shows at the Spectrum "One of the last of the old-time rock houses, damn straight!" wasn't close to a sell-out. During "Hungry Heart," Bruce looked up at a lone couple in a 300 section: "You got the whole place to yourselves!" But those present were treated to another doozy, particularly the first half of the night, featuring not only a nice selection of rarities, but Bruce and the band in loose mode.
By slot six we were into the main event, the top-to-bottom performance of Born to Run. Introducing the 1975 classic, Bruce namechecked the Main Point as well as a couple of influential local DJs: "David Dye and Ed Sciaky came down and supported us... This was the record where we all got introduced to each other." Highlights of the album sequence included a powerful "Backstreets," and Steven really feeling it on his stand-out "Jungleland" solo.
"Sunny Day" cleansed the palate as usual before the sign collection on "Raise Your Hand" a particularly strong version, complete with the piano jump. First up, request-wise: "Saint in the City," with a kick-ass guitar duel. Then, a proposal, as a sign read "Nellie, will you marry me?" and a gent down front got down on one knee. "You're not the same guy who proposed last time, are you?" Bruce asked. "Serial proposer: That happens to some people." On the reverse of the sign was "Two Hearts." What to do, since they'd already played it? How about a song the band hasn't done since the end of the River tour? Bruce broke it out a few times in 2005, but the E Streeters hadn't tackled "I Wanna Marry You" since September 11, 1981. "We haven't done this one for a long time, I don't know if we can get through this one... Charlie, do you know this? [Giordano plays a few chords]... A little drier... Farfisa. You know it." And man, they did themselves proud, a beautiful moment that reminds you what they're capable of.
From the sublime to the ridiculous, "All Shook Up" ("A great song by Otis Blackwell") came out next courtesy of a full-blown Elvis impersonator with a sign and with a white jumpsuit and cape, as well. "A request by The King!" exclaimed Bruce, and he seemed pretty tickled as he worked it out with the band, "Although you're scaring me a little," he said to the guy. He brought "Elvis" up on stage to help out nonetheless, letting him take the mic and sing lead. "Take it, Bruce!" said "Elvis" when it was time for a solo. If that weren't enough, "Elvis" took it upon himself to take the band into "Blue Suede Shoes" from there. Which actually worked with some significant scrambling from Bruce to make it happen, of course. (In a similar spirit, "Two Hearts" included "It Takes Two"; "Raise Your Hand" added a bit of "You Sexy Thing"; and "Rosalita" again featured Curt Ramm's "Rocky" intro.) "Elvis has left the building!" Bruce said at song's end. "We are truly in Philadelphia."
A bit more routine from there Bruce nixed the setlisted "Last to Die," avoiding an awful transition and steering things back on course with audibles "Radio Nowhere" and "Lonesome Day" instead. (He also dropped the handwritten setlist's main set closer, "Born to Run" wonder why?) A strong "Land of Hope and Dreams" opened the encore, Max pounding away at the end. And following "Rosalita," there was "One more for Philly!" The Dovells' hit "You Can't Sit Down," a local special and a '76/'77 staple that rocked this very building back in '78 as well as earlier this year, rocked it once again. For the last time? We'll find out tomorrow night!
October 17 / The Stone Pony / Asbury Park, NJ
October 14 / The Spectrum / Philadelphia, PA
Tonight there was no mention of the "Wrecking Ball," and for the first time this tour, "Outlaw Pete" was banished from the setlist, breathing new life and energy into a set that many fans had felt was becoming a little stale, or at the very least, predictable. Following "Thundercrack," Springsteen powered through a rare "The Ties that Bind" before debuting one of the standout tracks off of Working on a Dream that seemed destined for the scrap heap. Feeding off of the intensity of "Ties," "What Love Can Do" didn't come off with an awkward "hey, let's see how this goes" feeling, but instead was played with a fervor and familiarity that made it seem as if the band had been playing the song for years.
Sing-alongs "Hungry Heart" and "Working on a Dream" led the crowd into the evening's keystone performance of Darkness on the Edge of Town. Addressing the crowd before striking the opening chords of "Badlands," Springsteen admitted that when it was first released, Darkness was not greeted with the same acceptance and recognition that it receives today from fans and critics, while acknowledging the significance that the ten tracks on Darkness have had over the years constituting the foundation of the E Street Band's live shows since 1978.
Compared to a couple weeks earlier at Giants Stadium, when Springsteen exhausted himself trying to convey the music and message of Darkness to the open-air packed house at Giants Stadium, tonight he seemed far more comfortable with the material in the more intimate confines of the Spectrum. Tonight's album sequence was again driven by Springsteen's vocals and guitar work on songs like the driving "Adam Raised a Cain" and passionate "Streets of Fire," while Max Weinberg stood out on a knockout sequence of "Something in the Night," "Candy's Room," and "Racing in the Street." On the last of these, of course, Roy Bittan on the song's trademark extended coda. Springsteen stayed true to the album as recorded, opting to deliver "Factory" not as a contemporary folk duet with Patti (though she was present) as seen on the Rising tour, but rather as the straightforward hymn heard on the recording.
After Darkness, "Waitin' on a Sunny Day" found Springsteen venturing stage right to pull a young lady u pto sing the final chorus, and exhorting the band with an emphatic, "Take it, Big Man!" With the band holding on to the last notes of "Waitin'," Springsteen quickly gathered a few sign requests and immediately returned to center stage holding out what appeared to be the night's only impromptu request: an unseasonal, but always always welcome, "Sherry Darling." With the sign in hand and Steven telling Clarence to get ready, Roy, Nils and Charlie bolted from their posts for their accordions, which like in Hartford, were welcome additions to the song's party vibe. Loose, much like he was the night before, Springsteen was having fun during this one, dancing up a storm with Patti during the bridge and imploring the Big Man to "keep it going" while keeping up with Roy, Nils and Charlie.
"Sherry" was followed by an powerful "Human Touch" that brought Patti front and center, featured a rare intensity from Bruce and Patti that found them face-to-face as the song reached its emotional and sonic climax. "Long Walk Home" was an unsetlisted audible, which again featured Stevie channeling his inner Southside at the end, and was followed by "The Rising" and "Born to Run."
With the houselights still up, and without leaving the stage, Springsteen and the band launched into a celebratory set of encore songs that channeled the band's Spectrum heyday. "Ramrod" was pulled out of the garage as a sign request for an eight-year old in the crowd celebrating his birthday. The sign initially left the Boss wondering, "He wants that song?" But he eventually recognized that the requestor, in fact, has "impeccable taste." "Detroit Medley," "American Land," "Dancing in the Dark," and "Rosalita" kept the house lights up and sent the Philly crowd into the night dancing and singing along.
Night Two again featured Curt Ramm, on "Thundercrack" and in the encores, including a solo "Gonna Fly Now" from Rocky at the Boss's request, of course leading into the show-closing "Rosalita."
From there into "Wrecking Ball," repurposed from its Giants Stadium debut to pay tribute to the final days of the Spectrum. "I thought they were tearing this place down," Bruce laughed. "Last time we were here, I thought we were closing the place. Now we're back, and we're still not closing this place!" (Pearl Jam have that honor, at the end of the month.) He intoned, "The Spectrum will live forever" before launching into his Phillified version of "Wrecking Ball": "My home away from home in the city of brotherly love... where cheesesteaks are as big as airplanes... where Dr. J played the game."
Some more fun before the featured album of the evening: Bruce and Soozie goofing around on the "Out in the Street" call-and-response "Meet me out in the street, Soozie!"... "Meet me out in the street, Brucie!" and the "Hungry Heart" crowd-surfing making the leap from stadium to arena.
After "Working on a Dream," Springsteen talked to the crowd: "We're on the last leg of our tour. Over the past couple years we've toured quite a bit... We've taken to doing some of our albums. This is sort of the record that introduced a lot of us to each other. Tomorrow night is Darkness on the Edge of Town, but tonight... tonight... tonight..." and right into the harmonica strains that begin "Thunder Road," as Bruce and the band again took on Born to Run top to bottom.
Things got a little wacky again with "Waitin' on a Sunny Day," Bruce's hurled guitar bonking Kevin Buell in the face, and a girl with a sign asking "Can I sing?" (she got a chance to try), and asking on the reverse "How about a kiss?" (request granted). With a dejected look, Bruce held up a sign that pictured the recent AARP Magazine cover; he flipped it over to find a request for "Little Bit O' Soul." Scratch the usual sign-collecting rigamarole, he took the band right into the 1967 hit for The Music Explosion. A little struggle with the key wound up pushing Bruce's vocal range, but they pulled it off good fun.
Bruce grabbed a few more signs next (including one for "Crush on You," which went unplayed) and pulled out a Philly special, "The Fever." And the crowd went nuts. Speaking of records that introduced Bruce and the Philadelphia crowd to each other... "The Fever" was last played at this very venue in April. More trumpet from Curt on this one, and on "Last to Die" as well. The remainder of the set was strong, "Long Walk Home" followed by three that get regular play but felt particularly fresh tonight.
Bruce talked about hard times to open the encore, mentioning that unemployment is the highest it's been in seven years, then taking the band not into the Stephen Foster song, but "This Hard Land" instead. House lights up for "Bobby Jean," and high energy to the end, wrapping it up with a jubilant, over-the-top "Rosalita." Perhaps the vibe many were expecting at the final Giants show? Here, we're just getting started: "Thank you, Philly, we love you, and we'll see you tomorrow night for Darkness!"
Closing night seemed to break very little new ground, however. The setlist was a near carbon copy of the previous Saturday's show, including the reprise performance of the Born in the U.S.A. album. The crowd certainly brought the noise, as exhorted by Bruce to do so, and the band’s performance was excellent, but as a whole, the show seemed to fall short of the heights that closing night in Jersey has brought in the past.
The performance of the Born in the U.S.A. was noticeably tighter and more focused than in its debut album-order performance, to great effect and extensive crowd participation. When introducing the album, Bruce took note to remember that "Born in the U.S.A." was "the song we started out with the first time we entered this arena." (He also dedicated the performance to "my friend, who 55 years ago tonight, was born in the USA.")
Setting things apart from the previous four nights included "Spirit in the Night" early in the set, the return of "Seven Nights to Rock" in the encore, and, with Patti back on stage, only the second "Tougher than the Rest" on this tour. Curt Ramm added his trumpet to "Tougher" as well. Show highlights included Bruce again taking a "wild ride" through the crowd during "Hungry Heart" and, in the encore, via a sign complete with tongue-logo and suggested key (E), a "perfect request:" The Rolling Stones' "The Last Time," last played by the E Street Band at the final night of the Darkness tour. An extended "Kitty's Back" in the encore included intense solos from Curt on trumpet and Roy on piano.
As the show headed towards its end, Bruce skipped the setlisted "Thunder Road" and instead opted for "Jersey Girl," complete with lyric change to "take that one last ride / 'cross the river to the Jersey side." As the song ended, the crowd appeared to be in no rush to leave, perhaps expecting one final uptempo song to send off the stadium. Alas, it was not to be, as Bruce added a "Goodbye Giants Stadium!" to his traditional "We'll be seein' ya!" as the night ended.
In the New York Times, it's front-page news. In the crowd: Brian Williams; Chris Martin of Coldplay; Ed Burns; NJ Gubernatorial candidate Chris Christie; Jann Wenner.
As for the Album of the Night, we've cycled back around to Born to Run. "This is the one that really kind of brought us here tonight," Bruce said, recalling, "I remember when I wrote it I was trying to create this picture of one long summer day... and night." In addition to Curt Ramm on trumpet, "Tenth Avenue" was fleshed out further by Ed Manion and Clarence's nephew Jake, for the first horn section on this one since the Super Bowl.
Rather than relegate the requests to the encore, as he did on Night One, Bruce gathered signs after "Waitin' on a Sunny Day" (it's a rare show that drops "The Promised Land"). A nice selection followed, including "Saint in the City," "My Love Will Not Let You Down," and "Because the Night," featuring another stellar solo from Nils. "Human Touch" was a definite high point of the night, an all-too-rare chance for the E Street Band to bring their power to one of Bruce's '92 compositions. It killed, as it did in its Greensboro premiere earlier in the year. "Human Touch" also put the spotlight on Patti Scialfa, who returned to the stage tonight after a lengthy leave of absence.
Beginning the encore, Bruce expressed his appreciation for all the overseas fans who came from afar to the swamps of Jersey: "They've come a long way to see these shows... from Spain, Italy, Holland, Germany... Ho-Ho-Kus!" Taking the band into "Sandy," he said, "We're gonna send this one out to Danny," also talking about the Danny Fund and the fight against Melanoma. Following "Rosalita, which closed the first two nights of this stand, Bruce and the band reached into their bag for one more... sense of occasion fully intact, it was the stadium breaker: "Twist and Shout." Wrapping up the night at exactly the three-hour mark, Bruce hollered, "We love you! We'll be back tomorrow night with Born in the U.S.A.!"
October 3 / Giants Stadium / E. Rutherford, NJ
Even before the Born in the U.S.A. sequence began, Springsteen was reveling in the communal stadium experience, going for full-on crowd surfing in "Hungry Heart." [See video here.] In an impressive feat from both the Boss and the crowd, he one-upped his usual entry into the pit by allowing himself to be fully carried aloft back to the stage. Not bad for an appetizer. Then, after "Working on a Dream," came the main course.
For any fan who wore out his or her cassette of Born in the U.S.A., tonight was a dream realized. Sure, there may not have been any rare album cuts that were to be unearthed in the live setting; many of the 12 songs on the album have been staples of Springsteen's sets since the beginning of this tour, and all of them have been played along the way. Nor did the performance, aside from the song sequence, feature any special nuances or subtle changes as compared to other shows on the tour. But that didn't matter. Unlike last night's Darkness show, where the music demanded a certainly level of intensity from the band and the fans, tonight gave Springsteen and the band a chance to revisit a collection of anthems tailor-made for a football stadium. Tonight was an opportunity to see how far we've all come since 1985 and give everyone, singer and fan, a chance to revisit the glory days, raise their hands in the air and sing along.
"I’m on Fire" was enhanced by its performance after "Downbound Train," and the lost friendship in "Bobby Jean" seemed more vital when played after the message of "No Surrender."
Perhaps in a decision to illustrate how far we've really come since 1985, "Last to Die" received its Working on a Dream tour premiere following "The Promised Land" and prior to "Long Walk Home" and "The Rising," for a powerful combination reminiscent of the "five-pack" that closed the main set during 2007 and 2008 on the Magic tour
But the singing and dancing (and camera flashing) didn't stop after the last chords of "My Hometown," as Springsteen soon powered through a request-based encore stretch of "Jersey Girl," "Kitty’s Back," and "Detroit Medley." Once again, Springsteen's sense of the occasion I mean, c’mon, we're talking Giants Stadium on a Saturday night made "Jersey Girl" a perfect selection. And "Kitty" showcased the band in fine form, including another night of consistent and outstanding contributions not to mention some literature hawking on the side from the Big Man.
To close out the show, "Waitin' on a Sunny Day" seemed a little out of place after a rollicking "American Land," but Springsteen and the band finished on a high note with a beautiful "Thunder Road" to cap off the first week of their stand in the Meadowlands.
Darkness was the evening's highlight and emotional centerpiece. While show staples such as "Badlands," "The Promised Land," and "Prove it all Night" received a new vitality when played in the original album context "Prove It" including an incredible, searing solo by Nils Lofgren the true highlight of the Darkness sequence was Springsteen's delivery of album cuts, "Adam Raised a Cain," "Something in the Night," and "Streets of Fire."
Springsteen played these oft-overlooked tracks with a renewed vigor and almost draining emotion. His vocals and lead guitar carried the intensity of these songs, almost appearing at times that the Boss had pushed himself to the point of exhaustion. Maintaining the passion and intensity of an album like Darkness in the spacious Giants Stadium was no easy task, but it was evident from the start that Bruce and the Band realized their challenge, and they rose to the occasion.
Given the emotional intensity behind Darkness, it seemed as if Bruce wanted to let loose and have some fun with the remainder of the set. Missing was the recession suite of "Seeds" and "Johnny 99," and in the encore, he dropped "Hard Times" and a setlisted "Kitty's Back" for the fun and frivolity of "Cadillac Ranch," "Dancing in the Dark," and "Rosalita."
For requests, Bruce and the Band picked out "I'm Goin' Down," "Be True," and the tour premiere of a Leiber/Stoller classic. While Bruce may have needed a few seconds to figure out the key to "Jailhouse Rock," the song simply rocked live and sent the crowd into a frenzy, dancing along with its swingin’ beat. Audibled immediately after "Jailhouse" was "Long Walk Home," getting a long overdue reprise in the set since its lone appearance in the March rehearsal shows in Asbury Park.
Special guests tonight included the Sessions Band’s Eddie Manion, Art Baron, Larry Eagle, and Curt Ramm (who also played trumpet on "Tenth Avenue Freeze-out" and the show-opening "Wrecking Ball").
Yes, Bruce opened with a brand new song, the first new one of the tour, written just for the occasion: I was raised out of steel here in the swamps of Jersey, some misty years ago / Through the blood and the beer, and the mud and the cheers, I've seen champions come and go..." Springsteen began "Wrecking Ball" solo, just strumming a telecaster, but the mighty power of the E Street Band soon kicked in, even adding a trumpet solo from Curt Ramm. "Bring on your wrecking ball," Bruce spat in the chorus, "Take your best shot, see what you've got... Bring on your wrecking ball."
From there into "Seeds" [video here], Bruce rearranging the set as in Chicago, moving the recession arc to the beginning and the requests to the encore, to fit the Born to Run album sequence mid-set. "I was trying to think of something to make our last stand here at Giants Stadium special," he said beforehand. "Friday night, we're gonna play Darkness top to finish, and Saturday we're gonna play Born in the U.S.A. top to finish. But tonight..." his voice drifted off as the opening strains of "Thunder Road" began. Ramm was back on trumpet for "Tenth Avenue Freeze-out" and "Meeting Across the River," Garry on electric bass this time for the latter.
At the end of the album sequence, Bruce brought the original E Streeters down front for an extra handGarry, Clarence, Max, Roy, and Steve, too. "These are the guys who made the music... and Phantom Dan Federici." They basked in the glow of the crowd for a moment before Bruce barked, "Back to work!"
"Into the Fire" was a nice highlght of the back part of the set. Moving into the encore without leaving the stage"It's too cold to stop now!"Bruce began collecting signs to "Raise Your Hand." Performing the full song, Bruce again added lines from "You Sexy Thing." Ramm returned for the first song request, "The E Street Shuffle." "It's a dance with no dance step," Bruce explained. "It's just a dance that you do every day to get through the bullshit. And every night."
Another oldie followed by request, a perfectly apropos "Growin' Up" for the first show following Bruce's 60th birthday. He even went into a lengthy story for the occasion. "Clarence... I had one of the weirdest dreams I ever had a few nights ago... It was one of those dreams where you wake up and you say, 'Oh, fuck!'" In his dream, Bruce was surrounded by relatives, by a lot of people"and I don't like a lot of people!... The lights went out, and there was this cake. This is the part you won't believe: there were 60 fucking candles on that cake!" Maybe this wasn't a dream after all. The Giants Stadium crowd began singing "Happy Birthday" and Bruce added, "And there were thousands of people reminding me of something I was trying to forget!" Finally, Bruce went back to sleep and took month-long vacations in the stratosphere...
Willie Nile joined in for "American Land" and "Dancing in the Dark" and stayed out for "Hard Times" as well. "Willie, grab a guitarthere's only three chords, that's all we play, how hard can it be?" Fireworks hailed over Giants Stadium after the band intros, punctuating the E! Street! Band! Bruce declared, "That's right, we splurged for the fireworks!"
Finally, they wrapped it all up with "Rosie": "We're sending this out to Patti, she's gonna be here Friday night. Patti, wherever you are, come out tonight!" The lengthiest show of the tour yet, this one clocked in at 3:15.
Costello and the Imposters opened the show with a cover of "Point Blank," setting the tone early for what was to be a night of many non-traditional Springsteen tunes. At Costello's request, Bruce opened with "Wild Billy's Circus Story," for which he was joined onstage by an acoustic Nils Lofgren (who had performed "Like Rain" earlier with The Imposters backing him) and Roy Bittan on accordion. Costello coaxed some early memories from Springsteen regarding the traveling circus in Freehold and the sense of wonder and fear it inspired in him as a child. This was not Storytellers Part II, though. There was no line-by-line deconstruction of songs. Costello seemed primarily interested in the emotional effects of the music, both on Springsteen and his audience, and a major portion of their talk was devoted to the thematic shift that occurred following Born to Run. As Springsteen explained it to Costello, he became more invested in writing songs he felt he would still be able to relate to at the ripe old age of 40 (this of course drew a laugh).
The show was very explicitly a television taping and not a "concert," though, which meant a lot of stopping and starting to rearrange the stage and to get things just right. A solo acoustic version of "American Skin (41 Shots)" came off after a false start, and Springsteen initially forgot that "Galveston Bay" was in Drop D tuning. When the conversation wandered to Roy Orbison, Costello joined Springsteen in an impromptu cover of "Pretty Woman" that ended abruptly halfway through. They redeemed themselves shortly after with a show-stopping rendition of Sam & Dave's "I Can't Stand Up For Falling Down," Bruce taking Sam's part and Elvis taking Dave's.
Following a quick break, the two reconvened with talk of family life. Costello praised Patti's role as musician, wife, and mother, and performed an acoustic version of her "Black Ladder." Springsteen discussed the pleasure he felt standing outside of his son's room one evening and hearing him listen to "Chimes of Freedom." "What do you think of it?" he asked. "Epic," his son replied, "it's epic, dad." And who could argue with that?
More than three hours into his own epic discussion, Springsteen expressed fear that the audience would keel over soon and indicated that it was time for the finale. He strapped on an electric guitar and delivered a gut-wrenching version of "The Rising" backed by the Imposters, Bittan, Lofgren, and Costello (who stepped up for the dream of lifes). There was a fiery quality to the performance that was only intensified moments later when the band ripped into "Seeds." Springsteen wailed on the guitar and bellowed like he was half his age or younger, and the crowd was on its feet. The night concluded with a "Radio" medley, connecting Springsteen's "Radio Nowhere" with Costello's "Radio Radio." While the two might not have been the perfect musical pairing to mash together, it was a thematically appropriate and satisfyingly creative ending to a truly unforgettable night.
It was an energetic show from the start, kicking off with a powerhouse trio of "Tenth Avenue," "Badlands," and "Candy's Room," with a blistering solo from the birthday boy. Max pounded the drums all night. "Two Hearts" included the "It Takes Two" outro, and by the sixth song, Springsteen circled the pit on "Hungry Heart" for the third show in a row. Tonights Recession Trio wrapped with "Youngstown," Nils again blowing minds with his solo.
Then, a choice request set. In a WXRT interview this morning, Little Steven called the recent E Street Band world debut of "Satisfaction" "one of the greatest moments of our career." Tonight they reprised it, bashing out the Stones classic for the second time ever. "Cadillac Ranch" followed before another first: Dion's "The Wanderer." Bruce and the band had a particularly long meeting before this one, but soon enough they were working it out, with an impromptu lyric change: "I tear open my shirt, I got Rosalita on my chest!" The sign for this one read, "The Wanderer... Stumped?" After their performance, Bruce tore the sign up.
You can request "Incident on 57th Street." And Bruce and the band might play it, and you know it'll be good. But you never know just how good it's going to be. Tonight's was stellar. Bruce stretched out his solo, and this was one for the ages. To top it off, they followed it, just as on the Wild & Innocent album, with a rare mid-set "Rosalita." (Sorry, no "New York City Serenade" to close it all out.) A couple songs later, a rare "Into the Fire" was an extra request, Bruce propping the sign agains the mic stand. Lovely emotional color from Curtis and Cindy.
In the encore, Steven led the crowd in a sloppy "Happy Birthday" for the Boss. Bruce had a wry smile as he sang "we ain't that young anymore" in "Thunder Road." But as he told the crowd, thanking them for coming out to the show, "We're having the best times of our lives." Which, hovering around 60, is saying something. Soon, Springsteen had an octogenarian up on stage with him for some "Dancing in the Dark," a nice reminder that it ain't exactly autumn yet. Wrapping it all up fittingly with "Glory Days," Springsteen finally hollered, "Thanks for a great birthday party!"
September 20 / United Center / Chicago, IL
Not to open: a gritty "Seeds" took that spot for the first time. "No Surrender" followed, with Nils and Bruce locked in their frenetic guitar duel. "Johnny 99" had Bruce prowling the stage, cueing each solo with a shake of his fist. "Cover Me capped off this early Recession Suite, Bruce repeating the refrain "times are tough, just getting tougher" several times, and Nils closing the song with a searing solo.
Ater "Outlaw Pete" the mood brightened with "Hungry Heart," a major crowd pleaser for which Bruce again circumnavigated the pit as in South Carolina. He dropped out of sight for a moment, then suddenly he was making his way across the back barricade, hopping from one built-in bench seat to the next. Back on stage, two verses into "Working on a Dream," the song came to a halt. "Ladies and gentlemen, I hear the sound of the E Street Band fucking up! It can still happen after all these years... It ain't pretty." Following the song, Bruce fessed up: "Steven said I missed a verse, so it was the Boss's fault."
At 9:05 pm, the night's centerpiece began. Bruce introduced the Born to Run album: "What we are about to do we've only done once before, in a little theater in Red Bank.” He added, “When we made this record we were close to being dumped by our record company. This was our last chance." At the opening notes of "Thunder Road," the crowd became unhinged with emotion, turning the song into a full-length audience participation event.
And so the album sequence began. The only song of the eight that lagged, surprisingly for me, was "Night." It lacked the intensity with which I've seen them play it before. The much-coveted "Meeting Across the River" into "Jungleland" pairing was phenomenal, closing the Born to Run show-within-a-show at 9:54 pm; 49 minutes in total. In an era of iTunes and record company meltdowns, it was a treat to hear an album played as it was originally meant to be heard, some 34 years ago. Guest musicians included Curt Ramm on trumpet for "Tenth Avenue Freeze-out and "Meeting Across the River," along with Richard Davis for the latter, reprising his album role on on stand-up bass.
Back in the regular set, it was time for "Sunny Day." Mid-song, Bruce threw his guitar to Kevin Buellit shot farther up in the air than out, leaving Kevin to dive in front of Max's kit to catch it. Bruce hunched his shoulders, offering a sheepish “Uh... Sorry?" A young boy, ten or 11 years old, came on stage to sing the chorus. His voice was shaky, but as Bruce made a move to count him back into tempo, the kid kept singing. Bruce laughed and looked at him as if to say "Don’t mind me, kid. It looks like you know what you're doing."
"Badlands" closed the main set, a counterpoint to its opening slot on much of this tour. And on to the encore: "Hard Times" was stellar, in particular the a cappella portion at the end, and the request portion of the night began, delayed but not preempted by the Born to Run performance in the main set. The band vamped on "Raise your Hand" as Bruce collected signs. I saw requests for "Man's Job" (!), "Point Blank," "Splish Splash," "Spirit in the Night," "Ramrod," "Runaround Sue," and what looked to be several hundred others. The first winner, however, was "Da Doo Ron Ron," on a big bright green sign from up in the 300 level, courtesy of my buds Jeff and Sarah (way to go, guys!). Bruce dedicated it to Ellie Greenwich, "a fantastic songwriter who passed away recently." The band didn’t have much trouble with it, achieving a Spector-worthy Wall of Sound just a few bars in. Bruce said to Clarence: "C, it’s got a very complicated sax solo. Just play it!" And Bruce sang it from a woman's point of view, channeling his inner Crystal: "I met him on a Monday and my heart stood still, Da Doo Ron Ron Ron, Da Do Ron Ron. Somebody told me that his name was Bill..."
Next was Bobby Day's "Rockin' Robin" (no mention of Michael Jackson), which was considerably harder for the band to sort out. As the band worked to find the right key, the crowd started singing the song. Bruce said, in a gravelly, insincere, funny voice: “Yeah, we appreciate it! Yeah yeah, it’s a great one...” "Dancing in the Dark" (with a gaggle of adolescents on stage for the Heyyyyy, babys), "American Land," and a very loose "Rosalita" closed the show. Bruce shouted, "Thanks for a great night!" And off he slipped into the night.
We felt the energy coming off the stage in the first three songs, "Tenth" into "Badlands" and "No Surrender," and by slot four, the stage couldn't contain it. "Hungry Heart" found Bruce heading into the pit, and it was no brief visit he wound up circumnavigating the thing. He cruised slowly across the back barrier, slapping skin with those behind it, making his way around to the opposite side of the stage. The mass of fans up front surged and rolled along with him but seemed careful to keep things trouble-free from where I stood, the pitgoers looked like gracious hosts, and the whole place kept singing along. Soon enough Bruce was back on stage, leaving a whole lot of "I can't believe that just happened!" expressions behind. (More pit forays later in the show, for signs and to pick up two girls to sing on "Sunny Day.")
The exuberance continued with a rollicking "Johnny 99," just a frenzy at the end as Jay wailed away on the drums (he played all night). "Atlantic City" was in the following slot instead of "Point Blank" or "Factory" or anything that might have slowed things down. The band vamped on "Raise Your Hand" as usual while Bruce gathered signs, and as he went to sing it, he began riffing on a sign he now held up: "You Sexy Thing." "I believe in miracles," Bruce sang, and the crowd sang back, Bruce eventually segueing into "Raise Your Hand," but bringing "Sexy Thing" back at the end, too. A great, hilarious slice of spontaneity.
A muscular request set followed: "This Hard Land," the Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction," and "Ramrod." "This Hard Land" was a challenge for the drummer, who had to scramble"Jay just told me he's never played this before!" the Boss laughed, but he wasted little time going right into it regardless. Nils could be seen back by Jay's riser as Bruce sang, some quick coaching before the drums had to kick in.
Then it was time to, as the sign read, "Give SC some Satisfaction! Hey Hey Hey!" Bruce played it with the Castiles back in '65, and a couple decades later he actually shared a mic with Mick Jagger on the song at a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction. But he was right when he called out to Greenville, "The E Street Band has never played this song!" Sure didn't sound that way. As you'd expect. The place ate it up.
As the encore began, Curtis and Cindy really got to shine on "Hard Times," with that immense a capella break, before a whole new set of folks got the spotlight: the Swingin' Medallions. "We're big fans of beach music," Bruce said as he brought them out, and he's long been a fan of their "Double Shot of My Baby's Love" specifically, breaking it out live from time to time. Here in their South Carolina stomping grounds, it was cool to see these guys get a moment, hamming it up and even adding some choreography as Bruce looked on and laughed. "The Swingin' Medallions... still swingin'!" Corny but cool.
Springsteen filled out the rest of the show as one big party, "Detroit Medley" being the high point of the encore. A majestic "Thunder Road" to wrap it all up was as sedate as this show gotand by that point, a cool-down felt like just the thing. Satisfaction delivered.
September 13 / Bank Atlantic Center / Ft. Lauderdale, FL
With Bruce's voice back in shape already (heck, it got there halfway through the Tampa show the night before), this was a fun, energetic show with a number of curveballs. Some of them made for unusual pacing and rocky transitions an audibled "Cover Me" early on, "Out in the Street" following "Outlaw Pete," "Johnny 99" into "Factory." "Factory" was beautiful nonetheless, a spare version beginning with just Bruce on harmonica, the rest of the band eventually filling in.
"Sherry Darling" by request came before the request-portion-proper, and brought all three accordionists down front... eventually. When Nils needed a little extra time to get strapped in, Bruce asked Charlie and Roy to vamp a bit: "We have to take a little break... A little break music!" "Sou le Ciel de Paris" first, then "Hava Nagila" before the trio was set for "Sherry." "We don't have the big stage," said Bruce, "but you're not gonna see this at the U2 show!"
A great sign request trio began with "Be True," into "Cadillac Ranch" and the very rare "So Young and in Love" (previously played just once on this tour, part of the Dropkick Murphys guest spot in Boston in April). A bit rough as they remembered how to start, but they worked it out for a show highlight. Another high point of the night was a not-so-unusual song, but an unusually fine performance of it: a phenomenal "Backstreets," one of the best in recent memory, as Bruce stretched out the middle portion with ethereal moaning and lots of "until the end"s. Another request followed, "Radio Nowhere" dedicated "to my little girlfirend" for a little gal in the crowd (and notable for having Max on the kit rather than his son; as in Tampa, Max held down the beat all night).
Leading off the encore was another request, a favorite last played in St. Louis at the end of the Magic tour: "Then She Kissed Me." We wouldn't be surprised if the request/performance was inspired by the recent death of songwriter Ellie Greenwich, though Bruce didn't mention her; he did say, "I think we opened up our show in 1975 at the Bottom Line with this one." A classic cover, always welcome. Before "Hard Times" Bruce called for "health care for every American." Four young kids, two boys and two girls, were brought up onstage for "Dancing in the Dark," and one of the girls got a harmonica to remember it by. Finally, the show closed, as in Tampa, with "Thunder Road." On the setlist but not played: "It's Hard to Be a Saint in the City," "Atlantic City."
September 12 / Ford Amphitheatre / Tampa, FL
Max Weinberg was back behind the drums all night (a boon for anyone dismayed after Saratoga). Bruce was noticeably hoarse, his voice somewhat worse for wearor lack of wear, as it were: "Sorry about my voice," he said, "Too much time off!" And a bit of a staid setlist, particularly in the back half of the set, but some choice rarities among the bunch nonetheless. The first jaw-dropper was "All or Nothin' At All," rare enough even on the '92-93 tourthis is a song that's only been played six times ever, and never before by the E Street Band. Human Touch gets a bad rap, but this is one of those overlooked tracks with a lot of live potential. As Bruce said at song's end: "A lost masterpiece, I tell ya!"
A strong "Growin' Up" followed, and then another long-lost gem by request: "Jole Blon." Back in 1981, Bruce and Steve worked up this Cajun classic for Gary U.S. Bonds' Dedication album. Bruce has been known to revisit it in clubs over the years; he and Terence Trent D'Arby worked it out on the final night of the '92-93 tour at the Garden. But the last time Bruce and the E Street Band did this one was at the very end of the River tour, almost 28 years ago to the day. Tonight, the only real rust that showed was trying to figure out the key. Finally, Bruce made an executive decision: "Goddammit, let's play this motherfucker: B-minor, on four..." Killer solos from Charlie on accordion and Soozie on fiddle. And Stevie looking happy as a clam.
Later in the set, a beautiful sign for "Racing in the Street" pictured a vintage Chevy, with Bruce noting, "That was actually my car when I was 24 years old!" And before "Hard Times," Bruce put the E Street Band's lengthy 2007-2009 run into perspective, seeing it all as of a piece: "This is the last leg of our long, long tour stretching out over a couple of records and a couple of years... thanks to my band for playing better than ever!"
"Summertime Blues" kicked off the request section, followed by "Two Hearts" picked from a spin-the-wheel sign (with options including "Bruce's Choice" and "Big Man's Choice). Real nice vocals on that one from Bruce and Steve. "Surprise Surprise" followed, and while this song has its detractors, surprise surprise, it was well-played and quite a good time. "Because the Night" had an unusual moment, when Springsteen himself took the guitar solo. Nils started off his patented riffage, but after playing on his back (!), there was a sound malfunction that led him to pass it off to Bruce, who took it from there.
Things were sloppy here and there, a trade-off for the fun, loose vibe: Clarence missed a couple cues, including his "Badlands" solo; Bruce had to count off "Girls in Their Summer Clothes" again after an instrumental trainwreck. "Rosalita" also had Bruce stopping the band to count them back in againJay still shaking the rust off tonight, it seemed, for his first full show in a while. But Bruce made sure to sing his praises: "He really saved our ass this summer... you're not supposed to be able to do that at 19 years old!"
The encore was back down to a more standard six songs, giving a few gals the chance to dance on "Girls in Their Summer Clothes" and "Dancing in the Dark." Closing with "Hungry Heart," Bruce said, "We're gonna send you home with one more summer song!" And indeed, it'll be mid-September next time he and the E Streeters take the stage.
August 23 / Comcast Center / Mansfield, MA
For the sign collections it was an instrumental "Heat Wave," a song they last played six years ago with Martha Reeves herself. Granted requests included both "I'm Goin' Down" and its B-side, "Janey Don't You Lose Heart." Lots of conferring before the latter, Bruce explaining, "We know these... we just don't know them right away!" In between was "You Never Can Tell," the first reprise after its debut in Bilbao. Charlie strapped on the accordion for this Chuck Berry chestnut, taking a solo out on the thrust with Bruce. "Prove It All Night" spotlighted the guitar wizardry of Nils Lofgren, who took a tremendous, extended solo that proved to be a real highlight of the night.
A lengthy encorebizarrely so, packing in nine songskicked off with "Girls in Their Summer Clothes," a rarity on this tour and played better than it ever was on the Magic tour. It was played for another sign, "Happy 6th birthday to 'a girl in her summer clothes.'" That resonated with Springsteen, just a month away from the big 6-0: "I'm coming up on that one myself. That's my number. It's fortuitous!" Soon the Dropkick Murphy's frontman Ken Casey was on stage to trade vocal lines with Bruce on "American Land." After a couple more crowd-pleasers we came to the now-standard closer "Twist and Shout"... but Bruce clearly had more gas in the tank, taking the band into "Hang on Sloopy" and "Growin' Up" before leaving the stage. And that still wasn't all, as a tenacious crowd brought them back out for a final "Hungry Heart."
August 22 / Comcast Center / Mansfield, MA
Highlights included powerful takes on "Trapped," with mass fist-pumping from the crowd; "Point Blank," with a stunning solo from Roy, and "Backstreets," with Max killing it on the drums, the high water mark of the show performance-wise as "My Love" was in Hartford. These found Bruce improvising from the heart, which ratcheted up the intensity: repeating "It was all there... and now it's all gone" at the end of "Point Blank"; and during "Backstreets," intoning "until the end... just you and me, baby," over and over.
Further rarities: "Burning Love" in the request set was tight as a drum and a ton of fun, followed by "For You." A full band "If I Should Fall Behind" came out for just the second time on the tour, requested by Tom for Ingrid at their 224th show. No trading off the vocals as in '99, but Bruce brought the other E Streeters in for some nice harmonies.
"Detroit Medley" kicked off the encore thanks to a one-of-a-kind sign: a blow-up doll. ("Steve has many of these at home!") The doll's accessories were the tip-off: "And she's wearing..." "A blue dress!" "And the horns mean..." "Devil!" Yep, message received, and they rocked it. Though Steve went sans guitar for a little while, making some adjustments to the doll, repairing a wardrobe malfunction, and putting the red wig on Bruce's head. Jay Weinberg took over the kit from his dad for that one one, playing the entire encore including a booming "Born in the U.S.A." and a bonus audience-rewarding "Twist and Shout" to stretch out the show to 2:55.
August 19 / Comcast Theatre / Hartford, CT
And that's not all that carried over from the European leg. What was a fairly fixed "recession suite" last time around opened up while the band was overseas, and tonight they followed "Seeds" and "Johnny 99" with "Murder Incorporated" (a U.S. tour premiere, with two solos from Nils) and the always-magical "Something in the Night." A pair of covers in the request section, the rare "Mountain of Love" (played once before on this tour, in Philly), and the premiere of Manfred Mann's 1965 hit "Sha La La." The latter was rough but fun, Bruce acknowledging the high level of difficulty with some serious prep work beforehand. The changes kept rolling with the U.S. tour premieres of "Be True," the incendiary "My Love Will Not Let You Down"these two being real performance highlightsand "American Skin (41 Shots)."
"Be True," the great "Fade Away" B-side, had Bruce reflecting back 30 years to when he was narrowing down songs for The River: "When you look back at the choices you've made, some of them are hard to understand. This one should have gone onit came down to this or 'Crush on You.' We would have had to leave 'Crush on You' off... Steve says, 'Whaddaya mean we?'"
More input from Stevie to close the extended main set, "Thunder Road" added on the fly at his suggestion. For "Dancing in the Dark" there were 11, count 'em, 11 gals on stageand each one got a kiss as she headed back into the crowd.
No pit-within-a-pit, just one G.A. section for this amphitheatrethe lottery was for order of admission only. A downside to the outdoor summer show: brutal heat. In the pit, the temp had to be well into the triple digits, fans soaked and parched. During "Spirit in the Night," Bruce went to sip a beer from the crowd and wound up practically chugging the whole thing. Here's what we're drinking to: one show down, 29 to go...
For previous Working on a Dream tour setlists,
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