Monday, April 9, 2012

Bruce Springsteen & The E-Street Band: Friday Night In NYC

(Photo- A.M. Saddler, from

By and large, Friday evening's concert given by Bruce Springsteen & The E-Street band at Madison Square Garden, the world's most odious arena, was everything you'd come to expect and more. If that sounds like standard praise from a crazed fan, consider this. Bruce Springsteen's bar is arguably higher than just about anyone, and yet, 35 years down the line, people are still whipped into an emotional frenzy from the minute this guy appears from behind the curtain. No one, I repeat, no one can do this like Bruce can. No one.  It's always a feeling of, "How can he top this?" Before the night is through, he always does.

The lights did not go down. The band just sauntered onto the stage, as if taking a summer stroll on the boardwalk at Asbury Park. They waved, blew some kisses, admired the view and comfortably found their spots and instruments. Bruce did the same, and just like that, they launched into "Badlands," house lights still on. There's something about that effect, seeing a giant venue at capacity all lit up, while the stars of the show are hard at work on stage, that sends me over the moon.

The set list was "Wrecking Ball" heavy, and live, all of these songs worked. The crowd danced and sang to "Shackled & Drawn" and "Easy Money" with the same relish as "Out In The Street" and "The Promised Land." Since the tour warm-up at NYC's Apollo Theatre, the E-Street Band has found the pocket for the new material, and like no other live band, can make a hockey barn feel intimate.

Some set list additions were, to my taste, a bit of a disappointment. Though "Murder Incorporated" featured a blistering guitar duel between Bruce & Little Steven, I just don't like the song. "Lion's Den" fared better, but again, I don't love that song. I prefer the feeling of something tried and true over the fleeting joy of something unexpected but weak.

There were many highlights, but none moved me as much as "My City Of Ruins." As my friend pointed out, "This must feel like the Gospel Tent at Jazz Fest you're always telling me about." Indeed, it was. Bruce took the pulpit, and with more than a touch of soul, turned the Garden into church of praise and emotion. The horns, the voices and the message all came together for a truly magical moment.

Another highlight was Wilson Pickett's "634-5789." Again, I think I'd have preferred "Atlantic City" or "Candy's Room," instead of the Apollo Medley, but it's hard not to fall prey to what Bruce can do with a capacity crowd of almost 20,000. He took to a smaller stage set up in the middle of the Garden floor, surrounded by the chaos of the patrons in the pit. Over the repeated chorus of "634-5789," he fell back and body-surfed back to the stage. It wasn't the stunt that impressed me. It was that while on his back, trusting his life to the sea of bodies slowing moving his body on a wave of hysteria, he had the foresight to call out to the band for a modulation. "Bring it up!" And the band did. Bruce is listening to the band. The band is listening to "The Boss."  Chills!

"American Skin," "Lonesome Day," "The Rising," and "We Are Alive," reminded me of that "4-pack"-- "Devil's Arcade," The Rising," "Last To Die," and "Long Walk Home"--that had been closing out the shows on the "Magic" tour. Songs that individually, have a lot to say, but when strung together at a point in the show where people are starting to realize the end is coming, feel like a chore. It is a 25 minute speed bump that I hope gets paved as the tour progresses.

The encore was a blast. It started with a beautiful reading of "Rocky Ground," a song from "Wrecking Ball" that at first, felt out of place with its rap section, but now, has become one of my go-to songs on the record. Michelle Moore sang her part and rapped her rap, and she was fantastic.

At this point, all I was thinking was "Kitty's Back." And just like that, the guitar screamed into the intro and I just about lost my mind. This song is always a highlight and I'm grateful that it isn't a standard encore. The anticipation of whether or not you'll get it, makes it sweeter when you do.

Friday night's 3 hour event was everything I wanted it to be, even with my minor complaints.

And the two 40-somethings with the bad haircuts, squeaky voices and iPhones, if all you wanted to do was talk about how Richie and Gary wont take you on a cruise, and show each other pictures from Deb's 50th birthday party in Boca, did you have to do that right next to me...for 3 hours? And by the way, "Kitty's Back" is NOT another new song. One friend intimated that maybe I should only attend private concerts from now on. While I've been known to be a bit cranky, expecting people to pay attention to the artist and respect their immediate surroundings, doesn't seem like much to ask when you're dropping $250 for a pair of tickets. Cranky, maybe. Unreasonable, I think not, especially after being doused on my neck with a used beer by the 20-something drunks behind me. I think I plowed through and throughly enjoyed one of the better concerts I've seen in years.

They do it all again on Monday, 4/9. Bruce, the band, and a few more idiots who will talk through "Jack Of All Trades" and ruin that moment for some other unlucky guests. It's a tough ticket, if you don't already have one. But if you do, consider yourself privileged.

We Take Care of Our Own
Wrecking Ball
Out in the Street
Death to My Hometown
My City of Ruins
Murder Incorporated
Johnny 99
Jack of All Trades
Shackled & Drawn
Lion's Den
Easy Money
Waitin' on a Sunny Day
The Promised Land
Apollo Medley
American Skin (41 Shots)
Lonesome Day
The Rising
We Are Alive
Thunder Road
* * *
Rocky Ground (with Michelle Moore)
Kitty's Back
Born to Run
Dancing in the Dark
Tenth Avenue Freeze-out


John Saeger said...

Agreed on your point about the fans, when I saw Bruce in Philly the need for the guy to my left to be on facebook on his throughout the show was infuriating. It's Bruce Springsteen goddamnit, enjoy the freaking show.

stu said...

thanks for the report, Sal.

charlie c. said...

Stay cranky! I even wish you hadn't saved the crank for the end . . .
You rock!
Great review -- my friend saw the crowd surf thing in Philly and was bowled over. You think the house lights was planned? -- when and how did they go down?!?
Can't wait for . . . that-which-must-not-be-named!

kevin m said...

nice review all reports a tremendous show.

i tried to get tix when the on sale occurred but like thousands of others, got screwed by ticketmaster's nonsense.

for months, i was looking at stubhub/ebay listings but could not justify to wife spending $600 for "west balcone tix". ridiculous.

hope they come to yankee/shea (yes shae) later this year....hate seeing shows a giants stadium

A walk in the woods said...

Great review - makes me sad to have missed him in Atlanta to start the tour. I am a huge Bruce fan, but I have to say, I saw him once in an Atlanta arena in about 2000 or so - or maybe even late-90s when there was a lot of "Lucky Town" jive going on - and really, I just wasn't moved.

Now, I have since heard enough great boots to let me know just how great he can be. But the memory of that one show, and the high ticket price (and a general aversion to arena shows) did keep me at bay this time.

But mayyyybe... if he swings back thru again like they do sometimes on successful tours, I'll jump in.

JB said...

Living vicariously through your review. Thanks Sal.

FD13NYC said...

I attended the show on Friday. It was the first Live show I've been to in...well, a very long time. My wife Ginny (who works in advertising) got the tickets from her A&R/media girl. Good seats, and for free. I also must complain about the people sitting around me talking, texting and facebooking, or whatever the hell they do, constantly with phones in hand, very annoying. I shouldn't quibble about the set list, but I kind of must.

He has soooo many songs in his repertoire, so I can understand he couldn't do most or some of my favorites. Which he didn't. I would have liked more songs from The River, Darkness or Born To Run, (then I should have seen him years ago, I know). The songs from Wrecking Ball sounded better Live anyway. Dancing In The Dark was unnecessary, except for the funny part when his mother got up and shook her little old ass to the Courtney Cox part. (She must live well on his money, God bless her). And bringing the little girl up to sing was just silly.

All in all it was a good show, just fine. I was privileged to see a man who can hold 20,000 people in the palm of his hand, singing to his songs without missing a beat. That's some kind of musical power I only wish I had, unbelievable.

buzzbabyjesus said...

Great review. I feel like I was there.

Troy said...

Nice write-up and I'm glad you enjoyed the show. As for the knuckleheads around you, long as there have been rock concerts, there have likely been knuckleheads annoying the shit out of people who are truly there for the music.

I haven't seen a show yet this tour, but from the writeups, video clips, etc, I have to say I am very impressed at how Bruce has handled the loss of Clarence & Danny. He is really leading by example here, and letting us know it is ok to miss them and to celebrate all the joy they brought to us over the years. I heard some talk that the E Street Band as we knew it was gone, and I understand that, but I'm glad Bruce is continuing on. Because if the E Street Band had played their last notes, then death would have won. And that would have really sucked. Looking forward to seeing them when they come to the midwest.

elizabeth said...

glad you got to the show, sal and a great review! weirdly, it makes me feel better about not being able to get tickets to the show near me to get your take on ny.

when we first saw bruce back in'80 or '81, we traveled to the other side of florida, stood in line for a day, buying a "ticket" to get in the ticket line and went back again a few months later to the show...and..I liked it, but we were too far back and there wasn't a sense of connection. Again, when he reassembled the E Street band, we were at the back of a huge arena was ok. Like "walk in the woods" being a devoted fan didn't ensure a fantastic concert experience.
His solo tour of ten years ago or so, in small theaters was spell binding, with the songs coming across in new ways. But in another category.
And then we went to "The Rising" tour, lucky enough to draw excellent seats and you are absolutely right, Sal, nobody can do this like Bruce. The opening of that show stays with me like it was yesterday. The tours that followed, those with a stop close enough, were the same. There's a feeling of oneness even while the idiots near you are drunk, loud or generally obnoxious - how does that happen? He's just that good.

now, if there were some way to screen out those idiots (it drives me crazy trying to figure out who can afford to buy tickets & not want to listen), well, it would be too good to contemplate.

Leon said...

Hey Sal,

A propos of nothing -- other than this guy reminds me a little bit of Springsteen's sprightlier, more power-pop moments -- have you heard the new Gentleman Jesse album? AWESOME! Check it out:

Anonymous said...

Soooo looking forward to seeing him at Jazz Fest. You gonna be there, Sal? Meet you at dba! - bill buckner

Sal Nunziato said...

Not gonna be at Fest this year, Bill. It's killing me.