By Robert Gillis, 4/2012
The eponymous track of Bruce Springsteen’s new CD, “Wrecking Ball,” was written a few years back in response to the demolition of the old Giants Stadium right next door here in the Meadowlands. It’s a great song; although the line about, “The Giants played the game” got some good-natured boos here in New England.
It was there at the Old Giants Stadium, in 1985, that my best friend David told me his fiancée (now wife) had invited us to her parents place in New Jersey to see Bruce Springsteen for the first time.
That “Born in the USA” show, close to four hours long as memories serves, blew me away and cemented me at a Springsteen fan for life. I couldn’t believe I’d never really heard of this guy and quickly bought every tape that Springsteen had released. By the time “Tunnel of Love” was released two years later, I was — and remain — a hardcore Bruce fan. And more often than not, when David and I went out back then, Springsteen was playing in the car.
I’ve been back to the Meadowlands with David and his wife several times to see New Jersey’s local hero, and it was somehow fitting that my 25th Springsteen show would return me to right next to where it all started, as they invited me to Jersey this past week to see Bruce at the Izod Center, next to the site of the old and new Giants Stadium.
Over the years, things have changed; we’re all adults and my friends have kids of their own, one of them making her first appearance at a Boss show. David and I wear glasses at concerts now (!) (Well, I’ve been doing that for years) but the enthusiasm and love we have for Springsteen and his music, which can border on insanity — has never wavered.
We’re on the far side of arena but again, it does not matter — to be there in any seat is a privilege.
In the rafters, where the championship banners would usually hang, was a banner reading, “Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band 60 Sell-outs Meadowlands” Very cool! Did not know that!
The house lights went down, the crowd went crazy, and cell phone lights lit up the arena. (There are thankfully far fewer smokers these days, but God, I miss the thousands of cigarette lighters at concerts — there was something magical about the starfield of tiny flames that a cell phone just doesn’t have).
“New Jersey! Get your lazy asses out of those chairs! Are you ready for the romp in the swamp, part 2? Let’s have a thunderous New Jersey welcome for Bruce Springsteen and the legendary E Street Band!” – Springsteen’s intro.
01. We Take Care of Our Own — To me, it was obvious that Bruce seemed a little more energized and playful, a little looser, than last week in Boston. He’s already working the crowd and shaking hands. It all makes sense — first, he’s back home In Jersey, where he is rightly worshipped as royalty. Second, with a number of WB shows under their belt, the kinks have been worked out and it shows. Springsteen seemed incredibly animated this evening (even Backstreets.com said this was the better of the two Jersey shows) and Springsteen REALLY involved Nils, Steve, Jake, Roy and the rest of the 17 piece band all night — something I thought was missing a bit in Boston. And I LOVE, LOVE this song.
02. Wrecking Ball: Okay, we’re right next to Giants Stadium, but Boston-born and raised David and I still exchanged a look and added our “Boos” at the line about “the Giants played the game.” We were clearly outnumbered so we kept in down! Wrecking Ball IS a great song; we’ve all seen our favorite places torn down, but the song is about so much more than that. Soozie’s violins are awesome in this song.
03. The Ties That Bind [Wrecking Ball Tour Premiere] — “The River” was well represented this evening including this tour premiere. And while the importance of Clarence’s saxophone to Springsteen’s music was hardly ever a secret, it’s songs like this that emphasize what a difference the late Big Man made to Springsteen’s vision. Jake Clemmons, the heir apparent to mantle of the Big Man, makes his uncle proud, and I caught many instances (on the diamond vision screens) where Springsteen was watching Jake with a look of approval. To me, (and I’ve never met the man) the look on Springsteen’s face is still one of sadness that Clarence is gone, but there were many times when I could see that Bruce was sort of thinking, “It’s going to be all right. Jake is here. The Clemmons Sax will go on.” It was very touching. Bruce was beaming and threw a joyous punch into the air.
04. Death to My Hometown — Gets better with every listen. We’re close enough to New York City that I’m sure some of those bankers and “robber barons” are in the audience, but this song, written in 2009 and long before the “Occupy” movement is powerful and perfectly timed. I also like the nods to Springsteen’s Irish heritage throughout, and was amused to see Springsteen doing a little jig.
I was also happy that Springsteen is focusing on the new “Wrecking Ball” album. I would argue “Rising” and ‘Magic” set the bar so very high that “Working on a Dream” couldn’t help but disappoint a bit, and perhaps that’s why the “Working on a Dream” tour became the “fan request” tour, playing requests and not emphasizing “Working on a Dream” — which was incredibly enjoyable and fun. And sure, “Wrecking Ball’s angry songs about America 2012 could have been a turn-off to fans — but this tour Springsteen is standing by the new album and each song from “Wrecking Ball” seems to be very well received.
05. My City of Ruins — “Hello out there! How’ve you been? We missed you! We missed this! We’re so glad to back in the swampy meadowlands where we opened this building 30 years ago. You remember that. When they named it a human being then…” [Brendan Byrne Arena]” … “I’m not kidding ya, now it’s named after a shirt. Times change. But some things remain the same. And tonight we’re here with you with old friends and with new friends. And I look into the crowd and I see old faces and young faces. And we got a story to tell ya… We’re here to bring the joyful power of music, shoot it straight into your heart! We’re here tonight to bring you the news with a beat, and a beat and a beat! We’re here to send you home with your feet hurting and your back hurting and your sexual organs stimulated! Says so right on the ticket!” Crowd goes crazy.
Halfway into the song, same as Boston with a “Roll Call,” and introduces everyone, including the horns session. When Springsteen introduced Patti and she sang the riff from “Land of Hope and Dreams,” I thought how pretty she looks. And there are still those looks between Patti and Bruce that tell me they have been through a lot, and are still so very much in love.
And then, “Well are we missing anybody?” and then. “Do I have to say the names?”
No, he didn’t. We felt the loss of our absent friends.
06. Candy’s Room [Wrecking Ball Tour Premiere] — God, I love this one!
07. Johnny 99 [Wrecking Ball Tour Premiere] – Unlike the acoustic and “audible” from previous tours, this was a rollicking, balls-to-the wall dance party. It was stunning how good a song about murderer who gets 99 years and sent to death row can be!
“We’ve been waiting to do that,” Bruce said when the song was done, “We’ve been waiting to bust that out!”
08. Jack of All Trades – Springsteen talked about while we’re having fun in here, people outside are having hard times, losing jobs, retirement funds, and homes. And I loved how Springsteen mentioned that the, “folks at the top and rich guitar players get a free pass.” But unlike those bankers and thieves, this particular “rich guitar player” has always given back. Although he is quiet about it, his charitable works are very well known. For example, years ago Springsteen bought a brand-new $100,000 fire truck as a gift to the people of Freehold, where he lived for years. The truck was named “Born to Run,” by the firefighters.
Unfortunately, “Jack of all trades” was demonstrably the “go get a beer, go to the bathroom” song of the evening as the aisles became crowded with people filing to the concourse. Springsteen gets preachy, get a beer, I guess. I do like this one a lot and am glad Springsteen is featuring the new album. Seven songs from “Wrecking Ball” tonight.
Still sort of creeped out by how enthusiastically people cheer about the “shoot em all dead” line.
09. Jackson Cage — Still feel this one just doesn’t fit; there are so many other great tunes on the “River.” One incredibly amusing moment here: A few seats up, there’s ONE GUY dancing to this. I’m looking around, a lot of people standing, but no one else dancing. And this one guy is doing the “White Guy Dance.” It was very funny, made more so by David’s quip that the guy had been waiting all his life to hear this one live.
10. She’s the One – Now I’M on my feet doing the White Guy dance because this classic brings out the insanity in the crowd, and most guys know of at least one female that was trouble but fell for her and followed anyway before we had to run! Another powerhouse by Jake, Max outdoing himself, and God, God, I LOVE it when Springsteen plays harmonica! (I recall a previous tour where Springsteen was playing harmonica and then handed it to a fan in the front row!) A meltdown performance!
11. Easy Money — I read on a Springsteen blog that someone said this song reminds him of the Revolutionary War and I laugh because I always think “Yankee Doodle Dandy” type music when I hear this one. Bruce doing a jig again.
12. Waiting’ on a Sunny Day – I have to say again that despite the song being something of a throwaway on the Rising, I have grown to LOVE this song in concert. It is just so much fun, and it is very much a crowd favorite. And at 62, Springsteen is still bashing his knees each night doing his slide.
Springsteen is walking around the stage, pointing to people and shouting “You the man!” Then the most amazing “guest” singers: The two little girls who sang the song were brought up on stage with Bruce encouraging them, getting a huge response from the audience. As they finished their part of the song, they added in unison: “C’mon, E Street Band!”
And when they turned to rush back and grip Bruce in a bear hug, everyone in the audience felt it, it was an “Awwwww” moment and you’d have to not have a heart not to get lump in your throat.
13. The Promised Land – Another definitive Springsteen for me; LOVED the harmonica. People says it’s overplayed, I don’t agree. And Jake killed the sax again!
14. Racing in the Street – YES! The classic from Darkness with the gorgeous piano playing by Roy, and Gary and Max bringing it up. The emphasis on the keyboard was very powerful. Springsteen and the E Street Band at their best.
15. Apollo Medley (The way you do the things you do / 634-5789) – As he did a few nights before, Springsteen went into the audience during “634-5789,” where he hilariously and sloppily chugged a beer before crowd surfing back to the stage. (I overheard someone say that no doubt after the show, Patti tells her husband, “You are so changing that shirt before we get into the car!”)
I would agree with what Tris McCall of the Jersey Star Leger said in her review: “Fans adored these gestures, suggesting again that the robust, joyful Springsteen is generally preferred to the one who animates the stories of the weak and downtrodden.”
And I must say she is right — I’ve seen Bruce acoustic, I’ve seen him with other bands, but NOTHING beats Springsteen when he’s happy, into the crowd, playing with the band, flirting with his wife, being goofy — that’s the kind of show I love best. Springsteen can be deadly serious — TOO serious sometimes. And I think his shows work best when he can just get out there and have fun (and still get the messages in).
Also loved the obvious respect Bruce has for his influences and predecessors. And I think it’s important to him to remind people who these musicians were and keep their music alive for the next generation.
16. The Rising — Very well received; and gave me chills; I think to myself that we’re less than 15 miles from Ground Zero and the horrors of 9/11. The Rising is one of the true “goose bumps” Springsteen songs for me, from Wheels of Fire and images of the firefighters, but there’s also so much hope that the song becomes powerful in its joy of living: “May I feel you in my arms tonight, dream of love.”
17. We Are Alive — “Wrecking Ball” tune and just not a favorite (yet); bathroom break!
18. Thunder Road — I am amazed at my age that I can still get lost at a concert so I made my way back to my friends, scanning the crowd, so enthusiastically into the song. Another powerhouse by Jake.
19. Trapped. Crowd is officially bonkers! Meltdown! The Jimmy Cliff penned song which Bruce performed and donated to the “We are the World” album back in 85 has always been a favorite of most fans. (In fact, my handmade request sign at the Mansfield show a few years back was for Trapped, which Springsteen played that night.
Trapped is just an incredible power song on the “must have” list for any Springsteen fan.
20. Rocky Ground (with Michelle Moore) – For the first time in the tour, “Rocky Ground” was bumped to second encore.
“It’s nice to be home,” Springsteen says in introduction.
Then there were a lot of dedications preceding this song; the first was to the Community Food Bank of New Jersey. I remember Springsteen talking about food banks when I saw him in the 80s. What a guy!
Then, Springsteen wished his good friends Ricky and Mary Anne a happy 30th anniversary. Apparently they are his children’s godparents and uncles and have played a key role in helping to take care of them when Springsteen was on the road. Springsteen also tenderly thanked Patti for all she’s done and sacrificed over the years so the show could go on, staying home many times to, “keep the house from burning down.” Patti’s looks at her husband were genuine love and affection, mixed with that look of shared adventures and battle scars that only a married couple understand. It was incredibly moving, and the Springsteen’s still look at each other like they are still very much in love.
I try very hard not to be a fan boy and what the Springsteens’ private life is like is not interesting to me (I’m not a tabloid guy) but I want them to be happy, if only for all the happiness they have brought me.
Back to the song… Michelle Moore is beautiful and brings lot to the song. The performance was magnificent but I am just not a fan of the rap. David had a different take that caught me by surprise; he said that he likes the rap part, and that he sees at as Springsteen saying he’s not deaf to today’s music. I guess I can see that but the rap just distracts me a bit — and I like rap.
21. Ramrod – Reminder to send email: “To: David, From: Bobby, very sorry I blew out your eardrum during Ramrod. “For me, Ramrod is MY Springsteen PARTY song, and I could have a 105 temperatures and I’d still be dancing to this one. AWESOME!
Jake, you must be tested,” Springsteen yelled before “Ramrod.” Once again, Jake passed with flying colors.
22. Born to Run — Aw, screw what I said about BTR in the Boston review. How can you not enjoy it? It’s an old favorite, and we’re in Jersey — how can he not play it?
23. Dancing in the Dark — As any Bruce tramp knows (or if you’ve seen the video, and who hasn’t) Springsteen traditionally brings a girl onto the stage to dance with him in this song. The young teen he brought up this evening was awestruck and words cannot describe the joy we saw on her face. She danced; Bruce spun her around, and then carried her back into the crowd where I thought she would explode from joy. The crowd was officially over the top crazy!
24. Tenth Avenue Freeze-out – New this evening, during the “freeze” after “Big Man joined the band,” as the crowd applauds and cheers for minutes, is a very touching video montage of Clarence Clemmons, both images and video.
Bruce steps out to watch it with the crowd. It was very moving.
This time just had so much more meaning with the pictures of Clarence shown.
And then, the cheers, the stomping, the applause, Springsteen yelling out, “See you in New York” and nearly three hours had passed like lightning.
As we made our way back to the car, I was struck, yet again, how a friendship formed over three decades ago in high school endures so well. Catching up with David and his family — and the chance to go to a Springsteen show with them — is such a joy, and I am once again so grateful to them, not only for their generosity and hospitality, but also for the genuine love I feel from my dear friends.
We’re all older now, and dealing with our adult issues, work, life, family, and doing our best for the kids in our lives. But some things never change — the love I have for this family is one of them.
To steal a Springsteen line, David and I are indeed, “Blood Brothers,” and as we drove into the Jersey night, I was feeling very content. For the moment, all was right with the world, and once again Bruce Springsteen had brought true joy into my life.