Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Madison Square Garden, 4-9-12
After Friday night’s bulldozer of an intro, Bruce clearly decided he liked it enough to try it again tonight, but this time, with mixed results. Things were a little odd, a little off balance, a little not quite all together for this second MSG show. “Badlands” didn’t have the same punch, but “We Take Care of Our Own” and “Wrecking Ball” (which has grown on me) felt solid as ever. I didn’t think we needed to go the “Out In The Street” route again, given that the people behind the stage weren’t the ones sitting on their hands tonight, but sure enough, we went there.
There was a long conversation with Kevin Buell during the intro to “My City of Ruins” which I hoped meant that he was changing his mind about something (and apparently, he did; Mr. Radecki has the info on that). I will always wish there was another place for the intros, for the roll call, for the laundry list. So much of the show keys off of this song — “How do I begin again?” — and I don’t think it gets a chance to breathe properly. It is always powerful and always strong, but it would be so much stronger if Bruce could just sing and the band could just play it through start to finish.
Bruce sitting down on the stage, announcing that they were going to play something they hadn’t yet played this tour. I was guessing “Spirit,” I was hoping “Spirit,” and a conversation about a local hangout at a lake, more like a pond, and everyone’s fingers behind the stage were already twinkling in the air. This was the point at which Bruce had to go over to the VIP’s on the side of the stage and tell them to stand up. This is, and remains, the problem with the Garden, that the front is full of VIP’s and the pit gets overcrowded due to VIP’s and the rest of us sit behind the stage.
“Spirit” was a little sloppy; okay, it was a lot sloppy. It wasn’t that loose, rollicking flow that you expect from “Spirit,” it was a “when is everybody going to catch up to each other” sloppy. Luckily Bruce can sell the song whether or not the various band members are playing at the same tempo he is, and sell it he did, writhing on the monitor at the front, stalking the edge of the stage, finding people in the crowd down front who were singing like their lives depended upon it.
A large PLAY THUNDERCRACK FOR MY BIRTHDAY sign down front convinced Bruce to take it, and as much as I love “Thundercrack,” it can only be played and do well in very specific places and MSG is, to be honest, borderline. But it was a fine version of “Thundercrack,” the band knows this one now, they don’t get lost and I cannot complain about “Thundercrack” in the set (although I was worried it was going to take the place of, say, an “Incident” or a “Serenade,” and I am selfishly glad it did not take the place of either). I worry about “Thundercrack” losing the crowd most of all, and, again, the people twirling their fingers in the air were behind the stage and in the pit and way, way, way at the back.
“Jack of All Trades” didn’t seem to lose the crowd tonight. “Trapped” was fine, but nothing special; tonight was not a particularly strong showing for Jake Clemons but the crowd is, as always, immensely forgiving. I worried about “She’s The One,” whether it would have enough oomph, enough power, enough darkness to not be anemic, but it was beyond fantastic, one of the best “She’s The One” performances I have ever seen. It was slightly arrhythmic, still in the neighborhood of Bo Diddley but maybe one street over, it was slippery and sexy. The women in my section were definitely feeling this one.
The transition into “Easy Money” was fine, although I think this needs to stabilize itself a bit more. However, in order to do that, Bruce will need to decide what he wants this particular number to be. He tried using Stevie as a foil, he’s fallen back on pulling Patti up for a June & Johnny moment, which is fine with me, but I’m still not sure what this is.
And then, there was “Sunny Day.”
“The Promised Land” was a low point tonight. As mentioned previously, this was not one of Jake’s good nights, and the solo I felt lacked power. The Motown medley is getting to the point where I wonder if they could maybe possibly try something else, people sit down during the intro, people aren’t interested in a very lengthy history lesson, they get up and dance once the song starts but it takes so long to get there, and again I wish there was more singing and less dancing and Jake doing the robot and then we have to wait for the run out to the platform and the chugging of the beer (I am going to have a heart attack watching that, I swear, I cannot understand how security is clearing this every night).
There is now an overhead camera shot of Bruce crowd surfing. Even with that, I feel like we are not quite at the edge of ridiculousness with this particular number. If we didn’t have the six minutes of crowd participation which was “Sunny Day” just one song ago, I would welcome this particular interlude in the set with open arms because BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN IS SINGING WILSON PICKETT.
“Because The Night” is such a New York City song, I am glad it is here tonight, I am glad that Nils is there to channel the whirling dervish into a fantastic solo. The horns are magnificent in this song, and I love that Patti is now sharing a microphone with Bruce for the penultimate verse.
Following “We Are Alive,” Bruce audibled something, and Glenn said, “Good for you, Bruce” but I can’t lipread and my first thought was “Jungleland” and that was what I started to type without my glasses on because I knew it would fog up my glasses when I started crying, and I was crying anyway because it was “Backstreets” and those intro chords, Roy is not a big man but he is enormous when he plays those intro chords, they hit me straight in the center of my chest, square on, dead center. BOOM. It was everything that “Backstreets” needed to be at that moment, everything that “Backstreets” is, roaring out of that stage, and changing the tone for the rest of the show.
I was prepared for “Thunder Road” next – the prompter that Curtis and Cindy use is under Roy’s piano and I could see it from where we were (unfortunately) but yet Bruce starts singing, “This train..” and there is a guitar change and he starts to cue the band in and some people in the audience know what’s going on and others don’t and then he gets everyone going and welcome back, “Land of Hope and Dreams,” all is forgiven! It was the perfect thing to put into the show, to get things back on track, and the perfect segue into “Rocky Ground”. Tonight, thank you, Bruce, he didn’t talk through the intro, he waited until he was done talking about WHY Hunger and introducing Michelle before cueing Max and beginning the song.
Bruce gestures at Stevie and tells him, “Come here, I need Steve for this song” and I’m not even sure Steve knew what Bruce wanted and we were thinking “Ramrod” and I was actually hoping for “Talk To Me” (or, I know, “Lyin’ In A Bed of Fire”. I think that sign is just going to go to Europe with us, along with airplane bottles of tequila to hand Bruce out at the center platform). I can be of mixed mind about “Rosalita”‘s presence in a set but it’s not overplayed right now and in terms of pinning down the corners of the history of the band and the songs that are important, “Rosie” is welcomed and needed and it is a barnburner lately, nothing is old or tired or rote about it, even if the horns careen off course with alarming regularity.
The rest of the encore was the rest of the encore, your houselights and your “Born To Run” hysteria, your kid-shopping for “Dancing In The Dark” (someone needs to tell him that it’s entirely possible to either 1) not play the song or 2) not pull a kid out of the audience, just end the song six minutes earlier). “Tenth Avenue” was fantastic tonight, it had good pacing, the intro didn’t go on too long, Bruce now bellows “HORNS” when he wants the horns to come in, assuring that they do not miss his cue or mistake his arm waving at the upstairs as a cue, and the tribute to Clarence is getting better, if that was at all possible, bringing down the house lights just the tiniest bit to emphasize the video on the screens. And “Tenth” remains the right note to close the show with. I am liking that it ends there, that there is no possibility for any more afterwards, that it is the time for acknowledgement and goodbye.
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