The following is a Guest Post by Brad Risinger, reporting on last night’s Bruce Springsteen concert in Greensboro, North Carolina:
“Old friends,” the late Harry Chapin wrote, are special because “they see where you are, and they know where you’ve been.” The Wrecking Ball version of the E Street Band, even on night two of its tour, has figured out that old, and new, suit them just fine. Bruce Springsteen fondly recalled departed friends Clarence Clemons and Danny Federici for the Greensboro crowd: “If you’re here, and we’re here, then they’re here.” And then Jake Clemons, Clarence’s nephew, belted out the Big Man’s solos on “Promised Land” and “Thunder Road” with a fresh, charismatic vibe and style that are likely to make him a break-out rookie on E Street.
The Wrecking Ball songs are tightly interwoven into Springsteen’s catalog, and it is much more apparent when played live in a big place with a full band. “Jack of all Trades” recalls the Darkness and Tom Joad records, with a weary resilience that underlines despair with an unshakable hope. But the cathartic beat and lilt that is so resonant in the Seeger Sessions material is there, too, particularly in “Shackled and Drawn.” Springsteen noted that “My City of Ruins” from the post-9/11 The Rising album, was penned before Occupy Wall Street. Yet the song fits thematically with the new material and book-ends nicely in the show with the renewal of “The Rising.”
There is a healthy hit of Wrecking Ball in the show, with nine of the thirteen songs from the new CD making the cut in Greensboro, enhanced by the terrific horn section that Jake Clemons helms. Still, the shows in this early part of the tour span the Band’s decades. Springsteen dusted off “The E Street Shuffle” and “Rosalita” and the Band infused them with a raucous party vibe that’s a full, rich sound that at first you attribute to just the horns until it becomes apparent how much this E Street iteration feeds on and enjoys each other. “Thunder Road” got a tender opening with Springsteen and longtime keyboardist Roy Bittan alone; “Because The Night” rumbled, looking for trouble; and “Born to Run” was a lights-on, full-speed celebration.
“Seeds,” the 80s tale of a family searching the Southwest for work, and for hope, seemed the perfect bridge between E Street eras. It is a well-known song because of its appearance on the 75-85 Live compilation, but it has a resonant fit with Springsteen’s take on a new generation of American workers betrayed by corporate misdeed and greed. “How many times can you get up after you’ve been hit?” sounded resigned in the mid-80s. But here, paired with the anger of “Death to My Hometown,” “Seeds” gets a revived punch and meaning. The “Seeds” guitar work sounds as if the frequent guest shots of Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello have rubbed off. Springsteen’s playing was electric, and Nils Lofgren’s wild accompaniment was only overshadowed by his even-wilder frayed jacket. Fans still buzz about Morello’s influence on live versions of “The Ghost of Tom Joad,” and it will be fun to be in the audience on the occasional nights when he appears to shred through the Wrecking Ball material as he did with the Band on the recent Jimmy Fallon appearances.
Springsteen promised a “whoop-ass session on the recession” early in the show, and the Wrecking Ball material stands firm with the E Street premise that it does matter whether Americans care about something beyond their own backyard. “We Take Care of Our Own” may get political play in the upcoming election — a topic in the air, but not discussed in Greensboro — but its message is clear: Whatever the politicians do, the work of building and nurturing a country gets done by the people, and for the people.
“We’ve been traveling over rocky ground,” Springsteen sang in a highly charged duet with Patti Scialfa collaborator Michelle Moore, but “there’s a new day coming.” In Greensboro, the “new day” included an elementary school daily double with a young boy’s chorus on “Waiting On a Sunny Day” and a stunned little girl’s impressive moves on “Dancing in the Dark.” And thank goodness that the “old day” was there too, movingly marked by a thunderous “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” ovation for Clarence when “the Big Man joined the band.”
What’s your impression of the shows so far in the new tour? Leave your two cents in the comments.
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