Review: Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Madison Square Garden, March 28, 2016
This was my fourth show on this 2016 outing for Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. (As a matter of principle I am not going to call it “The River Tour” because that already happened.) This was the reschedule for the snowed-out show back in January. I was curious how the show would play this far into the tour and if there would be a special treat since it was a makeup gig. I was hard side stage behind Charlie, picked up on the original drop for this show and acquired from someone who could not make the rescheduled date.
Bruce was in an excellent, jovial mood. He played to the back often and even acknowledged the fans up on the Chase Bridge seats in the rafters. The crowd also was engaged and energetic and the overall crowd energy was a million times better than the first Garden gig. They were loud. They sang in all the right places. The joint bounced from “Meet Me In The City.” You remember why you love seeing Springsteen at the Garden on nights like this.
But surprisingly and disappointingly, I can’t say the same about the E Street Band Monday night. The performance was loose in a casual way, not in a relaxed way. They were wound tight as a spring at the beginning of the tour, and with good reason, this was a hard performance to pull off. But there was none of that precision this evening. There were many missed notes, as well as far too much feedback in the goddamned PA for an organization of this caliber. (More on this later.)
Things didn’t pull together until “Point Blank,” probably because they couldn’t have executed the piece otherwise, it demands attention. But that said, it was excellent. Bruce stood facing Max, eyes closed, until Roy reached that last crescendo and then Bruce’s hand came halfway up his chest, he opened his eyes, and conducted the band into the song. It was magnificent. (I had several friends at the show tonight who had never seen Bruce before, and I texted them when the song was done to say, “And that’s my favorite part.”)
I was hoping that the strength of the performance would get things back on track but it did not. There’s always a problem around “I’m A Rocker” for reasons that escape me; I kind of get the beer run during “Fade Away” (I mean I don’t, but I do). Speaking of “Fade Away,” both it and “Stolen Car” (of all things) felt rushed, of all things. There was just no groove, you know? E Street has a groove and they could not find it tonight.
Regarding the sound, I know I wasn’t out front but my ticket cost exactly the same as those that were and the sound was not good tonight. I always figure it’ll get better if it’s rough at the start but it just got worse throughout the night. By the time we were at “I’m A Rocker” I could hear Charlie but only very faint Bruce vocals. Bruce made a joke during “Ramrod” that I could not hear because of the sound. At the start of the tour I was willing to say, “Well, Bruce pulled this together so fast, they didn’t have time to get it together, etc. etc. etc.” But at this point, and at these prices, there is literally zero excuse for poor sound at a venue they have played at countless times.
I am happy to report that after many informed reports from the West Coast of Bruce’s voice not being at its best, it seemed fine tonight, but I did note that there were parts of “Point Blank” that he chose to speak-sing rather than just sing. He had some scarf-like contraption wrapped around his neck and tucked under his shirt but I can’t tell you for sure if that was for his throat or just his often questionable sense of fashion.
There were good things tonight: “Point Blank.” “I Wanna Marry You.” Bruce and Patti shooting each other little smiles all night. “Brilliant Disguise.” “Ramrod,” where he saw his mother dancing in the seats–Adele Springsteen has more energy than I do on a weeknight–and he went over to dance with her, and do the butt shake together. I was a crabby curmudgeon about the people waving their phones during “Drive All Night” but by the second sax solo it became something magical, one of those spontaneous moments that elevated the crowd and the band and the performance.
But the real magic tonight was when Bruce announced, “This is something special for New York” and we heard the chords for “Meeting Across The River.” In that moment something shifted and there was that amazing feeling you get in that particular room, that space where so much history has happened before. Everyone was excited; everyone was at attention. And in that moment I was a 14 year old kid again, listening to that record through my headphones, imagining that some day I’d get to see it happen, and wondering what that would be like. I imagined it for what seemed like so long before I got to see it happen, and when it happened, it just didn’t seem possible that I was witnessing something that I’d dreamed and imagined, something so wonderful, even more wonderful than I had imagined it to be.
And “Jungleland.” “Meeting” finishes and we all know what’s coming next, but the fact that we all know makes that instant of anticipation before the first note that much more intense. Bruce asks, “As we take our stand,” and we answer–we shout–we affirm: “DOWN IN JUNGLELAND.” You pump your fist. You play air piano (no? just me?), you root for Barefoot Girl, you shout about the poets, it becomes a form of incantation, of remembrance, of offering, of prayer.
And at the end, you stand there, fist aloft in tribute matching Bruce holding the guitar in salute, and wonder how you got to be so lucky.
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