"No Surrender" kicked things off — only the second appearance of the song in a Wrecking Ball set, with the house lights bright, eventually going down just in time for the line "on the streets tonight the lights grow dim." The performance itself may have been on shaky ground, but it was a refreshing start, and they soon found a powerful groove on the traditional opening stretch. Max was particularly noteworthy as his powerhouse drums carried us from "We Take Care of Our Own" into "Wrecking Ball," just the beginning of a major workout for the Mighty One here in his hometown.
"Good evening, Newark, New Jersey!" Springsteen greeted the packed-to-the-rafters Pru Center before "My City of Ruins," taking care to salute this major Jersey city that he was, suprisingly, playing for the very first time. "Birthplace, not but two blocks from here, of the Mighty Max Weinberg himself! Birthplace of badass author Philip Roth. Birthplace — I think — of George Clinton: Parliament-Funkadelic, a lot of good soul coming out of Newark. [And if he was techincally mistaken, Clinton hailing originally from North Carolina, he was right in spirit: George formed the Parliaments in Newark in 1955.] In keeping with his loose, relaxed vibe, Bruce also had greetings for a specific pair right down front: "You two are psychotic — you guys are my stalkers, man..." Soon during Roll Call, he noted Patti Scialfa's absence, singing, "Ohhh, I'm lookin' for my baby... Where, oh where is my baby? Mr. Garry W. Tallent just won't do, I'm sorry! Patti's not here tonight — she's at home, keeping the kids out of our drug stash."
The whole place was into "City of Ruins," hands in the air all around; as the song ended, Bruce gave his positive appraisal: "This is a good building! This building feels good! So in honor of our first time here, we'll do something for the first time! You fans are gonna go, huh? Wha?" And he was right — "Bishop Danced" was a stunner. It may not be the most obscure of obscurities (it was officially released on Tracks, after all, in a live version from 1973 at Max's Kansas City). But it's close, with the shock value and long odds against its performance right up there with "Song for Orphans" in Trenton '05. Bruce hadn't performed the song in nearly 40 years, and never with the full E Street Band. And unlike the meandering "Song for Orphans," this one wasn't just cool in theory. Arranged for the full band, "Bishop Danced" was a blast, stretching out with multiple violin and accordion solos from Soozie and Charlie, Curtis rocking the washboard. Just like "Jack of All Trades" says, "We take the old, we make it new."
"Saint in the City" kept the rarities rolling, the Professor banging it out, Bruce and Steve facing each other at the end for their classic guitar call-and-response as Max's drumroll crescendoed the whole thing to a frenzy. "Jack of All Trades," its stoic majesty grounding the middle of the set, featured a moving solo from Nils, as Curt Ramm came down front on trumpet and Bruce beat that big bass drum. Then Max was on point again as the monster pairing of "Candy's Room" and "She's the One" showed off his versatility, power, and precision. Without feeling forced, everybody was getting a spotlight moment, Cindy coming down to shake it with Bruce at center stage on "Shackled & Drawn," and even guitar tech Kevin Buell called out again for "Waitin' on a Sunny Day": "Kevin Buell! Where is Kevin Buell? This is my homeboy's 1,002nd show! Help me out..." and Kevin counted in, 1-2-3-4.
An audibled "Talk to Me" might have been slightly less fun without Patti around as a foil, but there was nothing else wrong with this one, a horn-heavy treat from The Promise, played here in Southside country by request for a sign that read "Talk to (or Kiss) Me on my Birthday." And whatever flirting Bruce couldn't do with his baby, he took straight to the crowd. If things lost a bit of steam from here to the end of the set, he picked it back up with a sublime "We Are Alive," nicely intro'd as he had in New Orleans: "Coming to the end of the Wrecking Ball album... I realized I needed to consult the spirits. I decided I'd throw a party for ghosts. The voices of the dead always inform the living. They always inform the future. They're always on your shoulder." "Land of Hope and Dreams" had the horns turned up, with the glorious noise from the brass and another strong showing from Max turning this occasional set-closer into a truly grand finale.
The encore was just the kind of communal party you want it to be, and another completely unexpected treasure (right up there with "Bishop Danced," really) lifted it up from the start. "These guys have been holding this sign all night," Bruce said, taking it from the front of the pit; and while anybody standing behind that sign surely hates to see the positive reinforcement, it was hard not to smile when Bruce turned it around: "PLAY 1 FOR LEVON. Up on Cripple Creek, The Weight, Atlantic City. RIP LEVON." After some strummng, Bruce said, "I used to play this one when we were real young..." but it was the E Street Band debut of "The Weight." Springsteen had plenty of kind words for the dear departed "Levon Helm, the great drummer of The Band... one of the greatest voices in country, rockabilly, and rock 'n' roll. Just staggering — while playing the drums! When I auditioned Max, I actually made him sing." Speaking of staggering... I mean, sure, we know the E Street Band is unstumpable, but it was still astounding that they were able to pull off this beautiful, confident tribute with so little notice. Bruce started on acoustic, soon Soozie added fiddle, Garry joined in, Charlie on organ, the horns... Max, Roy, the whole band making it happen and making sonic space for each other. And of course, they had plenty of help from the crowd, the whole darn place singing along on the chorus. From there Bruce didn't miss a beat, strumming his acoustic right into "Rocky Ground."
After a plug for Table to Table, it was houselights up for "Born to Run" (13 guitar windmills at the end, by my count), "Dancing in the Dark," and then, before "Tenth," a bonus "Rosalita": "Are your hands hurting? Is your back hurting? Is your voice hurting? Are your sexual organs stimulated? Are your sexual organs stimulated? Ahhh, not yet! This'll do it!" This third audible of the night did indeed take it all over the top, Bruce mugging with Steve, hugging the roadie who came out to replace his mic, dancing and running all over the stage, even bringing up a few enthusiastic kids at the end who were over the moon to share that moment. Ah, the Last Dance... Wait, huh? Wha? Not even close! "Thank you, New Jersey! We'll see you in September!"
And over in Europe, they know it's just the beginning.
Their "opener," Dr. John, had much of the E Street Band watching him the way we watch Bruce, with Little Steven, Garry Tallent, Charlie Giordano and Nils Lofgren all on the apron of the Acura mainstage, paying rapt attention. The field was so packed as Bosstime approached that one friend of Backstreets considered bailing to go watch Al Green at the gospel tent instead. With all respect to the Reverend Al, staying put was the right call.
John Anderson writes: "One of my favorite-ever Bruce shows, and not only because he granted my single fondest wish for this show (the E Street premiere of 'How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live?' in N'awlins)... I loved almost everything about it, and was loving it even before it got 'unusual' (to use Bruce's word) setlist-wise."
"Poor Man" gave a taste of things to come after the "usual" six-song opener, and soon Dr. John joined Bruce and the Band for "Something You Got." "Its all about that groove," said Bruce, "You can't get that groove in New Jersey!"
(Not that he hasn't tried: While the 1961 Chris Kenner tune was certainly a tour premiere, the E Street Band tackled it a few times in the early '70s [audio].)
From there, "Let's keep with the unusual!" led the band into "O Mary Don't You Weep." Charlie took over the piano for this one, and Roy moved to accordion. If Springsteen's 2012 touring outfit has felt at times like a mash-up of the E Street and Sessions Bands, this Jazz Fest performance was where it all melded perfectly, as they worked even more standards from 2006 into the set, including the E Street Band debuts of "Pay Me My Money Down" and "When the Saints Go Marching In."
But rather than just a revisiting of past glories, these songs were very in-the-moment, as evidenced by the brilliant placement of "Saints" — inserted and integrated seamlessly into "Rocky Ground." Once again, six years later, the crowd went berzerk, and tears flowed.
"Such a special show, filled with amazing moments," continues Anderson, "and some powerful spoken setup of songs, grounding them in New Orleans, talking them up and making extensive connections." One of those soliloquies came with "My City of Ruins":
The Jazz Fest show was unusual in other ways, too: the only outdoor show of the leg, for one thing, played in full daylight. Both Bruce and Nils nearly slipped and fell early in the show, leading Springsteen to remark, "We're used to playing in the dark, seeing everything is completely fucking us up!" As a festival performance, it was slightly abbreviated (though only slightly, still clocking in at two-and-a-half hours), leaving out the "Apollo Medley" in favor of that New Orleans gumbo. Springsteen still found occasions to venture into the crowd, trying the crowd-surfing on "Sunny Day" and a few other clamber-outs that had security looking nervous. The two girls he brought up to dance with during "Dancing in the Dark" were the concert's sign-language interpreters. There was no Big Man montage video for "Tenth Avenue"; instead, Bruce grabbed a sign from the crowd that read "New Orleans Loved Clarence," and as he and Jake clasped hands, that sign was in Bruce's grip, too.
Before "We Are Alive," Springsteen revisited those ghosts again:
And that — after so much loss, amid all those ghosts, in a city that is, as Bruce put it, "no stranger to hard times" — is how you wind up with one of the most joyous Springsteen shows in recent memory.
The set proper jumped out of the gate with the tour debut of "No Surrender," a strong delivery that saw Max Weinberg firing firmly and Nils Lofgren reasserting his place in the E Street sonic landscape. The bang-bang start continued through "We Take Care of Our Own," "Wrecking Ball," and "Badlands," leading into the expected and welcome return of Tom Morello — at this point seemingly moving up the E Street hierarchy past "friend of the firm" and towards "auxiliary member" — to dial up the frenetic stomp of "Death to My Hometown."
A loose, horn-led "Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street?" made a welcome return to the set for the first time since April 1 in Washington DC and provided a great showcase for the band, with the solo spotlight shining generously on Roy Bittan, Soozie Tyrell, Charlie Giordano, Curt Ramm, and Clark Gayton, before Max and percussionist Everett Bradley reprised their drum-off from "E Street Shuffle" the night before.
Morello reappeared to add his poignant solo to the end of "Jack of All Trades," and it was lovely to see Lofgren get a chance to show that the old dogs can still shred too, in a blistering "Youngstown" (audibled in place of "Trapped"). No one seemed happier than Springsteen himself to see Nils spinning like a figure skater as he wailed the song to conclusion. The ferocity didn't lessen for heartfelt versions of "Prove It All Night" and "Darkness on the Edge of Town," in the set for the sixth and fourth times this tour, respectively. "Darkness" offered one of those touching tiny moments, when Bruce reached for the high note as he sang "I lost my faith, when I lost my wife."
Patti and Bruce paired up again at the front of the stage for "Easy Money," and he punctuated the ending with four Townshend-esque guitar windmills. That led to the first of two genuinely unexpected and funny moments in LA night two. As Bruce strapped on the acoustic guitar for "Waitin' on a Sunny Day," he started to complain that something was wrong with the instrument, calling repeatedly for tech Kevin Buell to come out and address the problem.
Turned out it was all a ploy to celebrate Buell's one thousandth show, or as Bruce said, "1000 fucking shows." The crowd cheered its approval and Buell appeared surprised and touched by the recognition. "Sunny" was also notable for its guest singer, a positively darling little girl in glasses near the front of the stage who had already caught the eye of Bruce and Steve early in the song. Their laughter may have been at the idea of how young could they go, which turned out to be a mere four years old. The wee charmer more than acquitted herself, and Bruce declared her the "youngest member of the E Street Band ever."
With "Promised Land" home watching the kids this night, Bruce augmented his intro to the "Apollo Medley" with a story about seeing "The Way You Do the Things You Do" songwriter Smokey Robinson at a night club in the San Fernando Valley and marveling that he only had to sing "two notes [and] all the women screamed."
The audience hailed the arrival of "Racing in the Street," for just the third time this tour, on which Bittan played beautifully as ever. But am I the only one who thinks the piano often sounds ever-so-slightly distorted in the mix these days and yearns for the richer, warmer tone of old? Regardless, the poignant performance was a standout and appealingly, Bradley's congas added a bit of a "New York City Serenade" vibe. Bruce holding his guitar aloft for much of the song's beautiful coda was one of the most indelible images of the night.
The guitar effects pedals came back out and Springsteen and Morello shared vocals one more time on "The Ghost of Tom Joad." Yes, he fucking wailed again, and one is almost forced to resort to profanity to describe the guitarist's solo, which this night included even more intricate hammer-ons and finger taps, while the most compelling noise of all might be the turntable-scratching sound he achieves switching his pickups on and off. Morello stayed on stage and also played on "Land of Hope and Dreams" to close the main set. Celebs in the stands for night two included Jimmy Iovine, Randy Jackson, Sean Penn, Tim Robbins (also present night one), Pierce Brosnan (007), Bradley Whitford (West Wing), Renee Zellweger, and Kris Allen (winner American Idol season 8).
After "Rocky Ground," the encore felt like it was going to get a "Rosalita" or "Kitty's Back," but instead it was the tour premiere of "Bobby Jean." Even the haters must acknowledge that he truly sang it and played it with passion; perhaps the song's rest did it some good. The big moment of course came at the end, with Jake Clemons stepping to center stage to hold "that note." Bruce knew it, too, and he was there with that "you got it, Kid" look on his face, cheering Jake on like the rest of us. And damn if he didn't nearly get there, which was true even of the Big Man himself most nights.
"Born to Run," which was played at a positively pokey pace Thursday night, was back up to speed on Friday, and unexpected moment number two came in "Dancing in the Dark." As Bruce was scanning the crowd for his dancer, both he and Steve started cracking up. Once the woman came on stage, her sign explained it all: "May I dance with Garry?" Tallent never saw it coming, and our old pal Emily (a veteran of amusing stage appearances) made sure she got her money's worth, shaking her moneymaker in front and behind the embarrassed but amused bassist. Bruce looked on with incredulity, and eventually walked stage right to his sister Pam (who had danced with him on night one) and pulled up his niece Ruby.
"Tenth Avenue," with Morello again in tow, closed a set that tipped just over three hours. "Is this the best LA show since the reunion tour?" asked a seasoned pit dweller. Night one deserves consideration, too, but what is undeniable is that two more strong shows were added to Springsteen's Sports Arena legacy.
Thursday night marked stop No. 2 in the mere troika of West Coast shows on this leg and featured a couple of strong tour debuts, one poignant, one playful. Again walking out to strains of "The Magnificent Seven," the super-sized E Street Band (including an atypical Pacific Time Zone appearance by Patti Scialfa) kicked off with "Badlands," and the LA crowd — which has a well-earned reputation as late-arriving and sometimes slow to warm up — actually came to play, with fist-pumps ringing the arena from the get go.
The first big surprise of the night followed "Trades," as Bruce walked around to the band and called for "Something in the Night." The tour debut was a tour de force, with Bruce deeply absorbed in his performance and Max Weinberg forcefully striking the song's many drum fills. Nary a second passed before the Mighty One went straight into a storming "Candy's Room" (audibled in for the setlisted "Jackson Cage") and a splendid three-pack was completed as Springsteen called for "She's the One." Jake Clemons, who was warmly embraced by the crowd with every saxophone solo, seemed to take his part here to an even higher level and gave a deserved look of triumph when he finished.
Patti's appearance in the line-up brought with it the reappearance of "Easy Money," acted out by Mr. and Mrs. on the front, center stage. Then came "Waitin'," "Promised" and the "Apollo Medley" before the proper tour debut (if you don't count the SXSW show) of "The Ghost of Tom Joad." Morello shared vocals with Bruce on it, taking the second verse and sharing the last, and as great as his playing is on the Wrecking Ball material, he just fucking wails on "Joad." Watching the energy flow through his body movements is almost as mesmerizing as his actual playing. He was loving every minute of it. Bruce soloed hard here, too, and "Joad" was easily one of the highlights of the night.
From there, the main set wound down, wrapping with "Land of Hope and Dreams," as "Thunder Road" took a night off. Among the celebrities and quasi-celebrities in attendance: Rita Wilson (though husband Tom Hanks wasn't there), Tim Robbins, Sean Hayes (currently on screen in The Three Stooges), David Boreanaz (Bones), Gregory Itzin (President Logan on 24), Chad Lowe (brother of Rob, ex-Mr. Hilary Swank), comedian Bob Saget, and some senior Columbia Records brass.
Anchored by the elegiac "Rocky Ground," the encore brought with it one big surprise (though it was soundchecked), the first ever full E Street Band performance of The Rivieras' 1964 hit "California Sun." It had been previously performed inside the "Detroit Medley" at the same venue back on October 26, 1984, but this was the whole damn song, complete with a snippet of the Ventures' "Wipe Out" near the end. With its made-for-the-moment chorus of "Yeah, we're out here having fun / in the warm California sun," it was the most delightful local cover since "Expressway to Your Heart" at Nassau Coliseum, May 4, 2009. This one was so obscure, even the 'PrompTer couldn't help, so printed lyric sheets were placed across the stage floor.
Springsteen pulled out his "little sister" Pamela Springsteen to dance with him in "Dancing in the Dark": "She has the moves." Both were smiling ear to ear. Morello returned to close the night on "Tenth Avenue Freeze-out" and while the clock suggested it was a bit of a short show, LA 1 was but one song fewer than San Jose. What it didn't have was any epics slotted in, despite a very well-designed sign (it was even laminated) in the style of a New Jersey newspaper headline requesting "Incident on 57th Street." There's always tomorrow night...
I loved Jake Clemons's fist-pump at the end of his "Badlands" solo, his first turn in the spotlight. What it said to me was, "Yes, I nailed it — I know it was important to you that I got it right, and it was important to me too." I've been blown away by the way Bruce has incorporated memorializing Clarence into the show. He has made it real, allowing us all to grieve the loss of The Big Man during and as part of a loud, wild and crazy rock 'n' roll show. Pretty amazing. I also love that he has taken this opportunity of change in the E Street Band to evolve his music, weaving together the Seeger Sessions brass band sound, the Apollo-inspired gospel sound, and the classic E Street sound into something new and fresh.
Springsteen has now taken the great line during "My City of Ruins" — "If you're here, and we're here, then they're here" — and set it to a simple melody. I feel a new song coming on...
"Thundercrack" made the set as an audible in place of "E Street Shuffle," and it smoked, arranged now to really involve the whole band. After "Jack of All Trades," two more audibles of "Murder Incorporated" and "Johnny 99" instead of the setlisted "Trapped" and "Youngstown." On "Sunny Day," he pulled a kid out of the 100 level seats, apparently because of a sign that read, "I've been practicing, practicing, practicing." And the kid did great! After the "Sunny Day"/"Promised Land" combo, a bit of a surprise as the "Apollo Medley" moved back two spots to make room for "Backstreets" and "41 Shots."
In the encores, Bruce asked the crowd if they (and their "sexual organs") had been "stimulated." Judging that they had not yet been stimulated to his liking, he launched into "Rosalita" as the fifth song of the encore, slotting it in between "Dancing in the Dark" and "Tenth." That'll do it. No tour premiers for the first time on this tour, but a 26-song setlist and the second-longest performance so far at 3 hours and 9 minutes. A great, high-energy show from both Bruce and the audience, all the way through.
This was a strong performance in Cleveland, marked by the sound, the sound, the sound. This show has suddenly become the best-sounding Springsteen arena show in... years? Decades? To be able to pick out the distinct elements in the wall of sound is a real treat.
The band again came onstage to the strains of "The Magnificent Seven," and the full house lights on during "Badlands" revealed an arena packed to the rafters. With the tour now firing on all cylinders, there can be more focus on getting the new material across: Bruce's careful and deliberate enunciations about promises and flags during "We Take Care of Our Own," "Death to My Hometown" more angry and intense than ever, and "Jack of All Trades" more musically rich (again, the audio quality and mix stood out here).
Tour debuts and rarities were clear highlights. "Youngstown" brought out local pain and pride. Nils' solo at the end energized the crowd further — hello arena rock guitar! — and his ten or so dizzying rotations at the end should make an appearance in his hip replacement surgeon's promotional video.
"My Love Will Not Let You Down" was a powerhouse that brought back reunion tour memories — and then pushed them aside in favor of the present. A great Max showcase here at the end.
And then... "Light of Day." Bruce introduced the song as having its roots in Cleveland, and spoke afterwards about Paul Schrader's movie script titled Born in the U.S.A. He reminisced back to 1982 when he had a Vietnam song with no chorus, and the script on a nearby table: "Of all the things I've stolen, my greatest theft!" So in turn, of course, he wrote the title track for the newly crowned "Light of Day" movie starring Joan Jett and set in Cleveland. "She did a great version... and so did my friend Joe Grushecky, who's in the house tonight." Sure enough, Joe was up close, stage left. Until Pittsburgh gets a show, Joe has to make the road trip along with the rest of us.
"Light of Day" — here's the bar band side of E Street that has been rare of late, and when you mix in a "Land of 1,000 Dances" tease and a full-on "You Can't Sit Down," well, tremendous. Now, let's keep it in the setlist, dig up the Horns of Love arrangement from 1988, and turn the brass up!
Other highlights: the band locking in the groove on the "Racing in the Street" coda (plenty of room to highlight Roy), Cindy down front at the end of "Shackled & Drawn," adding a powerful vocal and some booty-shaking-with-Bruce sex appeal. Even the young guest singer on "Waitin' on a Sunny Day" commanded the E Street Band with gusto. Members of the E Street Horns and the E Street Choir are now introduced individually, as it should be — and now that we can hear each one in the mix, all the better.
Cleveland Rocks! Now if we can get more bars on 4th Street to stay open after the show...
It was a Born in the U.S.A. kind of night, with all three tour debuts coming from the 1984-85 era, starting with "Darlington County." "Jack of All Trades" once again began a thematic trio, this time followed by Born in the U.S.A. outtake "Murder Incorporated" and the premiere of "Downbound Train." It was a powerful trifecta — remarkable not only for the number of '84 songs packed so early in the set, but also for underlining just how much of Springsteen's catalog fits so well with this tour and its focus on working people going through hard times. That famously being his wheelhouse, there's virtually an endless supply of songs Bruce could choose from — it's good to see him continue to tap in and mix it up.
"Murder Inc." was just the kind of guitar fest you want it to be, Nils taking the first solo, Bruce taking the next one and passing it off to Stevie, resulting in a mean guitar duel between the two. "Downbound Train" was particularly strong, Bruce feeling it and delivering it, getting inside it rather than just skimming along the surface (can we put that teleprompter "controversy" to rest now, please?). As with "Darlington," the horns added another level here, too.
The biggest BUSA treat of the night came after the "Apollo Medley," as Springsteen pulled a sign from the pit and called an audible. "We haven't played this in a long time," he said while strumming the chords, and he decided to go it alone for "I'm Goin' Down" B-side "Janey Don't You Lose Heart." He added a dedication: "This is for Molly, in memory of her mom, Jane." A poignant moment came at the end of the solo acoustic surprise, as Bruce called for a sing-along: "Everybody one time with Molly." He channeled that emotion into the "Backstreets" that followed; like "Downbound Train," there was nothing rote about it, Bruce living out the song in his delivery.
Patti remains absent. On the setlist but not played: "Two Hearts," The River," "American Skin (41 Shots)," and, as a possible post-"Tenth Avenue" bonus, "Sherry Darling." Tonight was probably a snot-rocket record for the tour so far, though if Bruce was feeling under the weather, you wouldn't have known it from his vocals or his energy level.
Let's get one thing straight: These shows aren't possible. I just don't know how else to put it. Yes, as Bruce puts it in the main set's penultimate song, our bodies may betray us in the end. And, I get it: he can't promise us life everlasting. But he is delivering life, right now. He's on that hill with everything he's got.
And the really good news is, he's got a lot. The E Street Band is tighter than ever. Max Weinberg played last night like a man possessed. The "extra" players — horns, percussion and vocals — complemented the basic E Street sound seamlessly. The energy from the stage seemed boundless. And, last night, it was a two-way street.
Bruce came out as his own version of "Buffalo Gals," a bonus selection from We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions, played over the loudspeakers. Bruce complemented the song by giving a cheerful live singalong to it (the ghosts of Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed could have taken lessons: get a backing track). Bruce self-introduced, as he has in most shows on this tour, just backlit so his outline was visible but not his features. After the opening salvo of "We Take Care of Our Own" and "Wrecking Ball," "The Ties That Bind" gave the audience the chance to meet Jake Clemons. He nailed the solo, and the audience let him know it, too.
The first major detour from recent setlists came after "My City of Ruins," with "Rendezvous." Bruce used the lyrics and arrangement that he has used in concert since the '70s, not the slightly alternate version found on The Promise. We were in the portion of the set Bruce called "Rarities!” — from there he pointed out a small sign for a young woman in the audience who was having a birthday and was about to get married.... The result was the very rarely played Johnny Rivers hit "Mountain of Love," known to Springsteen fans on bootleg from the February 5, 1975 WMMR radio show but heard in person by only a few. The band pulled it off in fine style, and during the solo break Jake Clemons and Eddie Manion started a Louis Prima-style conga line out to stage left, followed by the rest of the horns filtering out stage right. It was as fun to see as to hear.
Other highlights included the tour premiere of "Point Blank," Bruce totally slaughtering the guitar solo on "Prove It All Night," and a return to the setlist for "Shackled & Drawn." Also, a really beautiful ten-year-old girl who may be very closely related to this writer got a harmonica at the end of "The Promised Land."
Yesterday was also Max’s birthday. Max has said, many times, how much he loves "Ramrod." Though the song was on the setlist all along, it helped that there was a "Ramrod" sign up front. This gave Bruce and Steve some mugging opportunities, and another chance to work "Buffalo" in to a song lyric. (Hey, Bruce: My birthday was yesterday, too — the big 5-0! My request is "Outside Looking In," my favorite song off The Promise. Can ya manage to work that one in sometime?)
I’ll note, at this point, just how much the sound and especially the lighting have improved. Last night was joyful not just for Bruce and the band's performance, but for the entire experience. Then there was the crowd: This audience needed no explanation when it came to songs like "Jack of All Trades." But they were there, and they were counted. It was a very noticeably younger audience than in some past tours; the pit area in particular was filled with 20-somethings completely having the times of their lives when Bruce brought out "Born to Run" and "Dancing in the Dark" at the end of the show. Life, delivered.
The "Incident" factor sure won't hurt this show's standing. Yep, "Incident on 57th Street" had its tour debut, Bruce finding another sign in the crowd in order to play it "by special request." And while we cop to being anything but objective when it comes to this song, we gotta say, it was sublime (even if Bruce didn't take his customary guitar solo at the end). They'd been rehearsing this one for a while, reportedly unhappy with it as recently as NYC (where it was setlisted but went unplayed); the extra time with it paid off. Garry Tallent particularly stood out, his fantastic bass work prominent in the mix and anchoring the song. With Patti Scialfa absent for the first time on the Wrecking Ball tour — "Patti's home making sure the kids stick to their own drug stash!" — Garry stepped up to fill her spot.
But while "Incident" is always going to provide a spike of excitement, this was a night where the whole set flowed; they were just on. Whatever that indefiniable thing is that takes a show over the top — which Bruce and the band worked hard for at the Garden and never quite got — they had it tonight from the beginning. For the grand entrance, "Theme From New York, New York" was out, and Martha and the Vandellas' "Dancing in the Street" was in. Bruce brought back his "Star Time" intro, adding the line, "The only man in rock 'n' roll who insists on introducing himself!" The return of "E Street Shuffle" might have been the best version so far, with Bruce adding a spontaneous extra guitar solo before the Max/Everett drum-off, and the horns coming down front.
A dark and intense stretch came next, as "Candy's Room" was followed by a trio that progressed thematically from "Jack of All Trades" to "Trapped" to "Youngstown." That tour debut, with a fiery solo from Nils, came by request for a sign reading "Greetings from Youngstown, Ohio" (lest anybody think Bruce forgot where he was again). It may not have been as sharp as when they've played it nightly, but it was plenty powerful.
As for the rest of the set, as Vincent Vega says, "It's the little differences." Steven's acoustic guitar supplementing Bruce's to start "Waitin' on a Sunny Day." A special shout-out to Motown before the "Apollo Medley" — "Detroit is a city with a factory dedicated to building things that were emotional." Bruce and Nils both taking the guitar lead on "Because the Night," trading it back forth in a monster call-and-response. A richer "Rocky Ground," from a fuller sound at the beginning to Bruce chiming in on the "hard times, hard times" rap.
For "Tenth Avenue Freeze-out," which took this performance past the three-hour mark, Steve grabbed a sign that read "Springsteen for President," holding it up to much applause. Hey, we'd donate to that Super PAC... but really, we just want him to keep doing what he's doing.
[Also read a review from Backstreets correspondent-at-large Gary Graff: "Bruce Springsteen's 'Wrecking Ball' Hits Detroit Hard at the Palace"]
In between, though, a song the E Street Band has played approximately a gazillion times had them momentarily back on the ropes, with flubs peppering "Out in the Street." The show went like that for a while, with some ups and downs before coming on strong in the second half for the K.O. — which specifically, and gloriously, was "Backstreets."
Hard to say which Garden show was better, but if you're a fan of the sprawling '70s epics, this was the one for you. Still no "Incident on 57th Street," even though that seemed like a decent bet after being setlisted on Friday, but here in one night we got "Backstreets," "Spirit in the Night," and both early showstoppers, "Thundercrack" and "Rosalita." "Spirit" came with a little storytime: "Let's play something we haven't played on the tour yet... There was a little lake outside my town... it was more of a pond than a lake... and a strange cast of characters..." Jake came down for the solo while the whole horn section grooved; Bruce worked the lip of the stage hard throughout, hamming it up, leaning back into the crowd, collapsing to the floor on "his socks and his shirt" as the crowd sang along full-bore. "All night!" It was a stone blast.
As "Spirit" ended, Bruce made a show of staring at a sign reading "Thundercrack for a birthday gal," hands on his hips while the band vamped, before grabbing the sign and taking the challenge, and the band tore right in. It was, shall we say, loose, but there were thrilling moments — especially that extended instrumental passage. Soozie was center stage, facing off with Bruce and Nils, her bowstrings in tatters, the horns blaring away, Curtis and Cindy playing to the back — "Thundercrack" in the round.
The pairing of "Jack of All Trades" into "Trapped" is brilliant, and you'd have thought the latter was a Top Ten hit or something the way the crowd responded. "She's the One" took it even higher, a more atmospheric beginning tantalizing the crowd before the whole thing slammed in. Quite the tableau — you've got Jake wailing away on sax, Bruce leaping off the drum riser, Nils and Steve dueling on guitar and singing "Ohhh she's the one" at the same mic, and no fewer than five pairs of maracas up there rattling away.
"Because the Night" with Nils' soloing worked its usual magic, but what truly sealed the deal in the second half was that "Backstreets." It followed "We Are Alive," taking the place of "Thunder Road," and was the finest performance of our namesake song in recent memory. The Garden went nuts, and for good reason. Instrumentally, vocally, emotionally, it connected on every level. Springsteen added "Land of Hope and Dreams" for good measure before taking the bows that signify the end of the main set.
So the encore was essentally the gloves-in-the-air "winner and still champion" moment, highlighted by "Rosalita": "There's only one way we can send these folks home! Come on, Steve! Spotlight on Steve!... And on me!... A little more on me!" Bruce also took the time to praise the work of WhyHunger and the Yorkville Common Pantry. Of course his longtime assistance for food banks continues on this tour, but he hasn't always mentioned them from the stage; it was good to hear him make the connection between the songs he's singing and their work: "Since things have gotten so bad for so many people, grassroots organizations like these make the difference — food banks and food pantries have been essential organizations since the recession."
Some of our favorite celebrity-types were in the crowd, including Peter Buck, Questlove, Drew Nieporent, Tom Colicchio, Josh Charles, Jesse Malin, Clive Davis, Annabella Sciorra, Jon Stewart... all in the same place at the same time with Bruce and the E Street Band? You know, the President and the Vice President don't travel on the same plane — come on, guys, I thought we talked about this.
Moving "Out in the Street" out of the encore and into the fourth slot was a good call, Bruce engaging 360 with the sold-out crowd early on, for a song that's perfect for a Friday night in the city — and even better with the horns. After "My City of Ruins," peppered with some good-natured New York/New Jersey ribbing and Springsteen's amazing soul singing at the end, "Murder Incorporated" brought us back to the reunion tour but with a Wrecking Ball tour twist: droning horns, flown in straight from "Peter Gunn." Originally setlisted in the opening slot, it was a pounding, driving performance, with Jake and Nils each stepping out before Bruce and Steve took it to a classic guitar duel. As a buddy said in the moment, "Finally, something for Steven to do!"
The hornfest continued as Bruce wisely kept "Johnny 99" in the set, highlighted by Roy's roadhouse piano — "Come on, Professor!" — and all the horns coming down front to let loose. My only "complaint": turn those horns up! "Shackled & Drawn" finally returned to the set, reminding us why it should never have left, but the real momentous return tonight was "Lion's Den," played for the first time since the State College, PA show way back in 2000. The Tracks rarity is a perfect choice for the Wrecking Ball tour, being a biblical riff as well as a choice vehicle for, yes, the horns.
"American Skin (41 Shots)" has quite a history in New York City, generating protests in 2000 and losing Bruce his police escort after a Shea Stadium show in 2003. But as the man has said, if your song is misunderstood, keep singing it. And in 2012, with a different shooting tragedy in mind, even here in NYC there was nothing but cheers for this one. It was cheer-worthy in performance as well as in concept, Bruce kicking the solo over to Nils, who channeled the sounds of rage and despair through his guitar. A friend says he's preferred Bruce's soloing on this one at recent shows, but this epic noise seemed to me hard to top. "We Are Alive" was played as a real campfire tale, Bruce giving a few of his "Now listen"s at the beginning and stretching out his delivery to draw us all in.
Bringing out Michelle Moore for "Rocky Ground," Springsteen took a moment for a special dedication. "Got my whole family here tonight — my mother's here, my sisters, all my nieces... Give 'em a wave, Ma! Shake that booty!... I'm gonna do this song for her — she knows what this song is all about. I was too young to even know what I was watching... She taught me all about hard work, consistency, and love." Later in the encore, Adele would get a chance to shake that booty in a spirited "Dancing in the Dark," Bruce bringing her up to the stage for a dance and even lifting her back into the crowd as he'd do with a kid.
The real blast here at show's end, however, was "Kitty's Back." "Incident on 57th Street" turned up on a couple of the night's setlist iterations, and though some fans were surely bummed not to get that one, its album-mate "Kitty" was an absolute knock-out. Springsteen has talked about "Thundercrack" and "Rosalita" as the showstoppers of old, but there's a parallel universe where this was the one. As usual, the solos are a mouth-open, head-shaking highlight — turns tonight from Charlie, Bruce, and a particularly astounding one from Roy, while Garry's walking bass holds it all down. But now the real draw, as Bruce the bandleader takes the song through change after change, is that horn section, blaring away. It's no coincidence that Springsteen rediscovered this song when working with horns again at the Asbury Park holiday shows a decade back. Now turn 'em up!
Happy Passover, happy Easter — let's do it again on Monday.
Right up top, we've gotta mention "Racing in the Street." In its classic incarnation, rather than the alternate from The Promise box, "Racing" was the majestic highlight of the night. Subtle horn fills added color, and the outro soared with Roy's eloquent piano, Garry's basslines cranked up, and Max building it all to crescendo after crescendo. E Street orchestration at its finest.
Bruce's vocal on "Candy's Room" gave it a different tone and feel, a guttural confession in the beginning before the whole thing goes into overdrive. Another kick-ass new addition to the set, up there with "Racing," was "Johnny 99," spotlighting the horns: full horn charts, the guys coming down to the front of the stage and really used to great effect (and loud enough to blessedly drown out much of the "woo-woo" locomotive sounds). "We've been waiting to do that," Bruce said when the song was done, "We've been waiting to bust that out!" If Springsteen has more where that came from, watch out: "Johnny 99" was a stunner.
"The Ties That Bind" busted into the "Badlands" slot as the first of three River songs in the set. To give you an idea of how impromptu some of this stuff is, they just ran through this one in a band meeting backstage before the show, Steven working with Jake on the solo. "Jackson Cage" and "Ramrod" were #2 and #3 from 1980, as Max got his wish with the debut of the latter in the encore. "Now we're really gonna test Jakey!" said Bruce. And lest you think "Ramrod" is a walk in the park, it did test him, bringing a squawk or two — probably the first bum notes we've heard out of Jake since this whole thing started. Call it the exception that proves the rule: he's been a virtually flawless player, better than anyone had a right to expect, and the crowd seems to love him more and more each night.
"Rocky Ground" seems to really have found its feet in New Jersey — magnificent performances of this song on both nights with Michelle Moore, and tonight Bruce included a loving dedication to local family — but it was bumped to the second encore slot for the first time, as the final stretch kicked off instead with fan-favorite "Trapped," by request. And even in the last song of the night, the surprises weren't over. As "the big man joined the band," and the Meadowlands roared in response, a new video montage appeared on the screen. Springsteen headed back out to his GA-section platform to take it in, and Jon Landau came out into the pit to watch, too. Showing Clarence through the years, it's a moving tribute we look forward to seeing again.
Tonight showed what Bruce and the band — and a Wrecking Ball tour set — can do. Even with all the rarities, there were still seven songs from the new record, and they all packed a punch: "Easy Money," for one, stood out as a real showcase of E Street mettle. Is there any reason this shouldn't be the "A" set? Don't save such shows for just the Night Twos, Boss — the way you do the things you do on a night like this is something we should all be lucky enough to see.
This show was going to be a poignant one: it was the first time that the E Street Band played in New Jersey after losing Clarence. Jersey clearly showed its love for their dear departed brother, roaring on and on as Bruce stopped "Tenth Avenue Freeze-out" after "the big man joined the band." During the band intro, Bruce called out, "Are we missing somebody? Do I have to say his name?" Then, looking down he said softly into the mic, "No, I don't." It was a touching expression of our loss.
There is a sense on E Street of moving on while not forgetting the past. It was wonderful to see the crowd's overwhelming embrace of Clarence's nephew Jake Clemons as he takes the reins from his uncle. The new album featured heavily in the set as usual — eight songs — though "Shackled & Drawn" remains M.I.A. after a strong showing on the first few nights of the tour. Other highlights included Nils’ absolute blistering guitar work on "Because the Night"; the tour debut of "So Young and in Love" from Tracks, featuring Eddie Manion and the rest of the horns; and a truly magical "Thunder Road" with the entire arena singing the verses as loud as the PA.
Bruce chugged a beer before crowd-surfing in "634-5789," and as he's been known to do, he brought a young girl on stage to sing the chorus to "Waitin' on a Sunny Day." This time not to be outdone, they both slid across the stage on their knees, which the crowd ate up. "It ain't as easy as it looks!" Bruce exclaimed.
By the end of the show, with the house lights up and blaring, the roof of the Izod Center had been clearly blown off. Let's see if they can put it back together before Wednesday night's show.
Anyone who has seen a show thus far knows the answers to these questions, and last night's performance in our nation's capital further cemented that Springsteen handles delicate situations delicately and with grace. There is nothing exploitive or maudlin. As is Springsteen's style, everything is wonderfully understated — the tone of those on stage and in the seats is respectful and joyful.
What else did I learn at the Verizon Center in Washington DC last night?
— For one, the crowd loves Jake Clemons. People just root for the guy. It's very different than when his uncle was on stage, but like Clarence, Jake in his own way radiates a positivity and musical abandon that the crowd feeds off of.
— As great as the crowd was at the Verizon Center, it seemed that only a handful of people in the entire place got their rocks off on the full-band premiere of "The Promise." But man, was it beautiful... and intense. When Little Steven indicated that we might be hearing songs from The Promise played alongside Wrecking Ball, I prayed we might get to hear the title song. When many of the shows thus far left The Promise out in the cold, I thought it was a repeat of Tracks not getting enough play in 1999. I could hear Bruce sing "The Promise" every single night of this tour, and that alone would be worth the price of the ticket.
— E Street Band shows are so much better when Patti Scialfa is on stage with them. Obviously she wasn't on stretches of the last two tours for familial reasons, but hopefully she can stay on board this time. She brings out a playfulness in Springsteen that no one else can seem to. Watching him look over at his wife and the corners of his mouth turn up into a grin... it appears to be something Ms. Scialfa alone is capable of.
— Nils Lofgren is a shit-hot guitar god that for how many years has been tragically underutilized. Not this time. Nils is being given more room to stretch, and as there were moments in several songs where the E Streeters took on a pseudo jam, this has opened up possibilities for Lofgren. As songs stretch, so will Lofgren's licks.
— Where are the E Street Band versions of songs from Devils & Dust? On the Born in the U.S.A. tour we got fleshed out songs from Nebraska; on the reunion tour we got E Street versions of The Ghost of Tom Joad material. It's early on the Wrecking Ball tour, but even on the two previous tours there were no songs from Devils & Dust. I'm still dying to hear "Maria's Bed," "Leah," or "All the Way Home" by way of E Street.
— Whatever Thrill Hill Productions have done with the sound for this tour, someone should get a bonus. The sound at Sunday night's show was wonderfully clear and powerful. For the last ten years I haven't heard an E Street Band show sound as good as what I heard in the cavernous Verizon Center last night.
— The one-two punch of "Trapped" into a feedback-soaked "Adam Raised a Cain" was a sonic blast. During "Adam" it was Bruce taking the solos, and he was wringing the neck of his guitar to get it to squeal.
— Apparently it still pays to bring signs for your favorite songs. Two fans to the right of the stage held up their sign before the encore; after "Rocky Ground" Springsteen got a big grin and said, "Do you guys have your sign? Bring it up here!" Bruce barely showed the band the sign before setting it in front of his microphone: "We haven't practiced this one. We've played it a thousand times! Ahhhh, the E Street Band knows their shit!"
With that tour premiere of "Out in the Street" stretching the encore out to six songs and the show out to 26, as well as the reprising of multiple highlights from other recent concerts ("Night," "Seaside Bar Song," "Does This Bus Stop," "Trapped," "American Skin"), this lengthy show was thankfully anything but a lull between Philadelphia and New Jersey. In its own way it will probably go down as one of the all-time great Springsteen performances in Washington DC.
"We're gonna take you back to the Main Point," Springsteen announced, locating a girl holding a request sign he professed to having seen the night before: "Please play 'Thundercrack' for my Dad in Iraq." The audience participation favorite is "still a good one," as Bruce commented at the song's conclusion. "That was our showstopper."
Jimmy Cliff's "Trapped" had the crowd back on its feet after the somber "Jack of All Trades," and "Darkness on the Edge of Town," a song that has only seemed to gain power and relevance over the years, made its tour debut following “Prove it All Night." "Streets of Philadelphia" followed the "Apollo Medley," and "Thunder Road" closed out the set with a full City of Brotherly Love audience sing-along.
The family affair continued, as Bruce introduced his mother ("She’s almost 90!" he exclaimed), sister and a dozen or so other relatives — "the whole clan" — who were sitting at stage right. "My mom knows a little about this," he said, introducing "Rocky Ground."
Usually "Land of Hope and Dreams" would follow, but instead Bruce intoned, "All right, Philly, here we go," as the opening guitar riff of "Kitty’s Back" let everyone know that it was time to dance. Not a note was wasted during the instrumental jam of the middle section; there were organ and horn solos and an extended jazz-inflected piano improv by Roy Bittan followed by some guitar pyrotechnics courtesy of Mr. S. "Who's that down the end of the alley?" Bruce inquired after the brief guitar solo; peering across the arena at the seats directly opposite, he needled the crowd a bit — "C'mon Philly, talk to me!" The audience, which until this point in the evening had gotten just about every single musical cue, finally responded "Here she comes!" and with that, the breathless conclusion of the song ensued.
As "Dancing in the Dark" reached its midpoint, Bruce headed over to the "family section" and pulled his mother out to dance on the small platform at stage right. That little impromptu wasn't satisfactory to him, however, because he grabbed her hand and escorted her to center stage where, in gentlemanly fashion, he placed his arm around her waist and continued dancing with her, concluding with a hug and kiss from daughter-in-law Patti.
The night drew to a close with "Tenth Avenue Freeze-out," the already ritual celebration of the life and legacy of Clarence Clemons in full effect. And as the strains of James Brown's "Paid the Cost to Be the Boss" rang out over the P.A., a tired but happy city bid farewell to its (almost) hometown hero — at least for a few months.
"Good evening, Philadelphia — the City of Brothely Love!" Bruce greeted an ecstatic crowd, "Brotherly love is hard to come by these days. We've had such a long history here, and it feels good to be back with you." Following "My City of Ruins," Bruce kept up the tradition of giving Philly fans a treat from the days of yore, pulling out the tour debut of "Seaside Bar Song" and casting his mind back: "We played this at the Main Point, I think," he recalled, going on to trace the song's origins to a bar in Manasquan called The Osprey, where he had his first drink. "I thought this was the greatest night of my life. I was seeing Bo Diddley on a small stage... I went home after the show and wrote this song."
After a couple of anticipatory false starts from Roy on the "Seaside" coda — "No, not yet, Roy!" "Hold on, Professor!" — they made it a double-shot of classics from '73, going into "Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street?" complete with drum-off between Max Weinberg and Everett Bradley. Max was in particularly fine form tonight: if the E Street Band was on fire, the Mighty One was a one-man Towering Inferno. Maybe it was because his mother was in the house.
The nonagenarian Mrs. Weinberg prompted the first of several Boss forays into the crowd. As Bruce headed off Steven's side of the stage during the "Apollo Medley," he first ventured into Max's mom's section, to give her a kiss. From there, it was back to the platform in the middle of the GA floor and a crowd-surf back to the stage.
In the encore, "Raise Your Hand" had Bruce venturing back out again, stepping off Soozie's side and heading up into the stands, across armrests and into the middle of the section and declaring there was something he wanted, something he needed: "I need a seat!" And then, "I need a nice seat! And I need a beer!" The people obliged, and while Bruce was mostly lost from view, he clearly got what he needed. Tossing the empty cup, he said to the band, "Be right with ya!" Soon back on stage, "That beer was good!"
Night One in Philly shined on a technical level as well. "The best sound I've ever heard at a Springsteen concert," said one regular show-goer, and the brilliant lighting continues to add an edge to the show, getting better each night. Tonight's new effect gave the look of lit candles throughout the crowd at the end of "Jack of All Trades." Doth we rave too much? Well, whatever, it was that kind of night.
Like "Raise Your Hand," other songs premiered within the past week further highlighted the set: a powerful "Atlantic City" made no mention of Gov. Christie's recent invitation, but "American Skin (41 Shots)" came with a very specific dedication: "This is for Trayvon." While Bruce and the band have played this one for three shows running, this is the first night he made their intentions explicit rather than just letting the music speak for itself. But the music spoke volumes regardless, the performance and its reception wiping clean any memories of that song being divisive in the past. As Bruce sang "Promise me you'll always be polite / And that you'll never ever run away / Promise Mama you'll keep your hands in sight," it seemed the entire Wells Fargo Arena was on the same page. In concert in Philadelphia. Imagine that.
Michelle Moore shared vocals with Bruce on "Rocky Ground", and after "Land of Hope and Dreams," the lights stayed up for the rest of the encores. Following "Born to Run" and "Dancing in the Dark," Peter Wolf was a guest vocalist on "Raise Your Hand," sliding all over the stage like, well, Peter Wolf.
March 23 / Tampa Bay Times Forum / Tampa, FL
"Does the Bus Stop at 82nd Street" served as a worthy alternate to “The E Street Shuffle” and adopted many of the features of its counterpart, including a prominent horn part and the percussion break with Max and Everett while also adding solos for Roy, Charlie and Steve.
Immediately thereafter was the first airing of material from The Promise on the tour ("Because the Night" notwithstanding) with audible "Talk to Me." Featuring the horn section (including a rare and very welcome Eddie Manion solo) and Bruce hamming it up with Patti on the "I'm down on my knees" line, this number would be welcome as a regular in the show. Even as the song ended, the transition into "Jack of All Trades" seemed to work well, with Bruce explaining that "it's always fun in here, but out there a lot of people are going through hard times."
Following the Apollo Medley and the "world's oldest living crowd-surfer," Bruce and the band began "American Skin (41 Shots)." The performance was offered without comment, but it was patently obvious that the killing of Travyon Martin was the impetus for the song's appearance, with this show the band's only visit to Florida during the first leg of the tour. In a show full of peaks, "American Skin" was the standout performance, starting as a slow burn before exploding with a Nils Lofgren guitar solo and ending with the band building behind Bruce repeating the "you can get killed just for living in your" lyric.
In the encore, Bruce not only rewarded the crowd with the first "Glory Days" of the tour, but also brought out Clarence's son Jared to join the band for "Tenth Avenue Freeze-out," who played tambourine and stood next to Jake as the crowd was again given the opportunity to celebrate and pay tribute to the Big Man.
The story of this show may forever be the seven tour premiers, but it would be remiss to not note how the band continues to improve on the new material, with performances of "We Take Care of Our Own" and "Easy Money" becoming stronger in each show, and the crowd also readily embracing the songs, including "Wrecking Ball" and "Death to My Hometown." At the end of the main set, Bruce thanked the crowd "for such an amazing welcome as we start our tour" — they "deeply, deeply appreciate it."
With daughter Jess in college down the road, Bruce sent out the "Apollo Medley" to her and her pals, "her entourage." More schoolkids from Granite Falls Middle School — rock on, Jukebox Graduates! [see Backstreets #90 for the story of the North Carolina school's Bruce Springsteen club, led by teacher Mike Telesca] — were having a blast in the crowd as Bruce and the E Street Band, Horns, and Singers blazed through a set quite similar to Atlanta, with nine songs from Wrecking Ball and two changes to the setlist. In a post-"Shackled and Drawn" wildcard slot, "Because the Night" took the place of "Lonesome Day." (Does that count as a highly anticipated song from The Promise?) "Atlantic City" was also setlisted as an alternative. Then in the encore, boosting our hopes that "American Land" was just a St. Patty's Day special, "Rosalita" came out instead to drive the place wild. It also brought some very welcome interplay between Bruce and Steve, which we realized we'd missed for much of the show.
While "Jack of All Trades" is still sending some folks headed for the aisles — and "shoot the bastards on sight" was creepily an applause line for the second night running — it's a masterful slow-burn performance highlighted further by Nils' solo at the end transitioning right into his heavy riffage for "Seeds." Careful of retina burns when "Seeds" kicks in, but if your eyes can stand it (and you're not getting another beer), it's a great one-two punch.
The morning of this show, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote from opening night: "At 62, Springsteen is still a taut package of rugged masculinity in tight black jeans and a neat vest and button-down shirt; and while he might not slide across the stage on his knees anymore, he’s still insanely active." As if in direct retort, there was Bruce during "Sunny Day," sloshing water on his jeans back at the drum riser and soon executing a perfect knee-slide across the stage. Always fine-tuning, people. Best not to say there's something he can't do anymore — or do say that, and then watch him do it.
Springsteen reprised his "Star Time" introduction from the Apollo, adjusting for recent events: "The Jersey Devil!... The future of rock 'n' roll himself!... Currently riding the Billboard charts at the number-one position for four solid days!" Soon he was recalling his Atlanta history: "Over the past decade I spent a lot of time here... we recorded The Rising here in Atlanta, Magic, Working on a Dream... So it's nice to start a tour here. See if this shit works! Or die tryin!"
Well, the shit works. The band has their legs under them for the Wrecking Ball material — and there was a lot of it in the set, with the live premiere of "Easy Money" and addition of "American Land" making for ten songs from the new album. Patti joined her husband at the center mic for "Easy Money," the Bonnie to his Clyde; "American Land" came with a shout-out for "St. Patty's Day!" When it comes to the back catalog, that's where Bruce still seems to be feeling his way, figuring out what else fits (tonight's sole audible was "Lonesome Day," taking the place of the setlisted "She's the One"). Right now the rest of the set relies heavily on the ultra-reliables, like "Badlands," "The Promised Land," "The Rising," and "Dancing in the Dark" to balance out the new arrivals.
But even songs that have practically worn grooves into the E Street stage over the past 13 years felt fresh. Nobody's half-assing "Thunder Road," which begins with spotlights on Roy on one side of the stage and Soozie on the other, benefits from a big vocal boost in the middle courtesy of the E Street Singers ("there were ghosts in the eyes..."), and ends with the horn players down front, all blaring away on that sweet closing riff. It'd be easy to return to "Land of Hope and Dreams" like a comfortable old sweater, but Bruce and the band have reworked the live arrangement in the Wrecking Ball spirit, highlighted again by the vocalists, and it's no longer a reuinion tour flashback. One of the more effective pairings of old and new was "Jack of All Trades" into "Seeds" — we got "Seeds" on the last tour, you say? Not with horns, we didn't.
After writing that Bruce wouldn't be able to repeat his Apollo forays into the crowd, I kinda stand corrected: he may not have climbed up to the Philips Arena skyboxes, but he did make a tightrope out of a siderail as he ventured out on "Waitin' on a Sunny Day" (yes, the indefatigable "Waitin' on a Sunny Day," complete with kid-from-crowd-singing... so not everything felt fresh. But judging by the arena's response, I'm way in the minority on that one). And in the "Apollo Medley" (which is how "The Way You Do the Things You Do"/"634-5789" is denoted on the setlist), Springsteen ran all the way around to the tiny platform at the back of the pit, once again crowd-surfing his way back to the stage.
Is there room for improvement? Do we look for the band to lock deeper into a groove, the setlist to morph and work in material from The Promise (as well as more than one song from the '80s and '90s)? Sure. But rather than opening night gaffes, the takeaways tonight are moments like these: in the "E Street Shuffle" coda, when the whole band went from a standstill to kicking back in on a dime; in "Rocky Ground," when Michelle Moore nailed her rap in front of a crowd ten times larger than before; the rapturous, arena-wide response Jake Clemons got for each of his solos, as he stepped out numerous times to fill his uncle's big shoes; and that instant in the encore when the houselights came up bright as day and we realized "Born to Run" isn't being put out to pasture after all. That alone ensured that — despite "two of the wildest, most public warm-up shows in history," as Steven told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution — tonight still felt like the start of something.
Saying goodnight after another stirring "Tenth Avenue," Springsteen thanked a crowd who had yelled their hearts out for Clarence and had been giving out the welcome back energy all night: "What an audience! You couldn't have been sweeter, and on a night when we really needed it. It means the world to us." From the invigorated look on Bruce's face, he and the band probably won't need it nearly as much tomorrow night. But knowing Greensboro, they'll still get it.
That was a funny way to refer to a show that immediately took on the rank of legendary in Springsteen's already storied lore of live performances.
Historic was the hyperbolic but most appropriate way to refer to the two-hour and 35-minute bash, which, coming a day after thew new Wrecking Ball topped the Billboard 200, capped an expectedly strong outing by Springsteen and the E Street Band with a dizzying array of guest star surprises. Of course, this being SXSW, there was no shortage of friends and previous collaborators to draw upon, and Springsteen clearly didn't hestitate to take advantage of their availability.
So Tom Morello was on hand to recreate his contributions to the Wrecking Ball tracks "Death to My Hometown" and "Jack of All Trades," and to pull out his bag of guitar tricks during a fierce "The Ghost of Tom Joad." Reggae legend Jimmy Cliff, clad head-to-toe in red — contrasting nicely with the E Street Band's traditional black — sang "The Harder They Come," "Time Will Tell," and "Many Rivers to Cross" (though surprisingly not "Trapped"), while The Animals' Eric Burdon — who Springsteen lauded in his SXSW keynote speech earlier in the day — came via what Springsteen called "the Twitterverse" to sing "We Gotta Get Out of This Place."
The tour de force, however, was the finale, a rendition of Woody Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land" with both of the evening's opening acts — Alejandro Escovedo and the Low Anthem — along with the members of Arcade Fire and Garland Jeffreys. All this while a feeling-no-pain Glen Hansard (the Swell Season, the Frames) and members of Mumford & Sons and Superchunk watched from the VIP mezzanine.
It was indeed, as Springsteen called it, "a crazy ride," but the second full-length concert of the Wrecking Ball campaign also established that the newly expanded E Street Band — which, at 17 strong, is more like an army than a group — is sharp and road-ready for the tour that starts in earnest on March 18 in Atlanta.
The bulk of the show was similar to the March 9 Apollo Theatre shindig, based around the sober and stock-taking songs from the new album. It also had a sense of occasion; with SXSW joining in the observance of Guthrie's 100th birthday (including a special concert held the same time as Springsteen's show) the troupe bgean Thursday's show with Guthrie's "I Ain't Got No Home." The opener started a capella and built into a full-band arrangement before the explosive trio of "We Take Care of Our Own," "Wrecking Ball," and "Badlands," with Jake Clemons getting a warm ovation after taking Uncle Big Man's solo spot. In all, Springsteen and the E Streeters performed seven songs from the new album — with Michelle Moore again on hand for "Rocky Ground" — along with complementary older material such as "The Promised Land," "The Rising," "Waiting on a Sunny Day," "My City of Ruins," and a hard-knuckled "Seeds." The five-piece horn section gave the arrangements more heft, muscle and soul — and, let’s face it, Jake Clemons has replaced his uncle, even if he's not standing in the same spot — as did new percussionist Everett Bradley.
Springsteen's mood countered the sober countenance of the repertoire, however. Clearly a little punchy after waking up at 8 a.m. for his "big fucking speech" — "That fucked everything up... Why? Why?!" — he led both band and crowd through a storming "E Street Shuffle" and a moving "Thunder Road," as well as a "Tenth Avenue Freeze-out" that continues to pay tribute to Clarence Clemons. He didn't climb to the balcony as he did at the Apollo, but Springsteen did lean into the crowd a few times and worked the front of the stage like a host making sure everyone was having the time of their lives.
And that they did. Springsteen may have told the SXSW crowd that "we need the encouragement," but the most encouraging thing about Thursday's show was how ready he and E Street appear to be ready take the Wrecking Ball to the rest of the world.
Thing is, it didn't feel like a tour warm-up. It wasn't touted as a rehearsal show, and it didn't feel like one — it felt like a special night curated for the Apollo Theater. Which, no matter what takes shape further on down the road, is exactly what it was: from the band coming out and rubbing Harlem's legendary Tree of Hope as they each took the stage, to Springsteen's delightedly over-the-top self-introduction ("A young man who was born in the U.S.A.... won an Academy Award... the hardest working white man in show business!") to the tributes to soul greats, the special appearance of vocalist Michelle Moore, and the blasting apart of the fourth wall that separates performer and audience in this 1,200-seater. By the time Springsteen began scaling the walls, climbing into opera boxes and out onto the edge of the lower mezzanine, we'd already lost track of how many times he'd ventured into the crowd. It was hardly something he'll be able to repeat at a Corporate Arena Near You.
That said, the new album got a workout, giving a taste of things to come, with all songs performed on Fallon returning plus the tour debuts of "Shackled and Drawn," "We Are Alive," and "Rocky Ground." "Shackled" was a Sessions Band-style tour de force, with all the vocalists down front on an a capella intro, even Garry stepping to the mic, and Cindy Mizelle bringing it home at the end: "I want everybody to stand up and be counted tonight!" "Rocky Ground" brought the album's featured vocalist Michelle Moore to the stage, with Bruce recalling fondly how long they've worked together, from Asbury Park holiday shows to The Rising and beyond.
"On our new record," Bruce said, "our motto is dancing and crying." And hand-in-hand with that theme of resilience in the face of adversity and loss, the spirit of Clarence Clemons was very much with us tonight — Bruce and the E Street Band's first full show without him. There was a collective breath held as the "Badlands" solo approached in slot three... and an exhale of relief as Jake Clemons stepped out of the five-horn line-up to do his Uncle (and Bruce and the band and the song and himself) proud. It wasn't much later that Bruce addressed the loss directly, honoring the Big Man, his fans, the band, and our communal bond in the process.
He touched on it first in a mission statement after "Death to My Hometown": "We're so glad to be here with you tonight at the legendary Apollo Theater. We're glad to be here again — we've missed you. Tonight we've got some old friends and some new friends with us... but our mission remains the same. We're here to bring the power, hour after hour... we're here to put a whoop-ass session on the recession... we're here to bring a smile to your face, an extra beat to your heart, and to raise your spirits high in these hard times."
But it was in the next song, a horn-heavy "My City of Ruins" with a newfound groove, that Springsteen met the elephant in the room head on. "Roll Call!" he shouted, introducing each member of the band, who each took a solo. And when they were done: "Are we missing anybody?" There was a tentative feeling in the crowd as a whole, and one of the most moving moments of the night was as we first wondered, is this really what he means? And the look on Bruce's face as he beckoned said it all. He was giving us permission. "Are we missing anybody?" he asked again, and this time the crowd knew to respond. Soon he was telling us, "The only thing I can guarantee tonight... if you're here and we're here, they're here."
In the encore, "Tenth Avenue Freeze-out" brought an even more moving salute to Clarence, Bruce first holding out the mic to the crowd for "kid you better get the picture," and soon bringing the song to a complete halt after "the Big Man joined the band," the crowd hollering in tribute, the moment stretching out before the entire horn section played that quick, signature solo in unison.
These were moments when we acknowledged loss, particularly of Danny and Clarence. Important moments that it felt like we needed, as an audience, and that reminded us of the courage it must take for Bruce and the band to soldier on without their longtime brothers in arms. But we didn't feel just loss all night. We celebrated, we raged, we gasped (jesus, don't let him fall off the balcony, or the tour is over before it starts!), we grooved, and we dug deep into "Soul Music! The Apollo! Home of the Gods and the True Temple of Soul!" In a lengthy and clearly heartfelt salute to the music that is inseparable from the venue and that also nurtured his own musical soul, Bruce described it as "an education." Geography: "Funky Broadway." Math: "99 and a Half Won't Do." Religion: Aretha. Sex Education: Marvin Gaye. "The Wisdom of Solomon... Burke! And of course, the poetry of Smokey Robinson." So many powerful vocalists onstage brought their talents to bear on a superbly arranged "The Way You Do the Things You Do," and Bruce kept the soul train rolling right into Wilson Pickett's "634-5789," as he gave Eddie Vedder and his wall-scaling a run for the money.
The final song of the night, after mixing in more of his own staples like "The Rising" and "Thunder Road," was both another soul classic and a promise to the thousands of fans listening in all night on SiriusXM: Atlanta, Greensboro, Tampa, Boston... "Hold on... we're comin'!"
[Through the weekend, watch "Death to My Hometown" at brucespringsteen.net; tune in to E Street Radio for encore broadcasts on SiriusXM. A longtime favorite Springsteen charity, WhyHunger was in the house as a beneficiary of the night.]
With Springsteen the only guest on the program, it seemed likely that he would again be a part of one of Fallon's comedy sketches. Not surprisingly, Fallon brought out his Neil Young impersonation again, this time to perform LMFAO's "Sexy and I Know It,” joined midway though by Bruce, dressed as his Born in the U.S.A.-era persona, complete with sleeveless vest and bandana.
After sitting down for a brief interview, which included a retelling of the time Steve and Bruce were asked to leave Disneyland, the E Street Band took to the Late Night stage, accompanied for the first time live by their new five-piece horn section as well as guest guitarist Tom Morello. First up was "Death to My Hometown," with the prominent opening riff given to the horn section, lending a touch more soul to the Celtic-tinged anthem.
"Jack of All Trades" followed and was an impressive performance, particularly given that it had never been done live before; clearly, the band'’s rehearsal time has served them well. The expanded band was put to very good use, with Curt Ramm and the horn section's mournful accompaniment and Tom Morello on hand to recreate the solo he played on the record.
Wrapping up the show was an epic "The E Street Shuffle," with the Roots joining the E Street Band in an inspired choice of song that showed off the talents of both bands. Steve and "Captain" Kirk Douglas traded places and both bands powered through the song before eventually inviting the entire audience on to the studio floor for its finale.
February 27, 2012 / Studio 6B, 30 Rockefeller Center / New York, NY
From within downtown Asbury Park's newest late-night house of music, Bruce performed the role of the playful soul man to a capacity crowd of no more than 200 patrons, whose massive show of affection and exuberance coated the venue's picture window in condensation cutting off the outside world to the joys within. Springsteen traded verses with vocalist John Oeser on such classic compositions as "Soul Man," "Hold On, I'm Comin'," "Knock On Wood," and an electrifying rendition, with full brass accompaniment, of the "Detroit Medley," but not before joining Tony's brother and local solo artist, Michael Strollo, on stage.
The pair shared a series of smirks between cuts from the penman's 2010 full-length release Bedroom Eyes, Strollo from underneath a spotlight and Springsteen, caked in shadows, upon a stack at the back of the stage. Bruce strummed along upon Asbury's own reggae-rock maestro Quincy Mumford's acoustic six-string, on songs including "Could Die Young Tonight," which Strollo admitted was his brother's favorite tune from the compilation.
But it was the bookend numbers performed by the Boss-led Baccigalupe & the Bad Boys that highlighted the night, as the collective commenced its set with a raucous rendering of the E Street Band staple "Rosalita," and concluded its collection of rock and soul music with an homage to late, great Clarence Clemons via a captivating, venue encompassing sing-along on "Tenth Avenue Freeze-out.” Springsteen remarked, "Here's the important part," before recounting the tale of how “the change was made uptown and the Big Man joined the band."
However, let us not forget why The Boss was in attendance, why members of the Boardwalk's music community congregated in The Press Room. It was for a man, a friend, a husband, and a father who left his mark on the souls of many and departed from this life far too soon.
The emcee of the evening, Rich Robinson, said it best: "We're not just a musical community, we're a family. When one of us is need, we all come to help.”
In the Jersey Shore’s musical hub by the sea, they do indeed take care of their own.
Just before the final act, executive producer Ken Ehrlich came on stage to tell the audience they had put together a whopper of a finale.
Standouts from previous nights included a strong set of brand new material by the always powerful Maybe Pete, thundering Lower East Side rock 'n' roll from the caustic and hilarious Dick Manitoba's new band, and a round of soul classics from J.T. Bowen & the Soul Cruisers. Friday night at the Stone Pony was dedicated to the many deceased Jersey Shore musicians who formed the heart of the so-called Sound of Asbury Park, including everyone from Clarence Clemons and Dan Federici of the E Street Band to former Jukes and John Eddie drummer Louie Appel.
But last night's event at the Paramount Theater was the main attraction, and with one of the strongest lineups in years, it did not disappoint. There were spirited sets by Lisa Bouchelle, longtime shore favorite John Eddie, the effervescent Willie Nile, and New Yorker Garland Jeffreys, who previewed several songs from an upcoming CD release. There were the bluesy guitar and vocals of the legendary David Bromberg. And there was also the Asbury Park debut of Southside Johnny & the Poor Fools, who presented both Jukes staples and unusual and well-chosen covers by the likes of NRBQ and Lucinda Williams in stripped-down arrangements that highlighted longtime Jukes keyboardist Jeff Kazee and the fiddle of Jukes alum Soozie Tyrell.
But it was clear that many were in attendance to catch the annual "surprise" appearance by Mr. Bruce Springsteen, who closed out the evening in raucous fashion. Wearing a black and grey plaid shirt and jeans, Bruce assumed guitar/vocals duties with Jeffreys on "Wild in the Streets" and with Willie Nile on "One Guitar," and followed this up with his by-now traditional set with Joe Grushecky and the Houserockers. Opening the segment alone at the mic for an acoustic "Incident on 57th Street," he began on a somber note. Bruce then left the stage while Bromberg sat in with the Houserockers, returning to lead off the louder portion of the program with "Darkness on the Edge of Town." As per usual, Bruce and Grushecky alternated material, Joe taking lead on "Never Be Enough Time" and Bruce on "Adam Raised a Cain."
The highlight of the set was Bruce's pop gem "Save My Love," which he introduced by declaring it one of his favorite melodies. Springsteen seemed particularly enthused to be there, several times referring to his upcoming tour and album release, and complimenting longtime friends John Eddie and Willie Nile on their performances. "Atlantic City" was followed by the full band version of "Johnny 99," during which Bruce jumped up and sat next to keyboardist Joe Pelesky, executing a perfect glissando with his right foot before winding up on top of the drum riser, where he ended the song lying backwards over the bass drum. "I'm Not Sleeping" (Bruce and Grushecky) was followed by "Because the Night," for which Bruce called out John, Willie and Garland to sing backing vocals.
Pausing for a moment midset, he commented, "I'm up late. I gotta get up at 7 tomorrow — I still have one at home — gotta make pancakes. Yeah, mostly I'm just a chauffeur and short order cook who plays guitar." The crowd-pleasing "Waitin' on a Sunny Day" followed, Bruce leading the singalong from atop the drum riser. Grushecky's "Pumping Iron" was next, after which Springsteen announced special guest Max Weinberg, who sat in on the remainder of the set, along with Tony "Boccigalupe" Amato on Hammond B-3. The stage filled with performers for "Light of Day" and "The Promised Land," and event founder Bob Benjamin received a belated birthday greeting and cake. "Twist and Shout" continued the all-star singalong, and the night concluded with an acoustic "Thunder Road" in tribute to Benjamin. The audience, which had been particularly enthusiastic in joining in on the vocals, sang along in unison, and as the house lights came up, smiles from locals and internationals indicated another successful Light of Day event.
For previous setlists,
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