Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Izod Arena, 4-5-12
There you are, having survived a party trick duet on “Sunny Day” and a brisk but standard “Promised Land,” and then the stage goes dark and maybe Bruce said something, maybe he didn’t, but all of a sudden there are those piano notes and the crowd roars in recognition and then immediately goes silent. Suddenly it is as though there is no one else in the room, there is no one else between you and that stage. It is a moment, somehow Bruce can turn this behemoth on a dime and create the space in which to unfold “Racing In The Street.” All of it is grand, and majestic, and despite standing absolutely still the entire time my heart is racing and I am just trying not to breathe too hard so I don’t miss something.
The piano interlude is my favorite part, or maybe it’s my second favorite part after oh, the entire rest of the song, but I love that it is there in the middle of a rock show, that Roy plays it with such compressed style, that it is always perfect, that it builds and grows and cascades over the crowd. I love watching Bruce nodding to himself, conducting it, encouraging it, luxuriating in it. It was perfect and magic and overwhelming and the piano stirred up so much raw emotion from the sheer beauty of it.
It was a fabulous night out at that horrible building formerly known as the Brendan Byrne Arena. This was–dare I say it–a Philly-night-2 level setlist brought to Jersey, without the Philly-level audience. “Ties That Bind” in the third setlist spot pledging allegience, bright and brisk and sharp. “Candy’s Room” after “City of Ruins,” thundering and powerful, even if the solo seemed a touch off. “Jackson Cage” was a perfect segue, both musically and thematically, coming out of “Jack of All Trades.” “She’s The One” threatened to blow the roof off of the place.
Even “Johnny 99”–while I honestly like this song, I have disliked some of the reinventions in recent years (“Up next, a cheery jig about capital punishment!” I have been wont to mutter) and tonight I decided that I was going to make my peace with it because it wasn’t that far away from the country tradition of singing about hard things in happy ways… but that was before the horn section kicked in at the end. This was fantastic. This was perfect. The only thing we still don’t need are Curtis and Cindy (who were actually introduced tonight, by first and last name, along with Everett Bradley, during MCOR) doing the completely unnecessary “woo woo’s” from previous tours, mimicking a train.
Aside from that odd placement of “The Rising” after the Motown medley, I liked the pacing and variation on this setlist the best out of all the shows I’ve seen so far. Even “Ties That Bind” / “Death To My Hometown” / “My City of Ruins” worked for me, although I must confess that I used the middle song as a bathroom and water run (not my fault, blame the venue and New Jersey Transit, lack of facilities and despite being in the bus line at Port Authority at 6:45, we didn’t get in the door until 8:00pm).
The encore was especially surprising: I wasn’t expecting “Trapped” (Bruce said it was a request, but I didn’t see a sign for it) and it actually would work well going into “Rocky Ground” if this was not the spot in the encore where Bruce is making announcements while Max is hitting the intro drumbeat and there are some initial piano chords played. (He was acknowledging the anniversary of friends who are also the godparents to the Springsteen children, which led to an acknowledgment of Patti, and how she hadn’t been around on some tours because she was keeping the house from burning down, all very touching and lovely but selfishly I wish he would find another place to do this.)
After everything, I expected special in the encore but what I did not expect was “Ramrod”! Welcome back to this pleasant addition to the setlist, which gets the audience dancing and singing and allows for on-stage hijinks featuring Stevie (Bruce made him walk with him down to the front platform, which precluded any inquiries as to what time it was).
The E Street Horns are gelling so well as a group. They are singing along to various songs just for fun, they have their own dance steps now, they are spreading out along the stage for the drumming bit in “Death To My Hometown” and turning to face the crowd in back of the stage. They add so much, and I am so grateful to be able to hear Steve Van Zandt’s artistry in this particular department night after night. (The story about how he got on the payroll is probably my favorite E Street legend.) The horn part in “Dancing In The Dark” gives me something with which I can amuse myself during that particular number.
I still cannot stop tearing up during the acknowledgment of the missing friends during “My City of Ruins”. It is still heartbreaking, but I think that is okay. During “Tenth Avenue” tonight, Bruce went out to the center platform in time for making the change uptown, and he stood out there, arm aloft, staring up above the crowd, above the very top row, not encouraging the crowd overly or trying to find those people in row ZZZ and getting them to jump up and down. I learned later that they’ve started showing footage of Clarence during “Tenth” (which I cannot ever see because I am too close and never look at the screens) and I wonder if he was looking at that. Or if he was looking at something else, feeling something else, trying to connect with someone at that moment. “Tenth” is the most revolutionary tribute out of all of the tributes right now, because I think it works for everybody, it keeps the song in the show and gives everyone their moment to say goodbye to Clarence.
[UPDATE: This is what Bruce was looking at last night. ]
(I know, we still have to talk about Jake. After MSG.)
I do not scream during that moment. I do not cheer or yell, I just stand there, arm aloft, head down for at least a few seconds, I want that moment to myself, that moment to remember, to commemorate something that will never happen again, something that I was lucky enough to see over and over and over again over the past 30-something years. And then I look up, and look around, and then wait for my cue to wave my hand, and everything is okay again.
I do not know how this is all happening right now. I do not know how this band is in such form that I cannot miss a show, or that I need to follow the setlist every single night. It is such a wonder. It is such a gift. I am astonished, I am confounded, I am delighted.
Thanks for reading. If you like my reviews or my tweets, please take five seconds to 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.”
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