There were some of the usual rough spots for opening night but overall this was a solid show. The new material in particular stood out as well-rehearsed and well-thought-out with respect to placement in the set. At the end of the night, Bruce thanked the crowd, noting that “you couldn’t have been sweeter to us on our first night – we needed it” and that “it meant the world to us.”
“Easy Money” featured Bruce and Patti singing together at a microphone brought out to the center platform at the front of the stage, and each went to the alternate corners of the ramp at the end of the song to add to the visual effect. It was quite enjoyable to see Bruce and Patti duet on something other than occasional Tunnel of Love song. Bruce probably needs to drop the distortion effect he used on his microphone at the beginning of the song (think “bullet-mic” without actually using the “bullet-mic”) however.
“Jack of All Trades” remains a performance highlight but Bruce’s introduction was frustrating. We know how active and engaging he can be while speaking — witness the South By Southwest speech this week — but he just mumbled through an introduction of the song about accountability for the shrinking of the middle class before starting. I wish he would be a bit more clear one way or the other. He could let the song speak for itself, and there is no problem doing this, particularly when it is paired with “Seeds” to follow, an inspired choice. Alternately, he could make a concise and direct introduction about the song’s background. I’ll hopefully just chalk this one up to it being opening night. Also notable from this song: it may well be that the “If I had me a gun…I’d shoot the bastards on sight” line will have the same reaction as the “I want an eye for an eye” line in “Empty Sky.” I suppose this is the price paid for filling arenas.
The band came on stage to James Brown’s “I Got You (I Feel Good)” and Bruce repeated his “Star time at the Apollo” introduction, this time adding that he was #1 on the Billboard charts for four days (“watch out, Adele!”). It’s a lot of fun but it still should be done by Steve and not Bruce himself. Also repeated from the Apollo (which was very surprising) was the “The Way You Do The Things You Do” and “634-5789.” Sticking this in the middle of the set wasn’t ideal. This would be best suited to the encore.
Jake Clemons performed very well and it seemed that he did a bit better on some of the solos that seemed shaky at the Apollo. The crowd was extremely generous and welcoming to him on the stage.
Bruce seemed genuinely tired by the end of Tenth Avenue. Not simply because he was running around the stage (and crowd) but also I think because he was trying really hard to make this show work well; I get the impression that given the band’s losses, he feels as if he as to compensate even more. Most of the time, this works great as it gives the crowd more of the close-interaction time, whether it’s going to the back of the stage, the ramps in the front or the platform in the middle of the floor. Occasionally, it backfires, as Bruce playing the bass drum on “Jack of All Trades” during Nils’ solo seemed forced. It’s as if someone needed to tell him “Hey, Bruce, it’s ok to step back to the drum riser and wait for the song to end. You don’t have to be doing something here.”
Similarly, the expanded band seems to present some new challenges in that it almost seems as if Bruce felt obligated to find things for people do do on each song. Some of the time, on “E Street Shuffle,” the entire band is going to be engaged and that’s fine. But other times, it would be just fine to have people sit out the song. It happened occasionally (the horn section did actually sit down for “The Rising”) but probably could stand to happen at other times as well.
Missing in action: Magic, The Promise, The River, most of Born in the USA, as well as the perpetually-missing Tunnel of Love, Human Touch and Lucky Town. Then again, it’s only the first show. There is still plenty of time to dump “American Land,” “Lonesome Day” and “Waiting on a Sunny Day.”