Setlists: 2012 (North America: Aug - Dec)
With a jam-packed bill, set times at the show were extremely limited — Bruce's 30 minutes wound up being just as much as any other artist had, and more than several others. Given the limited time slot, Bruce opted to avoid his hits and instead chose a thematic approach to the setlist, performing several staples from the current Wrecking Ball tour. "Land of Hope and Dreams" was slightly abridged, but Bruce made sure to include the "let me see your hands!" exhortation at the end before the "People Get Ready" coda. "Wrecking Ball" included the now-familiar change to the lyrics: "Well, my home is on the Jersey Shore."
Attendees of post-Sandy Wrecking Ball shows may be familiar with Bruce's introduction to "My City of Ruins" and his shout-outs to New Jersey, but now with a much bigger television audience, Bruce expanded on his introduction, speaking at length about the Jersey shore:
In one final nod to the shore, come the end of the song, Bruce added a coda of several lines from his cover of Tom Waits' "Jersey Girl." For their final song, the E Street Band was joined by fellow New Jerseyan Jon Bon Jovi, who joined in on vocals for the traditional house-lights-up version of "Born to Run" as Bruce's set came to an end.
The 12.12.12 Concert for Sandy Relief raised funds for the Robin Hood Relief Fund to help those affected by Hurricane Sandy in the tri-state area; donations are still being accepted.
Monday night was the final show of the first-ever leg of a true North American tour, finally spanning Canada, the United States of America, and Mexico. I anticipated this show at the Palacio de los Deportes more than any of the others I attended on this tour — with the possible exception of Greensboro, for which I brought 25 middle school students to their first Springsteen show. There were so many questions I wondered about before this show, and I couldn’t wait to see how it all panned out: would Bruce consider crowd-surfing in a sea of uninitiated fans? Would there be any request signs at all? (I needn't have worried about that one.) What would happen if there were no children ready to sing "Sunny Day"? What would happen when Bruce looked out and didn’t see so many of the "friendly faces all around" him?
What do you do when you are performing for the first time in a country where you have almost no fan base to speak of, where radio airplay is nonexistent, and to top it off, minimal promotion of the event? Keep in mind that this is a country known for hot blood and Latin grooves, not necessarily the rock 'n' roll sound. Well, when you're Bruce Springsteen, you meet the challenge with the pedal to the medal and never look in the rear-view mirror.
This was a prime example of the kind of show for which song selection gives no indication of its greatness. The setlist does not give a glimpse into the energy, Bruce's state of mind, his interaction with the crowd — the performance. A look at the setlist does, however, reveal a set built specifically with the first-time attendee in mind. Most of the songs were safe bets with standard arrangements; no special treats for the hardcore fan, and even the songs "granted" for sign requests could have been planned already. But if you were to set out to craft the perfect Wrecking Ball-era set for a brand new audience, you could hardly do better.
The crowd at this show was truly unique in that by most estimates at least 75 percent of the audience were seeing Bruce for the first time — or as one young lady kept saying, "Most of us in the audience are virgins." This tour has taken the E Street Band to some interesting locales — their first shows in Portugal and Prague, for instance — but I imagine for the last time Bruce performed before such an uninitiated crowd, you would have to go back Japan in the 80s, or perhaps that special East Berlin, Germany show. There were probably fewer than 100 Americans, and just a small handful of fans from Europe and a couple who travelled from Japan to be present. The venue's staff gave the impression that this sparse crowd seemed like a full house through some effective curtain management, concealing any empty seats. However, while small, the crowd was definitely electric. Consider how much fun it is bringing a friend or relative to their first Bruce show, watching their faces and listening to their responses afterward... and then imagine an entire building full of them. This energy from the crowd definitely added freshness and fueled the excitement for a rollicking party atmosphere.
The pit area in front of the show was packed tight. By 9:00 the crowd was overflowing with anticipation, pleading Bruce to start the show with rhythmic mantras and repeated clapping. When the lights finally went out at 9:15, Bruce and the band walked into their positions as he greeted the crowd with a Spanish introduction. They then burst right out of the gate with a charged-up version of "Badlands," which had the crowd bouncing from the outset, and they went directly into a playful "Out in the Street." With no seating behind the stage, Bruce limited his movement to the three platforms to the front of the stage, where the precedent for crowd contact and interaction was set for the evening.
"Hungry Heart" was next up, with his usual trip to the small stage behind the pit. After seriously contemplating his next move for a long time, he threw caution to the wind and prepared for a crowd surf, although not before giving the crowd a sign language explanation of what he expected from them. He reminded me of a kid about to ride a bicycle for the first time, with a look of apprehension and repeating, "Are you sure you got me?" several times before letting go to trust, but never totally confident things would work out. He ended one of the most hair-raising surfs yet with "Gracias — se siente bien!" ("Thank you — it feels good!").
Through the trifecta of Wrecking Ball songs, I searched the crowd to gauge the interest for this new material, it was both obvious and surprising to me that the majority of the crowd was singing each and every word. The entire audience was standing — and this was true all the way to the rafters, something that never changed throughout the night.
The next song was "My City of Ruins," and Bruce showed respect for the home crowd by constantly addressing them in their native tongue, delivering the entire "spirits all around us" intro in Spanish. "Spirit in the Night" was an opportunity to tease the audience with constant interaction. This was a crowd which strained to touch him more than any I've witnessed, often compacting the pit to the breaking point. At one juncture he sat on one of the tiny speakers at the edge of the stage to the delight of two younger fans, and eventually collapsed backwards onto the stage. He doled out a kiss to a Peruvian fan (who during "She's the One" later in the show was also rewarded with a harmonica); he got the help of another young fan who sang the "birthday” line with him. During "The E Street Shuffle," he once again had to instruct the crowd as to their responsibility during the song, explaining what to do with their "magic fingers."
Venturing out to collect signs, Bruce grabbed probably more than I have ever seen and granted four requests in a row. They were certainly less than obscure, but if you're only going to see Springsteen once... hard to argue with "The Promised Land," "The River," "Because the Night," and "She's the One." During "The Promised Land," he held hands with a young boy and patted him on the head while simultaneously belting out a harmonica solo (he ultimately gave the harp to the youngster). "The River" began with Bruce and Little Steven alone at the front of the stage until the crowd took over the chorus, and eventually the band kicked in. The song ended with Bruce's haunting vocalizations, followed by another harmonica prize to a woman with a sign proclaiming, "I travelled 9,000 miles for a harmonica." "Because the Night" had the usual dramatic guitar solo with Nils going off to the admiration of the crowd, leading directly into "She's the One."
After honoring the sign requests Bruce went into Darlington County with an inordinate amount of crowd interaction. He stopped to speak to a woman wearing a neck brace which had “I broke my neck to see you” imprinted on it, and he lessened her pain with a kiss. Again, this time accompanied by Nils, Bruce ventured to the back stage, shaking the hands of most of the building, it seemed, along the way. While the audience contained very few kids, Bruce managed to find one at the back of the floor section to sing with; he also conversed with a woman sitting atop someone's shoulders, not restricted by the rules which often constrict United States audiences. Bruce returned to the front stage adorned with a stylish red and green pashmina, carrying even more audience request signs.
"Shackled and Drawn" was a fun addition to the show as usual, with Bruce encouraging the crowd in Spanish to "get louder!" Bruce and the band showed off their dance moves, and Bruce telling the crowd that, like Shakira, his "hips don’t lie either!" Throughout "Waitin' on a Sunny Day" it was obvious that Bruce was scouring the multitudes, straining to find a suitable singing partner. Finally, he located a youngster and brought her up onto the stage, as she clung to him like a leech, seemingly holding on for dear life. However, when he asked her if she would like to sing, she sheepishly declined; he wasted no time reassuring her and stating, "Okay, I'll take it then — he sang the chorus and shouted out himself, "Take it E Street Band!"
The resurgence of the soul segment continued, after the "Apollo Medley" reappeared at the previous show in Arizona, complete with the intro story. Each mention of a soul great elicited a rousing cheer from this obviously knowledgeable crowd. "The Way You Do The Things You Do” provided another opportunity for more great dance moves, including Jake even doing “the worm” across the stage, and "634-5789" brought another return to the B-stage. As with every trip out there, Bruce returned sporting additional attire and props: this time a cowboy hat fashioned in Mexican colors, and a picture of himself, which he referenced later during a song.
"Thunder Road" ended with the E Street Horns at the front of the stage, adding so much power to the song that it made me wonder how the band performed without this horn section previously — until, of course, I recalled, "Oh yeah, they had Clarence.” Outside the venue, several fans remarked that they were amazed at the horn section as well as the E Street Choir, not expecting Bruce's supporting cast to be so talented.
The encores saw six songs, beginning with a rousing rendition of "Born in the U.S.A." It was one of the few unusual choices of the night, though it was also a regular selection for the European encores over the summer. The anthem was sung by thousands of hoarse fans, mostly in a slight Spanish accent, and concluded with a brilliant solo by Mighty Max Weinberg. Next up was "Born to Run," with most of the front row getting an opportunity to strum the guitar. The count-off was in Spanish — and for those who count this kind of stuff, there were seven windmills. "Glory Days," with Bruce and Little Steven donning sombreros and ending with a booty shake, "Dancing in the Dark," "Santa Claus" and "Tenth Avenue" rounded out the show. However, it was not over until Bruce thanked the crowd for a great night: "Thank you Mexico, I didn't expect such a wonderful welcome," he exclaimed, promising, for a second time, to return in the future. He left everyone, veterans and the newbies alike, with genuine happy faces, claiming, "That was better than I could have imagined!"
“Muchas gracias and Feliz Navidad!”
That was about the only nod to an occasion, though Springsteen did in fact talk about the end of the tour, and in the context of Phoenix. Before "My City of Ruins," he recalled how he would stay at a Holiday Inn near the airport — "on the second floor, back when Phoenix was a town" — after a tour was finished. On this night, Springsteen hadn't come to disappear or chill out, but he did look remarkably relaxed.
Given the "last night" tag (though it wasn’t really, in light of the just-announced tour dates for 2013, Mexico City, and the 12/12/12 benefit, too), expectations were understandably high, and many times the music surpassed them. "I'm a Rocker" was a case in point: Roy Bittan's keyboard sounded clear and high up in the mix, and Garry Tallent sang — two things we don't get enough of on E Street! "Hungry Heart" found Bruce surfing amongst a sea of signs; more than usual appeared in Glendale, and in too many instances displayed with an appalling lack of etiquette. Regardless, many of the songs found their way into the show via request. As Bruce bid farewell to fans he had invited backstage, he asked for requests, and got to a number of them — the sublime "Be True," for one.
After "Hungry Heart," an impromptu "Prove It All Night" anchored an incredible three-song run. Played with the long 1978-style introduction, Springsteen got all Mr. Spock on his Telecaster, using both hands as if he were conducting a mind meld. His guitar work was technically interesting, sonically rich, and viscerally exciting. The way he sang the last verse — you could hear every breath he took, every word he sang, every space between — made it a highlight reel moment. And then his work on the song was done, so he threw the solo to Nils Lofgren (playing, essentially, in his hometown) who went the extra mile as Bruce urged him on. They were just getting warmed up. "Trapped" was next, and it indicated that Bruce was burning bright, singing the chorus with both hands reaching above his head, as if summoning the gods of the desert sky.
The last of the trifecta was "Lost in the Flood," during which you could listen or watch any given member of the band, at any station on that stage, and you'd take in something akin to a peak performance, individually and collectively. The music poured down like a wave: perfect, brilliant, and one you wanted to get washed over by time and time again. As his band did what they do better than practically any other, Springsteen put on another six-string clinic (hint: it's all in the left hand!). The guitar solo was the smoking cherry on top. Bravo! to all the musicians.
Many numbers sounded as they should: "Be True" was particularly crisp, with ringing guitars and keyboards, and they played it at just the right tempo. "Light of Day," a request made with a particularly cool battery-operated lighted frame, was another opportunity for Springsteen to stretch out on guitar — he slashed and burned through this one, and tagged "Land of 1,000 Dances" for good measure.
There was spontaneity: the crowd began singing "it's alright" during "My City of Ruins," and Bruce worked it into the song effectively. The bigger surprise came in the second half of the "Apollo Medley," when Springsteen took a seat right next to none other than Arizona resident Sam Moore, and the two traded vocals on "634-5789" for a spell. Springsteen had invoked Moore's band leadership skills and singing prowess at the top of the medley, then sealed the deal with a call-and-response duet with his mentor and friend. It was moving, and Mr. Moore sounded great: put Sam Moore's voice in the category of things sounding like they should.
But the song that took the gold in this category is "Incident on 57th Street." Bruce's vocal and piano were simpatico, and his delivery was both studied and heartfelt. He took his time, and the song sounded majestic — another one for the books. That led an encore that was solid, if not wholly remarkable (Garland Jeffreys guested on "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," and Jared Clemons appeared, too). The "important part" of "Tenth Avenue Freeze-out" was marred by an unwelcome guest who climbed onto the second stage with Bruce; he was able to shoo her away just as he sang the key line that begins the memorial video. Bruce understandably looked pissed, but he recovered just in time to lead the tribute to Clarence and Danny.
Phoenix was a western hotspot for Springsteen early on in his career, something he alluded to. It's a city that's appeared on live releases ("Badlands," taken from the 1980 concert in Tempe; and the filmed songs re-released two years ago as part of The Promise box set) and apparently served as a secret refuge where Bruce would cool his heels after a tour ended. Tonight, the Jobing.com Arena in Glendale wasn't quite full, with scattered seats in the upper tier without patrons, and no one seated rear stage (a large video screen appeared at the back, behind Max Weinberg, rather than front and center above the stage). Fans from Spain, Norway, and England were there, and after "Tenth Avenue Freeze-out" Bruce returned to the mic for a final goodbye. It appeared for a moment he might treat us to another song. Rather, he said thank you once more, then turned to walk down the stairs.
It was business as usual, then, and perfectly acceptable at that.
December 4 / Honda Center / Anaheim, CA
As a venue, the Honda Center might best be described with a quote from "Murder Incorporated": "everywhere you look, life ain't got no soul." The experience up until the lights went out was annoying; with long, slow-moving, unnecessarily security-heavy lines to get through limited open doors. A tip for the facility staff: If you want all the GA/floor folks to go in through a single specific entrance, maybe print your signs delivering said message on a sheet of paper larger than 8-1/2" by 11".
The show started just a hair late as a result, but opened (as Portland and Oakland did) with "Land of Hope and Dreams," featuring Tom Morello on the first of what would turn out to be seven songs this evening. For those of us who live in L.A., Morello's appearances have become the norm, not the exception, leading a friend to dub him the Under Boss.
But there is no doubt Morello's passion and spirit lifts Springsteen up, and that energy booster elevated this performance to a more dynamic place than the last SoCal stops at the Sports Arena in April. One L.A.-based veteran fan dubbed it the "best band show since '99." And if measured by Bruce being "in the moment," I'd agree. Was the rest of the band? Because that's the challenge of the enlarged E Street Band: there are moments where the core is on fire but the surrounding players feel at times detached.
From "Land of Hope and Dreams," it was a guitar-heavy, one-two punch of "Adam Raised a Cain," with Bruce's Fender high in the mix and his face scrunching out every note, into "Streets of Fire," where "I heard somebody call my name" got the vocal step up you wanted it to have.
As others have said, "Hungry Heart" does feel early, but the crowd welcomed Bruce's arrival in their midst and the sing-along was strong. Four in a row from Wrecking Ball followed, with the title track itself sounding refreshed and Morello rejoining to nail "Death to My Hometown." But there's no getting around this: "My City of Ruins" is too loooong. Yes, there's a moment Bruce is trying to have with the audience, but the performance is attempting to be a remembrance, a silent prayer, a roll call for those who are there and still work as a song all at the same time. It's all too much, and it threatens to drain the song of its power and what made it so "People Get Ready"-great in the first place: its simplicity.
To be fair, Bruce did intro "My City of Ruins" with a reprise of a funny story he told on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon about the time in 1985 (in truth it happened during the recording of Born in the U.S.A. a couple of years earlier) when he and Steve Van Zandt tried unsuccessfully to get into Disneyland — only to be kicked out for wearing head scarves. Insulted, they took their business to another local amusement park — "We're going to Knott's Berry Farm!" — where they failed to meet the dress code yet again. "You can get near, but you can't get in" was his summation of Anaheim.
"Spirit in the Night" also took a while to get going and feels a touch drawn out, but the showmanship is appealing and the last couple minutes with Jake and Bruce up front are hard to resist. Happily, the tempo kicked up again with a snappy "E Street Shuffle," peppered with some tasty fills from Steve.
It was time for signs, and the two chosen were a study in contrasts. Bruce first selected an elaborately adorned pink number that told the tale of a mother attending with her daughter and requested "Reason to Believe." "We know that one," Bruce said, but before they could start, another sign caught his eye. This time the "guy was so cheap he wrote on the back of someone else's sign" — which was true, as on the back of a printed request for "Incident" that resembled a newspaper, a pit denizen had scratched out "Long Time Comin'."
Springsteen was immediately moved, asking the requestor for a few details about his child then talking about parenting his own kids before doing "this one myself" on acoustic guitar. The lovely and poignant reading of this tour premiere was probably the highlight of the night.
From there he returned to the original sign, and the band performed a Magic tour-style "Reason to Believe," without the bullet mic but with the bullet-mic sound. It was bluesy and brash, and they clearly loved playing it. It also paired nicely with "This Depression," an excellent, more assured version of this Wrecking Ball rarity, spotlight again on Morello. With focus renewed, a strong, straight and powerful "Darkness on the Edge of Town" kept the energy unwavering and the guitars high in the mix.
Nils tagged along to the second stage to sing his background vocals on a spunky "Darlington County," and the show rode its momentum through the main set with a key stop along the way at "The Ghost of Tom Joad," now a well-honed duet between the Boss and the Under Boss. What carried over from there was a revitalized "Badlands," as Morello shared vocals with Little Steven and ripped power chord after power chord that really gave the song some juice.
The set wrapped with what felt like a reconsidered "Thunder Road," showing more intent and majesty than it has in a while and aided greatly by the E Street Horns coming out front and joining in on Jake's fine solo — a moment where the bigger band truly came together.
That palpable intention continued with "Jungleland," staged as much as performed, and a real set piece highlight. Jake's solo work was sharp and led into a dramatically lit final verse, sung by Bruce in what can only be described as a Tom Waits style, shifting back to himself as he sang "Outside the streets on fire..." and soaring to genuinely hit home the song's crescendo. Impressive.
The rest of the encore went as expected, though one had to appreciate the more than a dozen Santa hats that hit the stage and went quickly onto the heads of nearly every band member. "Santa Claus" was a true holiday treat, and as he did up the coast, Bruce invited several elves (i.e. anyone with a Santa hat) onto the b-stage to dance. Tom Morello came back for "Tenth Avenue" and took the final bow with the band, feeling for all the world like he's t-h-i-s-c-l-o-s-e to joining for real. Who knows what 2013 might bring.
Anaheim is still near enough to Hollywood to draw a few celebrities. Famous faces in the crowd included long-standing L.A. show attendee Tim Robbins, FOX NFL Sunday host Curt Menefee, legendary NBA coach Pat Riley, comedian Christopher Titus, Jackson Browne, and Springsteen's baby sister Pamela. Also in the pit together were brothers Chad and Rob Lowe. The pair not only proved generously accommodating to fans wanting photos taken with them, but Rob showed himself to be quite the deep fan, chatting about favorite tunes like "None But the Brave" and the song he had put in as a request, "the full band version of 'The Promise'." Had hoped to give him credit for "The Promise" making the set, but alas, it remains merely a grand idea.
He followed the E Street Band on stage at Oracle Arena, and with the lights up, "Land of Hope and Dreams" opened the show. Putting his newest old song (or oldest new one) first may seem like a novelty, but it takes Springsteen out of his comfort zone. That carried over to "Cover Me," which Springsteen typically plays without a capo on his guitar (which changes the key). But on Friday, he stuck with the guitar from the first song. So to play the solo that begins "Cover Me," he had to figure out on the fly where his fingers needed to go. And when he did, he played a longer version of it. It was this kind of attention to detail that distinguished the outstanding moments in Oakland, and there were a number of them.
Guitar playing figured prominently in the mix: after superb solos in "Cover Me" from Nils Lofgren and Steve Van Zandt, Springsteen called for "Adam Raised a Cain." At this point he had his mojo working, and he prompted his monitor man for more volume as he joined the onslaught. On "Death to My Hometown," Springsteen traded in his Irish jig moves from earlier in the tour, taking instead some Townshend-like hits at his strings.
Before "My City of Ruins," Springsteen invoked Clarence Clemons' decade-long residency in the Bay Area, and his mother, too, but that's as close as he got to sounding sentimental. When he talked about a resurgent Asbury Park getting pounded by the recent storm, it wasn't to take advantage of headlines written in Sandy’s wake, it was meant to double down on the prosperity Springsteen envisions for his adopted city. Oakland, too, could use some of that: in the grip of a crime wave, it was a major city for Occupy in 2011 and became a focal point for violence and confrontation. Occupy is gone, but crime persists.
"Pay Me My Money Down," which was on the setlist, contained a request of sorts: a sign inviting to Springsteen to dance with a Hungarian girl (which he did, to her obvious delight, and that of the audience). Another sign cleverly used a series of doors, like the old television game show Let's Make a Deal: behind one door was "The Fuse," which did not get played. “The Ties That Bind” did, however (on which the background voices came up nicely in the mix), and so did "Devils & Dust." Its arrangement is simply gorgeous, featuring a full complement of sound, from the drone of Charles Giordano's accordion to the harmony of Curt Ramm's trumpet and back to Springsteen's striking guitar solos. Here, in its second E Street Band airing, the music took its biggest chance, and paid its biggest reward, too. Wherever this type of adventure hides on E Street, Bruce ought to suss it out with more regularity.
A fantastic reading of "Kitty’s Back" led a five-song encore. Springsteen delivered more of the evening's intricate fret work and led the assembled throng — those on stage, those who were not — through the song with deftness and soul.
Those were the highlights, but it's worth noting that Springsteen didn't let up; he sounded particularly engaged on the closing stretch from "Raise Your Hand" through "Thunder Road." All night, he was strong in voice, strong in spirit, and made so many trips to the mid-floor riser I thought they actually might start asking to see his wristband. His crowd surf during "Hungry Heart" took longer than usual: Springsteen kept pointing toward the stage (really, people: is there someplace else to pass him?) and at one point he asked, "What the fuck?" with surprise in his voice. A lot of first-time attendees made themselves known at this show, and a few revealed a long-standing interest in Springsteen's music. If one had to guess, they'll be back.
Last night was my 30th show of the Wrecking Ball Tour. I have helped provide reports for Backstreets at many of these performances. I admit that, at times (and like many seasoned travelers), I can be critical of the song selection and some aspects of the performance. I don't want to be too tough, but I see some of my disappointments as lost opportunities for the greatest performer and rock 'n' roll band in the world. But what I always try to remember as I compose a report is that it is always someone's first concert.
I attended the Portland concert with a couple of new timers from Eugene who traveled two-and-a-half hours for their "local" show. When Bruce asked if there was anyone "seeing us for the first time," they — along with a surprising number of others — proudly raised their hands and, judging by the joy in my friends' smiles, they were already hooked. What Portland (along with every city on the tour) was treated to was a mind-blowing effort of music and performance. "I may be old," Bruce said, "but I love my job!" And that message comes through loud and clear in every note.
"Land of Hope and Dreams" opened the show — yes, the same song that the night before was the finale of the main set. It worked masterfully as the opener. Bruce shortened the outro a bit to keep the energy up and moved into a guitar-fueled "No Surrender." We settled into a groove as Bruce crafted a solid, familiar set — but not familiar to much of the crowd, including my friends, who were seeing him crowd-surf during "Hungry Heart" for the first time.
The request portion of the set included an impressive sign with a spinning wheel, recalling Elvis Costello's Spectacular Spinning Songbook shows. The arrow stopped at "Steve's Choice," and we were treated to a great performance of "Loose Ends," Bruce's falsetto hitting all the right notes at the end. The next request was "Growin' Up," for a fan's 50th birthday. This version turned the clock back to a time when the band could have been playing at weddings and Bar Mitzvahs; Bruce brought the Birthday Boy up on stage and the shared the mic for the last verse.
A now too-rare performance of "Jack of All Trades" was next — it's a song that benefits from attention, and the Portland crowd quieted down to listen. As a reward for the respect, Bruce then tuned the night loose with "Seeds" and "Johnny 99." The craziness continued as "Darlington County" brought more fans to the stage — a local group declaring "Lesbians Love Bruce" climbed onto the boards to dance along. The high-energy "Shackled and Drawn" was back in its usual set spot after opening in Vancouver), and "Waitin' On a Sunny Day" had two kids singing along on stage.
For us "seasoned travelers," there's always at least one moment that reminds us exactly why we do this. Tonight, it was when Bruce went back to the request pile to pull out a sign for "Drive All Night." This River chestnut, which went unplayed by the E Street Band for far too long, is developing into a breathtaking musical assault, with musical layers and textures beginning to rival "Racing in the Street."
The wedding act came out again as another request opened the encores, Bruce singing a beautiful version of "If I Should Fall Behind" alone on guitar. Then the encores went into overdrive with the high-energy "Born to Run" and "Rosalita"; Bruce kept sweating Steven to cme join him, and when he finally stepped forward, the mugging between the two of them rivaled all three of the Stooges. "Dancing in the Dark" brought six more fans on stage to dance along (and two more on the mini-stage), with Bruce urging them to keep dancing and not listen to security. It almost felt like there were more fans on stage tonight than musicians.
Overall, Portland rocked. For the setlist watchers it might have looked a little lean, with common tunes, but this show had all the touches of another great night. Next time Bruce is in Portland there will once again be many first-timers — the Pacific Northwest doesn't get the regular visits fans here would hope for, and this time Seattle was skipped over altogether — but I know two women who will be rightfully proud to say that tonight was their first.
The Vancouver show was emotional for me before it even began. Sitting just to the left the stage, only a few rows up — I don’t have the knees for G.A. — it suddenly hit me that this was the first show without him, the first E Street Band show for me without the Big Man's presence. It's not like I didn't know that going in, or hadn't watched the videos, or listened to the tapes. But it still hit me, as a reminder of my own mortality as well, that what once was will one day no longer be. And then when Charlie Giordano came on, a musician who I've always thought was absolutely top-notch, it was my reminder that Danny Federici was gone, too.
But when Bruce came onstage and started with the somewhat odd choice of "Shackled and Drawn," the new era began, and I was onboard. It was unlike any E Street show opener I'd ever witnessed, with Bruce on acoustic and a song itself that seemed more Seeger Sessions than E Street. But by the end of the song, with 12 other band members joining Bruce in a line at the front of the stage, the head-on assault won me over.
"Out in the Street" was more the traditional E Street mood, though "Hungry Heart" as the third song seemed strangely timed, as if we were starting the sing-alongs prematurely. And if Bruce's falling into the crowd was a bit too contrived to a veteran of many shows, it was still an impressive leap of faith, knowing that one drop to the concrete might shift history. Bruce seemed positively impassioned singing "We Take Care of Our Own," as if he were playing it on an election eve, and the song was an anthem that could change things. Maybe it did.
As one of the old guard, I find "Death to My Hometown" somehow off, the sea-shanty-like tone simply too far a shift from the guitar rock I grew up on, or even the acoustic folk of the solo work. But "My City of Ruins" followed, and it was one of the highlights of the night. Yes, Bruce has been playing this song for years now, but it comes off as if he wrote it in the past three weeks, and his gospel-tinged singing was magnificent. He spoke about Asbury Park, how the band all met there, how the town had spent 25 years trying to recover and finally did, only to be washed away. It is a song that has become on this tour about "ghosts," he said, "people or places or things that have scarred your heart, and that you will carry with you forever." He didn’t need to mention his departed band members — everyone knew.
No one gets through life without grief, without loss. Even during Springsteen's ascendant Born to Run tour there was always a melancholy onstage, there in Bruce, not far under the surface, raw. Some of it may have come from unrequited romantic love (rock music's grandest theme). Some may have come from growing up in a house with a troubled father, or from facing the impossible dream of life as a musician when that seemed crazy itself. And some of that melancholy may have simply come as part of his nature. It is the "dark cloud" talked about when they were in the studio during the Blood Brothers filming. That cloud is, and has always been, his greatest musical signature, where his darkness touches a listener with a sadness, but also with something innately human.
That melancholy was all over "My City of Ruins," even if in Vancouver he was as far geographically from Asbury Park as he's going to get on this leg of the tour. It was also the song where I felt the original E Streeters were most present: Steven locked in, Garry playing as if he alone wrote it, Max powering through it as if he were driving a train against a gale-force wind. It was exquisite.
It didn't stay that intense, of course. What came next were old chestnuts, "Spirit in the Night" and "Does this Bus Stop at 82nd Street?," the latter played, Bruce said, as a request. They were nostalgic, but felt somehow less ancient than "My City of Ruins," written decades later.
In Bruce's nightly selection of signs there was a clear standout: A fan had created an anatomically correct, full-sized "Red Headed Woman,” and her cut-out was pulled onstage. Bruce liked the sign so much he said he was going to take it back to the hotel to "study it later." "This sign is so good we're going to play this one, and we don't even know it anymore," he said. And he wasn't exactly kidding, as it was a bit rough, but it was the night's comedic highpoint.
"Streets of Fire" and "Because the Night" followed, then "She's the One" became the first song of the night from Born to Run, with Nils killing. And eventually, inevitably, there was the Born in the U.S.A. party segment with "Cover Me" and "Darlington County." As much as I dislike those songs, I still miss seeing Nils in the big foam hat, doing flips onstage, and seeing the whole band truly making it corny. "Raise Your Hand" was back more to my liking, and it works very well with the full horn section and the back-up singers. There were many times this giant super-sized E Street Band reminded me of Dr. Zoom and the Sonic Boom, with dozens of people onstage, and a musical landscape that could shift to soul music on a dime.
"The Rising" brought it back to traditional rock, and "Badlands" followed. And on "Land of Hope and Dreams" Max proved why he's the best drummer in rock, taking a song that isn't an anthem, and barreling through it until he alone turned it into one.
From "Racing in the Street" to open the encore, it was on to "Radio Nowhere," into "Born to Run," "Dancing in the Dark," "Santa Claus," and, finally, "Tenth Avenue Freeze-out" to end the night. A solid set, without any wild premieres or unheard of shout-outs, but for a show after a break, mostly tight and taut throughout.
If there was a part of the night that stood above all others to me — someone who came of age in the '70s, and for whom Bruce Springsteen's live shows then were an indelible part of the soundtrack to my life — it was the one-two punch of "Streets of Fire" and "Because the Night." Not because they were the best-played guitar-rock songs of the night (though they were), but because they had the transformative effect of making me feel young again. They reminded me of a time in my life when any and everything was possible, even the idea that Backstreets, something solely about Bruce Springsteen, was feasible. That was 32 years ago, but somehow listening to "Streets of Fire" and remembering the haunting, aching power of that song on my younger self, brought me back.
Vancouver was a solid show, though most of the die-hards will not likely rank it in the top 20 of the tour, due to setlist and the occasional rusty moment. But at least for this particular fan, it had an added significance that will always rank it high. It was my first Springsteen show with my 12-year-old son Ashland next to me, and his first show ever.
I decided never to force feed Springsteen to my child, so though he heard much over the years (and grew up in a house with Steel Mill posters), it became just part of the landscape, and not the paint on the walls. Eventually, he found Bruce on his own, mostly during the past year as he started to play guitar.
So when Bruce played "Because the Night" in Vancouver, I watched as my own pre-teen sang and air-guitar strummed along. He'd found "Because the Night" on his own, added it to his iPod, asked his guitar teacher to show him the chords, and now he was yelling along, just like his dad. There was my DNA, my beautiful reward, in a moment that I never could have imagined 32 years ago, back when I thought Backstreets was my life's only creation.
Vancouver wasn't the perfect Bruce show, but in a way it was my perfect Springsteen show. I'll stand by your side. You'll need a good companion for this part of the ride. Dreams will not be thwarted. All this darkness past. Faith will be rewarded.
"My City of Ruins" continued to embrace new friends and old friends, and Bruce commented to a first timer that "I like to have something to prove," and "I'm an old man but I don't want to go home — I have work to do, and I fucking like doing it!" More changes to the set list as "Bus Stop," "Janey Don't You Lose Heart," "Jack of All Trades," "Long Walk Home" and "My Love" were all swapped out for "Spirit" (Bruce donned a coonskin cap), "E Street Shuffle," and a trio of requests even more unusual than what they replaced.
A request for "Bishop Danced" came from a 12-year-old girl. Bruce commented that they had played the song before on this tour, and "goddammit, we can do it!" They did it — though it wasn't as sharp as in Newark in May. The band also had a little trouble with "Savin' Up," another sign request making its second appearance this week, nowhere near as tight as the first. But it was a great dedication to Clarence, for whom it was written, and Bruce introduced it with with a classic story tying the song's origins to Clarence's club in the early '80s. Clarence, like many musicians, wanted to own a bar so he could play the music he liked. He opened Big Man's West in Red Bank around the time of the Urban Cowboy craze, and the "West" part was inspired by the movie. "I personally had some of the best nights of my life there... while Clarence was paying. Unfortunately, Clarence went broke while I was having fun!" So Bruce wrote what he called a "lesson song" for him. "For the Big Man, in the key of E!" Of this three-song request set, it was "Human Touch" that brought the power: a tight, hard-rocking performance with one of the night's rare scorching guitar solos.
The encores brought a super-rare E Street rendition of Ry Cooder's "Across the Borderline," played by request for a fan Bruce ran into on the streets of Denver. Truly a great musical moment, starting out solo with the Band joining in. Though Springsteen has played the song numerous times since the Tunnel tour (memorably at the Christic shows with Jackson Browne and Bonnie Raitt, solo on the '92/93 tour as well as with that band), this was last performed by the E Street Band in May of 1988. With an added verse to boot, many fans in the Mile High City were in awe of a brilliant interpretation. The encores continued as the fueled-up crowd got "Bobby Jean" making her first appearance in the States this leg. "Dancing in the Dark" kept the energy high with a request to "dance with Roy," and the Professor was joined by not one but two women making the way behind the Grand to swing and sway — prompting Bruce to shout, "I should have played the piano!"
For himself, Bruce pulled a young lady from the side section to honor her request for a dance to celebrate her Sweet 16; all the while Jake grooved away on the sax. "Santa Claus" again winked toward the approaching holidays, and the saxophone spot brought both Jake and Ed Manion alongside Springsteen. A few rocky spots at this last show before Thanksgiving, but overall a fun, unpredictable night with 11 songs changed from Kansas City.
With that in mind, they took to the stage with a purpose, launching the show with a fantastic cover of Wilbert Harrison's classic, "Kansas City." The song choice might seem obvious, and possibly even cliché, but they absolutely owned it. Garry Tallent manned an upright bass while the horns had a rollicking good time, kicked off by a high-energy trumpet solo from Kansas City native Curt Ramm. The atmosphere was electric, with a boisterous crowd eagerly participating in a fun call-and-response with Bruce.
A powerful "Prove It All Night" kept the energy full tilt, featuring a "Because the Night"-esque solo from Nils, complete with signature spins. "Candy's Room" melded seamlessly into an early "She's the One," beginning with a Buddy Holly "Not Fade Away" intro. "Hungry Heart" rounded out the opening five songs before the first Wrecking Ball track made an appearance.
While introducing "My City of Ruins," Springsteen stumbled upon a candy jawbreaker that made it's way to the stage, noting ironically that "We don't have Twinkies, but we still have Jawbreakers. I had to turn my three-year-old upside down once to stop him from choking on one of these." Shortly thereafter, a bright blue (and rather large) bra made its way to the front of the stage with a song request on it, causing Bruce to proclaim, "Well that's a surefire way to get your song request played!"
An evolution to "City of Ruins" features Bruce asking for quiet as he stands next to the spotlights shining on Clarence and Danny's former posts, then soulfully singing the phrase "The change was made uptown" numerous times. It's an emotional addition to an already poignant and fitting tribute to the ghosts of E Street and of the rest of us. The song continues to grow in power and meaning with every iteration.
Searching through the "request farm," Steve pointed out a bright orange sign that he wanted played. The crowd went wild as "Fire" made its way into the set, with Steve dutifully playing the intro riffs until Bruce dramatically stopped him, on three different occasions, just to create a few moments of fun. The performance itself was excellent, the crowd sang every word.
The follow-up sign for "Incident on 57th Street" — also Lenny's favorite song — created enormous excitement. Bruce introduced the song by asking if Nils was ready, noting that "the last time we played this, Nils fucked it up badly." Fortunately Nils got it correct this time, but the song seemed to struggle a little. This version was subtle and understated, but didn't seem to find it's happy place. The show itself seemed to hit a slight speed bump at this point as well. While hard to place blame on any single factor, the flow seemed to falter.
"Because the Night" tried to recapture some of the energy, but the highly anticipated "Nils solo" was conspicuously relegated to Steve tonight. This may have been because Nils had already performed so admirably on "Prove It," but it was strange not seeing him an integral part of the song.
The bright blue bra reappeared and its song request, "Cover Me," was granted, followed by another two rarities from Born in the U.S.A., "Downbound Train' and "I'm on Fire." This was the album that Bruce and the band had been slated to bplay in full back in 2009; all three tracks were stellar.
"Waitin' on a Sunny Day" doesn't typically get press here unless something truly notable happens, and tonight, the notable element was singing — or lack thereof. Bruce warily chose a very young girl from the crowd, specifically asking the parent if this cute little lady could pull it off. After being reassured, he gave her the mic, and nothing came out. Literally. Bruce was eventually able to coax a whisper from her, generating an arena full of encouraging cheers, but the poor kid looked terrified. While putting her back into the crowd, Bruce exclaimed, "She's scarred for life!"
The band and crowd got their groove back later in the set during "Badlands" and the too rarely played "Light of Day." The horns and choir push the latter song to the heights it deserves.
The encores began with one of the evening's true highlights, the tour premiere of "My Beautiful Reward," which was dedicated to Lenny. The song began with just Bruce and his Fender, then joined by the band, featuring Nils on slide guitar. Near the finale of this gorgeously performed rarity, Bruce sang the chorus multiple times while looking upward, allowing us to share in a very personal moment.
"Dancing in the Dark" was more an exercise in herding, as four women were ushered into the fray. Steve and Bruce comically attempted to clear the decks on multiple occasions, before finally restoring order.
"Santa" came to town again, and the band is still sussing out who's the best fit to handle the "Ho Ho Ho"s. Jake and Ed gave it a go this time, while Bruce implored the audience to participate as well. By this time, the show had fully regained its footing and everyone was having a blast. The evening concluded with Bruce stripped down to his soaking wet T-shirt during "Tenth Avenue Freeze-out," having fully delivered on his promise.
Things started with the album's closing track, "Reason to Believe," in the rocking arrangement that was a staple of the Magic tour, with Bruce wailing away on harmonica and the bullet-mic distortion effect applied to his vocals. This tour debut served as a great opener and had the crowd immediately energized.
As the band immediately followed this up with "Johnny 99" and "Atlantic City," many fans were wondering: could this be the night that Bruce performs the entire album? Not quite, but six Nebraska songs ties the record for a single live show. A seventh, "My Father's House," was rehearsed at the pre-show soundcheck but alas, did not make the set. Tour premiere number two and song number four from Nebraska was "State Trooper," a mesmerizing performance by Bruce solo on a Gretsch electric guitar. It was reminiscent of the Devils & Dust tour version, but was sung straight (rather than in the falsetto used in 2005) and at a slightly faster tempo.
Two songs later, Bruce signaled to Roy to start the piano introduction of the jump-blues arrangement of "Open All Night," Nebraska song number five. A feature for the horn section, it included an extended trombone solo for Clark Gayton. Clark had a particularly great night, standing out not just during "Open All Night," but also earlier in the set on "Johnny 99" and "Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street?"
The final Nebraska selection was a full-band version of "Highway Patrolman," the song's first performance by the E Street Band since 1985. Bruce started out solo before the band kicked in, including some understated keyboards from Roy and prominent accordion and violin parts from Charles and Soozie, respectively. The E Street Choir joined in on the chorus to great effect.
With such an emphasis on Nebraska, Thursday night was already a dark, intense affair, and that mood was enhanced by several additional setlist choices from Bruce. Just including "State Trooper" in the set is one thing, but then to bookend it with sign requests for "Lost in the Flood" and "Trapped" was phenomenal. This three-song run showed exactly how useful signs can be when Bruce finds ones that fit the mood of the show. Then, following "Highway Patrolman," Bruce elected to skip "The Rising," and instead cued Roy to start the piano introduction to a surprise "Backstreets" — a performance that could have been the highlight of the show, had this not already been such an extraordinary evening.
Bruce did manage to include a few moments of levity, as he granted a request for "Sherry Darling," and again used "Hungry Heart" as an opportunity to crowd surf from the middle of the floor back to the stage. Late in the encore, a fourth tour premiere came out in the form of the year's first "Santa Claus is Comin' to Town." When collecting signs earlier in the show, a Santa hat was thrown on stage and was jokingly dismissed by Bruce as being too early — "it's not even Thanksgiving yet!” By the end of the show, perhaps intending to bring a bit more fun to the proceedings, he had changed his mind.
"Santa" was predictably well received by the crowd but also bittersweet, as the song's debut reinforced the absence of Clarence. Eddie and Jake ably shared the sax solo, but the start of the song was a different matter altogether. Without Clarence on the stage, Bruce quickly realized that he had to do the trademark "ho-ho-ho" laughter himself. Raising his arms to the sky, he called out "Big Man, we need you!" When it came time for "better be good for goodness sake" he called on the entire crowd, who gleefully and eagerly filled in.
Bruce opened with an audibled (and stellar) "I'm a Rocker," which got the crowd moving right away. "Hungry Heart" was moved up to the second slot, accompanied by the obligatory crowd surf. The next five songs — "No Surrender," "Night," "Loose Ends," "Something in the Night," and "Stolen Car" — added up to a stunning combination that arguably matches or exceeds any five-song stretch since late in the Devils & Dust tour. "Loose Ends" and tour premiere "Stolen Car" were both particularly strong, aided by contributions from the E Street Choir.
After the frenzy of those first 35 minutes, Bruce settled into the more standard portion of the show. "My City of Ruins" was notable for Bruce adding a refrain of "a change was made uptown" during the "are we missing anyone" segment of the song.
Pulses were racing yet again when Bruce shifted back into party mode with "The E Street Shuffle," which featured a battle in the percussion section, followed by the racuous "Pay Me My Money Down." But what really made hardcore pulses race was the world premiere of a full-band "Devils & Dust," a powerful (and all too rare) reading of his fine work from the mid-oughts. It featured an intense guitar solo from Bruce and, as he noted, was performed "for all of our vets out there... this is for Veterans Day." This was a very strong performance, no doubt helped by repeated rehearsals during soundcheck.
The reunion tour two-pack of "Youngstown" and "Murder Incorporated" followed, with the Twin Cities crowd cheering (as always) at the mention of Northern Minnesota's Mesabi Iron Range, Nils getting the usual and well-deserved standing ovation for his "Youngstown" solo, and Bruce and Steve engaging in a guitar duel during "Murder Inc." "She's the One" followed, featuring great harmonica work from Bruce.
Bruce then upped the ante once again in the encore, electing to open with "Jungleland." "Jakey" Clemons may not quite have his uncle's lung power, but he brought more than enough emotion to the iconic saxophone solo. After that, it was fully party mode, with Bruce pulling a female veteran up on stage for "Dancing in the Dark" and the show closing with a strong "American Land."
With 15 setlist changes from night one, one knowledgeable fan who was not in attendance looked at the setlist and declared the show "one for the ages." While the concert in fact may not quite have reached that level, it still has to be considered among the best shows of the fall 2012 arena leg, for the opening stretch and the Veterans Day "Devils & Dust" alone. And the roughly 15,000 in attendance for night two will have stories to tell that the larger first night crowd likely will not.
Despite this being the first full concert since the November 6 vote, and since Springsteen's whirlwind trifecta of appearances with the President the day before, the words Barack Obama never crossed his lips. Instead, Bruce let the music do the talking, opening with "We Take Care of Our Own." "Wrecking Ball" followed, with the now-familiar "my home is on the Jersey Shore" substituting for the reference to the swamps on which the Meadowlands were built. A back-to-basics standard opening, sure, but driven by particular purpose tonight.
The back-to-back combination of "Spirit in the Night" and "It's Hard to Be a Saint in the City" pleased the hardcores and casual fans alike, but Bruce took the show to whole 'nother level when he pulled a sign request for "Savin' Up" from the audience. As Bruce noted, "Savin' Up" was written for Clarence's 1983 Rescue album and had never been played by the E Street Band. Moreover, Bruce performances with J.T. Bowen in 2011 were the song's only two appearances in the last quarter-century. After instructing the E Street Choir on the backing vocals, and explaining the chord changes to the E Street Horns, Bruce and the Band were off and running, with maestro Bruce firmly in control of both his vocals and the song as a whole. The results were spectacular, proving once again just how difficult it is to stump the legendary E Street Band.
"Savin' Up" was followed by the Seeger Sessions arrangement of "Open All Night," which almost blew the lid off the arena. The show lagged a bit at times, most notably with "Waitin' on a Sunny Day" and its audience participation segment. But "Sunny Day" was followed by "Long Walk Home," a welcome rarity from Magic likely intended as Bruce's other political comment of the night, given its place in his stump speech looking toward "a country where, as I've written, 'nobody crowds you, and nobody goes it alone.'"
The first encore featured a solo acoustic "If I Should Fall Behind" by request, followed by "Rocky Ground," which made an all too infrequent return to the setlist. Then it was party time, with "Born to Run," "Rosalita," and "Dancing in the Dark," before Bruce and the band wrapped things up with "Tenth Avenue Freeze-out," including the video tribute to Clarence now with a few shots of Danny thrown in for good measure.
While some hardcore fans grumbled about the "Model A" setlist, this show featured a stellar three-hour performance in a part of the country that's been underplayed on this tour. With tonight wrapping up Bruce's first back-to-back shows in St. Paul since 1984, it's likely that even jaded fans will walk out pleased with the results.
The beautifully restored historic Beacon Theater served as a remarkably intimate venue for this star-studded show. The all-star line-up did not disappoint, with post-election laughs from Jon Stewart, an uproariously funny (albeit recycled from last year’s show) routine by Ricky Gervais, the outrageously frenetic Robin Williams, and self-deprecating stylings of Patton Oswalt.
True stars of the evening were the 125 combat-injured servicemen and women assembled in the Beacon's first 3 rows. As for the musical highlights, with all due respect to John Mayer's instrumental of "The Long and Winding Road," and the under-utilized Max Weinberg Band (featuring E Street Horn member Eddie Manion), the clear runner-up for the evening's top performance was a stirring performance by a Roger Waters-led band, comprised of wounded warriors from Walter Reed, featuring a stirring cover of Levon Helm's "Wide River."
However, the highlight of the night had to be be Springsteen, who played a soulful, four-song acoustic set, beginning with "We Take Care of Our Own," which had become a staple of Bruce's campaign rally performances. This was followed by a spirited "Working on the Highway." Bruce then called Patti on to the stage for a tender duet on "Tougher Than the Rest" before concluding with a poignant "Land of Hope and Dreams."
Following his set, Bruce put his guitar up on the auction block, adding perks as bidding ecalated — throwng in his harmonica, a "personal tour of the backstage area," and an autograph — to finally bring in $110,000 for the cause. And a little bit of "Mystery Train" on that guitar gave the auction winner one more story to tell.
November 5 / Des Moines, IA
Bruce had never played Des Moines prior to the Seeger Sessions tour, and ticket sales for his two Des Moines appearances over the last six years were somewhat disappointing. In fact, the estimated crowd of 20,000 for Bruce's appearance in the East Village area of Des Moines on this night likely exceeded his total ticket sales for those two earlier concerts at the Wells Fargo Arena.
It was chilly when Bruce took the stage at 9:30pm under bright lights conducive to television coverage, with his breath clearly visible. But instead of appearing next to the President's podium, Bruce headed for a mini-stage roughly the same distance from the podium as the mini-stage at the rear of the pit is from the main concert stage.
After noting that he had played Ames just two weeks earlier (and joking that he would play in Iowa "every two weeks from now on"), Bruce treated the Des Moines crowd was treated to the set that he began the day with in Madison, WI some twelve hours earlier and played in Columbus, OH in between.
The set closed not with Bruce introducing the President, but instead introducing the First Lady, gently holding her hand as he escorted her to the podium. Michelle Obama reciprocated by asking the crowd to "give some love up for Bruce Springsteen!" And the Des Moines crowd gave up that love, maybe finally realizing what they had missed out on in Bruce's earlier Des Moines appearances.
November 5 / Nationwide Arena / Columbus, OH
While his voice appeared to have been impacted by a number of recent concert appearances, not to mention the early hour, Bruce indicated that he was "fired up." Kicking things off with "No Surrender," Bruce called for audience participation on the final chorus. After a brief "shout-out" to all those in the Northeast who felt the wrath of Hurricane Sandy, Bruce continued with "The Promised Land." This acoustic version was a 180-degree turn from the cynical reading the song has sometimes received on his solo tours, with Bruce making it quite clear that he does in fact believe in a promised land right here at home.
Springsteen's humorous side came out next, with a series of jokes suggesting that the President often calls Bruce in the wee hours of the morning — they're "buddies," of course — followed by a one-word impersonation of President Obama. The one word was "Bruce." The humor continued with the latest incarnation of the newly-minted song "Forward," with Bruce announcing that the election was "sealed" as a result of the song. Bruce also noted that "forward" is a far better campaign slogan that either "backwards" or "sideways."
"Forward" was followed by a lengthy speech in support of Obama's reelection, with Bruce noting that he was "proud to be standing with [President Obama] here today." The entirety of the speech can be read here.
Finally, it was back to the music, with Bruce closing with "Land of Hope and Dreams” before introducing the President of the United States. President Obama began his remarks by describing Bruce as an "American treasure," and noting that Bruce's appearance — a 25-minute set to kick off the final day, with two more appearances to come — was "not a bad way" to end a campaign. From here, as the Washington Post reports, Bruce will ride Air Force One to the next rally in Columbus this afternoon.
The power of the new faces in the audience was exemplified by one particular sign request, by a young man down front who requested "Growin' Up" for his 20th birthday. Bruce was happy to oblige with an energetic performance, coming down to the center platform to play the solo on guitar (in place of the usual saxophone part). The sign had asked for Bruce to tell a story, but he did one better by inviting the awestruck fan on stage to join in at the microphone for the final verse. So taken with the raw enthusiasm of the moment, Bruce remarked, "I've got enough energy for the next five shows after that contact high! You've made me feel lazy now!" Throughout the show, Bruce seemed smitten with the audience: "this crowd likes to participate!" Before the night was over, fans were invited on stage on no fewer than four different songs.
The jovial atmosphere could also have been a result of a clear separation between upbeat favorites and material of a much darker tone, as Bruce struck a balance between having a party on a Saturday night and responding to the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. The show started with a reappearance of "Shackled and Drawn" in the opening slot, and then a surprisingly effective "Lonesome Day." Although some of Bruce's songs from The Rising ("Lonesome Day" included) have suffered from their frequent appearances in the set on recent tours, even those fans who may yearn something different could appreciate this as a logical choice both for its lyrics of defiant optimism and because Springsteen hadn't been to Louisville on any of his recent tours. (Alas, the latter circumstance didn't lead to anything from Magic making the set.)
During "My City of Ruins," Bruce again spoke of Asbury Park's renewal, this time mentioning the numerous "beautiful, locally-owned restaurants" and "one of the most democratic boardwalks around... and by that, I mean, everybody is there, just like I hope everybody’s here." The themes of loss and recovery continued with "Streets of Philadelphia," followed by "Atlantic City." "Streets of Philadelphia" made its first appearance outside of its namesake city in 13 years, with Bruce noting that "we don’t usually play this one" but that it was a special dedication to a fan he met before the show. "Badlands" and "Land of Hope and Dreams" ended the main set in strong fashion before Bruce finally brought back "Rocky Ground" to the setlist to open the encore.
Making its first appearance on the fall leg of the tour, "Rocky Ground" was perfectly appropriate for thematic reasons, closing the loop on the themes of loss and recovery, Bruce repeating "there’s a new day coming" as the song faded out. The band truly nailed this one, and Bruce never seemed more committed during this show than he did coming on the "we’ve been traveling over rocky ground" chorus as Michelle Moore finished the rap verse.
Rather than gather signs after "Spirit in the Night," as at recent shows, Bruce opted to grant requests from the audience throughout the night, when it suited him, which greatly improved the flow of the show. "Open All Night" brought the horns to the front of the stage for some levity it the middle of the show. "The River" was chosen to follow "Waitin' on a Sunny Day," with the sign specifically noting it was the requestor’s 19th birthday.
On one of Bruce's excursions into the crowd earlier in the night, he acquired a large black brassiere with "Rosie" stitched across the front. Following "Born to Run," Bruce had a quite a bit of fun showing it off before launching into the song and sending the crowd home deliriously happy.
Of course, that wasn't the only performance from Bruce. The E Street Band was billed, and the E Street we got, as they closed the telethon in full force — no Patti, but E Street Horns and Choir present and accounted for. Stewart teamed up with Brian Williams to make the introduction, as two Jersey boys... who finally decided they could use a third. "We're gonna send this out to the people of NY and NJ," Springsteen said, "and to all those who put their lives on the line with their service this week. This is Land of Hope and Dreams." A five-and-a-half minute version, with blaring horns and the "People Get Ready" outro, concluded with Bruce calling out, "God bless New York, God bless the Jersey Shore!"
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The night kicked off with an acknowledgement to the university setting with a rare performance of "Lion's Den" (the PSU team is known as the Nittany Lions). However, despite the bright mood, no one onstage or in the crowd had forgotten the impact of Hurricane Sandy. "We Take Care of Our Own" and "Wrecking Ball" were still at the top of the set, with a notable lyric change in the latter tonight: "Well, my home is on the Jersey Shore..." where Bruce paused for a few moments to let the crowd cheer in tribute. "My City of Ruins" also featured a shorter version of the speech Bruce made the previous night in Rochester, talking about how "we are a band you cannot separate from the Jersey Shore; after all these years, we remain a glorified bar band at your service," before touching again on the revival of Asbury Park, his confidence in its return after the hurricane, and once more thanking the police, fire, first responders, and the Governor of New Jersey, this time offering the song in dedication to that group. Notable during the "roll call" tonight was how Bruce requested and received total silence for a few moments, before the audience began to call out for Clarence and Danny.
Security had confiscated most signs from the GA crowd, but a few still made it in and resulted in a brief sign collection interlude after "Spirit." "Seaside Bar Song" was the first choice, with the traditional introduction about how it had been written about the Osprey Club in Manasquan. A very focused "It's Hard to Be a Saint in the City" followed, featuring a tight and incendiary guitar battle between the Guitar Slinger of Central New Jersey and Miami Steve Van Zandt at the end.
Bruce then called for another sign he had seen out in the crowd, this time for "Fourth of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)." Yes, "Sandy." The sign was decorated with a beach motif and had "NEVER FORGET" at the top. This was definitely an audible, as Roy Bittan was still scurrying to put on the accordion as Bruce began the song. The set would then take an unexpected turn, with a straight run through "Darlington County," "Working on the Highway" and "Cover Me." Bruce had favored the back of the floor early on in the set, filled with loud PSU students waving American flags and hoisting their girlfriends on their shoulders. For "Darlington," Bruce went back and brought both Nils and then Jake to engage in various hijinks, much to the delight of everyone involved.
The slot after "Sunny Day" usually devoted to a serious or epic number was postponed in favor of "Raise Your Hand," probably just to give Bruce an excuse to go to the back platform again. There was too much room in the front pit to attempt crowdsurfing or he probably would have done it tonight, based on his visible enjoyment with the PSU crowd.
However, following "Raise Your Hand," the stage went dark and Bruce held the guitar aloft as Roy began the intro to "Backstreets," bringing the entire crowd to rapt attention. It was a classic version of this song, bold and expansive. "Badlands" next kept the motor running, which took the band into a strong version of "Land of Hopes and Dreams."
Grabbing a sign out of the audience reading "Jersey Strong," Bruce kicked off the encore with a surprising encore appearance of "Jersey Girl" (with another impressive solo from Ed Manion), in tribute to the Shore, before careening through a loud and enthusiastic "Born to Run" and a truly raucous "Rosalita." Bruce spent much of the latter number out on the front platform with Steve in sidekick role, hamming it up and dancing around and interacting with the crowd around the stage. "Dancing in the Dark" caused a small riot onstage when Bruce picked out a sign reading "Have you ever danced with a PSU girl?" and pulled the sign holder and her friend onstage. Within seconds, there were at least a dozen women onstage, surrounding Bruce and Jake (and there would have probably been a dozen more had security not firmly intervened).
The band were saying their goodbyes at the end of "Tenth Avenue Freeze-out" when it became clear that there was going to be one more song. "A song the E Street Band may have never before played," Bruce said (this would turn out to be correct), gesturing for a sign he had seen earlier. After consulting with Garry and Steve, with Nils bringing the chord changes to everyone else, the band kicked into a more than convincing version of the Isley Brothers' "Shout." It momentarily took the crowd by surprise, but the entire arena responded enthusiastically and with vigor, singing and dancing along, twisting down to the floor along with Bruce, before bringing the song to a happy but exhausted end.
While there may have been many first-time E Street Band attendees at tonight's show, the band worked hard tonight to ensure it would likely not be their last.
Bruce's first Halloween show in 20 years also brought a second live debut, as an impromptu sign collection after "Spirit in the Night" led to a sign for "Monster Mash" being pulled out of the crowd. He remarked that coming up to the show, he was thinking about what might be the greatest Halloween song of all time. "This probably isn’t it!" As the band readied themselves, Bruce joked that "we, cleverly, may have rehearsed it this afternoon at soundcheck! How did we know somebody would have this sign?" Set to a reggae/ska beat with a lively horn riff, this version of the Bobby "Boris" Pickett & the Crypt-Kickers classic was also particularly notable for Bruce's adoption of the mock Transylvanian accent for the line "Whatever happened to my Transylvania twist?" and the priceless lyric change: “when you get to my door / tell them the boss man sent you.”
But lest anyone think for a moment that Bruce had forgotten the past few days back home, Bruce eschewed his normal setlist pattern and immediately went into "We Take Care of Our Own" as the second song of the set. Three songs later, he started a particularly heartfelt introduction about his home state. "My City of Ruins" has been played at every show this tour to date, with Bruce often remarking about how the "song has become about so many things: ghosts, people, places, things that mark themselves upon us, become who we are." Yet tonight, only two nights after a devastating hurricane, he was thinking about the original inspiration for the song.
"We wish you a happy Halloween, but we are a rock 'n' roll band form the Jersey Shore, and tonight we carry a lot of sadness in our hearts. This was originally a song about my adopted hometown struggling to get on its feet — it struggled for 25 years, a quarter century, while we watched for Asbury to come back. And we are very proud to say over the past decade, it has risen up and flourished in a way I wasn’t ever sure I'd see in my lifetime. And it will do so again!"
"We're a band that you can't separate from the Jersey shore — still basically a glorified bar band... at your service! So we're gonna do this tonight from our hometown to your hometown. We'll send this out to all the people working down there: the police officers, the firemen, and also to the Governor, who has done such a hard job this past week."
The aforementioned "Monster Mash" aside, the rest of the set turned dark and introspective, with a plaintive "Atlantic City," the crowd singing along not just to sing along, but out of vocal solidarity on the "maybe everything that dies someday comes back" line. A solemn and solid "Jackson Cage followed, and shortly thereafter "Cover Me" and "Downbound Train" were a welcome and surprising pair from Born in the U.S.A., with the former including a Nils Lofgren guitar solo. On the latter, the band locked into a tight groove for the instrumental coda with Bruce's guitar and Roy's synthesizer. Bruce could be seen mouthing "very nice" to the band as the song ended.
A rare appearance by "Drive All Night" was a spectacular moment, highlighted by some phenomenal sax playing from Jake Clemons. His solo was rich and expressive and evocative of his uncle's work without being a carbon copy. The ballad was surprisingly apt given the show's thematic arc. "Radio Nowhere" was another unexpected turn, taking the crowd into "Badlands" and then up yet another step energetically into "Land of Hopes and Dreams" to end the main set.
When Charlie strapped on an accordion, many in the crowd were expecting a song from Bruce's second album, only to hear instead a familiar guitar pattern and Bruce singing "I got no time for the corner boys..." Dedicated to "all the folks suffering in New York City, Connecticut, the Tri-State area, and especially for our fans suffering down on the Jersey Shore," it may not have been the Jersey Shore song everyone had expected, but it was quite apropos, somehow both joyous and solemn, standing for hope and remembrance: "Cause down the shore/everything's all right..." echoing back to Bruce's remarks earlier about the terrible devastation from the hurricane and how Asbury will rise again. ("Jersey Girl" replaced "Rocky Ground" on the setlist; both songs would certainly resonate with the theme of the evening.)
A sign reading "DETROIT MEDLEY please!" in a low row stage right caught Bruce's eye at the end of "Born to Run" and brought one final audible to the show. Things started a bit off-kilter, with different factions of the band playing different things. Stopping, and starting again, they brought the house down, before finishing the night with crowd-pleasers "Dancing in the Dark" and "Tenth Avenue Freeze-out" to cap off a fantastic Wednesday night in Rochester.
Four songs in, an audibled "Streets of Fire" included Bruce’s powerful and dramatic vocals as well as a blistering guitar solo, a feat he managed to repeat later in the set when he called for "Adam Raised a Cain." The only drawback of the prominence of Darkness in the show was that it pushed aside the new material, as the set contained only five Wrecking Ball songs.
The return of the Wrecking Ball tour to indoor venues has several positives, one of the most notable of which is the band being surrounded on all sides by the audience. When there is a sold-out, energetic crowd as there was on this Saturday night in Pittsburgh, there is a substantial effect on the show, clearly pushing the performance of band higher. In particular, Bruce's four separate forays out to the platform in the middle of the floor emphasized his connection with the audience this night.
Bruce stopped the show to collect signs after "Spirit in the Night" and reviewed the night’s offerings before noting that "we’ve got a few we can work with!" This brought the debut of "Pretty Flamingo," which Bruce recalled being a "showstopper" as he namechecked the Stanley Theatre to enthusiastic applause. As the band found their groove, Bruce even recreated his old monologue, talking about how we would try to be subtle while watching girls — "I didn’t want to be caught gawking!"
An all-too-rare airing of material from The Promise, "Talk to Me" was next, and featured Bruce’s full showman act, prowling the front of the stage before falling to his knees and delivering another take on how he's "become an expert in begging my baby for forgiveness."
Starting the encore, Bruce spoke about how coming to Pittsburgh "is special for a number of reasons," first recalling his 2010 and 2011 shows with Joe Grushecky at Soldiers and Sailors Hall, the same venue he performed at earlier in the afternoon in support of President Obama's reelection bid. He also spoke at length about how Pittsburgh was the city where he began working with local foodbanks, in 1984 on the Born in the U.S.A. tour. Finally, he made a special dedication of "Racing in the Street" to "the folks from Pitcarin, PA" (a local suburb). Yes, "Racing" made a rare appearance in the encore, with Bruce holding his guitar aloft as Roy delivered another of his momentous solos.
After the houselights came up for "Born to Run," the entire Grushecky family made appearances on stage. Joe and his son Johnny came up for crowd-favorite "Glory Days," with both of them joining Bruce and Steve on the center stage extension at the end of the song. The Grusheckys stayed on for an energetic "Light of Day," dedicated to Pittsburgh and featuring the horn section and a "Land of 1,000 Dances" sing-along. Finally, for "Dancing in the Dark," Mrs. Grushecky — Joe's wife — was picked by Bruce to be his dancing partner.
The show fell on Garry Tallent's birthday, and "the Foundation of the E Street Nation" got special recognition twice: first, during the band introductions, as Bruce spied a “Happy Birthday” sign and brought it on stage. Second, come the end of the show, when a dancing partner was invited on stage. Bruce seemed genuinely impressed with Garry’s moves — done while still playing and holding down the beat — and invited him to the center microphone to count off the end of the song, exclaiming "a superstar is born!"
One final exultation to Vote, Vote, Vote, and Springsteen sent the energized crowd forward, out into the streets fired up and ready to go.
The 38-year-old XL Center, née the Hartford Civic Center, has hosted its share of memorable Springsteen concerts (ten since 1980), featuring plenty of rarities and some unusual show-openers ("Roulette," "Souls of the Departed," and "So Young and In Love") over the years. So the Hartford faithful have come to expect the unexpected and were ready for a few surprises.
They got a big one right off the bat, as the band took the stage and immediately launched into a giddy, wham-bang "Held Up Without a Gun," to the crowd’s astonishment (and Steve's visible delight). That River-era B-side had been played only four times before, though you wouldn't know it from this razor-sharp performance, with Steve and Bruce sharing a mic and manic grins, Max pummeling away in double-time, and the entire pit pogo-ing along. Clocking in under two minutes, the song was over before it started — but it lit a fire in both band and audience that would keep burning all night.
"Held Up" was just one of many dives into The River and its outtakes. Perhaps Bruce was remembering his first show at this arena, 32 years ago — but by four songs in, it felt like 1980 all over again. (The man himself wore an era-appropriate tie and vest, while Nils' fedora could have been nicked from Steve’s River tour dressing room.) Wedged between "Held Up" and a shimmery "Jackson Cage," even the latter-day "Radio Nowhere" came off like some lost nugget of '80s power pop. "Hungry Heart" whipped the River revival to a frenzy — the choir nailing those swoony Flo & Eddie harmonies — and saw Bruce taking the first of several laps around the pit, then crowd-surfing back to the stage.
Seventy shows in, "We Take Care of Our Own" and "Wrecking Ball" have evolved into the sure-fire crowd-pleasers they were built to be, and Bruce has added some tasty guitar flourishes to the intro of the latter. Hartford being midway between Boston and New York, it was funny to hear half the audience boo and the other half cheer the song's Giants reference. As soon as Bruce let fly with that Joey Ramone count-in, however, the whole arena was on his team.
The swaggering, forward march of "Death to my Hometown," battle-hardened over the course of the tour, showed off the full power of the expanded E Street Band. "We’re on a mission!" Bruce shouted over the intro to "My City of Ruins," punching the air like a prizefighter. "I'm not sure what the fuck it is, but we're on it, goddammit!" On it they were. Bruce's invocation of "the ghosts and spirits that walk alongside us" served as a reminder of "the preciousness of life, and the sweetness of this evening." It was sweet indeed, especially with those gorgeous Mayfield-esque horns.
Following that ghostly exorcism with the now-standard "Spirit in the Night" makes a certain thematic sense, but the long, vampy introduction stalls the momentum a bit, coming after the sprawl of "Ruins"; it could use some trimming. Once it kicked in, "Spirit" was wonderful — and the charming Jake/Bruce duet at the foot of the stage has become one of the show's best moments, at once goofy and poignant.
A sparkling "Incident on 57th Street" followed (another request), its delicate opening rising steadily to the damburst of Bruce's majestic, cascading guitar solo. Then it was back into The River, for a searching take on the rare "Point Blank." Roy's plaintive, tinkling piano on that tune segued nicely into the equally haunting "Because the Night," wherein Nils took his customarily shred-tastic solo, culminating in a dervish-like twirl. With the crowd now fully energized, things moved further uptempo with two rowdy River rockers: "You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)" (interesting to hear in the same set as "Held Up," with which it shares some DNA) and "Out in the Street." During the latter Bruce ran out to the floor again to find one cardigan-clad Ruth Weinberg in the stands. "Max’s mom!" he shouted. "97 years old and still at a rock show!"
Another sign request prompted the night's most breathtaking moment: a lovely, solo-piano "For You," sung with such immediacy and conviction that it sounded brand new. A reverent hush took hold; even the chatty crew in my section were soon stunned into silence. A superb rendering, full of ache and longing. "Badlands," too, was particularly strong tonight, calling to mind... what else? That ferocious 1980 performance after Ronald Reagan's election.
After a lively "Land of Hope and Dreams" (which my chatty neighbors recognized as “the baseball song!!”), the encore leapt out of the gate with a scorching "Kitty’s Back" — a sultry, sweat-and-horn-soaked extrava-jam-za that stretched to 17 full minutes, not one of them wasted, as nearly every band member took a solo shot (Barry Danielian's trumpet being one standout). If those jazzier diversions lost some unfamiliar fans, "Born to Run" buckled them right back in, and from there we opened up onto a straightaway, chugging along to a cathartic "Tenth Avenue" finale.
Nice to see some great images of Danny Federici now worked into the video tribute to Clarence, and to hear the fans respond in kind. Phantom Dan, of course, was E Street's secret weapon—the band’s most intuitive tone painter, filling its sturdy canvas with color and light. In short: an impossible act to follow. Yet Charlie Giordano has done so gracefully, unobtrusively, brilliantly. His stylish, inventive organ work on "Kitty's Back" and "Point Blank" were among the night's highlights. Phantom would have been proud.
As it happens, Hartford was the setting for Giordano's stateside debut with the E Street Band, back in February 2008, during Danny’s hiatus. How far this crew has traveled in almost five years since—and how surely Giordano has made that keyboard riser his home.
And that’s just it: This was a night to pay tribute not just to 1980 and 1973 and all the great years past, but also to right now, to 2012. A night to recall what has been and what we once had — but also to be profoundly grateful for what is, and what we still have. What do we have today? A band once again at the peak of its powers, playing with remarkable tautness and discipline, yet with such thrilling abandon and seat-of-the-pants spontaneity that you never know what's coming next. Bravo, E Street, for a night to remember.
October 23 / John Paul Jones Arena / Charlottesville, VA
But this wasn't all folks from the early days — the crowd had a considerable youth contingent, with UVA students in the house, and another huge cheer went up when Bruce asked, "Who hasn't seen the E Street Band before?" When a sizeable number threw their hands up, he said, "I like that — makes me feel like I have something to prove! I'm an old man, but I don't want to go home!" "Hungry Heart" soon had him not only racing around toward the back of the pit to surf, but heading further back and venturing up into the stands, surrounded by fans in the lower level. Huge cheers greeted Bruce's summit with Jake downstage on "Spirit in the Night," his saxophone and their interplay soulful, touching, and hilarious all at once.
Moving "Shackled" to the front of the show also meant that, as we made our way deeper into the night, we rarely had any idea what was coming next (even the second song, "Lonesome Day," rarely comes so early in the set). After "Spirit" we moved into truly unusual territory, with two songs in a row from Tracks. "Seaside Bar Song" was the one granted sign request of the night: "I wrote this song after seeing Bo Diddley at the Osprey bar in Manasquan." Next, Bruce had the band really winging it with "Give the Girl a Kiss" ("very obscure, very obscure!"). Trying to teach the horns their part on the fly, coaching the backing vocals along too, it was a fun chance to see Springsteen workshop a song right in front of our eyes. Last played in 2009, the Darkness outtake wasn't quite the rave-up it has the potential to be. But it was as entertaining to watch the horns pick up on Bruce's cues, mimicking his guitar riffs, as it was to hear Bruce introduce the song with his new plan to be a "romantic consultant." Referencing his counseling at the previous show in Hamilton to the guy who'd been dumped, Bruce got to thinking, "How can I make money off this?" The answer, of course: an E Street matchmaking service, kinda like "match.com, or screwsomebodyidon'tknow.com.... The two people wouldn't have to like each other, they'd just have to love me! A shared interest — that's what a relationship is built on. Just ask Patti — I love the hell out of myself!"
With those freewheeling Tracks songs back to back, we were in such a Virginia beach music zone that it felt like "Let's Be Friends (Skin to Skin)" might come next... and there were signs being held up for "Talk to Me," "Until the Good is Gone," even "Man's Job." Instead, the band took a hard left into "Lost in the Flood," which began a dark stretch of intense, guitar-heavy performances. "Lost in the Flood" was a powerhouse, Bruce shredding while Max pounded away. On "This Depression," Nils filled up all available space with a monster, Morello-esque solo. "Murder Incorporated" is a song built for those horns, blaring away back there, as all three guitarists took leads, Bruce and his consigliere facing off at the end (which seemed to wake Stevie right up). Even "Johnny 99" fit this dark theme, the fourth in a stretch that could be easily taken as an angry election-inspired take on the state of the nation, after the afternoon's rally.
There wasn't much darkness left by the end of "Johnny 99," though. All the horns came down front, where each player got a chance to do their thing, their delirious Sessions Band sounds allowing for a smooth transition into a Born in the U.S.A. double whammy of "Working on the Highway" and "Darlington County." On the former, Bruce broke out, no kidding, the galloping "Gangnam Style" dance, and on "Darlington," he ventured into the stands again, also bringing Nils back around with him to the pit platform. The arena ate it all up.
Tracks and Born in the U.S.A. doubleshots, lots of fun... but nothing like the two-fer that took this show over the top toward the end: two Born to Run epics in one show, a mighty "Backstreets" and a moving "Jungleland," separated only by an explosive "Badlands" and the set-closing "Land of Hope and Dreams." Opening the encore and apparently an audible, as Bruce quickly circled the stage to signal the band, "Jungleland" felt like an impromptu reward for an audience that had stayed attuned and involved from the very beginning, even through some odd pacing and lesser-known songs along the way. As Jake offered up a note-perfect solo, clean and clear, the crowd roared its approval.
From there on, a standard final stretch, though "Seven Nights to Rock" was a bit more fresh air, and the encore felt like an E Street Band encore should — a lights-up, dance party blowout. And that crowd still had enough energy by the very end to give "the important part," the Big Man joining the band, a whole lotta lungpower in an extended tribute to Chesapeake, Virgina's own.
But being a swing state does have its advantages. While it seemed that Bruce’s campaigning was over last week, the weekend announcement that Bruce would also play an Obama for America Rally in Thomas Jefferson's hometown of Charlottesville before his scheduled E Street Band show led Virginians from all over to rejoice with a "Wahoo - Wa!"
Before the rally started, attendees were treated to walk-in music by Curtis Mayfield, No Doubt, Ray LaMontagne, Raphael Saadiq, and others. But it was when former Virginia Governor and current Democratic Senate candidate Tim Kaine began speaking of being 17 and hearing the Born to Run album for the first time that the crowd truly got fired up and ready to go. Kaine mentioned that when he heard "Thunder Road" for the first time he couldn’t believe what a beautiful song it was. He went on to describe Bruce Springsteen as that rare musician, in the mold of Woody Guthrie, who sings the songs of the everyman, his dreams and disappointments. And with that, the former Governor introduced the main attraction.
It was obvious a few folks were seeing Springsteen for the first time. I watched a teen girl's wide-eyed look to her friend as she quietly mouthed, "They’re booing him!?" The friend shook her head, whispered in her ear and the girl's head arched back as she laughed at not understanding the "Broooocing."
Bruce took the stage and wasted no time playing a beautiful "No Surrender" followed by a passionate "Promised Land." At the end of the song, Bruce slowly stepped away from the microphone and with the quiet of the crowd you just heard his voice repeating "And I believe in a Promised Land."
The song "Forward," a bit of a wincer the first time I heard it, was actually funnier with Bruce's imitation of President Obama fictionally calling up and requesting a campaign song. Since the last two performances he added a couple of lines, one commenting on the President's rough first debate performance — "Fox News said he had smoked marijuana" — which got a huge laugh from the crowd. It was a nice, light interlude.
Bruce's performance of "The River" had people in looking at each other like, "Can you believe this?" And everything that's been said about the acoustic "We Take Care of Our Own" is true. It comes across less like a criticism and more like a prayer for the next four years.
Bruce concluded by saying he was playing the next one for Tim Kaine. "You were 17 years old, huh?" Bruce said with a laugh. "Then I was ten!" A gorgeous sing-along version of the Born to Run classic followed before Bruce and some of the E Street Band members in the crowd left for soundcheck.
Update: view the entire performance on YouTube.
- report and photographs by Bob Zimmerman
The E Street Band's strong start with "My Love Will Not Let You Down" got the crowd on their side right away, particularly the powerful performance from Max Weinberg. From there into River cuts "Out in the Street" and "Hungry Heart," and Springsteen was crowd-surfing by song number three. After a spirited "Spirit," Bruce kept Greetings From Asbury Park, NJ tunes rolling with "Does this Bus Stop on 82nd Street?," which really showcased how powerful this band is when the full horns kick in.
This show saw a slew of sign requests granted over the course of the night, starting with "Trapped" — "Trapped in Hamilton," as the sign read. It was note-perfect and powerful, followed by another request from a sign reading, "Hi Bruce, I just got dumped... I'm Going Down." The guy was right at the front of the pit, so Bruce engaged in a bit of dialogue, holding the mic down and asking him why he got dumped. "She didn't think I was spending enough time with her." "You probably weren't," Bruce said and asked the fan if he wanted a hug. After a funny embrace, Bruce decided to give the young man a little verbal support: "I got dumped plenty of times... but they left too soon, they left too soon. They missed all that record company advance money!" It felt like the right time for "She's the One," followed by yet another sign request — a most impressive, a battery-powered twinkle-light sign that lit up to read "Because the Night."
Later in the set, a true rarity, and a moving one: Bruce played Magic's bonus track, "Terry's Song," in honor of Sydney Wood, an 11-year-old Hamilton girl who died in August. Bruce described it as a song written for a friend who had worked for the E Street Band for 23 years, elaborating that he and Steve first met Terry Magovern after playing a bar that Terry managed. When Bruce approached Terry following the show to try and get more bookings for the band, Terry's reply was "No. You'll never play here again — it's a bar, we want people to drink, not listen." Magovern, of course, went on to become one of Springsteen's biggest supporters and closest friends. The solo acoustic version that followed was extremely powerful and the highlight of the night for many in the audience.
After "Land of Hope and Dreams," two more sign requests in the encores. The first was a sign that Nils spotted and pointed out to Steve, who in turn pointed out to Bruce: "I'm a Rocker" (for a family of rockers, including two young girls who took a bow on stage). After "Born to Run," Springsteen reuqited the love for a sign reading "Canada Loves Rosalita."
"Dancing in the Dark" saw not one, not two, but three girls pulled on stage to dance: the first two were a bride-to-be and her maid of honor, followed shortly by a third woman, who took a small tumble trying to get up on the stage. This came on the heels of a tumble by Bruce himself, who tripped running up the stairs to the main stage (fortunately his guitar broke his fall; Bruce was fine, but the guitar appeared to be toast). At 26 songs, not a lengthy affair, but with Bruce out to have a fun night and enough signs present to decorate the entire arena, Hamilton got a loose, energetic show with 12 songs not played at Friday's show in Ottawa.
Patti once again sitting out, the band kicked off the night with a lights-on rendition of "The Promised Land." Once Jake Clemons' solo kicked in, it was love at first note for the new E Streeter, who established an audience bond that didn’t let up for the whole night.
The house lights were killed for a razor-sharp "Ties that Bind" followed by "No Surrender" featuring a spectacular flourish from Max at the end. "Hungry Heart" had the typical audience participation in the first verse (very loudly — nicely done, Ottawa), and Bruce quickly found his way to the riser between the pit and the rest of GA... then, during Jake's solo, the first crowd-surf of the fall leg, back to the main stage.
By the end of the one-two punch of "We Take Care of Our Own" and "Wrecking Ball," the sound crew finally found the sweet spot and cleared up the muddiness that was there for the first four numbers, and the "Wrecking Ball" directive to "Let me hear your voices call" was responded to by the crowd with a "Yeahhhhhh!!!!" that practically tore the roof off. The equally enthusiastic response to "Death to My Hometown" (an inadvertent anthem to a potentially lost hockey season?), proved that Bruce is one of those few artists that is more than able to get his audience to embrace new material.
The gospel-inflected "My City of Ruins" introduced the audience to the horns, the "choir," the band, and his current theme of the ghosts that walk with us, telling the audience that "the older you get, the more ghosts and more spirits walk aside ... those ghosts become your traveling companions." It'is a uniquely poetic and uplifting approach of honoring those that are no longer with us. Clarence and Danny's spots on stage right were appropriately lit for the "roll call."
The ghosts and spirit theme continued with a blistering "Spirit in the Night" and gave the crowd its first taste of the wonderful chemistry that has been developing between young Jake and Bruce throughout the tour, particularly the sit down grizzled-uncle lecture of "This was all before you were born...," which gets funnier every time.
The next one was an audible. Bruce had apparently been suffering a clogged ear (perhaps from all that flying around the Midwest on the Obama stump on Thursday) and was "very happy" now because of the doctor who "fixed me up." "E Street Shuffle," showing off the power of the E Street horns, was the doctor’s request.
"Jack of All Trades" led us to Roy's gorgeous piano accompanied by Bruce’s first guitar solo of the night, that classic '78-style intro setting up a somewhat subdued "Prove it All Night," finally exploding with the solo now adopted by Nils Lofgren. A thrilling "Candy's Room" was followed by another Bruce audience foray during "Darlington County," where he apparently slipped a lucky girl some cash (how much?).
"Shackled and Drawn" featured some inspired gospel from the always lovely Cindy Mizelle, and "Waitin' on a Sunny Day" provided one of those great spontaneous Bruce moments; Bruce was late on the acoustic guitar toss because apparently the strap got stuck on something, so he stopped the band and counted them back in to time the toss appropriately — the band, as always, not missing a beat. And, hey, Toronto, you got one cute kid singing on this song... Ottawa got two!
The rarely played "Drive All Night," an audible, provided the show’s highlight. The band worked up a crescendo that gave the effect of an awakening bee-hive. Then, wrapping up the main set, the hat trick of "The Rising," "‘Badlands," and "Thunder Road" with its moving tribute to Clarence's sax riff by the entire horn section that never ceases to make the goose bumps rise.
The request section didn’t turn up at this show, but Bruce did grab one card for the first encore song. "Nobody ever requests this!” he shouted, revealing to the crowd "Queen of the Supermarket." Still laughing, he leaned over to the woman who had provided the request, who revealed that she was "Caroline from Sobeys" (Sobeys is a venerable supermarket chain in Canada). He dismissed E Streeters from the stage because "the band doesn't know it" and spent about a minute reminding himself of the changes on the acoustic — then he nailed it, even throwing in the ad libbed line "She's waiting at Sobeys...." It would be interesting to see if Sobeys gets a sales bump in Ottawa this weekend.
Continuing on the ghosts and spirits theme, the new favorite "We Are Alive" followed, with an animated Jake banging on the drum, using his sticks to help Bruce "call the voices," backed by his horn compatriots bringing the mariachi. Then — house lights on! — "Born to Run." Finally could hear the organ, it's usually pretty subdued in the mix. Jake engages the audience at the back.
"Glory Days" provided another great moment: someone in the pit had brought a life-size (well, actually a bit taller) cutout of Bruce that found its way on to the stage. Little Steven propped it up center stage, where he and Bruce danced around as if in a tribal ceremony. Bruce held the mic up to Cardboard Bruce ("Sing it for me, Bossman!"), but, sadly, got no response. Cardboard Bruce stayed up for "Dancing in the Dark" but got booted from the stage for the final song, "Tenth Avenue Freeze-out" (Cardboard Bruce found his way back to his owner/trainer). By the time Bruce shooed the last E Streeter off the stage, the show clocked in at three hours, nine minutes — a (relatively) shorter show, and fairly basic setlist, but a tight and energetic first night back.
The photo montage during "Tenth Avenue" once again brought up the spirits-that-walk-with-us theme, but also served as a reminder that Bruce and the E Street Band, despite having a few parts changed here and there, are built to last. This isn't just a band, it's family.
October 18 / Hilton Arena / Ames, IA
An Obama video narrated by Tom Hanks began airing on scoreboard screens at 2:15. The film detailed the Obama presidency, focusing on the financial meltdown and the early agenda they enacted. Large applause broke out for the mentions of the Bin Laden raid and the Lilly Ledbetter bill, as well as the college loan protections. The Iowa democratic chairwoman came on stage and gave a brief speech to fire the crowd up, but concluded by informing us that due to windy conditions, Bruce had been delayed. President Clinton was not on this bill as a warm-up, either. Finally, Kevin Buell appeared on stage to do the soundcheck, and it was announced that Bruce was, in fact, in the building.
Springsteen came out just after at 4:30, and it didn't take him long to provide "The Hilton Magic!" — a term this arena has earned as one of the toughest college basketball trips any road team endures. Before he had taken the stage, another video detailed the origin of the "Fired Up, Ready to Go" slogan. Bruce came out chuckling, "'Fired Up'? I'm gonna have to use that." He told the crowd, "Good to be here in Iowa for President Obama," just as they enacted a version of th epre-encore reunion tour "stage rush" before the encores. As in Ohio — and the basic set would be the same — he began with "No Surrender."
"This is usually about when i wake up, now that the kids are out of the house," he quipped, before giving his stump speech and following it with "The Promised Land." Introducing the goofy new "Forward," he joked about the president calling him "twice a week... it even gets a bit annoying sometimes." He said the President's last call was complaining that he didn't have a campaign song — some country singer wrote a song for Romney, so could Bruce come up with something for him? After the song Springsteen laughed, "Top that, Mitt Romney!"
A beautiful version of "The River" was where the setlist diverged from Parma, (played in place of the Ohio special, "Youngstown"). The tremendous acoustic rendering of "We Take Care of Our Own" followed; I think over time this may become the defining version of this song. He then thanked the crowd again, urging them to "vote and drag a friend along to vote also. Let's hope we're celabrating the first week of Novemer!"
The set was one song shorter than Ohio, with no "This Land is Your Land," but "Thunder Road" closed the show in fine fashion. The crowd of thousands sang along as best they could, although at one point were way off the mark, prompting Bruce to chuckle, "That's terrible." But the man himself sounded great today. As good as i've heard his voice. This was a good warmup for us midwestern folks as we look forward to some shows coming to our neck of the woods in November.
October 18 / Cuyahoga County Community College Western Campus / Parma, OH
Introducing the headliner after his 30-minute speech, Clinton hailed him as "One of the most important forces in American music in the last 50 years... one of the coolest dudes I have ever met... a guy who reflects our real American values... the incomparable Bruce Springsteen!"
Approaching the podium after a hug, Bruce laughed, "I get to speak after President Clinton — that's like going on after Elvis! I was frantically calling the E Street Band backstage saying, 'Quick, I need backup. I need backup!' If he had only brought the saxophone, you would have seen a real jam up here...."
After opening with an uptempo "No Surrender," Springsteen began a speech that ranged from humorous — "I will now be going into President Obama's policies, but in greater depth and detail than President Clinton" — to serious: "Voting matters. Elections matter. Think of the events of the last 12 years and try to convince yourself they don't. We get an individual hand in shaping the kind of America we want our kids to grow up in." The speech concluded with Springsteen drawing a parallel between President Obama and his own "Long Walk Home":
Following "The Promised Land," Springsteen joked that the President had called him to ask for a campaign song, adding that the Obama campaign's slogan, "Forward," was "not a lot to go on, right there. 'Forward.' It's better than 'Backward,' a little better than 'Sideward.' You don't want 'Sideward' on a bumpersticker." The song itself, despite some impressive audience participation, will not likely prove a classic:
Moving back to more serious subjects, a small lyrical change in "Youngstown" added mentions of Afghanistan and Iraq to Korea and Vietnam, modernizing the 1995 song and tying it to one of the themes of Wrecking Ball, the notion that "This has happened before, it will happen again."
The clear musical highlight of the afternoon was the first ever acoustic "We Take Care of Our Own," a song often used by the Obama campaign in recent months. Springsteen introduced the song by saying "I wrote this song and posed it as a question.... it's about the idea that the nation can only be measured by its compassion for its weakest."
"This Land is Your Land," including the rarely played "private property" verse, was dedicated to the 100th birthday of Woody Guthrie. Springsteen noted that Guthrie "opened so many doors for so many musicians understanding music as a tool to full citizenship. Feel free to join in — he wrote them all to be sung." The crowd did join in, more forcefully as the song continued.
Springsteen implored the crowd to "Vote, vote, vote!" before closing the show with "Thunder Road," saying, "I hope this kind of says it all, my hopes, my wishes, my dreams." It was a clear crowd favorite; during a quiet moment of the song someone loudly yelled, "We love you Bruce!" to which Springsteen replied, "And love back on you."
As an organization, Little Kids Rock has E Street connections: in 2009, Clarence Clemons was the inaugural "Big Man of the Year" recipient, the award having been created and named in his honor. Maureen Van Zandt is on the New York City Metro Area Board of Directors; Maureen and Max Weinberg co-chaired this year's Right to Rock Celebration.
The program began with three student performances, showing that little kids do indeed rock. First up was a group from IS 129-X (Bronx, NY), who played Santana's "Black Magic Woman" and Stevie Wonder's "I Wish." They were followed by a group from Franklin Williams Middle School (Jersey City, NJ), who played an original song "Daddy's Little Girl," accompanied by Jake Clemons.
Next was an auction. A guitar autographed by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band sold for $15,000. Three separate bidders also paid $15,000 each for "The Van Zandt Experience": dinner with Steven and Maureen along with special guest Lorraine Bracco, Steven's Sopranos co-star. Three separate bidders paid $16,000 to play with the band in the musical portion of the evening.
Afterwards, Jake Clemons spoke about his uncle Clarence, and what Little Kids Rock and the "Big Man Of The Year" award meant to him. Jake then introduced Bruce, the evening's eagerly anticipated though unannounced "special guest," to present the award to Steven.
Bruce's ten-minute speech was at turns hilarious and touching. Bruce reminisced about his 47-year friendship with Steven, "one of the longest relationships of my life, and one of the greatest rock and roll friendships." Bruce recalled, "We met at the Middletown Hullabaloo Club around 1966, and Steve was doing, I believe, The Turtles' 'Happy Together.' I knew I'd met somebody who'd drunk the same Kool-Aid that I had, and in the same quantities... It was rock 'n' roll, rock 'n' roll, rock 'n' roll, every day, all the time, and whatever was left of the world after rock 'n' roll, we decided how much could it actually matter? Politics, love, religion, money: mere blips on the screen of significance. Sex, slightly larger, but still only slightly. Fender, Gibson, Voxx — they weren't music companies to us, they were words of magical incantation that summoned the gods. And we have summoned the gods together for a long time. There has been no better bandmate or wingman and friend to me than Steve Van Zandt."
Bruce revealed, however, that the friendship was almost destroyed when the pair decided to live together "in a two-room attic apartment, living room and a kitchen, 6th Avenue in Asbury Park" that was "sort of like a two-man cell at Rahway Prison." Their experience as roommates did not mirror their experience as bandmates. "My recollection, and Steve may contradict me on this if he likes, is that Steve was a slob. A no-clothes-picking-up, no-dishes-doing, leave-the-top-of-the-toothpaste-off, pissed-on-the-toilet-seat slob. He was an Oscar, which forced me, unwillingly, into the Felix role." The living arrangement ended when Bruce, dealing with an "Everest-like calamity" of dirty dishes piled in the sink, left the water running, causing the "the great Asbury Park Flood of 1969," forcing them to move out and saving their friendship.
And the friendship continues to inform Bruce's creative process to this day. "Steve is the part of my brain that always wants it louder, harder, more raucous, more, more please, a little more than that. Steve is my first audience when I write or I create something. I'm always thinking, 'What's Steve gonna think?' I may not always take his advice, but I'm always wondering what his opinion is. And whether Steve was alongside of me in the band or whether he wasn't, that part of our friendship always endured."
Summing up, Bruce called Steven the "last of the true believers in rock's transformation powers, what it might do in the world. And all the tough guy affectations can't mask his true heart. And it's a heart that I've loved for a long time. And that I will love, until some force, some all-knowing entity, decides: Beatles, Stones."
Joined onstage by the student performers, Bruce then gave the award to Steven, who jokingly groused, "Get out of here, Felix."
Bruce responded, "Good time to mention to the guys I will be firing The E Street Band and hiring these kids."
Steven's acceptance speech began, "Thank you Felix. What a liar! He still pisses on the toilet seat." Assessing the stark realities confronting today's young rock 'n' roll musicians, Steven observed, "We haven't left much for the next generation. We took it all. Used up all the resources. We didn't realize it, of course. We were too busy fighting our way down the road to notice it was being rolled up behind us as we went. It might have been a rocky road, but it was a road. And there are no more roads. There are no footholds up the mountain, the maps are lost, the bridges burned. There's no gold at the end of that rainbow anymore, even if you could find one. We have left our progeny no infrastructure, no practical means by which to make a living in music. And no reason to follow in our footsteps whatsoever. And yet, against all reason, they do."
Noting the cuts in government funding for arts education, Steven said, "In spite of irrefutable evidence that music class improves science and math skills, we find ourselves in a world with no government support, no infrastructure left in the private sector, and no standards of quality anywhere in sight. So instead of whining about it, we need to do something about it, because I don't know about you, but I'm not gonna live in a world without great rock 'n' roll."
Ever the rock 'n' roll tactician, Steven laid out his plan: "If the old infrastructure is gone, we build a new one. If we, the few of us left, that grew up surrounded by greatness, don't build a new infrastructure, then those who have no standards will." Steven's point-by-point plan includes establishing a radio format that supports new music and plays "the greatest music ever made" to set higher standards ("we got that done"); reestablishing a performance circuit for live performance of rock and roll (efforts underway "in spite of the occasional non-believer pulling the plug now and then"); providing a curriculum for music education via the Rock and Roll Forever Foundation; and providing musical instruments for the next generation via Little Kids Rock (saving them from becoming "computer nerds and investment bankers"). Steven thanked everyone for supporting Little Kids Rock founder David Wish's "crazy dream" and "endorsing his most sacred belief... that every kid on earth who wants one should have a guitar".
And then it was on to the show, an all-star lineup of performers playing Steven's music.
The core of the house band for the evening was NYC Hit Squad featuring Little Kids Rock board member Liberty DeVitto on drums, Ricky Byrd (guitar), Christine Ohlman (vocals), longtime Asbury Juke Jeff Kazee (keyboards), former Asbury Juke Muddy Shews (bass), and Juke horn players Chris Anderson (trumpet) and Neal Pawley (trombone). That already powerful lineup was augmented by Bobby Bandiera, Tawatha Agee (vocals), and by a strong E Street presence: Charlie Giordano; the E Street Horns' Ed Manion, Curt Ramm, Clark Gayton, Barry Danielian, and Jake Clemons; the E Street Choir's Curtis King, Cindy Mizelle, and Everett Bradley.
In a night full of strong performances of songs drawn from throughout Steven's deep songbook, it's probably unfair to single anyone out, but a few of my personal highlights include:
Darlene Love, singing "Among the Believers." Her powerful voice and stage presence continue to inspire, and to show that her 2011 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was long-overdue.
Tom Morello, clearly the evening's most overtly political guest performer, was a perfect choice to perform "Sun City," the evening's most overtly political song. Morello spoke of being inspired by "Sun City," "literally a song that changed the world" in galvanizing opposition to the "melatonin-free pleasure paradise." Morello also sang a line, "Don't ask me, Arizona, 'cause I aint gonna play," showing that the song's message is just as relevant today as when it was written.
Elvis Costello's stirringly soulful interpretation of "This Time Baby's Gone For Good" made the song his own, which will come as no surprise to everyone who saw Elvis perform Bruce's songs on his own television show Spectacle.
And then of course there was Bruce. While nothing needs to be said here about Bruce's prodigious abilities as a performer, one of the great joys of the evening was seeing Bruce as Steven's wingman, with Steven taking center stage. Having earlier testified to Steven's role as his best bandmate and wingman, Bruce clearly relished the opportunity to return the favor. Southside Johnny, the voice of many of Steven's songs, joined them to make it a classic trio. It was truly a fitting cap on the evening, and one that showed that we don't have to live in a world without great rock 'n' roll.
1) THE ONE WITH THE RAIN DELAY
So an air of boredom, anticipation, and worry set in over the hallways and access ramps. Would the show happen at all? What's the curfew situation? Would the show have to be shortened? Will public transportation and shuttle buses still be running? Will the babysitter stay late? If the show is cancelled, do we need to rearrange our plans for tomorrow? Beer sales seemed to be going through the roof; would the crowd still be standing if the show was given the green light?
If Bruce ever tours for Amnesty International again, please have them look into MetLife stadium's need to have the "Please clear the field" announcement playing incredibly loudly on an endless loop for the entire hour-and-a-half of the evacuation. It bordered on the surreal, and I'd have given up many state secrets to get them to turn that off.
At 10pm, the all-clear was announced, and the crowd reentered the seating bowl. This all happened relatively orderly, though my heart goes out to GA folks who had waited a long time to get a spot down front. That territory was not easily reclaimed. The walk-on music ("In the Midnight Hour"... ha!) kicked in at 10:30pm and the band briskly got to their places. Deciphering their sprint was the first in a series of efforts to try and read the tea leaves: was this going to be a regular show or an Express version? It turned out, of course, that the band played a full show, but no one knew what was coming. Bruce didn't address it one way or the other, and the intensity of the first run of the show put those worries to the side. The eight-song run up to and including "We Take Care of Our Own" was smoking hot, and the first five seemed to be audibles. Tour premiere "Cynthia" was announced as one of Little Steven's favorites. "A little E Street Underground Garage," said Bruce, and if previous live versions had failed to thrill some, this worked nicely. "Cover Me" was part of a wet-weather three-fer (with "Who'll Stop the Rain" and "Downbound Train"), and the time the song has spent on the bench has served it well — Bruce sang the heck out of this one with some extended blistering guitar work. We were off and running. But where to?
2) THE ONE WITH THE BIRTHDAY
At the end of the night, after "Tenth Avenue," Bruce's family wheeled a Telecaster-decorated cake onstage. His mom, Adele, and sis, Ginny, were there, along with his mother-in-law and brother-in-law, too. A fun, beautiful moment to share, and Bruce seemed surprised enough that he was clearly trying to figure out how to all at once introduce and corral his family, blow out some candles ("Don’t light them all, I just winded myself!"), and try to keep the crowd engaged. He handed out a couple pieces of cake to the crowd, including, as Steve said, the "band's first fan," Obie. With everyone onstage, now what? "Twist and Shout," with Adele and others taking the harmony parts. But the band was only allowed to start playing after Bruce stuffed some tissue in his mother's ears: "It's loud over there," said Bruce, "Can a boy deafen his mother on his birthday?"
3) THE ONE WITH JUNGLELAND (AND MEETING ACROSS THE RIVER)
"Pay Me My Money Down" perhaps wasn't quite what the crowded wanted at the time, but the horns showpiece made up for it. And tour premiere "Into the Fire,” dedicated to fallen firefighter Rich Nappi, resonated.
But would he do "Jungleland"? Night 3 in Jersey, he had to, right? And as Curt Ramm came forward to begin the tour premiere of "Meeting Across the River," the crowd realized what was about to happen.
Jake performed The Solo a few times over the summer, but now Jersey got to see it. It was a thing of beauty. All at once you're enjoying the song and the sound... and you're thinking about Clarence, and you're rooting for Jake, and you're maybe a little nervous for him... and you're watching him nail it in front of 55,000 people. Bruce hugged him at the end, and that didn't feel staged. Then the powerful vocal closing with the verse sung (not spoken) and the howling wails. That capped the main set and made a memory.
And so a show with intermittent rain that started two hours later than expected ended after almost three-and-a-half hours. As I scan the upper deck at 1:50 in the morning, it remains packed with people dancing the night away. Bruce is busy running up and down the steps, cutting and serving cake to the crowd and wiping frosting off his guitar strings. Nicely done, band. Nicely done, Jersey. Happy birthday, Bruce.
The show opened with a live premiere, a rough, loose, and fun "Living on the Edge of the World" that found Bruce coming down front... and completely forgetting the lyrics. Luckily there was a sheet of paper with the lyrics taped down there. Bruce tore it from the floor and read from it for the rest of the song, in good spirits the whole time. At the end of the song, he ripped up the lyric sheet in a moment of comic frustration. This was more fun than it sounds, and though Bruce said it "would have been even better if we got it right," well, ragged and right was good enough. Was this the beginning of an unstructured night of audibles?
Not really. The show quickly calmed down into what felt like some planned structure. After "Out in the Street" found the crowd in full voice and ready to sing along, the show didn't take off for me until an intense "Lost in the Flood," which dovetailed nicely into "We Take Care of Our Own." It was a nice run up through "Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street?," which deserves special mention for the extra love the horns get in this power arrangement.
But with a relatively standard structure so far, it was time to loosen things up. "Let’s bring Gary out, Gary U.S. Bonds!" And with that, the exploration of a world where Bruce had gone in a lighter direction than his Darkness samurai record. First, two songs that he gave away to Gary: their take on the cajun traditional "Jole Blon" and his own "This Little Girl" (a #11 hit for Bonds in 1981). Bruce found a "Jole Blon" sign from the crowd, claiming that he had seen the sign for some 94 shows in a row. It certainly was a familiar sight to tour followers. He went down front to the sign-bearer: "How long have you been waiting for this song?" "All my life!" she screamed. From the shots of her on the video screen, it was worth the wait.
As with Gary's 2003 appearance at Shea Stadium, Bruce was happy to step back and let Bonds take the lead on his songs. So, these really weren't Springsteen renditions — Bruce took harmonies and strummed away as Bonds worked the crowd. From there, Bruce announced another "tour premiere," "From Small Things (Big Things One Day Come)," the song he gave away to Dave Edmonds, who released it in 1982. And then: "Talk to Me." This was a great cap to this pre-Nebraska pop run, with Bruce mugging for the camera — and mugging and mugging — during a breakdown. He had a fun mid-song rap about how he's always fucking up and having to beg for forgiveness. Luckily, he claims to be one "charming motherfucker."
People who think "This Depression" just lays there on the record need to see it live. I heard the same thing after its recent Chicago performance, and I didn’t believe it. I was wrong.
Old fan nemeses made appearances, and both were surprisingly welcome. If you grew weary of "Mary’s Place" in 2002-2003, its streamlined tour premiere here was a fun bit of nostaligia. And even "Bobby Jean" felt fresh. The "Rising," "Badlands," "Land of Hope and Dreams" run at the end of the set was dropped, and the show didn’t suffer for it — certainly not when we had the chill-inducing "Incident" into "Rosalita" instead, the classic Wild & Innocent side two pairing and a rare live event.
Aside from a great "Ramrod," the encores are the encores. If you haven't seem them, you crave them. If you have a time or two, well, you're hoping for something different. But the obsessives shouldn't expect their way here.
So overall: "Lost in the Flood" and "Incident" in the same show? And "Incident" right into "Rosalita"? And five tour premieres, with an old friend on board? Pretty stellar. And, let's be clear: Bruce was having a ball. I'd also say that the tour premieres were more notable for their rarity than their power, and that the show won't be remembered for a lot of sustained intensity. So, this show — for me — is a terrific complement to Night 1. It was book 2 in the trilogy. I can’t wait to see how the story ends Saturday night.
They took the stage to the strains of Frank Sinatra's "Summer Wind," with just a couple days officially left to enjoy the season, and began the show for the first time with "Shackled and Drawn." The song has been a mid-set staple for much of the tour; tonight it established some Wrecking Ball themes right up front before bringing a fan favorite back to New Jersey: in slot two, the '78-style "Prove It All Night" featured powerful lead guitar not only from Bruce in the extended intro, but also from Nils in the song proper. During "Hungry Heart" — "a goodbye to summer song" — Bruce depended on the crowd not only to sing along, but to carry him aloft. (He had essentially retired the crowd-surfing for these outdoor shows, and it did take some to get him carried from the back of the stadium pit to the stage.)
For "E Street Shuffle," a special guest. As usual, the horns did their cacophonous warm-up, but as Bruce came to conduct them, the lights came up to reveal an empty drum kit. "Where did Max go? What happened to the drummer? He got sick — we need an M.D.!" Good thing there was an M.D. close at hand — in the form of Mad Dog, as original E Street drummer Vini Lopez bopped onstage to play the Wild & Innocent classic. Vini took on Everett Bradley in the usual drum-off, too.
Also making a rare (these days, at least) appearance on stage: Patti Scialfa, back in the E Street fold for this homecoming show. Her presence prompted a number of treats in the setlist, including "Human Touch," "Easy Money" (last played in July, when Patti was with the band in Dublin), and, for the first time since the warm-up show at the Apollo, her duet with Bruce on "Mansion on the Hill." Springsteen told the crowd that it was one of the first songs he wrote for Nebraska, and he connected it with a childhood summer memory: ice cream at the Jersey Freeze in Freehold. "I liked the cone, but I didn't like the ice cream. So the guy would save me the broken cones." Another summer song, a strong "Racing in the Street" was a clear highlight of the back end of the set.
In the encore, lots of fun goofing around with Steve Van Zandt in "Rosalita," and more in "Dancing in the Dark," too. Various sign requests had fans asking to dance with Ed Manion, with Soozie Tyrell, with Patti... and Bruce brought 'em all up, and a girl for himself to dance with, too. But when it was time to move along, Steve played enforcer to shoo them all off the stage. Mad Dog Lopez was back in the encores, shaking the tambourine on "Tenth Avenue" and the show-closing "Twist and Shout."
This was a long one, stretching out to almost 3:45 — and that's not including the pair of acoustic songs Bruce treated early arrivals to a few hours before showtime. And if the show was light on rarities, it was a very strong A set that perhaps clears the decks a bit, in terms of presenting the basics, and opens the door for some anticipated shake-ups on Nights 2 and 3, coming right up this weekend.
Pre-show acoustic set:
Beforehand, the procedure for getting to seats down on the field was a Nationals Park failure of major proportions. It shouldn't take fans an hour to get to their seats, but by having only two access points for the field, it was one of the more chaotic concert situations I've ever been a part of. Taking 20 minutes to walk 50 yards, the backup was insane — but then, why should a baseball stadium be different than 495? Tour Manager George Travis was seen assessing the situation at approximately 8:15, clearly doing what he could, but with literally thousands still trying to get to their seats, Bruce hit the stage at 8:24 with what I was told was a roaring version of "Prove It All Night '78." Call it "out of sight." Regardless, the opener sent a message that, like Chicago before, this was going to be a special night indeed.
Next, Max took center stage and propelled "My Love Will Not Let You Down," one of the great Born in the U.S.A. outtakes, to new heights. While many in the crowd could be overheard asking what song it was, it didn't stop them from dancing with the ones they were with. And any show that features "The Ties That Bind" is a show that's going to work for me. I wish there were more opportunities to hear Steve Van Zandt play the 12-string guitar, but I'll take it with "Ties." "Hungry Heart" did something neither President Obama nor House Speaker John Boehner could do: Bruce got 39,000 Democrats, Republicans and Independents to sing along together in unison.
My favorite new song of the tour (along with "Shackled and Drawn") is "Death To My Hometown." Like a lot of people, I've focused on the song's overt Celtic instrumentation, but watching Bruce march in place tonight along with band members on the front line, I instantly thought "No, this isn't a Pogues homage... this is pure Joe Strummer!" Like Springsteen, Strummer dramatically "acted" his songs live. Observing Bruce marching ferociously with those graveyard boots, I definitely saw the ghost of Joe Strummer in Washington DC tonight.
Of course it was during "My City of Ruins" that Bruce talked to us about ghosts, and old buildings. My god, how many ghosts must there be within miles of here, I thought. From the Lincoln Memorial to the Vietnam Veterans memorial to the Washington Monument to the John F Kennedy Center for the Arts to Ronald Reagan National Airport and Robert F Kennedy stadium, just about every building in DC is a reminder, a ghost, of those who have come before us and who walk alongside the living. For all of Bruce's observations on these matters, he sure hit the city that lives with those kinds of reminders daily.
An exorcising "Spirit in the Night" and a ragged-but-right "Blinded By the Light" were up next as the only representation of Bruce's first two records. And the four-pack of "Jackson Cage" right into "She's the One," "Johnny 99," and "Darlington County" made it clear that the E Street Band are worthy of the Congressional Medal of Rocking Out.
But by far, the high point of the evening came when Bruce dedicated a transcendent version of "Racing in the Street" to members of U.S. Troops currently residing at Walter Reed Hospital who were attending the show. Bruce thanked them and all veterans for their service and then played "Racing" as though it was going to be for the last time. "Racing in the Street" works on so many levels. It might be his finest, most reflective summer-themed song. Surprisingly they didn't play it on Labor Day in Philadelphia, where he seemed obsessed with the end of summer that night. The themes of loss, disillusionment and washing away of sins seemed appropriate and vital tonight. The instrumental coda at the end was breathtaking. To hear Roy Bittan build layer upon layer along with Garry Tallent's elegant bass lines rolling under the body of the song... by the time it was over, I was spent — I'm not sure how the band carried on.
Set-closer "Land of Hope and Dreams" was tight, compact, and did everything the ten-minute version used to do in about half the time. On one of DC's more beautiful nights, "We Are Alive" worked wonderfully. "Born to Run" is still the best crowd-watching song I've encountered. And the "Detroit Medley" through "Twist and Shout"? Well at this point they're just a blur. Max's daughter Ali playing the accordion on "American Land" is a keeper! Bruce breaking out into “Twist and Shout" is a total crowd pleaser. To keep coming back and to keep playing till the crowd is spent... yup, he surely does empty the tank every time.
Actually, the first drops of the night were of blood: Springsteen gashed his finger at the outset, highly visible on the big screens as the blood ran down his hand and smeared on his guitar. You might not have noticed it, through hard-hitting opening tracks including "Ties That Bind" and "No Surrender" — I was too busy paying attention to how great things sounded, with the backup singers way up in the mix on those two, and Max just killing it on "No Surrender." "Hungry Heart" was all rollicking fun, Bruce coming out into the crowd again and hollering to the rooftops. But by the time Bruce was strumming out the intro to "Wrecking Ball," more gingerly than usual, the injury was hard to miss — and puncuated by lines like "through the blood and the cheers" and "where the blood is spilled." And then we pretty much forgot about it after that. If Bruce felt it he didn't show it, and the crowd's attention quickly turned to the "cavalcade of stars" extending into Night 2, as both favorite sons returned for more (and different), with Tom Morello up first on "Death to My Hometown."
"E Street Shuffle" was a blast as usual, the full line of horns coming down front. But that was practically just a teaser compared to the brass on the next number. "Let's do a little dancing — a little folk music!" Bruce called, leading the band into "Pay My Money Down." The Seeger Sessions classic has only come out a few times this year (and JazzFest 2012 was its first performace since '06); it was a complete rave-up, with solos from all the Sessions Band instrumenatlists — Soozie Tyrell, Curt Ramm, Clark Gayton, Charlie Giordano, and Eddie Manion — before the horn guys all came back downstage for a New Orleans hullabaloo.
Then the guests were back, tackling different songs from the night before: Morello on "This Depression," and Eddie Vedder on "My Hometown" and "Darkness on the Edge of Town." The tough, fiery "This Depression" was a revelation, big and booming. It's only been played twice before, both times in Norway; if you think of it as a downtempo dirge that might not work so well live, think again — especially with Morello's huge solo midway through. And then there was "hometown boy Eddie Vedder!" to duet on an uncommonly compelling "My Hometown." A real treat to watch Eddie and Bruce switching off on the high harmonies, working it out with eye contact and some laughs. Then Eddie strapped on his guitar for an intense "Darkness," harmonizing again at the center mic with Bruce on the chorus and taking half the verses, never better than on "'Cause tonight I'll be on that hill!" (And just like that, mere hours after its posting, the great history of Springsteen/Vedder collabs at Two Feet Thick requires a major update.)
Back to the regular players again, the E Street Band put an exclamation point on this impassioned arc with "Because the Night," with a solo from Nils that was just sick (in the middle of it, Bruce ran out to grab a sign reading "UNCLE NILS"). Little did we know that we were wrapping up the first half — the dry half — and entering the second.
After feeling those sprinkles during "Shackled and Drawn," Bruce started chanting "No rain! No rain!" to begin "Sunny Day." No such luck. An acoustic "Who'll Stop the Rain" had no effect either, making it clear that no amount of juju was going keep the weather at bay... so everyone settled in to enjoy the ride. As the rain poured down, Bruce and the band closed out the main set with electric "Joad," spotlight again on Morello, "Badlands," and "Thunder Road." As Springsteen has shown many nights before, often in Europe, he doesn't just survive the rain, he thrives in it: "It's like a benediction — a blessing," he said, coming out from under the roof of the stage to join us. The only question might have been whether everyone else would follow suit, but Chicago stepped up, it looked like hardly a soul wanted to call the game. In ponchos, plastic bags, or just drenched street clothes, Wrigley was dancing, jumping, laughing, even singing the "Badlands" chant long after the song was done (and much of Europe says yes, yes, we know all about it).
"Rocky Ground" made a welcome return to kick off the encore, but otherwise Bruce kept things upbeat and kept the wet crowd moving. "Rosalita" was a especially fun, Springsteen as soaked as the rest of us by this point and trying to get Steven to join him out on the platform. Stevie, laughing, gave him the New Jersey state bird in return... but soon, after finding a floppy Cubs hat, he was out there, too. The hometown boys returned for "American Land" at the end, and a later tweet from Morello summed it all up nicely: "Well Chicago that was something huh?? Last nite just might have erased 'The Curse'!"
Morello threw down perfectly wrought solos for his Wrecking Ball staples "Death to My Hometown" and "Jack of All Trades." He was back later for his trademark electric "The Ghost of Tom Joad" duet, trading vocals and guitar leads with Springsteen (truly shredding — and scratching — by the end), and he remained on stage as that energy kept flowing for an ecstatic "Badlands" and the set-closing "Land of Hope and Dreams." Mid-set, Vedder strapped on a guitar for "Atlantic City," sharing lead vocals on a stellar performance. Eddie and Tom both came back in the encores.
Spread throughout the set, a trove of mid-'80s rarities. The band broke out "My Love Will Not Let You Down" in the second slot — a real highlight, with that classic chiming guitar trio of Nils, Bruce, and Steve downstage, as well as a kick-ass drum breakdown from Max. There was also a muscular "Trapped," one of those relative obscurities that still galvanizes a stadium crowd; "I'm Goin' Down" (which led right into the more frequently spotted "Darlington County"); and a true rarity, played live by the E Street Band only twice before, "None But the Brave." "I think this is a tour debut, I could be wrong," Bruce said, and he was right. "This is for all the hardcore fans out there. This was written for Born in the U.S.A. Didn't make it on there." Sounding surprisingly well-rehearsed (it was soundchecked in Philadelphia, at least), "None But the Brave" was absolutely majestic, Eddie Manion bringing it home at the end, blowing for all he's worth.
The concert began with the '78-style intro to "Prove It All Night." Coveted as it is by those aforementioned hardcore fans, and for good reason, it made a slightly strange opener — an extended instrumental to start the show — and there wasn't clear recognition among the crowd until the song's main piano riff kicked in. But plenty of power there regardless, big cheers for Jake, and Nils twirling away on a fierce solo at the end. Followed by "My Love," it was a killer one-two punch.
The next two songs setlisted were "Adam Raised a Cain" and "Lost in the Flood," and you can gather how Bruce's mood must have changed between writing the setlist and playing the show, as he replaced them with audibles of "Out in the Street" and "Hungry Heart." For the latter he ventured out into the crowd, saluting fans on the "Wrigley Rooftops" just outside the ballpark, even adding a nod to the Drifters' "Up on the Roof" as the song went along. But despite that shift to stadium-friendly crowd-pleasers, which gave the show some ups and downs, there was really something for everybody tonight. Radio hits, deep cuts, special guests, strong Wrecking Ball performances ("Shackled and Drawn" was a particular showstopper, Cindy Mizelle just tearing it up), and, in the encore, a glittery sign request from a "14-year-old lady" granted for "Jungleland." It's the first "Jungleland" I've seen with Jake, and my emotions were all over the place — though what got me in my gut was not Jake's solo (which was pretty damn faultless), but Bruce's wordless vocals at the end, those howls into the night sky. No wonder he keeps talking about ghosts.
And then Tom Morello and Eddie Vedder were back on stage for the last two songs, Tom in his Cubs cap, both beaming as bright as Wrigley's night baseball lights, sharing Steve's mic on "Twist and Shout" as they sent us home dancing. What more do you want? A cool, breezy night, perfectly dry despite the predicted thunderstorms? Yeah, we got that too.
Opening with a solo acoustic "Factory" in honor of the Labor Day holiday was wonderful. "The work, the working, just the working life." Bruce sounded and looked great. As he brought the band out for "Adam Raised a Cain" the ball park shook. "Adam" sounded like a velvet sledgehammer: beautiful, sleek, powerful, and dangerous. Bruce took the guitar solo... and took it again... and took it again before ending the song.
It was during the guitar solos that I looked around and noticed that most of the people around me were college age. While the first Philly show sold out to the hardcore fans and the well-connected, Night 2 did not. You could pick up GA tickets just days before the concert. With all the schools back last week and this week (Metro Philadelphia has more colleges than anywhere in the country — even more than Boston), the opportunity to buy good tickets at face value gave Bruce probably one of the youngest crowds he'll play to in the States.
Following "Adam," Bruce was calling an audible into "Streets of Fire" as the Darkness flashback rolled on. And it didn’t stop there. At the end of "Streets of Fire" Bruce yelled over to Roy Bittan; he looked at Max and motioned for Max to follow Roy. When Roy started the piano intro to the "Prove It All Night" '78, you could hear the groundswell of recognition in the crowd. An overall compelling version of "Prove It" followed, complete with Nil Lofgren's shredding solo. The transition into "Something in the Night" wasn't smooth, but it made for a stunning opening five-pack.
Next we got three from the most recent release, and by the end of eight songs, you'd think Bruce Springsteen had only released two albums in his life, Darkness on the Edge of Town and Wrecking Ball. The performance of “Wrecking Ball” was notable for the film of the implosion of Veterans Stadium during the last verse (Bruce later claimed it was footage of the Spectrum coming down, but it surely looked like Veterans Stadium). Following an elegantly soulful "My City of Ruins" including a rumination on the local Catholic church buying his old house and tearing it down to build a parking lot, Bruce confessed, "Yet another reason for me to hate Catholicism! Ahhh, but once you’re in, you're in for life."
Next up was a three-pack from Greetings From Asbury Park, NJ. Before "Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street?" Bruce mentioned that when he was writing his first album he was living in an apartment above a hair salon and there was a piano he used to write on. A lot of the evenings it got very hot, like tonight, and so it's his first album that reminds him the most of summer. It was during "Spirit in the Night" when Jake Clemons sat with Bruce on the lip of the stage that the song found its center. Moments like this prove that you can't judge a show by a setlist. I've seen Bruce perform "Spirit" scores of times, and tonight it was this sweet, delicate rumination on days gone by as opposed to the boastful, buoyant bravado it used to exude in younger days.
Pulling up a sign that said "Frankie Has Never Been to Philly," Bruce introduced it as "another good summer song." Labor Day as the unofficial end of summer seemed to weigh on his psyche throughout the night. We got the stories of Bruce and his sister catching fireflies, and the crowd was encouraged to light up their phones so that it looked like fireflies hovering all throughout the ballpark.
And here is where the show seemed to lose something. Momentum? Direction? Diversity of song selection? Perhaps all of the above. There were some great moments within some of the songs that followed. Cindy Mizelle, the most underutilized person on Bruce's stage the past several tours, was brilliant out front with Bruce during "Shackled and Drawn." "The River," played for a woman's husband in Afghanistan, besides sounding incredible (and a special shout-out to Steven's acoustic guitar and harmony vocal throughout), was an impressive use of the in-house video system to focus on the woman who had requested it and her reaction to the performance. Watching her eyes, imagining what might be going through her head about her husband overseas, was real theater.
But "Lonesome Day," "Badlands," "Thunder Road," and "Born to Run" lacked the usual punch you expect from these songs. Far more interesting and essential was Bruce's introduction to "We Are Alive." To turn a song which on the album has never held my interest into a complete centerpiece during which you could hear a pin drop before the full band came in proved why Bruce is so good at what he does. And roll your eyes at it if you'd like, but "Dancing in The Dark" did turn the stadium into a dance party. "Jungleland" saved the day, full of raw emotion, with a superb, humble solo performance turned in by Jake Clemons.
One final note about the evening: Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam was spotted backstage before the show, as Pearl Jam had headlined the second day of the Made In America festival. Anticipation was high there would be some sort of duet, but Pierre Robert of WMMR reported that Vedder watched the show from one of the luxury suites and seemed fine just observing.
Things started with Charlie Giordano playing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" on organ, followed by Bruce again invoking the summertime theme for the first few songs of the show. "Welcome to the Labor Day labor of love!" was his greeting to "my people!" before kicking things off with "Summertime Blues" and then a trio of crowd-pleasers from the River album with Bruce running repeatedly from side to side of the stage ramps. "Sherry Darling" found Bruce singing "...I'm stuck here in traffic, but I’d rather be in Philadelphia!"
The sign request portion of the evening brought the tour premiere of "Green Onions," with Bruce requesting some music as he collected the night's offerings from the crowd. Granted requests included "Cadillac Ranch," "I'm on Fire," and "Candy's Room," as well as the tour premiere of Roy Brown's "Good Rocking Tonight." Following a brief consultation with Garry about the key, chord progression, and original artist (Elvis's cover came later), the band launched into the song, which became a feature for the horns as Bruce brought them all down front to solo. A sign also yielded crowd-favorite "Jersey Girl" out for its first airing on the Wrecking Ball tour, with Bruce noting that we “are just across the river."
Notable in tonight's performance was how focused Bruce was on his guitar playing, not just on live favorites such as "Candy’s Room," but also on the evening's rarities. "Lost in the Flood," with a surprising early placement in the show, featured an intense guitar solo as the song ended. On any other night, that might have been Bruce's high-water mark, but this show also included a return to "Human Touch,” following its very welcome debut earlier in the week. Bruce outdid himself here, first with a fiery guitar part and then locking in with Max and Roy as they extended the instrumental guitar, synthesizer, and drum part at the end of the song.
Following an extremely long main set, Bruce turned to his live favorites in the encore, with a massive sing-along on "Thunder Road," the upper decks of the park jumping during "Rosalita," and not one but two cover songs following "Tenth Avenue Freeze-out." Introduced as "the roots of Philadelphia rock 'n' roll, the crowd was treated to the Dovells' "You Can't Sit Down" before the now-standard "Twist and Shout." Although the rain held off for the show, the humidity didn't, and as things drew to a close, Bruce was hardly the only person in the building drenched. "Are you hot? Are you sweaty? Are you truly uncomfortable? Are you too sexy for your shirt?" he asked the crowd — "that's rock 'n' roll!"
Those entering the stadium early with general admission tickets received the unexpected treat of seeing Bruce and the band perform their pre-show rehearsal during soundcheck. The crowd's cheers tipped Bruce off that paying customers were in the house but that didn't stop the band from performing complete versions of "None But the Brave," "County Fair" and "TV Movie." Bruce even acknowledged the crowd at the end of the latter, noting it was the E Street Band's first ever performance of the song, and that he'd see everyone in a little while. None of those songs made tonight's set, but we're certainly hoping they get played on night two. Bruce himself took the opportunity at the end of the show to remind everyone, "Remember: the E Street Band will be back tomorrow night! Same time, same location!"
"What a beautiful night — Jesus!" Bruce said as he stepped to the front of the stage on this cool, clear evening, just after the sun sank below the horizon behind the stage; a nearly full moon rose in the east behind the audience that stretched back across most of the infield of this racetrack in central New York State. "And we're off to the races!" Curt Ramm, trumpeting "The Call to the Post" (followed by a musical approximation of a whinnying horse), kicked things off for a wild night with two tour premieres.
Springsteen and the band were strong out of the gate with a solid "Out in the Street," during which he was out in the crowd, shaking hands and connecting with the audience, apparently eyeing the many signs that have reappeared on this second U.S. leg. The next four songs were requests that came from some of those signs. First up was a killer, smoking version of "It's Hard to Be a Saint in the City" that had even the many first-timers in the audience who didn't recognize this early song whipped into a frenzy by its thunderous conclusion. The audience made a weak showing of the sing-along verse of "Hungry Heart," but it still made for a strong, energetic opening three.
But there was more: for those exhausted after that beginning there was no relief, because Bruce kicked it up a notch. "I don’t think we've played this yet — in honor of the racetrack," Bruce said, then slammed into the first of two tour premieres, the "Glory Days" B-side "Stand on It." A scorching "I'm a Rocker" followed, a River rarity played only once on this tour. And that's all before the first group of Wrecking Ball songs. After "Death to My Hometown," instead of moving right into "My City of Ruins" and the band intros as usual, he slipped in a beautiful "Darkness on the Edge of Town," a powerful interlude that worked very well after "Death."
Gathering a dozen or so signs from the audience, Bruce answered the question on one of them — "Can Frankie Come Out to Play?" — with a gorgeous, reworked intro to "Frankie," and a story about waiting for fireflies as a kid in the field across from his house. "Thousands of fireflies," he said, as the glows of thousands of cell phones lit up just like them on the big screen.
The big band, boogie-woogie version of "Open All Night" had the crowd jumping and swinging from the beginning, before Bruce brought the tempo down again with the three-quarter time waltz of "Jack of All Trades." That was followed by the show's second tour premiere, "Human Touch," with the absent Patti Scialfa's vocals covered by a strong female chorus. Down the midstretch, the audience was treated to, among other things, "Prove It All Night" with the blistering, '78-esque dueling guitar and piano intro, and a crowd favorite, "Backstreets," with the Dream Baby/Dry Your Eyes interlude reminiscent of (if not quite) "Sad Eyes."
If the crowd of many first-timers expected only a song or two for the encore, they must have been astonished that the homestretch consisted of seven songs, including a surprise appearance by "Rosalita," finishng strong with "Quarter to Three" (yet another Fenway 2 resonance) and "Twist and Shout."
August 26 / Magnetic Hill / Moncton, NB
Springsteen asked the crowd how many fans were seeing his show for the first time. After a deafening roar he noted, "I guess I've got my work cut out for me!" He soon seemed sincerely stunned by the crowd, effortlessly singing along during many of the tunes thrown at them. Apparent feelings of shock and awe rather than anticipation prompted Bruce and the E Streeters to go full speed ahead, with three hours and ten minutes of non-stop, high-energy performances of popular songs both old and new. Some rarities, too: "If I Should Fall Behind" with Bruce at the piano, and "Pay Me My Money Down" from the Seeger Sessions (a sign request that stood out as it was constructed out of a large green foam dollar sign and equipped with its own battery-powered light source). Two hours into the show he stated, "For a crowd who's never seen a show before, you're fucking incredible!" declaring Moncton as his "new favorite place."
As always, Springsteen got up close and personal with the crowd, frequently kneeling within arms reach of the edge of the stage, making one lucky lady who was front and center a very happy fan. However, it was when the familiar beat of "Dancing in the Dark" began that all the little pretties were raising their hands, hoping to get the chance to dance with Bruce. A traveler from far away carrying a sign that read "From Peru to dance with you" was the first to be plucked from the audience, but Springsteen wasn't satisfied. He wanted a "local girl" to dance with next. A young girl, supposedly from Moncton, was the second dancer to be chosen, breaking out into a full on twist with The Boss.
Moncton's show differed from many E Street performances as there were two opening bands scheduled to perform. The Trews, a Canadian rock band from Antigonish, Nova Scotia, opened the show at 4pm and played an hour-long set full of their biggest hits to date. Tom Cochrane, a Canadian legend, followed, stating, "We're the general managers, and the Boss is up next." Cochrane played for just over an hour, belting out hits such as "White Hot" and "Life is a Highway."
As expected, the 45-minute encore was a highlight of the show, but for Canadian music fans it was especially awesome. Springsteen and the 16-piece E Street band invited The Trews and Cochrane back onto the stage for the last song of the night, an extraordinarily long version of "Twist and Shout." Peter Elkas, a frequent member of Canadian musician Joel Plastkett's band, The Emergency, and a Canadian wonder in his own right, also joined the party.
All was calm as 30,000 fans walked side by side out of the concert grounds at 10:45pm. Fans seemed to be in a state of euphoria, one boy stating, "I haven’t eaten since 12 o'clock and my knees are shot, but it was worth it!" When my father and I finally made it back to our hotel he said, "My back, arms, legs, feet, and throat are all hurting, but I never felt better." The sure sign of an unforgettable show that will be talked about by those who were there for years to come, first-timers or not.
Then the usual Wrecking Ball songs, followed by a stirring version of "My City of Ruins." In noting Patti's absence (due to Jessie's tour), Bruce pointed out a young, pretty, Canadian redhead in the crowd, advising her, "You'd better stay away from me!" A high-energy "Spirit in the Night" had Bruce visiting the far edges of the crowd. Offered a beer, Bruce protested that it was "too early," but he downed it anyway. The end of the song featured the interplay between Jake and Bruce that just gets sweeter each show.
Next Bruce called out, "Let me see what you got," and it was sign collection time. Pulling out a sign that he said "deserves some attention," Bruce held it up and described it to the crowd: "this appears to be a man's ass with a lightning bolt coming out of it and Springsteen tattooed on the cheek." Shaking his head, he added, "Must be the Canadian sense of humor." Before starting "Thundercrack," he also noted that it was for a little girl attending her first show. Thus followed a fun version of that early showstopper, with the entire band coming together and lots of interaction between Bruce and the crowd.
After "Jack of All Trades," Bruce went into an absolute powerhouse stretch of four songs: "Murder Incorporated," "Prove It All Night," "Candy's Room" and "She's the One." Although not the '78 version, "Prove It" was still amazing with great guitar work from Nils. We did revisit '78, though, with the tour debut of a classic intro: the lustful "Mona" was the perfect transition between "Candy's Room" and "She's the One."
Fun times were back with "Darlington County," and on "Shackled and Drawn," Bruce even got the crowd to do a little yodeling in the intro. But the absolute highlight of the show came next, as he went to the piano and performed a flawless version of "Incident on 57th Street." With emotion in his voice and what sounded like the entire stadium singing along, it was the perfect song for a summer night.
Highlights of the encores included some over-the-top craziness between Bruce and Steve on "Rosalita" and the entire stadium on their feet with an extended version of "Twist and Shout" with the addition of "La Bamba." Even the band seemed surprised, though, when Bruce indicated they needed to do one more and went into "Glory Days" here at the home of the Blue Jays. Overall a great night of music for an appreciative Canadian crowd.
Perhaps buoyed by the fact that afternoon showers had transitioned to a beautiful evening sky, the crowd at Foxboro came with their game faces on. From the pit (twice the size of Fenway's) to the upper rafters, the audience energy was palpable. Similar to Fenway Night 2, this atmosphere created a sense of looseness and fun that translated to two tour premieres and 11 new songs not played at either Fenway show.
Bruce and the band were keen to engage the audience early, and the crowd was quick to answer the call. The set began with a high-octane "My Love Will Not Let You Down" and an audibled "Night," "Out in the Street" and "Hungry Heart" rounding out the opening quartet. After a newly soulful and ebullient "Spirit in the Night" — "The E Street Band has traveled thousands of miles to be here tonight, by plane, by car, we even took a fucking boat!" — Springsteen sauntered into the crowd to gather request signs, noting that this was a "deep crowd," intent on challenging the E Street Band. With Fenway producing so many rarities, the crowd was hoping he would reach into the basement of the songbook tonight, and that faith was rewarded: Springsteen unloaded the trifecta of "Open All Night" (Sessions Band arrangement), "Growin' Up," and "Lost in the Flood."
"Open All Night" began with Bruce beckoning Roy for "Boogie-woogie in the key of E" while fetching a sign from the audience that read, "Let's Go Horns!" Bruce immediately turned to the horn section, declaring, "This is your big chance, this sign was made just for you!" The horns, of course, rose to the occasion, with great solos from Clark Gayton on trombone and Curt Ramm on trumpet. "Growin' Up" sounded equally superb, although there seemed to be a miscue, as Bruce took the sax solo part on guitar instead of Jake. "Lost in the Flood" was searingly intense, with Bruce tearing the up the guitar solo.
"Because the Night" and "She's the One" kept the energy of the building at max, eventually leading to an exquisite "Racing in the Street" with the usual Professor piano wizardry. After the numerous complaints at Fenway 1 about crowd talking, it was refreshing to see the Gillette crowd particularly respectful during this beautiful performance. From my vantage point, you could hear a pin drop... as it should be.
Regardless if this was a Night 3, even the most optimistic fan wouldn't have expected "Jungleland" to open the encore, just a few shows out from its emotional debut in Gothenburg. But here it was, with Jake summoned downstage for a pep talk before Roy and Soozie kicked things off. Many stared in disbelief as Bruce and the band treated us to a sublime version of the Born to Run opus (he was in better voice than Gothenburg, as well). With "the solo" quickly approaching, all eyes fell to Jake, who captured the essence of Clarence's signature solo faithfully; Bruce came over to acknowledge the excellent performance, although the level of emotion seen between the two at the Gothenburg debut wasn't quite there. As stirring as this performance was, my personal hope is that we see this track used sparingly throughout the remainder of the tour, helping to preserve its unique power and presence.
Just when we thought the surprises were over, Bruce once again summoned a sign from the crowd for the penultimate song of the evening, a fantastic version of Dobie Gray's "Drift Away," last performed in 1984. Houselights were up and every soul was lost in the rock 'n' roll. "Twist and Shout" wrapped up the spectacular evening with Bruce wanting to end on a high note: "Let's send you home dancing!" The audience went home with their heads spinning again, rounding out a stellar trio of shows in the E Street Band's return to the States.
You could feel it from the very start, as Bruce framed the scene for us: "We had a lot of fun last night... This place is like a picnic or something." Rather than following the band out, he had come out by himself to greet us, pantomiming a pitcher's windup to the strains of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" and laughing with the crowd right off. The Professor was soon at the ready, too, and the pair started the show together: "Roy and I are gonna do something we used to do back in the '70s," he said, launching into the '75 piano arrangement of "Thunder Road." It was, as Bruce has called the song, an invitation. It was also a statement of intent for the show, indicating that we'd be digging deep, the wind blowing back our hair, calling up ghosts. And it immediately built up some goodwill capital, so that when they broke out the sing-along "Hungry Heart" in the second slot, even most jaded die-hards were still firmly on board.
"Let's bring out the band! Let's start with the hits — let's start with the summertime hits!" If "Hungry Heart" had anyone nervous that he meant his Top 40 hits, it soon became clear that what he had in mind was the pop-song sound of summer he hears in his head. As Jake wailed away it did sound like summer, even more so as they went into "Sherry Darling." Some back and forth with Steven — "Steve, this car just ain't big enough for her and me!" "I hear you, baby, I hear you!" — evoked that impromptu version they bashed out in the studio together in the Promise doc. At this point, on a balmy night with none of the predicted rain, things just felt perfect. As did Ed Manion's sax solo.
But the Boss Theme Time Hour hits kept coming: Eddie Cochran's "Summertime Blues" had the horns raising a fuss and a holler, and then Bruce challenged the band yet again: "'Girls in Their Summer Clothes'! You guys remember that one? We're flying by the seat of our pants! We don't need everyone in the band to remember, we just need most of the band to remember... This is for all those fine, fine Boston girls." The sublime studio track from Magic has rarely worked well live — but after its Gothenburg tour debut and this performance, the band has a better handle on it with horns and backup singers in the mix. Hazy memories? No problem.
After that opening five-pack it was time for a little reguar show structure — but only a little: "We Take Care of Our Own" went into "Two Hearts" before "Wrecking Ball," and there was that sort of expect-the-unexpected thing all night. On "My City of Ruins" Bruce had a new story to tell, not only honoring Johnny Pesky again but also really soaking in his surroundings, and making us do the same. Springsteen has long been a fan of the older, historic venues, ones with miles on them, from Convention Hall in Asbury Park to the Sports Arena in L.A., and he was making a point of being present and aware. "What makes this place so beautiful is all the ghosts that haunt Fenway. When you're little, ghosts are something to be afraid of. But as you get older..." he said, looking around, going on to expound on a little remembrance of things past. "A night like tonight... a baseball park on a night on a night like tonight," Bruce marvelled, talking about the smell of hot dogs and beer wafting up to the stage as well as "the respite and grace that baseball and music can bring into our lives."
By the time he hollered, "Are you ready for a summer house party tonight?" we'd heard enough to know that this wasn't just a rote exhortation, that Bruce was going to work his ass off to create exactly that. He immediately began a major sign collection, grabbing plenty of rarities and goofing around along the way ("I'm disappointed in the cheapness of some of these signs, I gotta tell ya!"), and hammered home his intent: "The rest of the night's gonna be like we're playing at a picnic!"
First up — "the weirdest one first" — a sign for "Knock on Wood." Bruce didn't seem to remember that they'd played the song once before (notably, with Eddie Floyd himself in Nashville on April 29, 1976, the very night Bruce hopped the Graceland fence): "This has never been performed by the E Street Band... at least not that I remember!" "Boys, I hope you schooled yourself," he turned around to say, "Any self-respecting horn section ought to be able to pull this off." Which of course they'd go on to do. "Ladies and gentlemen, I'd like you to knock, right now, on wood!"
A horn-laden "Does This Bus Stop on 82nd Street" was "one for our old, old fans," and then we went "further back" for the second tour performance of "Thundercrack": "Back in the day, we opened up for a lot of unusual bands — Anne Murray, Black Oak Arkansas, Brownsville Station, Eagles, Chicago... Nobody knew who you were, so you had to have something that would catch somebody's ear right away. This was our first showstopper." Nils and Bruce faced off on that sweet instrumental stretch, the crowd digging all the changes as they must have back in '73.
And the jawdroppers continued: "We've got another unusual one. We've played this once on this tour, but it's one people ask for a lot." It was "Frankie." On paper, so many obscurities in a row might look like a recipe for... if not disaster, then at least wandering attentions, strange pacing, or bathroom breaks. But between the power of the band's performances and Bruce's mindful intensity, the crowd stayed hooked. He kept us enraptured — midway through "Frankie," he began speaking about writing the song at night on his front porch in 1978, bringing us back to summertime once again as he recalled the fireflies in the field. "Any fireflies out there? Light 'em up! Light 'em up!" Points of light appeared all over the ballpark as fans raised their cellphone torches. "Looks good!" A soaring guitar solo followed, the whole song performance just majestic.
And then the '78-style extended "Prove It All Night." By this point, it all almost feels ridiculous (can jaws drop further? can smiles get wider?) (and this point is as good as any to perhaps state the obvious and say that this was one of the very best shows I've ever seen, so what may sound like hyperbole, in my heart, isn't one bit. And so you'll forgive me for going on and on.) Just as stirring as Bruce's solo on the "Prove It" intro was Steve ripping it up on his guitar at the end. A killer, inense "Darkness on the Edge of Town" kept channeling that energy.
After mentioning the smell of hot dogs and beer a couple more times, at the beginning of "Working on the Highway" — a lighthearted break at just the right time, and a slight return to some setlist normalcy to ground the show — Bruce got his wish. He downed a hotdog and, his right hand strumming the acoustic intro the whole time, pounded a beer.
For "Waitin' on a Sunny Day," even the heavens were conspiring to make it a magical night. "It's raining," sang Bruce, just as the first drops came down. The rain kept up the rest of the night, and/but as most readers of this site must know, it's rare that such a thing ever actually dampens a show. "Maybe we'll get CCR" is a more common thought than "Should we leave?" and if you might have been tempted, "Backstreets" came out next to root you to your spot. The '78 "Sad Eyes" interlude is a fleeting moment fans have chased over the years, hoping for it but figuring it would never really happen again, the same way the '78 "Prove It" had long seemed out of reach. Well, it didn't happen here, either... but something arguably cooler did. As Bruce brought the band down and began to repeat "until the end," soon we were thinking about 1978 but we were also thinking about 2005, too, as he began to sing lyrics from Suicide's "Dream Baby Dream," that swirling, hypnotic staple of the Devils & Dust tour. "Dream, baby, dream," Bruce intoned over and over, "I just want to see you smile." And finally, to bring it all back around, "Dry your eyes, baby... I just want to see you smile."
In the encore, sure enough a solo "Who'll Stop the Rain" to start, which through some acoustic alchemy transitioned seamlessly into "Rocky Ground." Piling on to "Summertime Blues" and "Knock on Wood," two more classic covers in the encore futher marked this night as a standout, much like St. Louis 2008: "Detroit Medley" and, by sign request, "Quarter to Three." And if we didn't think Bruce could tap any more classic moments, he shouted out loud: "I'm just a prisoner of rock 'n' roll!"
As wet as the rest of us, he came out to the GA platform for another tribute to the Big Man on "Tenth Avenue." Curfew was more than blown by this point, but: "Boston!! That rain feels good! You're not gonna let a little rain bother you, are you? We've got one more for you!" It was one last Beantown special, and not a "Dirty Water" reprise from the night before or "Diddy Wah" or a dancing Peter Wolf, but the Celtic "American Land" — a potential anticlimax anywhere else besides Dublin, but perfectly fitting here with Dropkick Murphys' Ken Casey guesting to belt out the lead vocals with Bruce.
No cure for the summertime blues? Yeah, well, this little picnic at the park proved otherwise.
Opening with "The Promised Land" and an audibled "Out in the Street" before moving into the Wrecking Ball material, Bruce soon greeted the ballpark, its crowd, and its ghosts: "Good evening, Fenway! Nice to be here for the 100th anniversary of Fenway Park!" He added some familiar, good-natured Yankees ribbing ("I did this before, I had to do it again!") before getting serious and offering a timely tribute as he introduced "My City of Ruins": "The older you get, the more ghosts you live with. That's why it's nice to play at this ballpark, because so many people gave their blood and soul and sweat... and it's all in that dirt out there. So this is a song about living with ghosts." And for Red Sox legend Johnny Pesky, who just died the day before at 93: "We should probably get a light on that right field pole tonight" — known as the Pesky Pole. "That's right," he said to cheers, "We'll teach each other something tonight."
While this first show back in the states largely found Bruce and his E Street machine warming back up, revving their engines with a Night A set, "Spirit in the Night" highlighted something else they brought back from Europe, a number of arrangements refined and expanded as the summer went by. "Spirit" became a setpiece overseas, and this performance showed why: with the stage lights now finally registering as darkness fell, it was a stirring new intro, a newly energized rendition, and a special moment with Bruce and Jake down front. "Death to My Hometown" and "Shackled and Drawn" have also been nicely jacked up since Newark in May.
"Atlantic City" was a fresh-feeling rarity, though it led into a stretch that could have come straight out of the Born in the U.S.A. tour, a number of songs designed to move the at-times distracted crowd including "Darlington County" audibled before "Working on the Highway." Plenty of highlights in this middle portion nonetheless, including the horns and the Professor's barrelhouse piano on "Johnny 99," and one of Bruce's many forays into the crowd on "Darlington County" that found him dancing with a female officer of the law: "Arrest me, please!"
After "Sunny Day," with a satisfying baritone sax solo from Eddie "Kingfish" Manion (as well as Bruce's feat of strength, carrying a kid from the crowd up several flights like a sack of potatos to sing along), we moved into a one-two punch that was by far the highlight of my night. First, by sign request, John Lee Hooker's "Boom Boom" was a flashback to the Tunnel of Love Express tour, with horns blaring, but with 2012 touches taking it to another level, as Charlie dug deep on the organ and the backup singers just crushed it. Then, flipping the mood but with no less power, "Drive All Night" (reprised from its tour debut in Gothenburg) was magnificent — a sublime, impassioned vocal, Jake's sax high and clear. Heart and soul, baby.
A strong "Thunder Road" to close the main set, the blaring horns at the end never getting old, and more ghost stories with a stirring, moonlit "We Are Alive" before moving to a string of lights-up, house party hits. "Rosalita" and the requisite "Glory Days" gave Bruce and Steve a chance to shake their asses, ham it up, and mug to high heaven, always infectious. And to close, the "curfew-hatin' E Street Band" broke out the Boss-town classic "Dirty Water" followed by "Twist & Shout" (with "the Beatles ending!" as Bruce called out), fireworks hailing over the Green Monster and images of the late, great Pesky on the screens as they blew by that 10:30 curfew just enough to show who's Boss.
"We love ya! We'll be back tomorrow night!" So tonight brings Night 2, and another early start, rain or shine.
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