A River runs through Boston: Bruce Springsteen and the E Street band at TD Garden, February 4, 2016

View from my seat: No such thing as a BAD seat at a Bruce Springsteen concert!
View from my seat: No such thing as a BAD seat at a Bruce Springsteen concert!

 

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street band at TD Garden, The River Tour, February 4, 2016
Concert Review and Fan Rave
by Robert Gillis, 2/2016


“THE RIVER! The River was my coming of age record. It was the record where I was trying to figure out where I fit in … By the time I got to “The River,” I’d taking notice of the things that bond people together, that bond people to their lives: work, commitments, families. So I wanted to imagine, and I wanted to write about those things, and I figured if I could write about them, maybe I’d get one step closer to realizing them in my own life…. So that’s what I did, I wanted to make a big record. That felt like life. We’re an E street Band show. I wanted the record to contain fun, dancing, laughter, jokes, sex, good comradeship, love, tragedy, faith, lonely nights, and of course, teardrops. And I figured if I could make a record that was big enough to contain those things, maybe I’d get a little closer to answers and the home I was trying to find. So, let’s go on that adventure tonight.”

— Bruce Springsteen talking about the history of the album “The River,” TD Garden, February 4, 2016

First, about the venue: it doesn’t matter that this isn’t the original Boston Garden. It doesn’t matter whether they call it Shawmut, Fleet, Bank of America, TD Bank… If you live around here, if you grew up here, this place is Boston Garden. Or as we call it, the GAH-DEN.

Riding up the escalator to the balcony seats, I realized that it is an unfamiliar (read: unprecedented) feeling to walk into a Springsteen show and already know the exact lineup of the first 21 songs on the set list. Springsteen shows are rarely so structured (expect perhaps during the Tunnel of Love days) and I’ve gotten used to the Springsteen set list being composed of certain songs in support of the latest album, a handful played each night, and the rest being a free-for-all / “set the playlist to shuffle” with a good mix of songs chosen by sign collection and Springsteen’s mood that evening.

So tonight would be different. Tonight would also be my first time seeing Springsteen play an entire ALBUM in its entirety – “The River,” which contains several more obscure songs I have never seen live, and songs that Springsteen doesn’t bring out very often.

“The River” is special to me. After my first Springsteen show in 1985 I immediately purchased “Darkness,” “Born To Run” and “The River” – and literally wore out the cassettes. While I also purchased Springsteen’s first two albums, it would be BTR, Darkness, “The River,” BITUSA and the “Live 75-85” set that would form the core of my Springsteen listening experience for over three years until Tunnel of Love.

I became very invested in those songs – many were fun, but some – more, I guess — seemed to be speaking directly to me. Springsteen’s music is like that. You can play his music for the sheer joy of it, but often a specific album will speak to you, or ask you to come along for the ride, or help get you through. “The River” is such an album.

Even with the impressive amount of releases by Springsteen since, “The River” has always stood out as one of my very favorites, a rich tapestry of people and stories – some finding their way, some at a turning point, some obviously lost, and some just stopping to party. Most of the songs, in large ways or small, speak to the subject of taking tentative steps into adulthood. “The River,” as a collection of songs, remains a very meaningful story that still resonates deeply with me three decades after I first heard it.

So yeah, “The River” and I have history. I drove a lot of miles in my 1987 Dodge Aires with a boom box playing that cassette (my first car didn’t have a cassette player) and tonight, I get to see it live.

Onto the show!

The band took the stage to thunderous applause. At 66, Bruce Springsteen looks fantastic. Some of his more on-stage athletics are toned down these days (no more jumping on the piano or slides across the stage on his knees) yet the man looks to be in phenomenal physical shape, put in a three hour plus show, surfed the crowd, and played with the energy of someone half his age. It was VERY obvious Springsteen was in a joyous, fantastic mood tonight, and was the entire E Street Band was clearly “Into” tonight’s show – their interaction, the banter, and their professionalism so very evident.

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“Meet me in the City” – A STRONG start! First song this evening is the only outtake track from the “The Ties That Bind: The “River” Collection” that will be played tonight — it’s joyous, fun, and as I heard it for only the second time I thought, I need to pick up the new box set! From the first licks it was clear that this show would be tight, energetic, fun, a party, a life changing experience, in other words, business as usual for a Springsteen show!

This song immediately showcased how good the sound quality was this evening. Years ago, my wife (who was in a band for a time in her 20’s) explained to meet that the soundboard can make or break any performance. Whomever was working the sound board tonight had it PERFECT – no screeches, no feedback – a FLAWLESS mix of the vocals and music sounding crystal clear. The acoustics in the Garden seemed perfect to me.

And about lighting and stage: Springsteen has never relied on lasers and fireworks nor three zillion watt screens nor pyrotechnics in his shows. Except for the “Working on a Dream” tour, I don’t ever remember him ever using “background images” on stage. And tonight, the stage was set up with just the band’s instruments ready, place markers set, and three large screens to let the folks further away see better.

The lighting people do an amazing job choreographing to each song (I know it’s all Springsteen’s decisions, but it works). Moody, somber lighting for songs that need it (such as “Stolen Car,” “Drive all Night,”) flashing colorful lights for the party songs, and house lights up for anthems like “Badlands” and “Born to Run.” It works beautifully.

Ok, back to the show!

Before launching into the album he would play in full this evening, Springsteen explained the history of “The River” (quoted above) and then launched into “The Ties That Bind.” When the young woman standing near me was singing the “Bye-eye-eye-eye-eye” part of this one, I knew I was sitting with a true fan. It’s always so much more fun when you’re sitting with real Springsteen fans who know his incredibly diverse catalog and not just the folks who came to hear “Born to Run.”

“I need some party party party party party party party” Springsteen cheered and the crowd went bonkers as he broke into “Sherry Darling,” one of the many “River” songs that features the sax prominently, and a good time to mention Jake Clemons, nephew of the late, great Big Man Clarence Clemons. Jake has long since gone from being “Clarence’s nephew playing the sax” to being an integral part of the band. He channels Clarence’s sound to pitch-perfection, while somehow making it his own. On the “River” songs that proximately feature the sax (and there are many), Jake absolutely shines!

“Jackson Cage” – Never a personal favorite of mine, but played well. Soozie, Nils, Steve, Patti, Garry all flanking Bruce up front. Only seen this live once before, Mansfield 2009. Keyboards sound very clear on this one.

“Two Hearts” – I love that the “It takes two” duet with Steve at the mic has become the coda to this song. And I keep thinking how GOOD Springsteen sounds tonight. Bruce is admittedly not the greatest SINGER, but his vocals tonight are particularly good. And he’s smiling a lot!

“Independence Day” – “Father and sons, fathers and sons,” Springsteen began. SO many of Springsteen’s songs were influenced by his relationship with his father.

When he was inducted in the Rocks and Roll Hall of Fame, Springsteen thanked his parents, and said of his father, “I’ve got to thank him, because, what would I conceivably have written about without him? I mean, imagine if everything had gone great between us, it would have been a disaster, you know?”

It is a fact that Springsteen’s complicated relationship with his father runs through much of his earlier music.

I liked the way Springsteen introduced the song, explaining it’s a song about realizing your parents had their own dreams, dreams that didn’t come true as they made compromises and felt the walls closing in, a song around a kitchen table with two people struggling to understand one another.

And this was Bruce and Doug Springsteen — when Bruce was a  teen, his father would often wait up for him and ask him to sit down at the kitchen table to ask what he was doing with his life.

The stage was darkened, spotlight on Bruce. I love this song and Springsteen nailed it. “All boys must run away, come Independence Day.”

Every guy can identify with this song. And I realized tonight that the line, “Everything we’ve known will just be swept away…” can also be a metaphor for childhood – it gets swept away as you become an adult – and that idea dovetails with the theme of this album.

I have only seen this one live once – 2009 Mansfield – so it was great to have the opportunity to experience it again. I identify so much with this song and my relationship with my own dad.

“Hungry Heart” – Having the crowd singing the first verse NEVER gets old, and Springsteen is on the move, smiling happily, walking between the two sections of the GA Floor pit, shaking hands, reaching out, singing some of the song with a young girl (adorable!) and then – CROWD surfing! He just gestures to the crowd and falls into their arms! Talk about trusting! And he keeps singing as they bring him back to the stage with a hand from Jake!

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(And I always think it would be hilarious if Springsteen suddenly yelled, “Hey, my wallet! Give it back!”)

“Out in the Street” – I can still remembered – vividly — Springsteen playing this at my first show back in BITUSA in the Meadowlands in 1985 and the crowd’s happy reaction. I like the touch he’s added since the 1999 tour with each member of the band adding their own solo of “meet me out in the street” and the crowd supplied, “Uh, oh, uh, oh, yeah, yeah yeah!”

“Crush On You” – Never seen it live; the song was performed well but it’s never been a favorite for me; I’ve always considered this one a throwaway, but the crowd knew every word and was really into it. And Springsteen encouraged the crowd to complete the lyrics to each riff, (i.e. Bruce: “She makes the Venus de Milo…” / Crowd: “Look like she’s got no style!” / Bruce: “She makes Sheena of the Jungle…” / Crowd: “Look meek and mild!” COOL!

“You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)” Speaking only for myself, have seen this one at lot of Springsteen shows and always thought of this as just a cute song, another throwaway. But great interplay between Steve and Bruce on this one. I like that Steve added, “Don’t even LOOK!”

“I Wanna Marry You” – Springsteen says he wrote the song as a daydream of standing on the corner and you see someone walk by that you’ll never meet — imagining an entire life with her —the perfect one, the kids, the house, the bliss – the life without all the consequences. The dream life that doesn’t exist. LOVED how Springsteen encouraged the young people to ask the older folks in the audience about that – they might have some insight into this.

Yeah, we do!

I’ve only seen this live once before, Devils in the Dust 2005. I also liked the “Here she comes” riff before the song began – reminded me of Bruce talking to Clarence on the “park bench” during the TOL tour when they reminised about their youth and watching the girls walk by.

“The River” – And the crowd goes insane. Such a powerful song, so meaningful, so sad. People around me singing every word. Patti sang with her husband on this one — It’s funny to think she wasn’t part of the band when this song was first recorded – her vocals add so much these days. And she looks beautiful.

“Point Blank” – So funny story, here’s one of my favorite songs from “The River,” seen live only once (2009 Boston) and the usher comes up and explains I’m in the wrong section – I’m supposed to be in 303, I’m four sections up in 330. Still nosebleed minus five, a little further from the stage. The usher was very kind as I sheepishly explained that I must have had a dyslexic moment reading the number! But c’mon universe, I’ve seen “Point Blank” live ONCE! Couldn’t this move have waited until something I’ve seen a million times like Badlands? Thank God someone upload it to YouTube! Watching (later, on YouTube) what I missed as I changed seats, I like how Springsteen is almost whispering the words – he’s just standing there, shaking his head, “No,” and SPEAKING the words, almost conversationally. A song of accusation and betrayal – not played a lot but I love this one.

“Cadillac Ranch” – Time to party again! “Let me hear you scream!” Springsteen yells and the party lights start flashing! Springsteen’s guitar playing has been great all night and his playing on this one is particularly good. And Soozie Tyrell’s fiddle adds a new dimension this song. It’s hard to imagine a time before “Sister” Soozie was not part of E Street!

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“I’m a Rocker” (never seen this one live) and Springsteen is back in the crowd, walking between the Floor Pit area, all smiles. And we slow down for…

“Fade Away,” and “Stolen Car.” Another two songs I have never seen live so my attention was RAPT. Not so much the crowd; the hardcore fans were into it but as I read on Backstreets.com you can tell the more casual fans because they don’t know these songs and they start chatting or texting. It’s too bad; they’re missing something unique. (Springsteen mentioned that “Fade Away” is Steve’s favorite song on his favorite album!)

“Stolen Car” was particularly poignant. Can’t wait for Springsteen to release the download of the show so I can hear this again.

(By the way, think you Bruce Springsteen for releasing full MP3s of your shows for only $10. It is VERY appreciated.)

Springsteen said he worked on this one many times before he felt he got it right (there are several versions of this song on bootlegs and even on “Tracks.”

Nice harmonies from the band on this one.

He said it’s a song about, “If you lose your connection/love, do you lose yourself?”

I don’t know why this song speaks to me so much, but I can recall MANY times playing this one over and over again – something about that sadness, driving along, just wondering… feeling that aloneness, reminiscing and probably THINKING too much… Well, I’ve been there. I guess we all have.

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“Ramrod” – ROAD-HOUSE! One of my all-time favorite Springsteen songs EVER and LOVE it live! Interesting that Springsteen stood pretty still as he sang this one while Nils and Steve were moving around. Jake sounding amazing and Charlie and Roy’s keyboards crystal clear. Patti and Soozie next to each other playing guitar in tandem. Cool! Springsteen’s guitar scorching and was that a try at moonwalking? And this was cute – “It’s booty shaking time!” and the band shakes their asses.

Next up, three more I have never seen live starting with, “The Price You Pay” – absolutely perfect and a personal favorite. Soozie, Nils, Steve and Patti all on guitar as Bruce stands there playing his; his eyes closed for much of the song, Steve’s vocals in the back making the song even more beautiful. Love the lyrics, love the song, AWESOME to see it live!

“Drive all Night” — As I sat for “Drive all Night,” the twenty-something kid behind me says, “Don’t sit down! It’s “Drive All Night!” I was surprised that someone half my age not only knew all the words to these two obscure tracks but loved them! We joked that we seemed to some of the only people present who knew the words! Again, the more casual fans are chatting (it’s MUCH more noticeable now) and probably going to get a beer. That’s cool; some of Springsteen’s earlier material is not for everyone.

Bruce drew this one out beautifully at over 10 minutes, repeating some verses and letting Jake do his thing.

Also, I never noticed but “Drive all night” reminds me a bit of the end of Jungleland – maybe it’s the sax. Despite the goofy “Drive all night to buy you some shoes” this song is underrated and a touching love letter. The guy in the story is pledging his love for this girl and will do ANYTHING for her – heart and soul. Chills!

“Wreck on the Highway” — The final “never seen it live” on the set list for me. Haunting. Just beautiful. (I’ve heard this song a thousand times and only just noticed how clever the name of the hospital in the song is: “River side.”)

I recall reading years ago (it may have been in Dave Marsh’s book, “Glory Days”) that the man in this song sees HIMSELF in the wreck on the highway, or sees his future or possible future. (“There was nobody there but me.”) I’ll need to read that again – but “The River” ends on a somber note, a man who has seen a car wreck, seen another man die in that wreck, and goes home to hold his love a little tighter while he keeps thinking about what he has seen.

I’d like to ask Springsteen about that – why end the album with this one? After all those road trips, all those people in all those cars, across so many albums, why end with a car crash, a young man thinking, ‘That could have been me?”

So layered, Springsteen’s music is!

Speaking like Yoda, I now am. Strange that is. Stop speaking like Yoda, I will now do.

As the final song wound down, Springsteen said, “Well the subtext of “The River” was time. Time slipping away, and how, once you enter your adult life, the clock starts ticking, and you realize you have a limited amount of time. To do your work, or raise your family, to try to do something good.” The audience applauded and Springsteen ended the set with, ‘That’s “The River”

Onto the rest of the show! This is where each night of this tour has its mystery – what will Springsteen bring out?

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“Roulette” — “This is the first song we cut for “The River.” Never made it onto “The River,” but it should have,” Springsteen said. I disagree; while “Roulette” is a great song (written about the Three Mile Island incident as I recall) it doesn’t fit the narrative flow of “The River” at all, at least in my opinion. I don’t see anywhere where it would have fit, unlike “Meet me in the city,” which would go nicely. Might have been one of Springsteen’s first real “political” songs too – the song tackles nuclear planet accidents, martial law, losing everything, being jailed unjustly… Still a great song though. And ferocious guitar by the Boss!

“Prove It All Night” — No eight minute intro but a smash cut right into this amazing favorite! Crowd is on their feet and Jake nails the sax and the crowd is singing every word. Soozie, Nils, Steve, Patti, Garry all on guitar – sounds incredible. And another instance of “Close your eyes when Jake plays the Sax and tell me that’s not Clarence!”

And IN-CRED-IBLE guitar work by Springsteen again. Also like how everyone looked to Max for the drum finale.

“She’s the One” — I admit it, I am SCREAMING “YEAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH” now and literally jumping up and down. And the crowd goes insane — The Garden just erupted when this one started. The crowd knows all the words and everyone is totally into it. This song really highlights the entire band – Max’s drums pounding like a booming heartbeat, keyboards (organ in this case), guitar, and Jake’s sax; IN-CRED-IBLE

“Candy’s Room” – Crowd is still the afterglow of “She’s the One” and the cymbals start – Candy’s room! The momentum feels incredible, the song kicks ass as always, and builds to…

“Because the Night” – Don’t think I’ve ever seen this one live either. This one surprised me because it starts quietly and the just exploded. Patti hands off her guitar and picks up a tambourine. Nils, Patti and Steve join Bruce on vocals. Patti added a lot here and I love it when it’s just Patti and Bruce on the mic. And nearly three minute guitar solo by Nils was amazing to watch – he was on fire as he played., more and more into it, the roar of the crowd louder and louder, and then started spinning around!

“Human Touch” – beautiful. I remember when the song debuted back in 1991 and I fell in love with it. I’m amazed to think that Springsteen’s oldest son was an infant when this song was recorded. This has always been a personal favorite. Patti’s vocals on this (as always) were particularly good.

This song is very much like “Tougher than the Rest” – when Bruce and Patti sing it together, the chemistry is tangible – Another song so enhanced by her singing. And her interaction on the stage with Bruce seems to show me that the pair – after 25+ years married and three children together – are still so very much in love.

And it’s great to hear the E Street Band play this one. Love the original with the session musicians, but E Street is family.

Also noticed how often Soozie plays the guitar on many songs – for some reason I always see her with the violin but she is a hell of a guitar player.

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“The Rising” – Another anthem; never get tired of hearing this one – the words, the music, so POWERFUL. Soozie’s violin on this one are amazing and the lyrics give me chills. I remember years ago in the Meadowlands my friend David had invited me to one of the “Rising” shows and during this song I looked over as Springsteen was singing about “Holy pictures of our children” and there was David, eyes closed, hand on his heart – and I’ve known him long enough I knew the words were resonating in his soul as he thought of his own amazing kids.

“Thunder Road” – the harmonica chords start and the crowd sings the entire first verse! A die-hard’s favorite. Springsteen a little subdued as he sings it, walking around a bit, and then the guitar, then the sax, and it’s as awesome as always.

“Badlands” – Interesting change here — Springsteen usually has the crowd sing the “Ohh, ohhh” part a LOT longer, getting them more and more revved up, pretending he’s not satisfied with the noise level. Didn’t happen tonight, crowd did one round of the “ohhs” and right back to the song.

“Born to Run” – House lights up and will stay up for the rest of the show.

“Dancing in the Dark” – Really endearing moment as Springsteen invites a little girl up on the stage to dance – she seems a little shy so he starts dancing, she joins in, and then he gives her a twirl and scoops her up in his arms and carries her back to her family – really sweet!

“Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)” – I’m glad Rosie is back. The song is just FUN! Also nice to see that I am not seeing the usual mass exodus of people trying to beat the crowd as the shows nears closing. I hate it when I see people leaving a concert early – you paid so much money and wanted to see the show – why leave early? Didn’t seem to be the case tonight with everyone on their feet, into the song!

And as Jake, Nils, Steve, Bruce, Patti and Soozie come really close to the edge of the stage to play to the people in the front of the pit, I note that as they take walk back Patti and Soozie whisper something to each other, I always wondered, what are they saying?

“Shout” – band intros near the end of the song, and wait, is that Peter Wolf on the stage? Yep! Are we going to get an encore of “Dirty Water?” Nope, but Springsteen introduced Peter and it was great seeing him dance along with the band to “Shout,” which as I understand it was one of Springsteen’s signature closing songs back in the day.

And after three hours and 15 minutes, another Earth-shaking concert is in the books.

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WOW! I’m just standing there, once again in awe. Admittedly, little more sore than usual from singing and jumping all around than a decade or two or three ago! That journey into adulthood also comes with aches and pains never mentioned on “The River,” ha ha!

So how do I sum it all up? Another powerhouse Springsteen three-hour-plus concert, PERFECT sound throughout, an entire beloved album played in FULL, some surprises in the later set, saw a half dozen beloved songs LIVE for the first time, and got to witness my hero once again give beyond his all as he and the E Street Band knocked another one out of the GAH-DEN.

Thank you Bruce Springsteen and the E Street band for another phenomenal night. I am so very grateful I had the opportunity to go.

And here’s hoping Springsteen will add some summer dates in North America in 2016 and come back east – would love to see this one again! And again!

Love ya Bruce!

Set list: / Meet Me in the City / The Ties That Bind / Sherry Darling / Jackson Cage / Two Hearts / Independence Day / Hungry Heart / Out in the Street / Crush On You / You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch) / I Wanna Marry You / “The River” / Point Blank / Cadillac Ranch / I’m a Rocker / Fade Away / Stolen Car / Ramrod / The Price You Pay / Drive All Night / Wreck on the Highway / Roulette / Prove It All Night / She’s the One / Candy’s Room / Because the Night / Human Touch / The Rising / Thunder Road / * * * / Badlands / Born to Run / Dancing in the Dark / Rosalita (Come Out Tonight) / Shout

 

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DISCLAIMER: Unless noted that Robert Gillis took the photo of Bruce Springsteen / the E Street Band, all images of Bruce Springsteen, The E Street Band and Bruce Springsteen related images used in this post remain the property of their original copyright holders and are used here for commentary / illustrative / entertainment purposes only, under what is believed to be fair use guidelines, and absolutely no copyright infringement is intended. .