Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia, PA, 9-3-12
Bruce walked onstage all by himself and began the show with a solo acoustic “Factory” (dedicated for Labor Day), and I started to get goosebumps. Every show I have been to recently where he has begun the night in this fashion has always been off the charts. Bringing the band on next and pushing these dirty, snarling noises out of the guitar could only have been “Adam Raised A Cain,” and the flame was lit here for real. I am somewhat of a connoisseur of this particular number (some might say obsessed) and I am personally not sure he could ever play “Adam” unless he meant it; it would feel hollow, empty, forced. You have to imbue it with the tension and heat that was there when it was written. The horns were in on this, too, as well as Curtis and Cindy, and although if you’d asked me in advance how I felt about that, I would have told you that I would have preferred “Adam” straight up, it just added to the texture, gave the song additional depth.
We started looking at each other sideways when “Streets of Fire” was next. Like, these sidelong looks, no one wanting to break whatever spell we had somehow wandered into that was going to open a show night two in Philadelphia with three songs from Darkness On The Edge of Town.
And then, Roy hits the piano and Bruce touches the guitar and I am holding my breath, I am literally holding my breath, I don’t want to think it, let alone say it. I just kind of stood there hoping as hard as I possibly could, just hoping, not wanting to assume it prematurely, if at all. And then the guitar notes broke wide open and a blonde woman to my left threw her fists into the air and the collective THIS IS HAPPENING started to spread around the edges and into the center and the people who knew what was happening were suddenly connected together and the people who didn’t know what was happening knew something important was transpiring on that stage. The darkened stage and the half spotlights on Bruce and Roy made that crystal clear as well as the actual music, the way Bruce was interacting with the guitar. It was the ’78 intro to “Prove It All Night.”
I am the biggest cynic, I am the skeptic, I need reliable sources, I assume nothing. I realize the role of emotion and feeling in art but I also want cold hard facts. I worried that the reaction to the 78 intro was inflated or exaggerated, but I have to tell you that it was not. It connected with me, hard and fast, it was deep and breathtaking and mesmerizing. I tell people that I remember very little of my first Springsteen shows, I was so overwhelmed with just actually being there, but what I do remember are moments like the ’78 “Prove It” intro, the half-lit stage and the guitar overwhelming everyone’s senses.
Once the band were into the song proper, Nils came in on the end for a solo, and as much as I love Nils Lofgren (I was a fan before Stevie even thought about getting another job), I was not sure I wanted his particular style of playing on this song tonight. But it was perfect, he matched the color and the tone and the energy just right.
When Roy started the intro notes to “Something In The Night,” that’s when we started to wonder — were we getting all of Darkness tonight, albeit in a very different order? It was as powerful as the four songs that preceded it, not one moment of lost power or pacing. It felt like the entire stadium was riveted to every moment.
So when Bruce slipped into standard set mode with “We Take Care of Our Own” and “Wrecking Ball,” I was actually somewhat relieved. I didn’t think the pace of the first five songs could be maintained and I never want the tour to become a greatest hits show. I was pleased that “My City of Ruins” had more focus than the previous night, Bruce continuing the theme of ghosts being benign presences. He added a new story, talking about how buildings can also be ghosts, and a story about one of his family’s early houses, that “the Church bought the house, tore it down, built a parking lot…yet another reason for me to hate Catholicism.” This finished with, “As you get older you realize they walk alongside of you and remind you of the preciousness of life, the necessity of love– we got a lot of ghosts onstage, we’ll do this for your ghosts too.” The horn interlude at the end of the song remains one of the best moments of the live show, and the vision of Bruce out at the center platform, engulfed in a sea of hands at the end, is also priceless.
The next interval is where I think the show started to lose a little momentum. I didn’t expect to get “Spirit In The Night” twice in one two-show run, and the next segue from “Does This Bus Stop…” into “Saint In The City” felt a little off to me. This was my first “Bus Stop” with the 17-piece band arrangement and I felt like it embellished it unnecessarily, the extra horns and the percussion tradeoff is interesting, but doesn’t enhance the actual composition. “Saint” lacked oomph, and then taking that into “Frankie” – a challenge under any circumstance – followed by “Jack of All Trades” would probably be a tough sell in an arena. If I thought people were streaming out of the pit during “Frankie,” that was nothing compared to the exodus during “Jack of All Trades.” I know he is not responsible for what people are going to do outside in a baseball park, and moving around is to be expected — but it was even more than usual. I was severely underwhelmed with “Frankie,” even though I find it to be one of the E Street Band’s finest musical moments in general, the live version is going to be difficult to engage a stadium audience with, always, and I did not resonate with the extra violin intro tonight. (The intro, instead of just going into the melody of the song, also did not help with maintaining the crowd’s attention through a largely unfamiliar composition.)
This is probably why the crowd’s reaction to “Atlantic City” was the most lukewarm I have ever experienced. I mean, Philly usually treats this as their song as much as a Jersey crowd would, but the energy was flat, which is probably why “Darlington County” appeared next. The set would continue to zig zag in this fashion, “Shackled and Drawn” into “Sunny Day,” “The River” into “Lonesome Day,” and then “Badlands” to try to right things again, before “Thunder Road” would bring everything into a close.
At the end of “Thunder Road,” while the entire ensemble was at the front of the stage, Bruce sat down and started to futz with the laces on his boots. We made some jokes about how keeping your shoes tied was important, but then he proceeded to remove the boot and pour a large quantity of sweat out of it. He then did the same with the other boot, while the crowd — egged on by Stevie — cheered tentatively and gave out some hearty “Brooooccceeeee”‘s. (He would comment that it was “like walking around in a swimming pool.”)
The encore felt slightly rushed – especially given the ridiculous amount of rumors of guests guaranteed by many insiders – and I saw hordes of people wearing hard hats, clearly the riggers going to take the stage apart, heading backstage during “Born To Run” and “Dancing In The Dark.” This is probably why I was completely, utterly unprepared for the intro to “Jungleland.” It felt like I had been punched in the stomach and I had to lean against the barrier and could not look at the stage. I was not ready for this. I did not watch the video of
HelsinkiGothenburg, feeling that I would be fine if it was played at a show I attended, but that I had no need to hear it yet. (I also completely understood the people who could not wait for the YouTube video to be uploaded.)
It was probably the quietest “Jungleland” I have ever been part of. There was lots of excitement and jubilation but there was also a lot of standing quietly and listening. I was glad to see the latter, not because I think it is the correct or the superior reaction, but because I didn’t want to feel left out because I wasn’t ready to jump around with my arms in the air for “Jungleland.” I did not think I would have such a visceral, strongly emotional reaction to the song’s performance. I was fine with it being left out of the set and would have been fine if it had sat out this tour or even forever, if that was what Bruce wanted to do. (I am generally more okay than most people with things having an end, especially musically.)
But tonight, standing there, I was glad it was back. I was glad that the people who had never gotten to see it would get a chance to see it. I was glad that Bruce was ready to put it into the set so that it wouldn’t be this specter hovering over everything — I used the phrase “get it over with” but I don’t mean it as dismissively as that, I mean that at some point not playing “Jungleland” would probably make it into a bigger thing than maybe he meant it to be. Obviously, I don’t know; I hope at some point someone doing an interview asks him about this, because I would like to hear about his thought process and how he felt about it and if it was deliberate or if it was just a thing that happened and then he realized he had stayed away from it, and what made him ready to do it again. I don’t even know that he knows; so much of this tour has been about Clarence and about the band and about the band’s history.
I am not sure, of course; these are just things I have thought about and was thinking about while I was listening to “Jungleland” being played in Philadelphia tonight. I was glad to hear it in Philly as opposed to the Meadowlands, it felt more right for me to hear it there for the first time. I stood and listened and I cried my eyes out and realized while I did that that this was going to be the closest thing we were going to have to a funeral for Clarence, or at least for me that’s what it felt like, the chance to release long-bottled up emotion and sadness and sorrow in public with everyone else. I finally tried to watch, and was able to watch, although I couldn’t watch Bruce until the end. And Jake carried that solo with some of his uncle and some of his own and all of the layers of history and responsibility on his shoulders, it may not have been with the same pure power that his uncle could have brought, but it was real and true and did the song justice. That is more than a lot.
I sang that one last verse, the way we used to sing it before we started singing everything, from “Outside the street’s on fire…” until my favorite line about the poets, the one I have tattooed on my arm. Most of the people around me did as well, it was how I remembered doing it, that moment from my first show I always will remember, singing those words out loud for the first time. And then, of course, standing quietly as Bruce finishes the last lines himself. It was solemn and as quiet as a rock and roll song of the majesty of “Jungleland” was ever going to be, and then it was over. It was over, and I looked at Bruce on the big screen and I couldn’t look, I could read a million things into his face at that moment, the hug with Jake, all of it. I do not know that this will ever be different, or easy, nor do I know that it should be.
Then, it seemed like instantly, Max hit the high-hat and Roy hit the chords and it was “Tenth Avenue,” and it was the most beautiful, most righteous juxtaposition you could ever have imagined. “Tenth” has been about memorial and about remembrance and about history but tonight it was even more about celebration; I mean, who doesn’t smile during “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out”? But the two together were beyond perfect.
It was not a perfect Philly night 2, but it was tremendous in its own ways, and more than enough.
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.