The Newark show was a perfect example of how a show can a show can be great even if each individual element isn’t quite right. Obviously, the magical nights happen with the right combination of performance, setlist and crowd (plus lesser elements such as venue and sound). Tonight in Newark, not everything worked, but the show still came out pretty well.
The venue? It was great. We can only hope having now played here that Bruce never sets foot in the Meadowlands arena again. No, it’s not the Garden but it’s clearly the second-best arena in the New York area. A good, organized GA process. Sufficient bathrooms. Easy public transportation access.
The sound? Terrible. Reviews of the sound on this tour have been largely positive, and whether that’s due to the new PA system being used or some other changes to the mix, it’s definitely been improved overall. Tonight, however, was back to the sludge that was present for much of 2009, which is really unacceptable for a major touring artist.
The crowd? Excellent. Enthusiastic and engaged, even in the upper levels. Their singing (and harmonies) on “The Weight” really impressed me.
The setlist? It’s refreshing to see the new songs remain in the set consistently, and Bruce is clearly well intentioned in trying different songs at each show. But “Bishop Danced” exemplifies why putting a rare, old song in the set is not necessarily a good thing. I am being perfectly fair when I say that this song is terrible. There are literally two dozen never-before or rarely-played songs from the Tracks boxset alone that could (and should) have been played instead. It’s simply impossible to have every song one writes be a masterpiece. “Bishop Danced,” “Mary Queen of Arkansas,” “Surprise, Surprise” — these things happen even to the best of songwriters. There’s a reason they don’t show up in the set very often.
“Talk to Me” and “The Weight” were nice additions (via sign) but much of the rest of the set feels stale. There are obviously certain cornerstones for Bruce’s live set that will show up every night but I wish he would challenge himself a bit more. He need not change every song, but if he dropped one song out of “Sunny Day,” “The Promised Land,” “The Rising,” or “Lonesome Day” it would do a lot for the show.
The performance? Uneven. I wrote after the second night at the Garden that it was disturbing to see the band have trouble following Bruce, particularly during “off script” moments, and there was more of the same tonight. A flubbed start of “No Surrender” at the start of the show is one thing, but the band not being able to come in together on the final chorus of that song was surprising. When Bruce wanted to change the ending of “She’s the One,” playing the guitar (rather than the harmonica), the band seemed to be on auto-pilot, not realizing the change in plan. They had trouble following Bruce during “Talk to Me,” making quite the mess of the song.
But then there was that encore! First, “The Weight,” with Bruce starting on acoustic and the band joining in perfectly. The horns impressing by coming up with an arrangement on the spot. Garry, Charlie and Roy distinguishing themselves with their spot-on accompaniment. The sum total of the talent on stage was proudly on display during those six minutes. This was followed by what was arguably the strongest “Rocky Ground” of the tour and a well-executed Rosalita (they managed the bridge after the second chorus — the usual spot that is flubbed — perfectly!).