It is really quite encouraging to see the shows continue to improve as the tour picks up steam. Obviously the setlist changes from night to night are welcome, both for the surprise factor (if one sees only one or two shows) and to keep things fresh for those multi-show attendees and the band as well. But performance wise, it is quite rewarding that the band is showing little signs of early-tour rust.
Bruce remarked several times how nice it was to be “home” and I imagine that played into the setlist choices tonight, which were very clearly tailored away from any of his big hits; it felt in many ways like a Reunion tour set (plus the Wrecking Ball songs), with all of the River and Darkness songs in the show. “The Ties That Bind” seemed to work well in the third slot but “Jackson Cage” didn’t quite capture the crowd.
Bruce finally has taken to introducing each of the members of the horn section and “E Street choir” by name — including Everett! I’m glad to see him do this. The audience deserves to know who these people on stage are as much as they deserve the recognition.
“Johnny 99” was a feature piece for the horns, with an extended outro and Bruce egging them on to solo and improvise as a section. Initially, the horn players didn’t seem to realize Bruce’s cue was for them to come down off the riser and to the front of the stage, where they finished off the song with Bruce, who noted “we’d been waiting” to bring the song out. I just wish Bruce would drop the infernal “woo-woos” that were being sung over the horn part. It seems that at times, Bruce feels compelled to give everyone in the band something to do on every song. It’s simply not necessary. The horn players sit out the occasional song. It’s fine for the singers to do the same, and if they had, it would have made things substantially tighter.
The performance highlight of the evening was of course “Racing in the Street,” audibled after “The Promised Land.” My guess is that it was on the setlist but moved into that particular spot in the set. Roy again turned in a stunning solo on a song that continues to feel remarkably fresh among Bruce’s “classics.” Certainly it helps that the song remains a true rarity (never being played frequently on any of the Reunion-era tours) but there is something about the way the it demonstrates the band’s chops that seems to capture the audience every time it gets played.
I still think Bruce doesn’t quite have the encores working as well as they could. “Trapped” was a crowd favorite but seemed disjointed when followed with “Rocky Ground.” I also do not understand the need to be dropping “Land of Hope and Dreams.” “Ramrod” was great and deserves to be rotated in the spot where “Dancing in the Dark” is seemingly permanently ensconced.
Unfortunately, the wrecking ball was taken to the wrong venue at the Meadowlands Sports Complex. The arena has never been a great place to see a show but tonight reaffirmed its reputation as a total dump that has not aged well at all. Combined with a usual uneven Jersey crowd — the talkers, the beer drinkers, the idiots who only want to hear “Glory Days” and “Born to Run” — and things could have been bad. (Bruce’s exhortation to “get those lazy asses out of the seats” at the beginning of the show was telling).
Yet it was a testament to the power of the performance tonight that things went so well. Look out Madison Square Garden.