Sixteen reactions to seeing Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band last night:
1. I needed this show. How badly? I got a little misty-eyed during Wrecking Ball, of all songs. That badly.
2. The band is performing at a much higher level than could reasonably be expected this early in a tour. That they’re doing so after a two year hiatus and while bringing along so many new people is remarkable.
3. As I usually do when I end up with a great spot in the pit, I spent a good portion of the show watching the band, particularly when Bruce wandered off to one end of the stage or into the crowd. I don’t really understand why more people don’t do this rather than trying to crane their neck to catch a glimpse of the back of Springsteen’s head. It’s a very good band; your attention need not remain focused exclusively on Bruce at all times, particularly when you can’t see him through a sea of people. The band works their butts off, and is a huge part of what makes the show work. I always enjoy focusing on and acknowledging them, particularly when Bruce moves out of my sightline anyway. Highly recommended.
4. Last night’s big takeaway from band-watching: Steve, Garry, and Patti all seem about as interested in Waiting on a Sunny Day as I am. Which is to say: Not at all. I paid more attention to Bruce and Singing Kid Of The Night than they did, and I only glanced over at them for a second.
5. The danger in reading setlists and reviews and listening to the occasional bootleg before attending your first show of the tour is that you’re already aware of the emotionally-charged moments, which may have less of an impact as a result. For me, that may -- may -- have diluted the impact of the My City of Ruins band intros just a bit. But it was still wonderful. I hoped before the tour started that MCOR would return as a setlist regular, but never imagined it playing this role. Genius.
6. Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, on the other hand … You may know what happens after they make a change uptown, but it just doesn’t matter. You aren’t prepared for it. You certainly aren’t prepared to be standing 15 feet from the band when it happens, in a spot eerily similar to the one from which you watched Bruce & Clarence re-enact their first meeting during Growin’ Up at the last show of Clarence’s last tour.
7. Likewise, American Skin (41 Shots) exceeded high expectations. It’s a tremendous song that I’m glad to have finally seen live, though -- of course -- wish there wasn’t reason to play it. It is both a testament to his catalogue and completely heartbreaking that when an unarmed teenager gets shot to death, Springsteen already has a song that fits the situation this well.
8. I see that The Promise was listed as an option alongside American Skin on the working setlist. The Promise may be the best Bruce Springsteen song I’ve never seen live. Just a gorgeous song. The (slim) possibility of seeing The Promise is the kind of thing that causes me to make the trip to Philadelphia and back on a Wednesday. (Also: Seaside Bar Song! And Does This Bus Stop…!) But I am completely fine with getting American Skin instead of The Promise; that’s how good it was.
9. We Take Care of Our Own is, I think, one of the weaker tracks on Wrecking Ball. It is also 100 times better in concert than on the album. Sure, it benefited from being the first song played at the first Springsteen show I’ve seen in two and a half years, by far my longest time between concerts in a decade. Still: It was fantastic.
10. All the new material worked well, actually. I like the album a lot, but you never know how it’s going to translate live. Too bad Shackled and Drawn wasn’t in the set, but everything else worked. Easy Money probably worked least well (and is my least favorite of the songs played) but even that was solid. Rocky Ground, an absolutely wonderful recording, was quite good, though it might work better as the penultimate song of the main set rather than the beginning of the encore. (Either way, it should continue to precede Land of Hope and Dreams.) The new material deserves to remain in the show, and I have some hope that it will. During Death to My Hometown, I got the strong impression that Bruce is far more committed to making this stuff work than he ever was with, say, most of Working on a Dream. That’s good. It’s an excellent album.
11. The Rising is also a great album, and I’ll (rhetorically) fight anyone who says otherwise. It was also ten years ago, and three songs -- Waiting on a Sunny Day, Lonesome Day, and The Rising -- have been played to death in the decade since.
12. Bruce, if you’re reading (heh), I promise you have scores of songs besides Sunny Day that the crowd will sing along to, if that’s what you’re looking for. (How about Ain’t Good Enough for You?) Last tour, Sunny Day was already so over-played that its appearance at a show always made me frustrated that it was coming at the expense of countless better, fresher songs. Now it isn’t even about that any more: It doesn’t even need to be replaced by anything. It should just go. It mucks up the pacing, energy, and focus of the show.
13. At this point, Lonesome Day and The Rising back-to-back, just a few songs after Sunny Day and The Promised Land, feels more like an oldies show than anything I’ve ever seen Springsteen do. It’s just tired and stale and unimaginative and sad. They’re good songs, all of them, but they need a rest. Certainly they should not all be played in a given night. One or two, fine. I guess. But all four? No.
14. Why am I lumping The Promised Land in with the Rising trio? It’s unquestionably one of Springsteen’s greatest songs. But it’s been played a lot over the past decade. That’s fine: It’s good enough to withstand near-nightly repetition, and thematically, it’s going to fit into just about any Springsteen show. Not just fit -- belong. But coming after Sunny Day, it doesn’t pack the punch it should. The Promised Land should be an exuberant, defiant emotional release after a stretch of intense songs, preferably songs with some darkness. For example: Nashville 2008, when it followed Youngstown, Murder Incorporated, and She’s The One. Or Rising tour shows when it followed, say, Jungleland and Into The Fire. Following something fluffy like Sunny Day, it doesn’t really fill its proper role. Worse, it makes TPL itself feel a bit fluffy and stale and … rote. “I packed my bags and I'm heading straight into the storm/Gonna be a twister to blow everything down/That ain't got the faith to stand its ground” just doesn’t work when it follows a seven year old singing Waiting on a Sunny Day. And that’s the worst thing I can say about Sunny Day last night: It undermined and diluted The Promised Land. That’s unforgivable.
15. Once you drop at least two of The Rising, Lonesome Day, and Waiting on a Sunny Day, you have plenty of room for Long Walk Home, a better song than any of those three, one that fits the show nicely and represents an album, Magic, that is otherwise absent from the show, while giving Steve something to sink his teeth into. And there’s always room for This Hard Land…
16. But, most of all, I needed this show. It’s been too long.