I'm reminded this morning of U2's song "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For." I don't think Bono was thinking about Bruce Springsteen fans when he wrote that song and it's not the first thing that comes to mind for me but it is today.
People at a Bruce Springsteen show all come looking for something. For some, it's a good time or a good party. For some, it's for a sense of community. For some it's escape. I suspect for some it's babysitting (more on that later). For me, it's the songs. It's the music. I find something in the songs of Bruce Springsteen I don't find anywhere else. I come to a Springsteen show to hear those songs played and experience their power in a way that can't be experienced any other way. I come for the songs. Last night in St. Louis, I didn't get them.
Last night, The E Street Band performed the Born To Run album in its entirety. We knew that going in so there were no surprises there, but we'll talk about it for a moment. In a word, incredible. Yep, they nailed it. "Backstreets" was a transcendent performance and Bruce was able to summon a lot of the intensity such a powerful song requires. Clarence Clemons was almost note-perfect on "Jungleland" and that's important because that might be the greatest sax solo in the history of rock and roll. "Tenth Avenue Freeze Out" is always great. "Thunder Road" had some small tempo issues but was still good and "Born to Run" never disappoints. The Born To Run portion of the show was a massive success. Those are songs — some I've gotten before and some I haven't — and I got those and I treasure them.
There was, however, the show before and after and on that score this was the least imaginative setlist I've experienced in my 5 shows. Of the non-Born To Run songs, only one was a real surprise and let's go ahead and talk about that now. Someone made a beautiful sign with some fancy artwork. Its request: "Bruce Play Piano." He did. He gave us a solo acoustic "For You" and it was a wonderful reading that only made me yearn to see Bruce in a solo setting some day all the more.
"Seeds," a song that used to be played in the context of a Recession Trio, was sandwiched between a new song, "Wrecking Ball," and the venerable "Prove It All Night." Bruce peeled off an inspired guitar solo at the end of it. I liked the performance, but the #2 slot is one of the very few open slots in the set list and I was hoping he'd play something that hadn't been played at most of the shows on the tour, including the two I'd already seen. "Wrecking Ball" made a lot more sense for Philly and Jersey where Bruce was playing his final shows at venues he's played countless times. It's not a song that's going to stand tall in his catalog and just didn't have much resonance in St. Louis nor was it particularly memorable musically. "Prove It All Night" is a good one, but for some reason it didn't take flight. Nils did an abbreviated solo and it didn't have the fire Lofgren often generates. It was good, but I've heard it better.
After that, we got "Hungry Heart." I've never heard this one live and it's a big hit, so I was excited about that… until he played it. The crowd sang more of "Hungry Heart" than Bruce did. He had the audience sing the first verse and chorus. The E Street Band picked up a chorus as Bruce crowd-surfed. It was entertaining to watch him do it, but it wasn't a great presentation of the song. Some people would probably rather watch Bruce crowd-surf so they can dance and sing the songs themselves. I like hearing him sing. A little audience participation is fun. I wish he'd been more present.
After Born to Run was "Waiting On A Sunny Day." I'm not going to pile on this war crime of a song again but I'm going to point out a couple things. First, while I wish he wouldn't play it I've accepted this is the "Waiting On A Sunny Day" tour. I know it's coming. You just can't play that after "Jungleland." The transition from the one to the other is horrible and I'm not (just) referring to the stature gap. Put it somewhere else! Second, the kids are killing me. Rock and roll used to be dangerous. Parents used to not let their kids go to rock and roll shows. You know something is wrong when a rock show is a family event. Parents used to get babysitters. Now they pay $100 to bring the kids, too, and Uncle Bruce loves him some kids. Once again, he let some twerp sing "Sunny Day" and the kid had obviously been coached up by his parents to throw in the "come on's" and "hit it, Big Man." Yes, Mr. and Mrs. Aging Babyboomers, you are the coolest parents on E Street and we all hate you.