(First, the notes about/review of the show. Some thoughts on the delay and decision to start the show rather than postpone follow).
In reviewing the Saturday night show – and still get an objective result – one has to separate out the actual time Springsteen was on stage from the other things taking place that night.
Certainly, this show could be on a list of “latest ending shows” or “strangest shows” or “shows most affected by weather,” but those rankings don’t address how good (or not) a show was. It would be easy to simply note that one had a great time and a unique experience and claim this as one of the best shows “ever!”
And, of course – this show was fun. A lot of fun, in particular, with Bruce’s humorous acknowledgement of his birthday. But this show also suffered from pacing problems, and transitions from song to song that didn’t work so well. Contrasted to Friday night, where Bruce’s audibles brought the show higher, tonight’s audibles – and some setlist choices – had the opposite effect.
As shows go, this one would most accurately described as uneven. With all of the maneuvering and the late start, things did not begin with much energy, and “Out in the Street” and “The Ties That Bind” fell flat. “Cynthia” was no help in this regard, and the audible call for “Badlands” as the fourth song indicated that Bruce was feeling the same way.
This was the one show where I think Bruce should have come out on stage (with the houselights up) and blasted straight in to “Born to Run.” I do admittedly have the advantage of hindsight but there’s no denying that the show needed more energy at the start. Further, early placement of “Born to Run” in the show would have been an appropriate concession to the larger than normal number of fans who would certainly be missing it due to their leaving the show early. This would not have required any kind of artistic concession to make happen.
I was disappointed by the choice of “Cynthia” in the show, as I’ve always felt the song is a lesser corner of the Bruce canon and a poor choice given the superior alternatives that were soundchecked (“Where the Bands Are,” in particular). Admittedly, this is personal bias and it is unlikely that the crowd reaction would have been any different for “Bands.”
“Cover Me” proved to be an extremely welcome choice, not simply as a rarity but also for the outstanding performance, including Bruce’s introductory and ending guitar parts. Other standout performances this night included an excellent “Shackled and Drawn,” from Bruce’s dance moves to his impassioned duet with Cindy at the end of the song. “Meeting Across the River,” with Curt again performing the trumpet part was a treat, one that I think could work as a standalone piece in the set (rather than always preceding “Jungleland”).
“Into the Fire” was obviously very powerful, given the dedication to Lt. Rich Nappi of the New York City Fire Department. Yet even if one was unaware of the backstory, the delivery of the song by the band was still extraordinary. Bruce and Soozie started at center stage, with spotlights on each. The extra backing vocalists were a fantastic addition to the “may your strength give us strength” chorus.
My personal preference remains that “Jungleland” be retired. Bruce clearly disagrees, although I wonder if it will perhaps return to that status now that it’s been played once in the key American cities. That being said, it can’t be denied that the crowd was quite happy to hear it, and that the performance of the song was solid. Bruce embracing Jake after the sax solo was a touching moment.
I was delighted to see “Rocky Ground” appear again in the encores (its first consecutive-show appearance in months). Bruce was putting more concentration and focus into this performance than perhaps any other all night and consequently, this may well have been the best version of the song he’s done to date.
It would be fair to say that generally, Bruce Springsteen’s touring operation has kept the fans’ best interests in mind while running a multimillion dollar international operation. It would be equally fair to say that they, in conjunction with MetLife Stadium, did an extremely poor job of that last night. It was plainly unacceptable to start this show at 10:30 PM. Without question, the show should have been postponed to the next night. (I say this as someone who would have had to miss the show had a postponement occurred).
When choosing to sign a contract to play at this venue, Bruce Springsteen and his staff had a responsibility to know what time their full-length show needed to end by so that people can get home via public transportation. No, neither MetLife Stadium nor Bruce’s staff are in charge of New Jersey Transit’s train schedules. But they chose to play a venue that advertises public transit, that advises customers to arrive via public transit and yet completely disregarded the need for people to use that same public transit to get home. Even if one had driven to the show, the 10:30 PM start was ridiculous in that people make their plans based on reasonable expectations of how long the event will last, whether that is booking a babysitter or determining whether they need a hotel or how long their drive home is after the show. It is irresponsible to end your concert at 2:00 AM when you’ve got an attendance of 55,000 because by doing so, you are forcing thousands to unreasonably alter their plans – or – be forced to leave early from the show they paid a significant sum of money to attend. This is not a venue in the middle of a large city, with restaurants and hotels and 24-hour public transit all in easy walking distance; this is not a club show where the “spontaneity” of rock and roll is expected. This is a professionaly organized event and should have gone off as one.
I don’t doubt that safety was an overriding concern given the abundance of caution in holding the start of the show. Ultimately, though, there needs to be a drop-dead point where a decision was made that the show simply wasn’t going to happen that night. Given that the thunderstorms never actually showed up (just lots of rain and some wind) one is left wondering about the effectiveness of this plan.
A word is also due regarding the the patrons with field tickets: because of the location of where these ticketholders were kept waiting (the outer stadium ramps) there was no way for them to hear the in-stadium announcements about how things were progressing. Neither Stadium nor Bruce’s staff checked with those ticketholders to ensure that they were made aware of the status updates.
When it finally came time to actually move the GA customers on to the field, members of Bruce’s touring operation were nowhere to be found. There was no effort made whatsoever to keep the integrity of the line. It’s not rocket science, particularly given that customers had sequentially-numbered wristbands. But without direction from Bruce’s staff, the venue obviously lacked any incentive to try.
Finally, from a global perspective, this problem also comes down to money. Refunds would have been required had a postponement occured, which would have required a significant (but certainly not impossible) logistical effort. Money also dictated the choice of venue. It may not be a comfortable topic to discuss but it is the plain truth that Bruce makes substantially more money for less work (ie. playing fewer shows) when he chooses stadiums over arenas. If the concert had been indoors, the weather issues simply wouldn’t have mattered.