Having seen Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band many times since 1999, I knew the blue print for what I was going to see at The Times Union Center in Albany. Bruce, Steve Van Zandt, and Nils Lofgren would all crowd around the mic for some choruses and trade guitar licks, Max Weinberg would pound the drums relentlessly, Gary W Talent would stick to the background playing the bass, and Roy Bittan’s hands would fly all over the piano. With the recent deaths of Danny Federici and Clarence Clemons, Charlie Giordano and Jake Clemons have had some big shoes to fill, but they’ve done a great job and Soozie Tyrell fills in the gaps to make sure the sound is as powerful as can be. I was at the Madison Square Garden show in 2009 where The River was performed in full for the only time until this tour was announced. It was an amazing show, but this tour has the band perfecting the album for the live setting, whereas the other show was a one night only special performance. While I’m sure in 2009 the band worked their ass off to get ready for that show, this time around they are doing it every night and it’s a beautiful piece of work.
Mugging for the crowd as they come on to the stage, Bruce and The E Street Band whipped them into a frenzy with “Meet Me in the City Tonight.” It’s a great opener that has the crowd, who were already on their feet, dancing and singing wildly as if there is nothing else in the world happening at that moment. The song is an outtake that could have been on anyone else’s album, and the lead single at that, but Bruce is a perfectionist and 35 years ago he deemed it not ready for the masses to hear. After the song finished, Bruce made a lengthy speech about what The River meant to him then and now. With the rest of the stage dark, all eyes and ears were focused directly on Springsteen as he got the crowd ready to go down to the river. He’s always been a great storyteller and all his stories are personal, but this seemed different. The whole night was full of reflection and the moment the album started, nostalgia and storytelling would be the big winner the rest of the night.
The River is a Springsteen album, but Steven Van Zandt had a lot to do with it and throughout the show he was engaged in a way that he hasn’t shown in a long time. When the album was made, he was a co-producer and his imprint is all over the place on the record. On this tour his imprint is also over the live showing of the album between his fiery guitar playing and his harmonizing with Bruce. Steven is definitely enjoying this go around and it’s great for the fans to watch him go all night long. Another welcome for this tour is hearing all the lost rock and roll tunes he doesn’t normally play all in the same show such as “I’m a Rocker,” “Cadillac Ranch,” “Ramrod,” and “Crush on You.” To flip from that to “Point Blank,” “I Wanna Mary You” and “Stolen Car,” shows how talented this band was 35 years ago and today. For one band to be able to move across the spectrum that quickly, especially in a live setting is just pure musicianship. Of course the slower songs of the album may lose parts of the crowd, but Albany was quite attentive, and better than other crowds on this tour from the talk of other concert goers.
During “Fade Away,” Bruce almost seemed to be pleading with both the crowd and himself about fading away, but one thing he doesn’t have to worry about is that happening. The age range at this concert went from 10 to 80, as most of his shows do, and one thing that The Boss will never have to worry about it fading away. The timelessness to his songs is something special to witness when the lights go up and roughly 20,000 people sing the lyrics to “Born To Run” in unison so loud it drowns the music out. It is amazing to watch Bruce and The E Street Band work their asses off harder than people half their age still proving themselves as if they were up and comers.
The title track was as gorgeous as always and the one two punch of “Drive All Night” and “Wreck on the Highway” to close out the album part of the show is stunning. As the last song began to fade out Bruce began to talk about time and how The River was a moment captured in time right on the precipice of adulthood and once you are an adult time moves quicker and there is less time to do the work you want to do, raise a family, do something good with the time you have left. Bruce’s words rang to an almost quiet arena and though it had the sense of goodbye it isn’t what The Boss meant. He has been going strong for over 40 years and shows no sign of slowing down, though time may be speeding up.
The rest of the show had true concert warhorses like “Badlands” and “Thunder Road,” crowd pleasers “Backstreets” and “Bobby Jean,” but it was the two rarities that made the concert special. Telling the crowd this was for his special friends, The River-era outtake “Be True,” Bruce acknowledged those who go to his shows to see more from the recent box set that came out celebrating the album. The next surprise was a sign plucked from the crowd that read “Detroit Medley” which is always a crowd pleaser and gave the evening the sense of spontaneity that his shows have been come to be known for. “Rosalita” let the band get silly and finally “Shout” brought the show to a close with Bruce declaring, as he did back in the day, that he is a “Prisoner of Rock and Roll.” Hopefully the prison that holds him and the band slows down time so we have them to see in concert for a long time to come.
Article: Bryan Lasky