THE LAST STAND, Part 1 : Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, Giants Stadium, 10-2-09

Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band
Night 2: 2 October, 2009
Darkness On The Edge Of Town

Willing suspension of disbelief. This has always been my response to people who assert that Bruce is corny or contrived or overly earnest in concert. You have to be willing to let yourself go, be willing to follow him wherever he goes, be willing to trust that he knows what he’s doing.

In this case, it’s presenting entire albums in order before an intimate crowd of 55,000.

In this day of the iPod shuffle, listening to an entire album in order is almost a quaint, antiquated notion. Presenting an entire album in sequence before an intimate crowd of 55,000 seems doomed to failure. And yet, with aplomb, they carried it off.

As Bruce noted when he introduced the album, the songs on Darkness have informed the foundation of the E Street live show for the past 30 years. You have seen “Badlands” at almost every show since 1978 (and the statistic was every show since 1988 until Saturday night. But I get ahead of myself). And yet, there was a sense of deliberation and presence onstage tonight. This was not business as usual.

I had goosebumps as they began. Some of it was undoubtedly anticipation, but I did not expect such a visceral, emotional reaction to the ritual and the ceremony of playing an album from start to finish. At one point I tried to talk myself out of the reaction, worried that I was building something into it that wasn’t there. That was foolish because it was very real and very much there. Yes, I was willing to open up my heart and let it feel anything that was there to be felt, but the air was thick with ghosts and memories – not just mine, everyone else’s. Every thought that was triggered by the juxtaposition of a song. Every recollection, every heartbeat. And that went for Bruce as well.

Darkness was my record. This was my moment. This was my time. This was when I felt like I was an adult entering the world. Born To Run I just missed, I wasn’t old enough. But Darkness arrived in such good time I felt like it was written for me. I was never old enough to appreciate it live. Finally, I got my chance.

At least that’s how it was for me.

This is why it was somewhat disappointing that this auspicious beginning transitioned into the Big Stadium version of “Badlands,” complete with the false ending and houselights on the crowd. As a Darkness diehard, this was not quite how I had hoped it would go. I realize that yearning for dark moody intimacy in Giants Stadium was probably unreasonable, but there were plenty of other songs in this evening where the audience could follow the traditional audience participation routes. The crowd would have just taken their cue from Bruce had he not encouraged it and instead ended the song as it was written and originally performed.

All was forgiven, however, when “Adam Raised A Cain” began, and the power of the album and the sequencing and the mood and tone and intent began to resurface. These songs were put together in this particular order in a painstaking, painful fashion, after a period of – as Bruce put it as he introduced it “bad luck and hard times”. We have heard them singly and we have heard the occasional back to back pairing, but this suite of songs in this order has an undeniable power, even in a cavernous blimp nest like Giants Stadium. I appreciated that the behind-stage video screen kept off for the rest of the album, as the darkened stage also set the tone appropriately.

“Racing In The Street” was as powerful and heartbreaking as you would expect, and the absence of Danny Federici never more painfully felt than in this moment. But just when I thought my heart was going to break, Roy took over with an utterly magnificent outro on the grand piano. It’s not that Roy isn’t incredibly talented, but all I could think in that moment was that he was going above and beyond to fill in the hole left by Danny’s absence. I can’t remember the last time I saw a stadium crowd applaud a piano solo with such fervor.

The usual culprits in unusual spots just sounded amazingly new and fresh. “Candy’s Room” into “Racing” was astonishing. I can’t remember ever specifically wanting to hear “Prove It All Night” but yet, in context, it just felt different, it felt fresh, it didn’t feel like “Oh, yeah, ‘Prove It'”. But “Prove It All Night” after “Streets of Fire” was a remarkably refreshing contrast. “Darkness on the Edge of Town” can sometimes feel forced, can sometimes even feel a tad dry. No one was making a beer run when that song started Friday night. I appreciated that Bruce worked hard to minimize the pauses between songs, that he deliberately kept the mood and the momentum going.

And then, of course, the song we were all waiting for, “Streets of Fire”. I am not trying to sound ungrateful and it is likely that there was no way the performance could have met everyone’s ridiculously high hopes, but it was not as strong as I felt it could have been. The organ intro was not dominant enough, and it seemed to me that without the line of the intro to follow, Bruce was just a little rushed. Once Max came in, however, Bruce regained power and control and, well, it was “Streets of Fire”. He got that soul singer voice up there at the critical moment in the second verse. (Bruce’s voice was just incredible. For this late in the tour AND an outdoor show it is astounding.)

And then “Darkness,” and then it was over. Except that Bruce is calling the band down to the front of the stage, and as a unit – “These are the guys who made the record.” A pause. “And, Phantom Danny Federici.” Applause, from every corner of the stadium it seemed. I can’t tell you how well the album worked in the upper deck, but it felt like the crowd was attentive and the energy did not seem to drop dramatically during the album’s performance. I will confess to have chosen my spot for this evening very carefully, as anyone who thought they needed to yak during “Something In The Night” or “Streets of Fire’ might have found themselves critically injured. Maybe I would be writing something else had I been sitting up in the stands and not standing at the back of the front GA pit.

I saw all of Darkness live. I am happy. I never thought it would happen. I didn’t think I’d enjoy it in the stadium (and almost didn’t go for that reason) and I did.

Three more nights to go. More on the rest of it to come.