“Do I have to say the name?!” Bruce Springsteen’s raspy baritone rattled the Verizon Center last night.
Bruce fans recognize the question as the way he would normally introduce his on-stage foil for the past 30 plus years, Clarence Clemons. But last night, the question itself began the answer to the question that E Street followers have been asking for nearly a year: How will the Boss handle the show without the Big Man?
After that acknowledgement of Clarence’s absence during an interlude in the song “City of Ruin” Bruce lowered the band’s tone and sang a particular verse of the song:
Now there’s tears on the pillow
where I slept
and you took my heart when you left
without your sweet kiss
my soul is lost, my friend
Now tell me how do I begin again?
He then answered his own question. “We brought some old friends…” Springsteen said “And we brought some new friends…But the mission of the E Street band remains unchanged.”
That mission for the past 40 years has been to deliver pound for pound one of the best pure rock and roll shows on the the planet; No pyro, no video montages, no B.S.
Last nights show at the sold out Verizon Center did not disappoint. Clocking in at just under 3 hours, and including crowd surfing, a few surprising selections from the Boss back catalog and plenty of fist pumping.
Though Clarence Clemons physical and spiritual presence were missing, his musical role was filled admirably by his nephew Jake Clemons. Though the notes Jake played were ones made famous by his legendary Uncle, Jake definitely brought his own personality and presence to the stage. Helping to fill the void too was a 3-piece horn section identified as the “E Street Horns”.
An unusually subdued Little Steven Van Zandt interacted very little with either the crowd or the Boss, and likewise Bruce’s wife and backing singer/ guitarist Patti Scialfa played a low key role. Lead guitarist Nils Lofgren (who hails from the DC area) stole huge parts of the show with his fiery playing and stage acrobatics.
Perennial crowd favorites “Thunder Road” & “Born To Run” were musically as tight as ever, with the rhythm section led by the mighty Max Weinberg. However, in a few pivotal musical passages Bruce Springsteen himself made some unusual choices that left me wondering if some how his heart was still tempest tossed. There was a slight taste of sadness in these anthems one could only associate with the missing member of the band.
During “10th Avenue Freeze Out”, which was the show’s final song, came the moment I had been wondering about since the tour announcement. During the classic song from the BTR album, Bruce tells the story of the E Street’s early days. Usually when the Boss arrived at the lyric “A Change was made uptown and the Big Man joined the band!” Clarence Clemons would step shoulder to shoulder with Springsteen (whom he called “Scooter”) and would tear into a brief but powerful two measure solo that had on hundreds of occasions caused the crowd to rattle even the largest arenas to their foundation.
But last night, at that moment the band stopped and allowed the crowd to send up unabashed love for the fallen saxophone great. With every hand in the air for a full 4 minutes, the crowd screamed, cheered and mourned and celebrated Clarence Clemons while the band stood frozen with their heads mostly bowed. Jake Clemons appeared to be whispering a prayer with one hand on his heart and the other on his sax. The song resumed with a quick horn section interlude reminiscent of a New Orleans style funeral parade and then back into the standard outro of the tune.
Overall, the show was a successful one for Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. Musically the show was interesting and energetic hitting the old favorites, telling a road story or two, playing a few lost gems and including some tracks from the new record (“Wrecking Ball”). Though there were moments of sadness, Bruce & Company can still put it down better than most groups half their age.
Though the mission of the band remains the same, one has to wonder how much longer they can continue. For now they are holding their own and doing it at a level that is beyond most mortals. People who have never seen the Boss before were noticeably blown away- it’s hard not to be. The sound and the fury can be intense.
But to the legions of us who’ve been on this train before, we know that the truth is the locomotive is moving just a bit slower. Not so much so that the ride isn’t a blast, but just enough to let us all know that at some point it will indeed come to an end.
1. We Take Care of Our Own
2. Wrecking Ball
4. Death to My Hometown
5. My City of Ruins
6. Seaside Bar Song
7. Does this Bus Stop at 82nd Street?
8. Jack of All Trades
10. ADAM RAISED A CAIN
11. Easy Money
12. She’s the One
13. Waiting on a Sunny Day
14. THE PROMISE
15. Apollo Medley (The Way You Do The Things You Do / 634-5789)
16. American Skin (41 Shots)
17. Because the Night
18. The Rising
19. We Are Alive
20. Thunder Road
21. Rocky Ground
22. OUT IN THE STREET
23. Born to Run
24. Dancing in the Dark
25. Land of Hope and Dreams
26. Tenth Avenue Freeze Out