Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band @ Jobing.com Arena|12/6/12
Who is Bruce Springsteen anyway?
The street rat poet singing about characters straight out of West Side Story? The balladeer casting American youth in B movie glory, Roy Orbison grandeur, and fleets of fast cars? The protest singer, spitting bile at corrupt bankers and politicians? The soul brother, swinging his hips and taking the crowd to church?
Bruce Springsteen, standing in front of the mighty E Street Band, spent time in all of these poses last night as he finished up the Wrecking Ball tour at Jobing.com Arena, reminding the roaring crowd with each song, each shimmy, each sweaty line, that he's one of the greatest performers and songwriters in America.
Springsteen started out the night solo, with an acoustic rendition of "Surprise, Surprise." The folk pop song, from his 2009 effort Working on a Dream, was a low-key start, the sort of tuneful, crafted, and gentle thing you expect a 63-year-old singer/songwriter to be doing on stage. He wasted no time discarding the easygoing vibe, as the E Street Band, replete with guitarist "Little" Steven Van Zandt, drummer Max Weinberg, guitarist Nils Lofgren, bassist Garry Tallent, pianist Roy Bittan, violinist Soozie Tyrell, the E Street Horns (led by the late Clarence Clemons' nephew, Jake Clemons and Ed Manion), a trio of backup singers commanded by the stunning Cindy Mizelle, and a few more percussionists and auxiliary players for good measure, stepped up and tore into the chiming chords of "No Surrender."
From there on, Springsteen was a livewire, sprinting across the stage during "I'm a Rocker," taking a seat at the foot of the stage, as eager fans' hands grabbed at him, and directing the assembly through "Hungry Heart" before running to the middle stage and crowd-surfing back to the main. Bittan steered the band into "Prove It All Night," and Springsteen dug into a nasty guitar solo before stepping to the mic: "What it means to steal, to cheat, to lie! What it's like to live and die."
The band packed more energy into its first trio of songs than most bands do into entire shows. Springsteen stripped off the vest he wore over his denim shirt, signifying he was just getting started.
"Lost in the Flood," one of the rare songs on his debut record, Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. to truly point to where the young songwriter was headed, seethed with bluesy swagger, as Springsteen rattled off lyrics about "ragamuffins," "wolfman fairies," "quicksand," "oil," and "blood" in a kaleidoscopic flurry.
The band then coursed into a set of songs from Springsteen's latest, Wrecking Ball. The determined "We Take Care of Our Own" was kicked off by stinging whammy bar abuse by Valley resident Lofgren, whose siren tones were broken by a line of bells and surging chords. "Wrecking Ball" followed, a song written from the doomed perspective of Giants Stadium in New Jersey. Its battered metaphor centers around death, and about clinging to the things that define lives. "Go on and take your best shot," Springsteen sang, like a wounded dog not ready to stop snarling. It was riveting.
"My City of Ruins" found the band stretching out, the gospel elements rising to the forefront. Springsteen shared memories of Arizona -- including that crotch-sliding performance at the Super Bowl -- and discussed the idea of rebirth and resurrection. "There's a lot of ghosts onstage with us here tonight," Springsteen said, speaking of keyboardist Danny Federici, who passed away in 2008, and saxophonist Clarence "The Big Man" Clemons, who passed away last year. Springsteen interpolated a line from "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out" -- "A change was made uptown" -- into the song's gospel revue.
The band dove into a pair of soul covers, "The Way You Do The Thing You Do" ("Fellas, if you have to say something to your woman, don't fuck it up!") and "634-5789 (Soulsville, U.S.A.)," which found Springsteen duetting with another Valley resident, Sam Moore of Sam and Dave. Moore didn't even need to get out of his chair to stun. He belted out with his classic voice as Springsteen crouched near him.
"If you grew up on the Jersey shore in the '60s and '70s, you had to play soul music to survive," Springsteen noted. "The E Street Band is a rock and soul band!"
The band settled into "rock" mode to finish the proper set, closing out with the widescreen epic "Thunder Road." The lights faded, and Springsteen sat down at the piano to deliver the Tom Waits-like "Incident on 57th Street," from his second (and my favorite) The Wild, The Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle. The band returned with "Born to Run," which naturally got the crowd on its feet, shouting "Brooooooooce."
Being Christmastime, the band indulged its cheesy side, with its trademark rendition of "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town." The version has always seemed just a bit too cheeky for me, but it was impossible not to get swept up in the Santa-hatted revelry, as Springsteen spoke of St. Mary's Food Bank and brought cult songwriter Garland Jeffreys up on stage to perform the song with him.
"One more for Phoenix," Springsteen announced as the band moved into "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out." The song paid tribute to Clemons, and Jake, as he had done all night, did the same, performing with soul and verve. Springsteen got in one last run, climbing through the crowd and shouting about the "Big Man joining the band," spinning his own creation myth into soul boogie gold.
Springsteen has always shifted, his identity defined chiefly by Jersey, but a man more than happy to travel the byroads and hidden routes of American folk, country, gospel, and soul. Bruce Springsteen often sings of looking for somewhere or some thing; when he performs live, he makes you believe he's found it.
See more photos, notes, and the setlist after the break.
Last Night: Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band @ Jobing.com Arena The Crowd: Tramps like us, meaning longtime fans, guys in shorts, ladies in mom jeans, scruffy-looking youngsters, kids, screaming 20-somethings. Personal Bias: I've been spending every spare minute buried deep in Peter Ames Carlin's new Springsteen biography, Bruce. Overheard: "I want him to play a lot of Darkness on the Edge of Town. And "Santa Claus," of course." I'll Admit to Getting a Little Misty: During "Wrecking Ball," when Springsteen sang "Well tonight all the dead are here," and again when he got to the "hold on to your anger" stanza. What can I say? I Don't Think Anyone Was Thinking About "Politics": During "We Take Care of Our Own." Spine Tingling: The crowd chanting "Hungry Heart;" Sam Moore singing "634-5789 (Soulsville, U.S.A.)" from his chair, sounding as huge as ever as the E Street Band roared behind him; Springsteen, alone at the piano for "Incident on 57th Street."
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"Surprise, Surprise" "No Surrender" "I'm a Rocker" "Hungry Heart" "Prove It All Night" "Trapped" "Lost in the Flood" "We Take Care of Our Own" "Wrecking Ball" "Death to My Hometown" "City of Ruins" "Be True" "Light of Day" "Darlington County" "Shackled and Drawn" "Waitin' On a Sunny Day" "The Way You Do the Things You Do" "634-5789 (Soulsville, U.S.A.)" (with Sam Moore) "The Rising" "Badlands" "Thunder Road" "Incident on 57th Street" "Born to Run" "Dancing in the Dark" "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" (with Garland Jeffreys) "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out"