Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Wells Fargo Arena, Philadelphia, PA, 3-29-12
Once you’ve been to a Springsteen show in Philadelphia, it will be hard for you to not be at a Springsteen show in Philadelphia. More than Jersey, more than New York, the audiences here are a combination of diehards that make the place vibrate and elevate the performance. Bruce always responds to this with high energy and inspired setlist choices.
Night two in Philly especially has a lot to live up to, especially after what was by all accounts (and according to the various live streams) a barnburner of a show night one. Night two started off promising, with “Night” taking the #3 slot after “We Take Care of Our Own” and “Wrecking Ball,” which remains a fantastic one-two punch, and was only enhanced by “Night.” There was an instant shout of recognition at the opening notes. This was a crowd that was on their feet the whole time, all the way up to the last row, all the way up to the luxury boxes.
That was until we hit ‘Thundercrack,’ in the #6 position. I adore “Thundercrack.” I like “Thundercrack” more than I like “Kitty’s Back” (wait, wait, I’ll get there) in terms of your mid-70s jazz exploration numbers. He can only play “Thundercrack” in New York, New Jersey, Boston and Philly, because otherwise the audience just sits down and gives up. I can’t believe that happened in Philly tonight, but it did, just because it was too early. It was not the right place in the set for this. It just confused people.
I am still not ready to talk about it yet, but I had quite liked the reports from Boston that Bruce had let the crowd do the ‘Baby’s back’ line. Tonight I was ready to throw myself into the line with gusto, only to see Bruce cue Jake. I did not like Jake doing it. I know he is doing it because Bruce asked him to do it. It just bothers me.
The “Thundercrack” disconnect meant that “Jack of All Trades” turned into even more of an audience exodus, let’s-chat-to-our-neighbor moment than I’d seen yet. After 10 minutes of struggling through “Thundercrack” they just didn’t have it in them to follow Bruce into a new song that’s slow and introspective. Don’t get me wrong, “Jack of All Trades” into “Trapped,” “Easy Money,” “Prove It All Night” and “Darkness On The Edge of Town” was a brilliant sequence, and demonstrates that Bruce is feeling more comfortable integrating the older material into the setlist alongside the new songs. It was just a tough transition.
“Trapped” was unbelievable. “Trapped” generated an immediate yell, and a vivid audience response that brought back memories of Born In The USA audiences. “Trapped” fits the band and the vocalists and this particular grouping of musicians so well, lifts it straight up into the stratosphere. I am not a non-fan of this song but if you were around back when it came out, you know that you heard it out of every car that drove by that summer and it wore out its welcome a little bit. It blew the roof off the arena last night.
“Easy Money” is definitely shaping up, getting tighter and improving. It was a little sad that “Prove It” felt a little anemic at the start, lacking the necessary verve, but the band picked up pace as the song went on, Bruce ending it with a blistering solo that would have had everyone on their feet except that they hadn’t sat down since the show started. “Darkness” had good movement and didn’t plod as it sometimes can.
“Sunny Day” will always feel redundant and unnecessary when one song later there’s a two-song Motown medley that is already a crowd singalong, audience participation number. I sacrificed my Sunny Day bathroom break to wait for Bruce to come to our corner of the stage so I could hold up my “FEVER” sign. (It is the only thing I have not yet seen. I will keep trying.) I wish the Motown medley, especially “634-5789,” was more performance and less spectacle, because it is an absolutely brilliant vocal endeavor. Bruce sings the absolute hell out of the song, and it gets lost because he is running to the back and standing on the platform and running around high-fiving and then diving into the pit where people are all too busy filming and taking photos to move him forward, making it take twice as long as it should. I always remain amazed at his innate ability to cue the band without missing it once, ever, just like he used to cue the sax solo during “Hungry Heart” last tour.
But, man, listen to him sing! Listen to him sing Wilson Pickett! This is what he loves. This is what is in his heart. I hear it echoing in my head 12 hours later.
“Streets of Philadelphia” was quiet and solemn and thankfully the audience let him have the space to execute a poignant performance of the song. “The Rising” still feels unnecessary, but at least we were spared “Lonesome Day” tonight. “We Are Alive” is another tough choice to work with. It was the first time the audience started yelling and catcalling during a quiet moment. It’s clear that he feels it’s important to close the show with this song (when the album came out I had envisioned it as the encore opener). “Thunder Road” had me in tears, standing there watching the crowd (front-row backstage seats pulled up on the drop the day before), the enormity of the history, of our history with the band and this music, my history with this city and this music and the people standing on the stage.
“Rocky Ground” remains a treasure, remains a stellar moment, still provides me with wonderment that there is a new song that means as much to me as this one does. I wish he would introduce Michele Moore before the song starts, or at the end of the song. I think the crowd is smart enough to figure out that she is the person who sang on the song without interrupting what is an otherwise perfect instrumental execution. I feel like it takes the audience out of the moment and gives them permission to start chatting again.
The encore had the expected bonus addition of “Kitty’s Back,” which is so much tighter, and richer, with the addition of the horn section, but it just started to seem like – I can’t believe I’m saying this–too much, given that we’d already had “Thundercrack.” It helped, a lot, that the song didn’t lose course like it almost always has in the recent past. “Dancing In The Dark” was tolerable because Bruce walked over to the side and pulled his mother out (after a mixup with someone who was entirely too eager to get herself on that stage climbed up and had to be very pointedly put back in the crowd by Bruce). Bruce danced with Adele,and then brought her front and center to sing the last verse with him, which didn’t go so well but was adorable to watch, before handing her off to Kevin to escort down the stairs.
I wonder when I will stop crying during “10th Avenue Freeze-Out,” but before I can wonder too much, the show is over.
Overall, the show was incredibly powerful in some places, but definitely uneven in others, and not what you would expect from night two at Philly. It felt less like the band was hitting their stride and more like your typical early tour show. I start to wonder about whether there is just too much going on to reasonably sustain a consistent pace. There are so many people onstage making a lot of noise. (At least the sound appears to be a marked improvement from previous tours, so you can at least hear all of that noise clearly.) There are a lot of songs. There feels like there is a lot of talking, there is a lot of going to lengths to get a crowd which is already on their feet to participate more. I am not talking about the cheering for Danny and the Big Man, I am talking about getting the crowd to sing the intro to “Tenth Avenue” when the whole reason we started doing that in the first place was that there was no horn section.
I also am going to let myself start to worry a bit. I worry about “Shackled and Drawn” already being dropped from the setlist so early in the tour in favor of songs that could seriously use a time out. I worry that we will never ever hear anything from The Promise despite many being thematically or energetically suitable for the story Bruce is trying to tell this tour. (I won’t even comment on the absence of songs from Magic, because I’m fairly resigned to never hearing anything from that record in concert again.) “Talk To Me” instead of the Motown medley, “Ain’t Good Enough For You” instead of “Sunny Day,” “Save My Love” instead of “The Rising”–it would be an abject tragedy if this record never gets played live, if every fan doesn’t get a chance to hear the full band version of “The Promise,” especially when the songs that are filling out the set have been filling out the set for years now.
But the tour is still finding its feet, and there are a lot more shows ahead of us. Hopefully I will read this in July and laugh at my pessimism. And the fact remains: I saw Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band in Philadelphia last night! I danced and I sang and I laughed and I cried and I yelled and I screamed, I clapped until my hands hurt, I jumped up and down until my feet were sore. I am glad I can still do this, I am glad that I will be doing this for the rest of 2012.
Thanks for reading. If you like my reviews or my tweets, please check out my novel, B-sides and Broken Hearts. A reader said, “This is a really fun book about what it means to love bands and music…And there’s a scene of emotional catharsis based on listening to a bootleg version of “Badlands,” and I mean, I have LIVED THAT.”