Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, PA, February 12, 2016
I reviewed this show for Backstreets (look for February 12). These are some additional thoughts (not a review).
There was so much to like about Philly. That said, I thought it lacked the intensity of Pittsburgh or the focus of MSG, and it definitely took a while for the band to get momentum going during the album segment. But it is so great to be in a room with the people of Philadelphia watching Bruce Springsteen. There were a lot of moments tonight where it felt like the Spectrum (without the lack of women’s bathrooms). There were vibes. Philly showed up and was loud and proud. It was nine million trillion (yes, this is a precise measurement) times better than the crowd at the Garden.
I find it curious that there has been no attempt to swap out “Meet Me In The City” as the intro song, as though “Roulette” would be some kind of poor crowd pleaser or would somehow diminish the energy. Or “Loose Ends.” Or “Be True.” I will raise the issue of the lack of outtakes once again, given the recent interview in Rolling Stone with Mr. Van Zandt where he discusses all the outtakes and how he’s looking forward to playing them. (Then again, SVZ also talks about the ‘residency at the Stone Pony’ which is simply a thing that never happened.)
Steve makes the point, however, that The River got lost between Born To Run and Born In The USA and while there is part of me that cannot wrap my mind around that, I think he has a point. After tonight, I have reached the opinion that the people who go to this show are going to see Bruce Springsteen, who just happens to be performing The River in its entirety. Bruce, and others, assume that people are coming to see the album being performed. They are not.
This is why the crowd’s energy dissipates right around “I’m A Rocker.” That is the end of the material that they are vaguely familiar enough with. So once again, there was Bruce out on the center platform in the middle of the show, trying to raise the energy, telling the crowd to jump at the end. I know there were some Europeans in the front pit tonight because I could see them pogoing at the requisite moments, but otherwise Philly started hard and went flat in the middle, before perking up again after “Wreck On The Highway.”)
(How on earth does he think he’s going to go to Europe and deal with this in the largest of the European football stadiums, or a muddy field in the Hague? I know the press release hedged on this point particularly–“The River Tour 2016” can end up being whatever he says it is–but I shudder to think about what that will be like. Don’t tell me that the Europeans don’t talk or they’re better–yes in the front pit I won’t have 50 year old men busy reading their email during “The Price You Pay” like tonight but past the pit and in the stands it will be the exact same thing.)
There were so many lovely moments this evening–listening to him talk about “Independence Day” with Bruce’s mother and sister present; the ease and playfulness during the “I Wanna Marry You” introduction (my favorite part was “It’s not the real thing—but I’ve got these maracas, I don’t need the real thing,” at which Patti, sitting on the piano riser, smiled knowingly and raised her eyebrows and shot him that “How did I end up with him again?” look.). Also moving were the various moments of him interacting with his mother, coming over during “Sherry” and then again during “Thunder Road,” to acknowledge the family. Even Steve came over to say hello to that section later in the show. I was hoping Adele would be the lucky lady chosen for “Dancing In The Dark” but she is in her 90’s, not that it stopped her from standing and dancing from time to time, and the smile on her face was a delight to observe.
And once again, that end of side 3/side 4 was quite simply outstanding. “Stolen Car” was heartbreaking and breathtaking; I was in tears, riveted in the moment. I was not ready for “Ramrod” afterwards, I just wanted to be able to drink it in some more. “I Wanna Marry You” was gorgeous–“Here She Comes Now” is one of the great gifts of this tour, “The Price You Pay” transcendent, and “Point Blank” continues to amaze in its depth and majesty. Max and Roy on the intro are phenomenal. I mean, we already know that Roy Bittan is the best musician in the band, but during “Point Blank” I am so so glad he took this gig. These are performances I will carry with me as some of the greatest musical performances by the E Street Band, and it is these moments that define the purpose of this tour.
The back half was also a pleasant surprise. At least Bruce is changing it up; at least there is some variety. “Atlantic City” was appropriate, and wistful, the city fading back into where it was when this song was written. “My Love Will Not Let You Down” confounded the audience (who thought it was “Dancing In The Dark” somehow?) but also very very very appropriate for a Philadelphia audience.
“Human Touch” was very adult, for lack of a better word. It felt very Tunnel of Love–yes, I understand that can’t be possible since that record came beforehand. But if you saw Tunnel you know what I mean. It was unabashed, it was very much about Bruce and Patti’s relationship on that stage in front of 18,000 people. Next to “Stolen Car,” and watching Bruce sing “Thunder Road” to his family, it was my favorite part of the night.
I welcomed the appearance of “Jungleland.” It is always good to hear “Jungleland” in Philadelphia. It felt like a reward and an acknowledgement, and it felt like you were standing in the old Spectrum for a second or two, Bruce holding the guitar aloft in tribute, the way he used to hold it up as though he was going into battle. It got a little performative towards the end–I don’t think we need to Brooooce in the middle of “Jungleland”–but it didn’t bother me that much, because the crowd’s energy was very present in the song, it was very much the old timers remembering and the middle generation being glad they have a memory of it, something to compare it to, and the new generation losing their shit that they got to see “Jungleland.”
The epidemic of “Dancing In The Dark” signs is at a point at which all signs need to be banned from the pit. (I wrote about this more here.) I could not see the stage for many moments last night. And “Shout” remains as lightweight an end to the show as ever. It is really just beneath the abilities of the E Street Band. The Medley can’t come out in Philly, of all places?
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