For a long time now, Bruce Springsteen has been treating his concerts like an endurance event. When most bands are content to the take the stage after an opening act or two and cruise through their 90 minute set, well that’s when Bruce and his E Street Band are just getting limber. But the guy’s been at it for a while now, and I wondered if the number on the odometer that is staring him in the face would start to show. To take the analogy of one of his favorite songwriting subjects, if he were a muscle car, at this point there would be rusted-out wheel wells, wobbly and shaky suspension, and belches of blue smoke as he tried to move down the line. Forget about changing a tire, the chassis would be so corroded that the jack would tear a hole right through the floorboards rather than lifting the car up.
But Bruce ain’t no ordinary car. Sure he’s not showroom ready and deep in the set when talking about his first band being named after a shampoo “Propecia! No, that’s what I use now. It was The Castiles!” he wasn’t afraid to poke a little fun at his age. His energy level never flagged during the near-three hour set, an impressive feat for a guy who’s seen 73 birthday cakes; it’s no coincidence that his latest record is called Only the Strong Survive. That record has a strong soul vibe and while he had a large band with a five piece brass section at his disposal, he just kinda skimmed it via his cover of The Commodores’ “Night Shift.” Instead, he went to the meat of the records where he made his name, the pre-mid ’80s records and no one complained one iota.
Before I get deeper into the goings-on of the evening, the grumbling of the ticket pricing needs to be addressed a little. I have zero in the way of substantiation, but since Springsteen recently sold his back catalog for half a (insert Dr Evil voice here) billion dollars, my guess is that perhaps this might be the last big tour he does and he went along with the dynamic pricing model in an attempt to give his long-running bandmates a big payday. Anyway, just a hunch. If you sat on the sidelines for this show because of the prices and missed out on the Gillette sale, you get another chance on Friday as a second show was just announced for August 26th.
If last night was any indicator, I’d say it was highly unlikely that anyone walked out of the Garden disappointed in what they heard and what Bruce and his band delivered. The guy has loads of hits and could just spin a roulette wheel and satisfy most of the crowd with whatever song title the needle happened to land on. Some prime cuts from Darkness appeared; of course “Badlands” was going to make an appearance but it was the early entry of “Prove It All Night” that was a battle call and the band held true to that promise. “The E Street Shuffle” was a Latin-tinged workout, the percussionist and brass pulling a lot of weight. The frenetic high hat on the intro of “Candy’s Room” that gave way to insistent snare work must have had Max Weinberg’s forearms burning but he never slowed the tempo. As the last tour in 2016 featured the entirety of The River, only “Out In The Street” was played.
“Johnny 99” had a Frenchman Street vibe to it, a rolling jazz party as the brass section left their stage right back corner to stroll down at the front with Springsteen as ersatz conductor (Bruce – you’re no John Zorn in that department!). “Kitty’s Back” is where the horns really put their back into it, a slow burn that left a smoldering pile of ash. If I had to pick one highlight, “Because The Night” would be a tough one to omit. A song that Patti Smith made famous, he ripped the cover off it and it kept spiraling into the stratosphere via Nils Lofgren’s jaw dropping, Prince-esque guitar solo. Inlaid on his guitar neck read “Sacred Weapon” and can’t say I disagree!
The regular set blended straight into the encore with nary a break, just the house lights turned full up so the congregation and the pastor could unite as one body. Earlier there were some catcalls when “Wrecking Ball” name-checked the NY Giants but Bruce won the crowd back over with a cover of “Dirty Water” and then followed it by a heartfelt dedication to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute before “Thunder Road.” An iconic song with some incredibly vivid lyrics and imagery, the song soared with the familiar sax solo now done by Jake Clemons, who before playing it pointed to the sky in homage to his late uncle Clarence. Tons of emotional highs tonight but tough to top that moment. Thanks Bruce and company, see you in August.
Primarily based in Boston, Massachusetts, Tim Bugbee is no stranger to traveling throughout the country or overseas to capture the best live music photos.