Incredible balance and range. From one of the first songs Springsteen played for John Hammond to win a recording contract (Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street?) to the first Springsteen track featuring a guest vocalist rapping (Rocky Ground), last night’s show touched just about every base you could hope for.
Seaside Bar Song … a healthy dose of Born to Run … a searing Trapped/Adam Raised a Cain pairing followed a few songs later by the always-explosive Because The Night … the poignancy of My City of Ruins & Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out … a handful of peppy sing-alongs, the excellent new material … and the Mega Millions jackpot: A full-band The Promise. Jazz-flecked folk, soul, pop, rock, R&B … hope, despair, reflection, exultation, defiance, anger, compassion … everything. Everything.
One week ago, Seaside Bar Song was very near the top of my list of songs I’d never seen live and badly wanted to. It might not have been among the top ten highlights of last night’s show. That is, in part, because I saw it last week in Philadelphia, but it is mostly a reflection of the greatness of the show. (And of the fact that The Promise and Trapped were also among the five songs I most coveted and had never seen.)
It’s important to note that this wasn’t merely a disjointed collection of rarities that checked a lot of wish-list boxes but didn’t flow well. Seaside Bar Song and Does This Bus Stop …? (Not my favorite early rarity by any means, but a wonderful performance highlighted by a fantastic percussion duel between Max Weinberg and Everett Bradley) work well together. By itself, Trapped would be a highlight of almost any show -- but the Trapped/Adam Raised A Cain pairing was brilliant, intense catharsis on par with the Murder, Inc./Youngstown pairing of previous tours. And it flowed perfectly out of Jack of All Trades. A little later, American Skin/Because The Night/The Rising worked much the same way.
Speaking of which, it’s amazing how much difference one song makes. Last week in Philadelphia, The Rising felt tired and leaden coming after the even-more-stale Lonesome Day. Following Because The Night, The Rising was back to being what it should be. I still don’t think it should be played every show, or even every other show. But if it’s going to be in the set, it’ll be far better following almost anything other than Lonesome Day. (Bruce indicated that Because The Night came by request; I like to think the request came from guitarist Nils Lofgren, who put on a hell of a show for the hometown crowd. If you live in the DC area and don’t make a habit of attending Nils’ annual shows at the Birchmere, you’re making a big mistake.)
I continue to think Rocky Ground should be the penultimate song of the main set, followed by Land of Hope and Dreams. Opening the encore from a dead stop is a heavy lift for a new song much of the audience doesn’t know, particularly a slower song. (Girls In their Summer Clothes had the same problem during the Magic tour.) Attention wanders and conversations start during the brief pause between main set and encore. The result -- near me, at least -- was a crowd that was less attentive and respectful than the song deserves. (Some of the comments I heard during Rocky Ground, along with one deeply offensive comment during Springsteen’s reflections on soul music prior to the Apollo Medley, served as the evening’s reminder that there are too many jackasses in the world.)
I assume Out In The Street bumped Land of Hope and Dreams from its rightful spot following Rocky Ground (rather than simply coming later in the encores) because Springsteen felt he needed to get the crowd back after Rocky Ground. That was the evening’s biggest disappointment for me, both because the Rocky/LOHAD pairing is so good and because Out in the Street doesn't do much for me. (Exception.) Also because I worry that playing OITS will encourage more people to bring large, view-blocking signs. No more signs, please.
Full-band The Promise? You either understand, in which case I can’t do it justice, or you don’t, in which case I can’t make you. I generally think a casual fan with an open mind and a genuine love of music should thoroughly enjoy even unfamiliar rarities. Seeds or Kitty’s Back or Incident or Code of Silence or whatever -- these are pretty accessible songs. Full band The Promise, on the other hand … that’s a tough song for someone who has never heard it and doesn’t know what it is to embrace. Me? I’ll never forget it.
That The Promise -- and so much more -- came last night is remarkable. Concerts aren’t supposed to be this good this early in the tour. They aren’t supposed to be this good in DC, which has a well-deserved reputation for lame crowds and mediocre setlists. And after you’ve seen so many (last night was a decent-sized-number-ending-in-zero milestone for me) they shouldn’t be this fresh, this passionate, this intense, and this breathtaking.