Review: Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Prudential Center, 5-2-12
I am not shy about saying that the experience of seeing Bruce Springsteen in New Jersey is highly overrated; that New Jersey crowds (outside of Asbury Park) are horrible; that you would be better off at seeing him in Boston or Philly or at Madison Square Garden. Tonight, the audience at the Prudential Center in Newark proved all of that wrong by being the best audience I have ever been part of in New Jersey and probably the best this tour so far. I turned around during “Rosalita” and saw leaping, jumping, dancing people in every single row, all the way up to the ceiling. They sang along — in harmony! — to the Levon Helm tribute “The Weight.” Signs were for things like “Acoustic Open All Night” or “Ain’t Good Enough For You.”
This amazing audience was, I believe, key to keeping the show energetic and moving through all of the many times — like the intro to “No Surrender,” which opened the show, houselights up tonight — that the band lost their place, couldn’t follow Bruce, or couldn’t hear each other. Seriously, Bruce had to start the first song over because the band was not playing in time. It would be easy to overlook that if it happened once in a show, but it happened, again, repeatedly, on songs like “My City of Ruins,” “She’s The One,” or the glorious trainwreck which was the birthday dedication for Backstreets‘ own Flynn McLean, in the pit with a sign asking for “Talk To Me.” The band kept playing and Bruce just kept conducting them as hard as he could, and just kept picking the performances up and turning them around, picking the energy up. The result was a highly enjoyable show despite the performance issues. I’ve always admired Bruce’s professionalism and ability to play through a fuckup that would cause someone else to get upset and make the mistake worse. And again, energetically this was such a great show the flubs were easily shrugged off. It is a little bit of a concern that they could go that far off the rails after such a short break, however – but then completely pull of an unrehearsed version of “The Weight” with aplomb.
Let’s talk setlist. Tonight went all over the place, veering and meandering with mixed results. I loved the “No Surrender” opener, and suspect we’ll see a lot more of that now that we’re moving to the stadiums. I very, very much appreciated the appearance of “It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City,” a song that greatly benefits from the presence of a full horn section, even if I felt it was lacking in oomph just a tiny bit. I am content with the “Easy Money”/”Shackled & Drawn” flip, even if I wish he could find a way to include both songs since both are strong numbers. I am very, very happy with the evolution of “Shackled,” of expanding Cindy’s reprise of her recreation of the Lomax sample, coming down off the platform to the front of the stage with Bruce. It makes a strong number even stronger. “Talk To Me” was definitely an audible, Glenn could see Bruce talking to Roy to let him know what was coming. I just do not understand what happened there – the performance in Tampa was absolutely spot on, so it boggles the mind that it could be so sloppy tonight. (And it wasn’t just the band, those were definitely not the lyrics in spots.) But it was still high spirited and full of energy and the end result was still positive. And, of course, “The Weight” was a wonderful, unexpected surprise. We saw him pull the sign out of the crowd and then Bruce came to the front with an acoustic, stage dark, in a spotlight, and I had no idea what he was going to do. Once it started, of course, it was fabulous, and the band — especially the horns — acquitted themselves at the level you would expect.
This brings us to the outlier tonight, the song Bruce got everyone worked up about by telling us he’d never done it before. Charlie was out on the riser with the accordion and of course that makes you think 1) “Wild Billy” or 2) “Sandy.” In a million, trillion years I would never have expected him to drag out “Bishop Danced,” and in a million, trillion years, I never would have eagerly awaited that particular choice from the outtake set. Seriously, there are probably 25 other songs that are superior to “Bishop Danced.”
I am personally not a fan of just hearing a song played live because it’s never been played live before, I want to hear a song played live because it’s a good song first, then I care about how rare it is. There is a reason that this song was an outtake. And the worst part was, this was not an audible; this was planned; this was arranged for the full band; this was soundchecked. Really, “Bishop Danced”? Because that will do so well in the stadiums. Please let this be an outlier. Because there is still a whole album full of material from The Promise we have yet to hear live. I mean, Newark didn’t deserve a full band “The Promise?” No, I am not going to be ‘glad’ I heard a second-rate song just so I can say I was at one of the two performances of it.
Other notes about the show: I thought tonight was the lowest point for “The Promised Land” in the history of this song’s live performance. It was stale and flat and suffered the most I have ever heard it suffer from its unfortunate home after “Sunny Day.” The Apollo Medley is starting to feel a tiny bit overplayed, but, again, you know, Wilson Pickett. (At one point tonight I thought he was going to audible “Sweet Soul Music,” which I would love to see come out for the summer stadium run, I think it would be a great fit and give him another place for a Clarence tribute – yes, I want him to keep the “Spotlight on the Big Man” line.) I was not a fan of converting the “If you’re here and we’re here, then they’re here” line into a song, I thought it extended it too much and made it lose its power. If he is tired of that tribute (which an astute reviewer discussing the New Orleans show noted), it would certainly be fine to retire it and find another one. There are certainly no shortage of moments in the show that could be dedicated to Clarence and Danny.
The new spoken intro to “We Are Alive” needs focus; it’s hard enough to ask the audience for quiet at that part of the show, asking for additional quiet while you ramble for a few minutes is going to be tough. The encore still feels bloated to me, I do not think we need “Rosie” and “Dancing In The Dark,” I really do not. If he wants to bring out “Rosie” then retire DITD for a show. I am uncertain how I feel about the omission of “Thunder Road” at this point. I very much enjoyed the horn arrangement and how it paid tribute to Clarence in a quiet way. Finally, I thought the sound had some problems tonight; I felt like Charlie was way too high in the mix, but at times could not hear Bruce or Roy.
I had GA for this show, deciding to take my chances with the lottery. Not only did I not hit the lottery, but did not come anywhere close to being in a decent second position. So I was back at the soundboard, which is a new location for me this tour. I enjoyed watching the beer drinking (and the singing of Wilson Pickett!) up close, but was most touched watching Bruce’s expression at the end of the Big Man tribute video. He is still feeling it as much as we are, more than we are, of course. At times I feel like this tour is a spirit walk for him — “How do I begin again?” in “My City of Ruins” resonating so hard for me, watching him onstage this tour. I know people were advocating for “Jungleland” tonight as though it is some kind of inalienable right. We may never get to see that again, and we will need to figure out how to be okay with it. It is not the same. It will never be the same. But it is right now, and right now is its own kind of very, very okay.
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I also highly commend my colleague’s thoughts on the show.