Reporting from New York –
My work travels brought me to New York this week and my intense fandom of Bruce and company had me dragging myself to the Izod Center on Tuesday night…even though I’d had four hours sleep, worked the previous night until 3am after traveling all day and been on my feet (and bad knees) for something like 9 hours before I even got to my bus to ride to New Jersey.
Yeah, it’s a bit obsessive…
I wanted to write this that night at 1am when it was all still so fresh, or at least yesterday…but work demands of the day and a client dinner kept me from even starting it. So the raw emotion of the evening has receded slightly. But, it still remains a vivid and special night for a whole bunch of reasons that I’ll try to explain.
I have been a huge Springsteen fan since the first time I saw him in 1978. The legendary (at least amongst us obsessive fans) “Darkness on the Edge of Town Tour”. I’ve seen him something like 30 times and no show is ever the same. Which I mention specifically because there was a weird sort of feeling I had at this show I’d never experienced before.
Last year Clarence Clemons “The Big Man” who was a major part of the sound of the E Street Band and Bruce’s music passed away. This came on the heels of losing Danny Federici one of the two keyboard players a couple years prior. So many questions….how would the band replace someone like Clarence? Would they eliminate songs that featured him? Who could ever try to fill his shoes if they did go on?
When the tour was announced they introduced a full horn section with the sax positions held by Ed Manion (an old friend from the Asbury Jukes) and Jake Clemons, nephew of the Big Man and the apparent heir to the throne. Collectively folks held their breath, how would he sound? Was he added just for his name alone?
I’d read some tour reports about this playing and it was all positive. But, the fact remained. My first show to see Bruce on his home ground would also be my first show without Clarence. I just wasn’t sure how that would feel and how the show would play out.
I rushed from my work to the hotel and changed clothes. Grabbed a cab and headed to the Port Authority Bus Terminal. My cab ride was white knuckle as the driver darted through rush hour traffic on 42nd Street, flipped through a book and tried to convince me to pay him $100 to drive me directly to the arena…skipping the $10.00 bus round trip that I’d planned. There is no roller coaster thrill in the world that can match a New York cabbie at rush hour on a mission…which apparently now for him was to dump me as soon as possible once he realized I wasn’t a big enough idiot to overpay him to drive me to Jersey.
I ended up on the bus having a great conversation with a psychologist…<insert joke here>
We pulled up to the arena and spilled into the parking lot. Entering the closest door I found myself in a mad crush of people trying to pass through the numerous beer lines. It took about fifteen minutes to get halfway around the arena and to my aisle. I headed down and found my seat (aisle seat! score!). I plopped down and had just enough time to send a couple texts before the house lights dimmed.
Bruce did a fun sort of spoken word intro of, himself…good natured, it included things like “…his most recent album was number one for ONE consecutive week…”
With that out of the way, the band tore into “We Take Care of Our Own” from the new album. He followed that with “Wrecking Ball”, a song written about the very ground we were on, it was debuted a couple years back just prior to the tearing down of Meadowlands Stadium which is now just a parking lot for the newer Met Life Stadium. This was my first emotional moment of the night. For some reason while running at the gym a few weeks ago this song came on and I connected it with my late brother Orville. He was a giant of a man and former pro football player. We were distant in age, but had connected over the decade or so before he died. In fact, the only show we ever went to together was Bruce in Houston in 2002. It was the first time of the night I’d find myself a little choked up, but not the last.
“Badlands” was up next and it featured a solo by Jake Clemons…listening to it, I realized that there were going to be a bunch of ghosts in the room that night…my brother…Danny….Clarence…and now with this song the ghost of my 18 year old self arrived and took me back to the first time I heard the song live when I was just a kid back in 1978. The show continued like that for me.
“Death to my Hometown” gave way to “My City of Ruins” which reminded me of the awful days around 9-11 and all the uncertainty that came with that time. “So Young and In Love” was an obscure song front the Tracks Box Set that I wasn’t able to buy for a while after it was released due to having a bunch of bills to pay in the 90’s…
“E Street Shuffle” was a brilliant romp that a 20 year old me had discovered 30 years ago as I worked my way back through Bruce’s catalog and from an album that for a long time I considered my favorite of all of his.
The ghosts weren’t all mine though. In the song, “Jack of All Trades” I see as the ghost of the kid from Thunder Road and The Promise who is now older, sadder, wiser and forced to scrape along to survive in an unforgiving world. “Seeds” was next and the band tore into it fiercely. It’s not one of my favorites to be honest, but that was the best performance I’ve ever heard of it…and it fit perfectly alongside the songs that framed it. “Prove it all Night” featured a great couple guitar solos and “Easy Money” wrapped the sort of message part of the show. I’ve always admired how he builds a set list, and the thread that ran through those four songs was clear an unmistakable in it’s look at the recent economic crisis we’ve all lived through.
“Waitin’ on a Sunny Day” is considered lightweight by some hardcore Bruce fans, but the audience loved it and it featured him pulling a little girl up to sing (pretty well too) and then take a slide with him across the stage. It was great fun and also an important part of his show….there may be a message or a point to songs…but, there’s also going to be some flat out fun and you’ll never forget you’re there for music with some messages….not just to be hit over the head with them.
“The Promised Land” was next followed by a great a-capella start into a full band medley of Smokey Robinson’s “The Way you do the Things You Do” then Eddie Floyd’s & Steve Cropper’s “634-5789″….Both songs taking me back to my early days listening to the radio and the wonderful soul music of the 60’s and 70’s.
“American Skin” was next, followed by “Because the Night” with a blistering solo by Nils. “The Rising” lead into “We are Alive”…another standout track from the new album. It’s clear message of hope and love speaking of how our bodies may one day falter, but promising that our spirits rise…a bit like the lump that rose in my throat as I thought of all those ghosts hanging around me there in New Jersey.
He closed with “Thunder Road”, the first track that he’d played from the Born to Run album that night. Now some folks might find fault in that, but that’s the beauty of a Springsteen show, the set lists vary, the moods vary…it’s a ride you can never predict 100%. Sort of like life in many ways.
The encores were “Rocky Ground” with it’s gospel sound and rap verse…”Out in the Street” which allowed a bunch of pent up emotions in the crowd to burst out with a massive sing along. “Born to Run” with (as always) the house lights up full and the entire crowd in full voice. “Dancing in the Dark”, the only song he’d play from Born in the USA, his biggest selling album (see what I mean, his setlist is about a story and pleasing himself as much as meeting any crowd expectations when he plans a show.) “Land of Hope and Dreams” which took me back to the Reunion Tour when I was heading into unknown personal territory during my divorce…it’s message of hope for a better day ahead still resonating with me more than decade later.
The last song was “Tenth Ave Freeze Out”….an early and brief summation of the E Street Band history and a love note out to Clarence and Danny who may have passed but are not in any way forgotten by the fans. When he reached the line “….the change was made uptown, and the big man joined the band…” They all stopped cold and simply let the crowd cheer and recognize that as he had put it earlier in the show during the band introductions…”If your here, and we’re here…then THEY are here…” It was a subtle and touching moment and handled brilliantly…letting us all share our loses together and still celebrate our victories….even if they are small ones, like finally seeing Bruce on his home ground in New Jersey for the first time.
We are alive…
Our spirits rise…
Indeed they do.
The full setlist:
We Take Care of Our Own
Death to My Hometown
My City of Ruins
So Young and In Love
E Street Shuffle
Jack of All Trades
Prove It All Night
Waitin’ on a Sunny Day
The Promised Land
American Skin (41 Shots)
Because the Night
We Are Alive
* * *
Rocky Ground (with Michelle Moore)
Out in the Street
Born to Run
Dancing in the Dark
Land of Hope and Dreams
Tenth Avenue Freeze-out
Sorry but it took me a few days longer to get this posted than I’d hoped. More reviews to follow soon!