Last night brought my two-year journey with the E Street Band to an end. I began this road — well as a traveling fan — in April of 2008 in Atlanta, Georgia. Six shows later, I said goodbye to the E Street Band in Nashville, Tennessee last night. I don't know if last night was the end of the road for the E Street Band, but there is no denying that feeling was in the air and on the stage. Maybe they'll just take a break. That's what they've said and it might be true. They may not have even decided, but you can tell it has dawned on them they might be playing — including last night — their final three shows together.
It's been one hell of a ride, filled with highlights and lowlights. As a public service to the mouthbreathers and sycophants incapable or unwilling to understand the complex capabilities of the human mind to love something while simultaneously subjecting it to honest criticism, I'll save that for the end so your precious eyes can skip over it. It's the holiday season and I'm a giver. Let's get to it.
I want to begin with the Main Event of the night, Born to Run in its entirety. I saw them do it less than a month ago so while I was excited about this portion of the show, I had lowered my anticipation just slightly. Big mistake. It was phenomenal, and I was wrong to expect anything less. In my defense, I didn't think it was going to suck. I knew it wouldn't. I'd just seem them do it and the memories were fresh. It was as good as I remembered and, in some cases, better.
"Thunder Road" was played very well by the band. You might think this a given for a crack band playing a song they've played for 35 years. It's not always great. It was last night. Bruce rushed his delivery on the vocal and wasn't quite in sync, but it was still a thrilling rendition. My wife isn't a Nick Hornby type, so she doesn't run around with Top 5 and Top 10 lists for every musical moment but if she did, I know "Tenth Avenue Freeze Out" would be there for Springsteen songs. I've heard it at more shows than I haven't, but I love this song and it was performed with energy. I've seen Bruce hit the knee drop as the song begins with a little more intensity, but they've been on the road for three years and he's 60. That he can do it at all puts him miles in front of me.
The revelation for me on this night was "Night." I heard it for the first time in St. Louis and I was glad to finally get it. Last night's performance was much crisper than in St. Louis. It wasn't bad that night. It was just better in Nashville.
"Backstreets" deserves its own paragraph. Let me start with the unimportant: the St. Louis performance was probably slightly better, but only by a slim margin. I don't know if this anguished tale of friendship lost and betrayal is real or imagined, but it is authentic and visceral every time Springsteen sings it and it feels like it just happened yesterday. I have enjoyed the Springsteen shows I saw prior to hearing "Backstreets" these last two times, but I have to say it feels in one sense like you haven't seen the E Street Band until you've heard them do "Backstreets." There's something in that song that can only be found in that song. It had gravitational pull.
I'm not going to say much about "Born to Run" because, similar to "Thunder Road," there's not much left to be said. It is simply one of the great songs in rock and roll history and last night's performance was characteristically strong. I've heard "She's the One" performed at every show I've seen, and it's always great. The Atlanta performance from earlier this year is the definitive one for me, but these guys hit it every time. "Meeting Across The River" is probably my least favorite song on Born to Run, but the two live performances of it in the last month have helped it grow on me. Bruce had more control of the vocal in Nashville than St. Louis, and the scoped-down sound gave the song a jazzy sophistication.
Ah, "Jungleland." I've gone over 600 words already and I could spend 600 more words just talking about this song. I won't, but I could. I'm sure if I thought long and hard I could compile a list, but I'm ready to call it. Clarence Clemons' saxophone solo in "Jungleland" is the finest saxophone solo in the history of rock. That sweeping, stirring moment fills the arena and it has the power to stop space and time. Of all Springsteen's epics, "Jungleland" may well be his greatest.
So let's backtrack to the beginning of the show. I'll admit I was nervous when the first two songs in Nashville were identical to the first two songs in St. Louis, but he quickly took a hard left turn as he rolled out "Trapped." The only quibble I have with "Trapped" is that he's played it at three of the six shows I've attended but I know how rare that is. "Trapped" is a rarity for a huge swatch of Springsteen fans. I just happen to have pulled the "Trapped" card more than most. I enjoyed it and was thankful to see him shaking things up in the intro block that proceeds the full-album performance.
He wasn't done shaking things up. It never even dawned on me that he'd play "Something In The Night." I recognized that glorious, dramatic intro immediately and instantly started to lose my shit. I've never heard it before and I can't imagine it being much better. The performance was intense and warm.
The least surprising moments of the night were sign requests for "Santa Claus is Coming To Town" and "Ring of Fire" (I said they were unsurprising, I didn't say they were bad. I promise I'll warn you before I get to the complaints). "Santa" rocked and while it wasn't what I wanted, even my Grinch ass couldn't help but get carried away by the fun of it. "Ring of Fire" worked nicely because Curt Ramm was there to provide the trumpet. Bruce made sure he knew the riff before they launched into it. It was a bit ragged but they pulled it off.
The same holds true for "Two Hearts." I love it when Bruce and "Little" Steven Van Zandt ham it up on stage. My preferred song for this would have been "Ramrod," but I'd never heard "Two Hearts" live before and it was fun and he and Stevie were having a ball. "You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)" was more of the Bruce-n-Stevie show. Some may not find that as fun as I, but Stevie and I were enjoying ourselves.
*** PSA: It's now time for the airing of grievances. If you don't want to read it, please skip to the conclusion. ***
Let's quickly dispense with a couple repeated refrains. First, "Waiting On A Sunny Day" sucks. It's the retarded cousin of "Hungry Heart." It sucks and it sucks hard and hearing nervous little kids sing it off-key isn't charming, it's embarrassing. Get a lap, Bruce. Speaking of "Hungry Heart," it should be a highlight but it's not because Bruce crowdsurfs instead of singing it. It was cute the first few times, but crowdsurfing is cliche. Take a lap.
Three songs from The Rising are still getting played every night, and only one of them is a good one. "The Rising" is a great song that could stand to be occasionally rotated out of the lineup. "Lonesome Day" shouldn't be played half as often as it is. We've already covered "Sunny." To put it another way, he plays more songs from The Rising than he does from Magic and Working On A Dream combined. Kill "Lonesome Day" and bring back "Radio Nowhere."
Now it's time to talk about the sign requests. There are some audience members who better lace them up, because you're running with Bruce. Someone brought a sign — I shit you not — for "The Rising." I can count on one hand the number of times "The Rising" hasn't been played since it was released in 2002. Bringing a sign for that is like going to McDonalds and hoping they have Big Macs. You're an idiot. Get a lap. Someone down in the front row brought a sign for "My Hometown" and held it in plain view where Bruce might have actually seen it! I thought the Supreme Court said you can't yell "Fire!" in a crowded building, but that's what "My Hometown" is. Few songs send people to the beer lines faster than "My Hometown." It's a health hazard. Get a lap! My personal favorite was the sign for "Outlaw Pete," a song in the Bottom 10 of Springsteen's catalog. It took months, but even Bruce finally gave up on selling us on that one. That's a lap in Hell for you, buddy, and these are the signs he didn't play!
Now let's talk about the one he did. "Darlington County." Darlington nutcrunch County. It's a good thing I don't know who brought that sign, because one of us at least one of us would have gone to the ER and then I would have gone to jail. They would have needed a police escort. A lap? No. Just run. Run. Keep running until I say stop. Oh, and Bruce? You passed two signs for "Thundercrack" to pick one up for "Darlington County?" A kick in the crotch, is what. Add two more. Making matters worse, he brings up a half dozen women wearing glittery, pink cowboy hats to dance. It was like Nero playing the fiddle while Rome burned. I don't know which embarrassed me more: these women or the fuckin' kid. That is the fastest my ass has ever transitioned from an upright to a seated position in my life. Get a lap!
What makes "Darlington" even more hurtful is that he picked up a sign for "Pink Cadillac" and ignored it. Bruce, you have six women in sparkly pink hats and a pink sign for "Pink Cadillac." Do I have to draw the line for you? Judas Priest! That would have been a game-changer! As it was, I went 0-20 on my Top 20 list. There were some songs I'd never gotten before and some I quite enjoyed, but for the first time not a single song from my wish list went off the board. To get so close to one of the rarer songs on that list only to be served up "Darlington" is soul crushing.
What can I say about the encore? "No Surrender?" Not so much, because I give up. The fifth time in six shows for a song that would be marginal on a Bon Jovi greatest hits record. It's not one of Bruce's Top 50. It wasn't a single. I don't think it holds any particularly special meaning for the broader audience. When Marcus Allen complained to Raiders' owner Al Davis that he wasn't getting enough carries in games, Al told him he could carry the ball around the block. It gets even better, though, because he went right into "Bobby Jean." It was like one of those Bill Murray movies where he suddenly snaps and starts laughing maniacally. I am incapable of expressing just how exasperated, frustrated, and angry this 1-2 punch made me. My wife, like many of you, having heard 11 hold court on that particular song many times had tears of laughter streaming down her face. I was as close to speechless as I get. I should make him take a lap for each song, but the entertainment my wife got at our expense is worth something. One will do.
The encore is supposed to be the pinnacle of a show. Look at the encore and explain to me how this functions as a high point:
Ring of Fire
American Land (with Curt Ramm)
Dancing in the Dark
Rosalita (with Curt Ramm)
Higher and Higher (with Curt Ramm)
You have two covers. I know, I'm the only guy who wants Bruce Springsteen songs at a Bruce Springsteen show. I don't care. He doesn't have any songs of his own worth playing in an encore? Both were good — although "Higher and Higher" lasted about five minutes longer than it needed to — but that's going to cost him two laps. "American Land" is a song from an album that undersold Working On A Dream (the special edition of The Seeger Sessions). Michael Flatley wouldn't allow that song in a Riverdance revival. Take a lap. Two (bad) album cuts from Born In The U.S.A. aren't qualified for the main set, let alone the encore. I take back what I said earlier. That's another lap apiece. That leaves us with two legitimate encore-worthy songs: "Rosie" and "Dancing In The Dark." He's wrong for that.
*** PSA: Most sycophants and mouthbreathers will find the remainder of this article safe. ***
So where does that leave us? When you put it all on the scale — the good, the bad, the undefinable — the good outweighs the bad, and by a wide margin. There were hits, misses, surprises, and predictable warhorses sprinkled throughout the set. The band was energetic and sounded fantastic as they played some of the finest songs in the Springsteen catalog.
At different points throughout the night, there was a sense they were trying to tell us something without really saying it. I'm not suggesting this is the end of the road for them, but they seemed not to just be thanking fans for coming out last night but rather for coming out night after night, year after year. I came to the party late, but I went "all in" from the moment I arrived.
Sure, I had moments of frustration and flew into a blinding, all-consuming rage a time or two. The source of these sporadic tantrums is my eternal love for the music of Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band. I have friends who have been seeing these shows for years and I've heard the stories of legendary concerts and transcendent, life-changing experiences and I just wanted to touch the garment for myself. I expected more because I wasn't there hoping for greatness; I expected it and every minute he wasted on lesser material — his own or someone else's — was a missed opportunity and as I was reminded on an evening in Kansas City, we don't know how many more opportunities we're going to have. I wouldn't get so crazy if I didn't care. Maybe my passion is misguided. I know it's been misunderstood.
I expected greatness because I knew he was capable of giving it and I can say without reservation I was in the presence of greatness last night for the better part of three hours.
Something in the Night
Working on a Dream
Tenth Avenue Freeze-out (with Curt Ramm)
Born to Run
She's the One
Meeting Across the River (with Curt Ramm)
Waitin' on a Sunny Day
Santa Claus is Comin' to Town
You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)
* * *
Ring of Fire
American Land (with Curt Ramm)
Dancing in the Dark
Rosalita (with Curt Ramm)
Higher and Higher (with Curt Ramm)