Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
Tuesday, April 3
Better than: Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band in any of the 49 other states.
At 11:06 p.m., seated in the press box at the Izod Center, it’s hard not to like Bruce Springsteen. His last three songs have been, in order, “Out in the Street,” “Born to Run,” and “Dancing in the Dark,” and he’s currently reprising “People Get Ready” from earlier in the night. Now he’s playing “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out,” singing from on top of his piano, and you’re standing behind what was your seat, probably having the best time you’ve had at a show in at least maybe a month or so. Then he cuts the song off after the line about the big man joining the band and the crowd applauds for what feels like well over a minute—probably the most touching thing you’ve seen at a show maybe all year.
But for you (the reader) what good is another hagiography, and besides, what good is that hagiography if it forces me to brush over the fact that first three-quarters of this show were, although brilliantly played, all kinds of messy and conflicted?
Before greeting the sold-out crowd, Bruce played four songs, each leading into the next: Wrecking Ball opener “We Take Care of Our Own” began the evening, priming the crowd for the album’s title track, a song about the destruction of the old Meadowlands on which sentimentality masquerades as its opposite. There’s also a line about “mosquiters as big as airplanes” which always makes me laugh, though I don’t think that’s the point.
Either way, after “Badlands” and “Death to My Hometown,” Springsteen finally addressed his people, noting with a smile on his face that the E Street Band “opened this building back when it was named after a human being.” From here, he entered a preacher impersonation that at least one person in the audience (me) found a touch uncomfortable, and began talking about how he was going to “take the power of music and shoot it straight into [our] heart” and “deliver the news… with a beat.” As the band soloed through the bridge of the next song, The Rising‘s “My City Of Ruins,” the audience indulged in some arena spirituality, lifting their hands towards the stage. Perhaps someone should have pointed out that when people do this on Sunday morning—that is, when they really mean it—they save the plastic bottles of Bud Light for later.
And yet, it was hard not to be moved watching Jake Clemons, at this point on his second solo, slowly become more comfortable filling in for his late uncle, just as it was hard not to feel a surge of affection—even pride—when after each solo, both before and after this one, he pumped his tenor sax in the air, filled with equal parts adrenaline and relief. “Are we missing anybody?” Bruce asked after working his way through the 16-piece band, repeating the question to let the double meaning sink in. “Let him hear you.”
For his next interlude, Bruce paused to talk about his sparse folk ballad “Jack of All Trades.” “A lot of folks going through a hard time out there,” he transitioned somewhat awkwardly out of the upbeat “E Street Shuffle.” Then adopting the inflection of a politician, “…being prayed on in a way that’s simply un-American.” “Jack of All Trades,” he explained, was written in 2009, well before the Occupy movement sprung up. But can we talk for a moment about how the song (and the Wrecking Ball record as a whole) fit into not just those protests but the financial crash and ongoing recession altogether?
The problem, I think, and what makes the project ultimately a failure, is Springsteen’s insistence on interpreting the conflicts of today back through the lens of Fordism, both lyrically (referring only to manual labor and using anachronisms like “bankerman”) and aesthetically (returning to that the Woody Guthrie-influenced sound mentioned above). But if that machine killed fascists, this machine makes millions by refitting yesterday’s forms for today’s conflicts (“You take the old, and you make it new,” he sings on “Jack”), translating those conflicts into familiar, reassuring terms (“If I had me a gun, I’d find the bastards and shoot ’em on sight,” he also sings).
Still, if Bruce’s songs are old-fashioned, his body is remarkably spry. Throughout the nearly three hour set, the Boss repeatedly swung loops around the mic stand, jumped around and off the stage, and swung his body to Max Weinberg’s beat. During a soul medley in which the Temptations’ “The Way You Do the Things You Do” became Wilson Pickett’s “634-5789,” he went as far as to walk to the middle of the floor, chug a beer, and let the audience carry him back to the runway. As he shouted “Yeah” ‘s and high-fived the closest fans, it seemed that Bruce might even have outdone someone new: himself.
Critical bias: Might have liked “Wrecking Ball” a little more if his Giants didn’t just beat the Patriots in another Super Bowl.
Random notebook dump: Much love to the kids who spent the whole show jumping up and down fist pumping in the aisle.
We Take Care of Our Own
Death to My Hometown
My City of Ruins
So Young and in Love
The E Street Shuffle
Jack of All Trades
Prove It All Night
Waiting On a Sunny Day
The Way You Do The Things You Do
Because the Night
We Are Alive
Out in the Streets
Born To Run
Dancing In the Dark
Land of Hope and Dreams
Tenth Avenue Freezeout