It’s been almost two weeks since the Saturday Springsteen show in Philadelphia and it hasn’t diminished in stature one bit. As the Magic tour moves on, the setlists will most certainly become more diverse and the performances increasingly stronger. But this was the first show of the tour when Bruce and the E Street Band turned things up a notch and occupied that space that only they can. The show was even more impressive when you consider that many fans, myself included, wondered if they could. Since the E Street reunion in 1999, Bruce has treated Philly to his best performances, even better than those in his own backyard. After his 3-night stand at Lincoln Financial Field so eclipsed all other shows on The Rising tour in terms of song selection and energy, many die-hards made this "the ticket" to get.
But the prior night’s show left some doubts. The setlist appeared pretty tame and the performance seemed to follow suit. What could we expect this early in the tour? Did we really expect him to play "Incident on 57th Street," which he seemingly has only treated Philadelphia once to since he resurrected the song there in 1999 after an almost 20-year layoff? On Saturday night, we got the tour premiere of "Incident" and more. The show kicked off with a red hot rendition of "Night." The opening barrage of drums and saxophone seemed to signal that Bruce was not messing around. The mere fact that he chose to open with something other than "Radio Nowhere," (the only show of the tour thus far in which he has done so) also sent a message to the crowd. "Radio Nowhere" did follow and it was damn good. "Prove It All Night" brought us all back to familiar ground and set the stage for "Gypsy Biker," one of the new album’s more maligned songs.
However, all of the new songs found their legs on this night. The album itself is a little slick and overproduced for my taste. But, as New York Times rock critic John Rockwell said back in 1975, "However winning the songs sound, they really function as rough models for the fully formed versions one hears live." The album Rockwell was reviewing at the time was Born To Run, the record that comes closest to matching the experience of seeing Springsteen in concert. Magic is no slouch, but the songs have new life in concert. Of course, the crowd’s energy reached new level for the classic tunes like the "Reason To Believe/Ties That Bind/She’s The One" triad. After Bruce’s duet with wife Patti on "Town Called Heartbreak," Philly got its "Incident" and it was fantastic. Looking at the handwritten setlist which can be seen on Bruce’s official site, the song is penciled in as if to say that if the show and audience are up for it, he’ll play it. If you don’t understand what the big deal about this song is, go to the website for the fanzine Backstreets and download a good live version. After Bruce’s powerful parting solo, Springsteen surprised even the band itself with a version of "Cadillac Ranch" that could have filled a stadium.
The main set closed with a pair of strong performances of new additions "Last To Die" and "Long Walk Home" that segued into "Badlands," which was once a show opener when it premiered back in 1978. It works great as a closer and left the crowd primed for the encores. "Rosalita" has been temporarily replaced by the tune that preceded it as a show-stopper. "Thundercrack!" may be lost on some audiences, but not Philly. You could tell that the band is still working out the kinks since it hasn’t been regularly performed since 1973. But the mistakes on this night only added to the looseness everyone was enjoying.
"American Land," the lone holdover from the Seeger Sessions Tour, was a perfect way to send the crowd home. Bruce and Little Steven have long professed their love of punk, and this song makes you think you were listening to The Pogues being led by The Boss. That’s not a bad thing.
As the tour rolls on the shows will no doubt be longer and stronger and some new songs that are not working to Bruce’s satisfaction will be dropped and old favorites will return. But this was the first show where Bruce and the band brought back that sense of wonder and possibility that only Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band can deliver.