3 Apr 2012: Brendan Byrne Arena East Rutherford, NJ
Bruce Springsteen and his E Street Band have experienced much of the changes New Jersey’s music scene has gone through. The Meadowlands arena he was performing at, he explained, is now named after a shirt, was previously named after an airline and originally bestowed the name of a person (how quaint that sounds). Springsteen had also explained that when playing music in Central Jersey in the ‘70s, specifically playing soul music in bars, VFW halls or wherever, “everybody got on the floor and danced”. Well that is one thing hasn’t changed. Though a bit less soulful on his new album Wrecking Ball, and a bit more rock with Celtic influences, Springsteen exercises tremendous energy on stage, easily passing it onto a dancing crowd. His fervent presence is best compared to that of an evangelical preacher with attention to the well-being of the common man. Springsteen’s passionate delivery confirms the excitement and dedication of his audience.
At the same time, his own band has experienced changes, most recently the loss of “The Big Man”, Clarence Clemons. When he provided a roll call of the E Street Band members, Springsteen also asked if he was missing anyone and if he needed to say his name, but the audience filled in the blank on their own while a spotlight lingered on a microphone stage right. Clemons’ nephew Jake Clemons has come on board the E Street Band to fill those big shoes, however. And when he wails on the sax, he makes his own impression, the soul is there.
Springsteen mock introduced himself as a man who has brought to the stage, “forty-five years of performing experience and thirty years of psychiatric evaluation” before working into the government chiding “We Take Care of Our Own”. The next song, “Wrecking Ball” was a gift to New Jersey and the now demolished Giants Stadium that once stood nearby. The violins tugged at fans’ memories of The Boss’s performances at the former venue that has now “turned into parking lots”. Soon after, the lights dimmed red and the band went into Dublin-indebted “Death to My Hometown”, one of my favorites from the new album. Springsteen looked to be having a blast as he shuffled his feet to the music. When it came to the universal “Jack of All Trades”, I wondered why so few minority groups were present at this show, but the mellow song references the income inequalities, which is represented across all people in low-income groups.
There was one other concern I had during the performance. Some of the poignancy of the somber “American Skin (41 Shots)”, originally inspired by Amadou Diallo and now also a tribute to Trayvon Martin, seemed lost when Springsteen’s voice maintained his normal powerful level, as if the audio was compressed to a narrow dynamic range. But a slower buildup, Jake Clemons’ sax and additional voices from his band helped fill out the sound, making the resolute song a powerful critique. “Because the Night” also could have used more nuance but I stopped worrying about that when midway through, guitarist Nils Lofgren captivated the audience with over two minutes of shredding while stomping and rapidly spinning around. Clearly, adrenaline was high by this point and it remained that way the rest of the night.
It was one of the few moments where The Boss was not in the spotlight he had natural claim to. Most of the night, The Boss showed he was not one to shy away from his audience, frequently walking out onto a stage extension to get in the midst of all the grasping hands. During a medley, he took things one step further, hopping off stage to walk over to a platform separating the pit areas. Picking up a beer, he chugged it down letting the drink spill over his shirt. He must have realized the stage was a long way back and decided that crowd surfing would be a better mode of transportation, trusting the audience to get him back safely. It looked like he got stuck for a moment, but it turned out alright and there was much rejoicing in the audience.
One lucky girl in the audience struck gold though. Lifted up by presumably her father and carrying a sign indicating it was her first concert, the little girl found herself on stage with Springsteen to help him sing the chorus of “Waitin’ on a Sunny Day”. Then revealing a trick of the trade perhaps, Springsteen sopped her knees with a sponge and led her into a dash before sliding on their knees. “It ain’t as easy as it looks!” he proclaimed.
It can’t be easy for the E Street Band either. They hardly got a break in during the twenty-five song, two and a half hour show. Just a short pause came after “Thunder Road” before the band was full on again in the more intimate “Rocky Ground”. The spirit continued with “Out in the Street” which concluded with the audience chanting along. Then the arena lights were on full for the classics “Born to Run” and “Dancing in the Dark” and everyone was part of the “tramps like us” sing-along. The night wasn’t over yet surprisingly, as the band squeezed in two more songs. The lights dimmed for “Land of Hope and Dreams”, a song that has one of Clemons’ last performances on the album, where Jake Clemons’ riffed another soulful tribute to The Big Man.
Finally, “Tenth Avenue Freeze-out” closed the night, another house-lights-on sing-along that began with Springsteen riling up the audience to chant along and climbing onto the grand piano to get a better view. A regular closer on recent shows, the song offers another touching remembrance of Clemons. After he sang, “The Big Man joined the band”, Springsteen paused mid-song to allow the audience to reflect; this was the first full show in New Jersey with the E Street Band since Clemons’ passing last summer. The minute was filled with cheers, cheers of tribute and cheers of celebration for yet another amazing performance from Springsteen and his legendary E Street Band. The fans couldn’t get enough, remaining standing and cheering as the band left the stage. The energy was just that high; Springsteen is still going strong for a man in his sixties. Not even seeing Springsteen another night (he has a few more shows scheduled in the area) would be enough to satiate this audience.Setlist
We Take Care of Our Own
Death to My Hometown
My City of Ruins
So Young and In Love
E Street Shuffle
Jack of All Trades
Prove It All Night
Waitin’ on a Sunny Day
The Promised Land
American Skin (41 Shots)
Because the Night
We are Alive
Out in the Street
Born to Run
Dancing in the Dark
Land of Hope and Dreams
Tenth Avenue Freeze-out