An angrier, happier Bruce Springsteen, and an E Street Band dealing with a huge void

On Tuesday, April 3, I walked through the doors of the Izod Center for the first time since the New Jersey Nets played their final game there in April 2010, to see Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band for the first time since October 2009.

Photo courtesy of Backstreets.com

It was a very different experience, which I fully expected. The death of Clarence Clemons left a huge void, both musically and in terms of the band’s personality, and, while his nephew, Jake Clemons, and Eddie Manion performed flawlessly and admirably, there’s no replacing a legend.

Springsteen’s music has also branched out in several different directions for his past few albums, and Wrecking Ball is no exception. Very few of the songs on Wrecking Ball really sound like Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. This is not to say that it’s not quality music: It’s just different. It’s a very angry album, with a lot of edgy folk-type songs, and a lot of Irish influence.

One of the biggest differences I noticed was Springsteen’s demeanor. I am obviously a die-hard fan, and have seen him live several times, and I am used to seeing him sing with a pained expression that looks like he’s holding back a giant dump. But he was exceptionally animated during this show, singing the angry parts of songs with legitimate anger, and smiling during the more festive material, more so than I have ever seen him do.

The set list was heavy on newer material, which was no surprise. The songs from Wrecking Ball sounded like the band had been performing them for years, and the newer sounds were quite refreshing. Naturally, some classics were sprinkled in throughout the show, as well. And continuing the Springsteen tradition of pulling at least one song out of the vaults that no one in the audience ever expected to hear, the surprise selection on this night was “So Young and In Love.”

Clarence Clemons, the late, great Big Man, was recognized twice during the show. When the band was introduced early on, Springsteen saved him for last, as usual, and said to the crowd, “Am I missing anybody?” After allowing a few seconds for cheers and tribute, he added, “If we’re here, they’re here,” repeating it a couple of times for emphasis. And during the last song of the night, “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out,” the entire band paused after the verse, “The change was made uptown and the Big Man joined the band,” for a very long, very emotional standing ovation. Well done.

It’s a new era for the band, and for Springsteen. The classic songs will never be abandoned, but that being said, there will never be another set list like the one from Giants Stadium (R.I.P.) July 31, 2008, which was, by far, my favorite Bruce show of all-time.

However, if you leave a show with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band feeling disappointed or cheated, you just weren’t paying attention. It may be a new chapter in their history, but they are STILL the heart-stopping, pants-dropping, hard-rocking, booty-shaking, earth-quaking, nerve-breaking, Viagra-taking history-making, legendary … E-STREET BAND!

The set list, from Backstreets.com:

  • We Take Care of Our Own
  • Wrecking Ball
  • Badlands
  • Death to My Hometown
  • My City of Ruins
  • So Young and In Love
  • E Street Shuffle
  • Jack of All Trades
  • Seeds
  • Prove It All Night
  • Easy Money
  • Waitin’ on a Sunny Day
  • The Promised Land
  • Apollo Medley
  • American Skin (41 Shots)
  • Because the Night
  • The Rising
  • We Are Alive
  • Thunder Road
  • Encore:
  • Rocky Ground (with Michelle Moore)
  • Out in the Street
  • Born to Run
  • Dancing in the Dark
  • Land of Hope and Dreams
  • Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out

Not the farewell I expected

I saw the last concert ever at Giants Stadium by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band last night, and I was a little disappointed. It was far from a bad show. I’ve never left a Springsteen show feeling cheated or unsatisfied. I just didn’t love the set list and thought many very necessary songs were left unplayed. I guess I was spoiled by my favorite concert of all-time, by the very same band in the very same location, last summer.

Even Backstreets, the fan site for Bruce junkies, pretty much agrees with me: “Closing night seemed to break very little new ground, however. The set list was a near carbon copy of the previous Saturday’s show, including the reprise performance of the Born in the USA album. The crowd certainly brought the noise, as exhorted by Bruce to do so, and the band’s performance was excellent, but as a whole, the show seemed to fall short of the heights that closing night in Jersey has brought in the past.”

The July 31, 2008, show was absolutely unreal, and there will never be another one like it. But last night’s didn’t even come close. If you would have told me that Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band would play their final show at Giants Stadium and not play Rosalita, Jungleland, Thunder Road, Candy’s Room, Backstreets, Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, Prove It All Night or Two Hearts, I’d have probably laughed at you. I didn’t expect all of those songs, but I certainly didn’t expect none of those songs.

And while music is certainly a matter of opinion and there is no right and wrong, I’ve never been a fan of some of the songs that were played last night. Seven Nights to Rock does nothing for me. American Land is a great song, but it’s run its course. Kitty’s Back is a fantastic classic, but I would have gladly sacrificed it for one of the songs mentioned above, or two, since Kitty’s Back is well over 10 minutes long. And while I’m not a huge Rolling Stones fan and the theme of the song was appropriate for the evening, I could have done without The Last Time.

And in the, “If It’s on the Internet, It MUST Be True” department, none of the rumors being bandied about came to fruition. I read in various places that the band applied for a special permit to extend the show to 1 a.m., yet I was actually sitting on my couch watching the end of the Red Sox-Angels game minutes after midnight. And I read about special guests including Jon Bon Jovi, Mick Jagger, Elton John and Bono, yet the closest thing to a special guest was Max Weinberg’s son, Jay, playing the drums during Born to Run (and doing a stellar job, much as he did when he played the entire show at the IZOD Center a few months ago).

On a more positive note, seeing Jersey Girl live is always special, although I think 70,000 people were shocked to find out it was the last song. I love Wrecking Ball, the tribute to Giants Stadium, and sincerely hope they release a recording of it so I don’t have to rely on a bootleg. Spirit in the Night was awesome, and Tougher than the Rest was a nice surprise.

Don’t get me wrong: I am NOT bashing the band. As I said earlier, the effort and the performance last night were still fantastic, and I still believe they are, by far, the best live band around. And while I will probably not to go either of the November shows at Madison Square Garden for various reasons, many of them involving my dwindling bank account, I will definitely see them the next time they come around, although they are allegedly taking a two-year hiatus from touring. I just expected to close Giants Stadium out with an all-time epic classic show, and not an “average” Springsteen show, even though an average Springsteen show is still better than most other artists’ best shows.

Bring on your wrecking ball.

Last night’s set list:
Wrecking Ball (with Curt Ramm)
Badlands
Spirit in the Night
Outlaw Pete
Hungry Heart
Working on a Dream
Born in the USA
Cover Me
Darlington County
Working on the Highway
Downbound Train
I’m on Fire
No Surrender
Bobby Jean
I’m Goin’ Down
Glory Days
Dancing in the Dark
My Hometown
Tougher Than the Rest
The Promised Land
Last to Die (with Curt Ramm)
Long Walk Home
The Rising
Born to Run (with Jay Weinberg)
* * *
Raise Your Hand
The Last Time
Waitin’ on a Sunny Day
Seven Nights to Rock
Kitty’s Back (with Curt Ramm)
American Land
Jersey Girl

Image from Backstreets

Image from Backstreets