The Boss exuded stage presence from the moment he took the stage. He strode to the mic and told his devoted followers that he’d be starting off with a WIESS outtake and kicked off the first rarity of the evening – Thundercrack. I’ve been to plenty of concerts at MSG with audience members in their 40s and 50s who not only would sit the whole show but would yell “down in front” if you showed any interest and stood up. That was not the case last night at MSG as everyone in the crowd rose to their feet the minute the word “outtake” left Springsteen’s mouth.
Not only did the entire crowd stand, but it seemed as if everyone in the rows around me knew every word to every song. These people were way into everything the band would play and watched enraptured by the sight they were seeing. I’d look around in the middle of the song and couldn’t find an empty seat or notice anyone heading to the bathroom – no one wanted to miss a minute of the action.
Bruce and the E Street Band @ MSG – Thundercrack
The Boss is the consummate show man – yelling the count off that started each song, darting across the stage to pump up his band members and even hopped off the stage once or twice to take the show directly to the people. The first “hit” of the night came early when Springsteen shouted out the count that kicked off Hungry Heart. The crowd roared in approval and Springsteen let the audience take lead vocals for the first verse and chorus. It felt like a celebration, as if it was New Year’s Eve, but this was just your run of the mill Springsteen show.
After five songs, The Boss stepped to the mic and explained that the band wanted to do something special for the fans and came up with the idea of covering WIESS. He went on to say that the album wasn’t a hit when it first came out and was filled with songs about Jersey and his vision of New York City. With that, the lights went down and a five-piece horn section filled a riser behind the band. Springsteen put his finger to his mouth asking the crowd to quiet down a bit before he tapped a baton against his mic stand and led the horns through the intro to The E Street Shuffle.
The crowd was able to bottle their enthusiasm for about a minute before exploding just as the band exploded into the funky groove of The E Street Shuffle. What was so impressive about the ensemble’s spot-on performance of the record was the number of genres Springsteen tapped into in putting the album together. From the funk of The E Street Shuffle to the jazzy undertones in Kitty’s Back to the wild string arrangements in New York City Serenade, The Boss and his band – helped by a eight-piece string section and the aforementioned horns – showed they were up for the challenge and got through it with flying colors.
Bruce and the E Street Band – E Street Shuffle
As someone who grew up in the same county as Springsteen and now lives in New York City, the imagery of the songs from WIESS hit home. You could feel the hustle and bustle of the big city during New York City Serenade and smell the salty air of the part of New Jersey those who only experience the state by driving on the crowded Turnpike will never know during Sandy. Bruce wrote these songs about a part of the country that was very familiar to this particular audience.
The highlight of the show for this newb was Rosalita which my friend that went with me to the show called “the best rock song ever written.” The energy was ridiculously high all night long but you could literally feel the room shake when Clarence Clemons took the horn break in the middle of the song. The E Street Band sounds as tight as ever and it was around this point that I was thanking my lucky stars for being able to catch this band before they ride off into the sunset.
As much as Rosalita blew me away for its power and energy, NYC Serenade blew me for its elaborate and beautiful orchestration. The band welcomed Richard Blackwell – who appeared on the original album – up to add some Latin spice to the mix for the final WIESS track. Blackwell and the string section, along with Springsteen’s measured vocals, left the crowd spellbound for what was the song of the evening.
If the show would’ve ended there this would’ve already been a magical night, but The Boss and his band were just getting started. After eight years, the residents of New York City have moved on from the tragedy of 9/11 as best as can be expected. On a musical level, no album was most important for the city’s recovery than 2002’s The Rising. Instead of focusing on just the sadness, Springsteen aimed and succeeded in putting together a collection of uplifting tunes such as Waitin’ On A Sunny Day. All these years later the message still resonates. Waitin’ On A Sunny Day may be one of the newest tunes the group played yet it got a strong reaction.
A walkway extended from the stage that allowed Springsteen to get closer to the fans in the pit. Towards the end of Waitin’ On A Sunny Day, The Boss strode out on the walkway and picked a volunteer out of crowd to help sing the song. Bruce picked a youngster who was so thrilled he forgot the words. Springsteen put his arm around his young fan and fed him the lyrics – a touching moment. The audience ate it up and who wouldn’t? Other Rising songs including Lonesome Day and the title track got similar reactions and were just as powerful as “the hits.”
Bruce & The E Street Band @ MSG – Hungry Heart
Now, as great as this concert was it wasn’t without its flaws. The mix wasn’t great and I would’ve liked to hear more of Springsteen’s talented side men and women instead of all Bruce all the time. For instance, my favorite part of The E Street Shuffle is the punchy clavinet line and you could barely make it out. Also, as much as I appreciate Springsteen’s top-shelf stage presence it was a bit much at points and bordered on cheesey. A different friend said to me “if he would’ve toned it down by 20% the show wouldn’t have suffered and everyone could’ve focused on the music more.” I can’t really disagree with that sentiment.
Bruce Springsteen writes out the setlist for each night with the exception of a few slots for fan requests. During Raise Your Hand The Boss strides around the stage and collects signs made by fans with their requests on them. First up in the requests section of the show was the rarely played Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street? off of Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. The E Street Band jumped at the opportunity and expertly worked their way through the song. Next, Bruce held up a sign that was given out to Yankee fans at the victory parade a day earlier that said “World Champions – #27” which led the crowd to erupt.
The Boss said “that’s right, this is a celebration” after which he rattled off the names of each key member of the Yankees to thunderous applause. All the while Springsteen was holding his hands over the bottom of the sign which he finally removed to show the words “Glory Days.” Talk about a perfect song in the perfect setting. Towards the end of the song, Bruce held his guitar like a baseball bat and had Steven Van Zandt pretend to pitch to him. Springsteen hit a home run in more ways than one on this night.
There weren’t many chances for the crowd to catch their breath so many were actually relieved when The Boss took it down a notch by dusting off the title track from 1992’s Human Touch. Springsteen sang the synth-driven tune with his wife, Patti Scialfa, another touching moment as she had missed a number of shows on the tour for undisclosed reasons. Lonesome Day and The Rising followed before the house lights went on for the Born To Run closer. The audience had been standing for about three hours at this point, yet no one sat as the group worked their way through the legendary tune with both power and precision. It was the ultimate high-energy tune from the ultimate high-energy performer.
Bruce and the E Street Band @ MSG – NYC Serenade
Springsteen and his band didn’t leave the stage for very long before kicking off their five song encore with a song they had debuted at the final Giants Stadium shows in late September – Wrecking Ball. Bruce changed some of the lyrics to fit the occasion. The bittersweet Bobby Jean came next followed by American Land from The Seeger Sessions and a Dancing In The Dark in which The Boss pulled up his sister from the crowd to dance with him a la Courtney Cox in the video. Even Howard Stern Show cast member Artie Lange couldn’t hide his excitement as he mouthed all the words from his spot at the back of the pit.
We were clearly nearing the end of the show as Springsteen thanked all of the band members and welcomed the horns back for a cover of Jackie Wilson’s Higher and Higher. As if this show wasn’t epic enough, The Boss brought Elvis Costello out to share vocals and add another guitar to the mix. Costello sounded great – when you could hear him – and couldn’t hide his excitement throughout.
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band symbolize everything that’s right about rock – they are honest, talented performers who put their all into every note. They mix it up from night to night, don’t rely on their greatest hits and are more substance than spectacle. Let’s not forget they decided to play WIESS after the show sold out just because they knew the fans would love it, not as a gimmick to sell tickets.
Love the Jersey natives or hate them you have to respect what they’ve accomplished over the last 35+ years. If indeed the group calls it quits after the last show of the tour on November 22 in Buffalo it would be a major loss. After the concert my only question was “what time should I get to the drop line tomorrow?”
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
November 7, 2009
Madison Square Garden
New York, NY
Set: Thundercrack, Seeds, Prove It All Night, Hungry Heart, Working On A Dream, E Street Shuffle, 4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy), Kitty’s Back, Wild Billy’s Circus Town, Incident on 57th Street, Rosalita (Come Out Tonight), New York City Serenade, Waiting On A Sunny Day, Raise Your Hand (with You Sexy Thing), Does This Bus Stop At 82nd Street?, Glory Days, Human Touch, Lonesome Day, The Rising, Born To Run
Encore: Wrecking Ball, Bobby Jean, American Land, Dancing In the Dark, Higher and Higher (with ELVIS COSTELLO)