Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia, PA, 9-2-12
No matter what else changes in the world, Philly remains Philly in the Springsteen pantheon. The day started with the GA line cordoned off directly next to the field, where we could hear “None But The Brave,” “The Twist,” and “Love Train.” Then we were lined up along the concourse inside the ballpark while Bruce and the band completed their soundcheck. (The lateness of the soundcheck probably prompted the likely record-breaking 4 profanities uttered on either side of the words “New Jersey Turnpike” later in the show.) We heard the now-trademark Nils’ whirring that opens “We Take Care of Our Own” which is about what I expect to hear in a soundcheck. But what I didn’t expect to hear in a soundcheck was — I’m sorry — mother-effing COUNTY FAIR. Or “TV Movie” which I didn’t tweet at first because I was sure I had the title wrong – this couldn’t be – no, it was – “TV Movie.” (Bruce saying, “You’ve just witnessed the only performance of this song by the E Street Band” and he was right.)
There were hopes for Philly. There were the hopes for a “Seaside Bar Song” and for a “Prove It” with the ’78 intro and your “Fever”‘s and your “Kitty’s Back” and “Thundercrack” usually gets dragged out of the closet in Philly, because Philly remains one of the few places to sing it back with gusto. I have a love-hate relationship with the city. I walked through the concourse of Citizens Bank Park flipping the bird to banners of various Phillies players. On the other hand, there was more soul vibrating through that building than exists in that generic arena named after a bank (I miss when it was the First Union Center, which everyone abbreviated to “The FU Center”). If he had to play somewhere, better that bandbox masquerading as a major league ballpark than anywhere else, I guess.
Charlie walks out, jogs to the organ and starts playing “Take Me Out To The Ballgame.” Bruce greets the crowd with “My people!” and alludes to “The Labor Day Labor of Love” (which Stevie had been tweeting earlier in the day). “Summertime Blues” kicked things off exactly right, just right, Stevie taking the lines that would have been Clarence’s. I am delighted but sad and wistful. “Out In The Street” into “Sherry Darling” into “Hungry Heart” was a lineup made for a summertime stadium show. (It was after “Sherry” that Bruce commented, “I’m stuck in traffic but I’d rather be in Philadelphia.”) Jake’s performance on “Hungry Heart” was very, very strong.
It was the perfect opening into “We Take Care of Our Own” into “Wrecking Ball.” There were the obligatory boos for the Giants line, which was redeemed later when, during the last verse, they screened footage of the implosion of the old Vet on the big screen (which was actually cool except Bruce thought it was the Spectrum).
Here is where I need to berate people for sign etiquette. I realize that when you make your sign you have no idea where you are going to stand. But if you end up front row center you do not get to hold up your large signs for significant chunks of songs where you in effect block everyone behind you. I was actively rooting for Bruce to NOT take the sign for “Loose Ends” because the owner of the sign was the worst offender of this issue. Also, there were what seemed like a disproportionate amount of birthdays tonight (as noted on at least a dozen signs) but as was pointed out to me on Twitter, 9 months ago would have been right around New Year’s Eve. (So, happy birthday, everyone whose parents had sex on New Year’s!)
“Lost In The Flood” appeared to be an audible, but was dedicated to a friend. I always think this couldn’t possibly work in a stadium, but it works in a stadium in Philly. It was spacious, powerful, solemn; at the end, Bruce turned his back on the crowd, pulling the guitar neck back, spotlit in blue; he finished, held up one arm and with his fingers, gently cued Roy into the outro. I had goosebumps.
I love what “My City of Ruins” is supposed to be. I overlook much of its bloat because of it. Bruce still seems lost or uncertain how to deal with the song; I wish he’d just go back to the “Our band is more than what you see onstage” that worked so well in Europe, even with a language barrier. Tonight he started off well, talking about ghosts, and that ghosts weren’t just people, there were ghosts of old buildings or old cars you had, that they become part of who you are, and what you’re made of.
I quite liked all of this, and even more liked the specific reminiscence of how he started coming down to Philly when he was his son’s age, “22 or 23″ — and that he’d seen so many changes. I was optimistic we weren’t going to head into houseparty territory, but sure enough, we got there, and what bothers me about all of this is that he loses the audience. They try so hard to follow him and they get that it’s important, but there are too many twists and turns and this is too important a moment to lose them.
It makes me sad that the twinkle fingers aren’t in the air immediately at the start of “Spirit In The Night” but the intro is so long now that everyone is probably just saving their energy. This was where Bruce started dropping profanity against the New Jersey Turnpike — “We came all the way down the fucking New Jersey Turnpike… it’s a BITCH!” — before swinging into the song. A little “Green Onions” took us into sign collecting, which produced an odd but inconsistent grouping of signs, many of which weren’t actually requests for anything, but drawings of, say, Max, or an unlikely OBAMA FOR PRESIDENT sign that was doctored to add “SPRINGSTEEN” to it. (I’m sure it’ll look nice in Bruce’s garage.)
“Good Rockin’ Tonight” was a rare moment for Garry Tallent to provide advice and counsel as to key, arrangement, and origin; “Cadillac Ranch” was too short and not nearly goofy enough; “I’m On Fire” made the show start to feel like we were back in the stadiums for BITUSA. “Candy’s Room” into “She’s The One” is, I think, almost mandatory in Philly, and here, we got the infamous “Mona” intro. It was great but almost a little anticlimactic (says the woman jonesing for the 78 “Prove It”).
“Human Touch” got a surprising reaction from the crowd, better attention given to it than to “Jack of All Trades,” which immediately preceded it. Then we zig-zagged through “Shackled and Drawn” (which is starting to bloat unnecessarily, Bruce trying a call and response before the song, and then going into a song similar to the one he sang at Hyde Park about the rain), “Sunny Day,” and then — even though he’d said earlier we were out of the territory — “Jersey Girl”. I imagine if I tell you that I think that song should be saved for the most special of occasions within the borders of the Garden State and that I think it should be retired for a good long while, it will meet with derision, but there you have it.
“The Rising” was next, and not for the first time I wondered about the song and what feels like Bruce’s obligation to keep playing it. It was something I thought about a lot, especially in Europe, and especially in places that aren’t the Tri-State area, but I thought about it tonight. The segue into “Badlands” was fantastic, however.
“Land Of Hope and Dreams” keeps getting better; now they’re opening with this powerful acoustic strumming by Nils, it’s just so focused and straight and direct, not too many twists into “People get ready” territory, and it is a true set closer right now, powerful and summational and grand.
“We Are Alive” opens the encore, and it amazes me that it works, still, in this spot. I was waiting to see the story about the graveyard and his sister, which the friends I was with had not yet heard or seen. Instead, Bruce started to talk about a train… and I am thinking he is trying to connect it to “Mystery Train,” but then it became clear pretty quickly that he didn’t know where this was going — this train that keeps coming — that’s older than time — I didn’t have a song — and I wondered if he was going to start talking about building a house next. It was one of the few times at a Bruce Springsteen show that I had absolutely no idea what he was talking about, at all.
“Thunder Road” roars next, it just roars. The 20-something kids in front of us are filming the intro on their phones, wanting to get the moment the crowd sings the lines back to Bruce. It’s something they clearly knew happened and wanted to capture for themselves and for some reason this chokes me up just a little. I think I miss Clarence on this song more than on any other, to be honest, and when Jake stepped to the front of the stage, held up a finger, kissed it and pointed at the heavens, things got a little misty in my general vicinity.
I was hoping for some of the soundcheck material to make it into the encore, but was not at all sad to finally get to hear “You Can’t Sit Down”! I think I scared some of the people standing near me with the enthusiasm with which I reacted, but there were not nearly enough people in the crowd who knew the words to this song – IN PHILLY! But Philly, god love them, everyone was on their feet, up in the upper deck, in the last row of the 300 level, and they didn’t need to be asked or told, they were in it, because they are from Philadelphia.
And then, “Twist and Shout,” which to be honest I think needs to be retired and another similar cover substituted, except tonight it was silly and light and bouncy and perfect, everything it needed to be, Bruce mugging out on the runway with us, in it with us, adding, “Remember: the E Street Band will be back tomorrow night! Same time, same location!”
My book Raise Your Hand: Adventures of an American Springsteen Fan in Europe will be out later this month! You can sign up at this link if you’d like to get a note when the book is published.