Watching Bruce Springsteen Live has Changed Through the Years

I’ve lost count of the number of times I have gone to the Temple of Bruce to be bathed in the sounds of rock and roll. Many of my friends have been there far more often, but each visit for me is special, moreso now that Deb has begun to attend with me. This was her fourth such show and we were both fairly psyched for the event as a break from a busy stretch.

We were busy enough that we tossed about the word “tailgating” without really putting much thought into it. As we parked at Met Life Stadium, we felt outclassed. There were barbecues, tents, tables, huge chests filled with beer and ice.  We settled in the car, chatting, and eating and that was fine enough. There was some rain which also meant we were sheltered when that passed, we made the long trek to where our friend Laura Anne Gilman was having her own little party with her pal April. We spent the last hour before entering the stadium in good company and then joined the throng to enter the stadium.

Despite getting through for tickets within the first five minutes, our seats were towards the top, and all the way off to the stadium so with the scaffolding and sound equipment, portions of the stage and video screen were obscured. It would have to suffice.

Just before the General Admission crowd was admitted, a blaring announcement informed us that a severe weather system, complete with lightning, was coming. For the next 80 minutes, we milled about in the concourse, chatting up security and trying to stay alert. The rains came as did the lightning, proving the delay a worthwhile precaution. We were promised a complete concert so we resumed our seats and just before 10:30 the E Street Band finally took the stage.

For the record, here’s the set list, courtesy of Backstreets.com:

Out in the Street
The Ties that Bind
Cynthia
Badlands
Who’ll Stop the Rain
Cover Me
Downbound Train
We Take Care of our Own
Wrecking Ball
Death to My Hometown
My City of Ruins
It’s Hard to be a Saint in the City
Jole Blon (with Gary U.S. Bonds)
This Little Girl (with Gary U.S. Bonds)
Pay Me My Money Down
Janey Don’t You Lose Heart
In the Midnight Hour
Into the Fire
Because the Night
She’s the One
Working on the Highway
Shackled and Drawn
Waitin’ on a Sunny Day
Meeting Across the River
Jungleland
* * *
Thunder Road
Rocky Ground
Born to Run
Glory Days
Seven Nights to Rock
Dancing in the Dark
Tenth Avenue Freeze-out (with Gary U.S. Bonds)
Twist and Shout (with Gary U.S. Bonds, Adele Springsteen)

According to Backstreet, we were present for the tour premieres of “Cynthia,” “In the Midnight Hour,” and “Into the Fire” (for fallen firefighter Rich Nappi). Personally, my highlight was hearing “Meeting Across the River” live for the first time since it remains one my favorite Bruce numbers.

Being the final show before a one-month break, I kept anticipating a tear down the house extravaganza especially since the shows were nearing the four hour mark the last few weeks. What we got was an energetic and fun show but certainly not what I was expecting nor the best I’ve ever seen.

With his increased fame, the size of his venues has grown and the intimacy, if you could call it that, from the earlier days, is long gone. It used to be that Bruce would talk to the audience, tell stories about growing up, about his strained relationship with his father or other issues that were on his mind and influenced his music. You could tell from the set lists what he was trying to convey to the audience. He hasn’t really done that since, I suppose, the acoustic tour. Now, he shares his current thoughts only through his albums as the concerts have been a mélange of greatest hits and a mix from various albums.

Bruce has turned his concerts into religious services, as we worshipped at the Temple of Rock and Roll. His chatter resembled that of a revivalist minister and we were reminded of how the music can transcend our daily concerns. Ever since, for me, going to these shows was like attending a near-religious event as rock ruled.

Arguably, Bruce is the last of a generation or two or rock and roll performer still writing new material and not relying on greatest hits to pack the stadiums. He has continued to explore music styles and themes which was clearly evident throughout the set. With the E Street Band, he can easily go from folk to jazz to kick ass rock, showing a versatility others can only envy. Jake Clemmons has ably stepped into the Big Man’s shoes, showing confidence and when required, matching his uncle’s solos note for note. When allowed to cut loose, he also showed a nice flare with the sax. Unlike previous shows, Bruce really showcased the horn section, adding a nice new dimension to the performances.

He took the stage and began a recurring theme of his impending birthday, which arrived at midnight. We sang “Happy Birthday” twice and at the end, his mother, his sister, mother-in-law, brother-in-law (who shares Bruce’s birthday), and Steve Van Zandt’s wife all came out on stage with a cake. But being 63 means different things to different things and here, Bruce defied age, playing for over three and a half hours without a break. His band kept up with him but he was running from one edge of the wide stage to the other, running repeatedly into the audience, and exhorting the crowd to chant, sing, and shout.

While not exactly a birthday party, the set list shows he was exploring some current themes extant in Wrecking Ball and skipping the concerns that informed The River, Nebraska, Human Touch, and Tunnel of Love. He also played some crowd favorites and I suspect there’d be a riot if he actually skipped “Born to Run”.

There were times the show felt almost perfunctory. Never less than tight and enthusiastic, it also felt very rehearsed, without a lot of improvisation. By the mid-point that changed as midnight arrived and he aptly played “In the Midnight Hour” and he also acknowledged the weather with the trio of “Who’ll Stop the Rain,” “Cover Me, and “Downbound Train”. He went into high gear for the encore set, especially “Twist and Shout”: as he got his extended family to all join in on back-up. With the house lights up and fireworks crackling overhead, it was frenetic and a tremendous way to ring down the figurative curtain.

None of the above is to say I was disappointed except for maybe the sound system. It was fun; I was on my feet most of the night and was entertained throughout. Thankfully, we wisely booked a room so didn’t have to face the drive back to Connecticut at 2 a.m.

One comment

  • Jeff

    nice review! did you know that the Christmas staple “santa claus is coming to town” was recorded at the c.w. post show we saw?

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