Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band @ Stadium Of Light

"This is what it’s supposed to be like. I don’t want no 75 degrees and sunny. Gimme some of that English rain!" Those were the first things Bruce said when he took to the Sunderland stage last Thursday (21 Jun) at approximately 7:11pm. The rain had stopped falling an hour before, but the sky, still relatively bright, was looking gloomy and it was misty as hell. And COLD. But as the E Street Band launched into Badlands, you somehow forget that you've been freezing your ass off. Heat suddenly radiates from your body. At least that's how I felt at the time. The opening number was ferociously powerful. This is a song we've heard a thousand times on record, cd, radio, bootleg, but when you hear it live, goddamn it hits you harder than you could ever imagine. I actually teared up liked I did during my first Badlands at Hyde Park '09. And when the moment came, Jake Clemons strutted forward from stage left back (where the horn section is) and blew the shit out of his saxophone. His uncle couldn't have been prouder. Note for note, it was spot-on. There was the attitude too; he moved and sounded like a young Clarence Clemons from the '70s. The crowd went wild, just like they would with Big Man.
The next were the Wrecking Ball songs. I thought We Take Care Of Our Own sounded great; they even replicated the little drum machine hit in there. Death To My Hometown is slowed down, the horns made it more celebratory, and retains a bit of the Celtic taste. Bruce sounded more pissed off onstage. The music continued non-stop into My City Of Ruins, which took things down a notch. Here he introduces the E Street Band. Every tour he changes the way he introduces, and I must say this is the best E Street introduction yet. First were the five-piece horns, then the choir, then the newer members and then the old. Each one took a small solo; Bruce feels the need to draw this one out a bit and give everyone the spotlight. As expected, Nils Lofgren and Little Steven got the biggest cheers. He even gave a shout-out to his wife Patti, back home keeping the kids out of the drug stash. I also liked that Bruce introduced Garry Tallent the last. After all, he's the foundation of the E Street Nation and actually the sole remaining member of the original lineup. There couldn't be a better song choice; My City Of Ruins was no longer 9/11-specific; it meant different things to each one of us. And when Bruce asked in a singsong manner "Are we missing anybody?", he was referring to Clarence and Danny Federici, but then he was also referring to any close friends or family we in the audience have lost. "If you're here, and we're here, then they're here." Another tear-jerking moment. The 'rise up' finale was the most cathartic and healing of experiences I've ever had at a concert.
Spirit In The Night had always been one of those rare come-bys in setlists of the past decade, but since the start of the European leg, it has been a mainstay. The intro, rebuilt for the stadium, makes full use of the horns and the backup singers and gives it a sort of old-fashioned church revival vibe. And Bruce does the preacher bit very well. Great version. Next up was something they have not played in a while -- Does This Bus Stop At 82nd Street?. Never thought I'd hear this one. The version is similar to that from The Rising tour, this time with an added awesome drum and percussion duel between Max Weinberg and newcomer, Everett Bradley (who also sings background). Lots of people weren't familiar with this song, at least from where I was in the lower stands. Jack Of All Trades followed and I fully expected the crowd to cheer when Bruce sang "If I had me a gun, I'd find the bastards and shoot 'em on sight". The next few songs were interchangeable between shows. They are informally known as the "hard times/depression" three/four-pack, in keeping with the Wrecking Ball theme. Youngstown, my second time in a row. Great hearing Nils (his 61st birthday!) belt out that solo. He does that frenzy spinning around at the end that always gets the crowd going. Then came Murder Incorporated; I was really happy to get this one. Bruce could still pull off the high notes like the Reunion Tour versions. Johnny 99 I wasn't so crazy about initially, but Bruce really knows how to work the horns into it (they came out from the back and onto the lower stage, near the front pit); and out came a fiery rendition.
The songs flowed seamlessly one after another. The mood was more upbeat by the time we got to Working On The Highway. Fine version, beginning with Bruce on the acoustic. At one point, I recalled the band stopping cause it looked like he had forgotten the words (there was no teleprompter on the lower stage). For a band this size (17 people!), they're incredibly tight musically, but a lot of the time they rely on instinct to carry the music forward. It all sounds very raw, and surprisingly not bloated. The rhythm section especially pays very close attention to Bruce's moves and cues; you never know when an audible is gonna come. You'd think with a huge band, things are more calculated. Doesn't happen with the E Street Band at all. On one of the early songs, I forget which one, Bruce signaled to Soozie Tyrell to do a violin solo, but she was still holding on to the tambourine! Stuff like this makes the whole experience more unique. Shackled And Drawn is an absolute powerhouse live. It already sounds stellar on record, but the band takes it many levels higher onstage. Bruce gets Cindy Mizelle to come down and fire up the crowd in the extended outtro. And then at the end, everyone stands in one line on the stage and does this premeditated dance. It looked cheesy, but I was loving every second of it.
What followed was Waitin' On A Sunny Day, one that has never failed to appear since The Rising tour. On the other hand, many fans would like to see him retire it. No luck there; Bruce will keep on performing it for as long as he lives. But trust me, once you hear it in a live setting, especially in a stadium, you'll get it. It's just such a fun tune. This rendition stays close to The Rising tour's; Bruce expects everyone to sing out the melody to the acoustic guitar intro before the violins kick in. He usually picks out a kid at the side front to take a chorus, but tonight he decided to grab a security guy by the hand and dance; leaving the poor bloke looking damn embarrassed on the screens. The Promised Land was noticeably slowed down, don't know why. Not too bad a version, and Jake once again NAILED the sax solo. The next song I was really hoping for was Backstreets, but we got Point Blank. Intense vocals from Bruce. This performance stood out. Bruce then brought out his harp and I knew what was coming. We all went crazy for The River, and there was another massive singalong; I remember those around me sang like they were the loser character in the song; every single word cut right through the heart. The Rising has become another 'recent' song which has been deeply ingrained into the Springsteen vernacular. A straight-up classic, he has as much affinity for it as his stuff from the '70s and '80s. It's good to always have it in the show. Meanwhile, Out In The Street, another crowd-pleaser, now doesn't have the band members each taking a line at the end.
"This is Land Of Hope And Dreams!", Bruce exclaimed. I couldn't really make out the intro (the sound mix throughout the night wasn't up to standard, it was kinda all over the place, but still listenable -- could be due to the bloody wind). The horns added religious fervor to it. Similar to the 2012 studio version, but the outro goes back to the original familiar live version, and it was unbelievably astounding. People Get Ready. This was another highly emotional moment. I used to listen to the Live In NYC version religiously when I started getting into Bruce, and to finally hear it live more than ten years later, I felt like this journey of mine has come full circle. Technically there wasn't any encore, because the band never left the stage. At this point, I was expecting to hear Rocky Ground, but instead Bruce gave a monologue about writing We Are Alive, about how he needed a ghost story. In hindsight, it was really an appropriate song following Land. Translated onto the live stage, it is a monster. I mean it just floored me. And the crowd was really into it the second the band exploded.
Finally it arrived; my favorite song of all time. No words could describe it. As far as I'm concerned, Thunder Road is the most beautiful thing I'll ever hear in my life, now and forever. And it sure was wonderful experiencing it with 50,000 other people. Jake's sax solo was off the charts; if you close your eyes, he sounds EXACTLY like Clarence. The new horns arrangement at the end took the song to another stratosphere. And then straight they went into Born To Run; I don't think they have played Thunder Road into Born To Run in quite a long time. Stadium lights were slowly turned up. I clearly remember everyone singing so loud to every word that they totally drowned out Bruce's vocals. It just takes one song to whip the crowd into a frenzy, and after this, there was just no way the band could stop the music. From here on, it was hit after hit, beginning with Hungry Heart. Unfortunately the keyboards were mixed so low at the start I couldn't recognize it only until the crowd started singing the first verse. Another great Jake moment here (on a side note; I noticed Ed Manion, the other sax player, didn't take a lot of solos himself). Seven Nights To Rock was the only cover of the night. Dancing In The Dark -- used to dislike it (and Glory Days), but that's changed after witnessing them first time at Hyde Park. Man, the things Dancing can do to the audience. Another LOL moment came when two lads at the front held up a large flag, requesting to dance with birthday boy, Nils. Of course, Bruce obliged. This actually might be the first time this tour he got men to come up and dance! Priceless look on Nil's face on the big screen. The band also got a huge kick out of it.
Closing song of the night was the ultimate tear-jerker. Us fans need some closure; we need to miss Clarence, Bruce needs to miss Clarence, so does the band. I have to admit at the start of the show, I felt sad not seeing him onstage. When "the Big Man joined the band", there was a 'moment of silence'. Bruce, with his back towards the audience, turned to the giant HD screen behind the stage. The montage tribute couldn't have been more tastefully executed. The last image was an extreme close-up of C's face. It took the power of five horns to replicate the single signature sax lick after that, as if to tell us that Clarence can't be replaced. He was just too fucking big to die. What a way to end the concert; a celebration of life. It was still a long way to go before the curfew, three hours now isn't considered close to the average length of an E Street show, but it's still damn long by most standards. There were no tour premieres, fairly standard setlist, though flawlessly structured. Don't think there were any sign requests. But Land Of Hope And Dreams and Thunder Road on the same night sealed the deal for me (the last time this occurred was very early on in the U.S. leg).
It was miserable getting out of the stadium and back to Newcastle. But thank God the Metro strike didn't happen as planned, if not it would've been much worse. I was already thinking about the craziness that could go down the next night in Manchester. (I was actually closer to the stage than these pictures make it out to be.)

1. Badlands
2. We Take Care Of Our Own
3. Wrecking Ball
4. Death To My Hometown
5. My City Of Ruins
6. Spirit In The Night
7. Does This Bus Stop At 82nd Street?
8. Jack Of All Trades
9. Youngstown
10. Murder Incorporated
11. Johnny 99
12. Working On The Highway
13. Shackled And Drawn
14. Waitin' On A Sunny Day
15. The Promised Land
16. Point Blank
17. The River
18. The Rising
19. Out In The Street
20. Land Of Hope And Dreams
21. We Are Alive
22. Thunder Road
23. Born To Run
24. Hungry Heart
25. Seven Nights To Rock
26. Glory Days
27. Dancing In The Dark
28. Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out

Total running time - 3hrs 5mins