East Rutherford, Metlife Stadium, Night 3, September 22, 2012

(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.

East Rutherford, Metlife Stadium, Night 2, September 21, 2012

IMG_1774

There are plenty of shows where it can be said that the “setlist doesn’t tell the whole story.” That principle doesn’t apply as much here. Tonight, it was all about variation. Seventeen different songs changed from night one, a world premiere of a Bruce-written song and several additional rarities as well made for some outstanding choices.

“Living on the Edge of the World” featured Bruce on harmonica and without a guitar – he was clearly intending to go out on the stage extension – but was waylaid by the lack of the teleprompter there. A lyric sheet had been laid down but I think Bruce just wound up losing his way. A great moment but as Bruce himself admitted, it would have been even better if they hadn’t screwed it up.

Still, this choice set the anything-goes tone for the night to great effect. Admittedly, the grab-bag setlist shows don’t always flow so well but that was not a problem here. Going from the Gary “US” Bonds material to “From Small Things” to “Talk to Me” (finally some Promise material) actually held the crowd’s attention pretty well. I quite enjoy looking around and spotting those who know the rarities at times like these and seeing their reactions – whether jumping up and down in excitement or shouting the words in unison with Bruce.

The one quibble I have with the Bonds appearance is the surprising lack of “Quarter to Three” in the show, and the missed opportunity to break out the topically appropriate “Out of Work.” (Or perhaps those are planned for the final show!)

Special mention is due for Ed Manion’s performance tonight, not only for solos (“Talk to Me,” “This Little Girl, “Mary’s Place”) but also calling out horn arrangements on the fly to the other members of the section during “From Small Things”). Unfortunately, there were a couple of technical problems when with the right instruments not being turned up/amplified correctly in time for the solos.

“Mary’s Place” remains a crowd favorite and now blessedly shortened – without a mid-song rap or the “are you ready?” introduction – it’s a fantastic choice for the show, particularly with the horns and singers. In fact, I was almost expecting that it would replace “Sunny Day” in the show (alas, not to be).

The transition (and surprise) associated with the “Incident”/”Rosalita” gets all the attention but also quite notable was Bruce’s excellent guitar solo at the end of “Incident,” finding a melodic pattern to repeat as the band builds to crescendo behind him. Up there with (not coincidentally) the MSG 2009 show as one of the best performances of “Incident.”

Notwithstanding all of the other rarities, my two personal favorite moments in this show were “This Depression” and “Rocky Ground.” On the former, the band’s performance was tremendous, with the singers and Nils’ solo both outstanding. Given how well it kept the crowd engaged (versus what happens at times during “Jack of All Trades”) it is surprising that it hasn’t made the set more often.

As for “Rocky Ground” — I will have faith in Bruce that this one comes back full-time once the show goes back indoors. It just *needs* to be there.

Springsteen at Metlife Stadium Preview

Now a regular feature of E Street Band tours (each of the last four), a summer run of shows at Giants MetLife Stadium has the potential to be a highlight of the tour. With only three shows this time, there may not be quite as much room for Bruce to stretch out his catalog as he’s done in the past, but there should still be plenty of opportunities for some setlist variation.

Bruce has spoken often about how he knows he gets repeat customers at these shows and his choice of songs seems to reflect that, with each show typically a bit different than the one prior. The three nights in Boston in August (2 at Fenway Park, 1 at Gillette Stadium) featured 58 different songs over the show. Suffice to say, if Bruce is going to pull out 50-60 songs over this stand, things are likely to be good, and topping 60 (easily achievable) would be quite welcome. Most notably, this is the only three-show run on the tour to date, with all other stops being one or two nights, so the hope here is that Bruce takes the opportunity to dig deep.

Bold Predictions:

1. Bruce’s birthday will be a non-factor. Yes, there was that legendary show in Philadelphia on the Reunion tour, taking place the day after Bruce turned 50. But looking at other recent shows that occurred near Bruce’s birthday, he hasn’t gone out of his way to acknowledge it. This is not to say that the Saturday night show, the last of the stand, isn’t likely to be a great show. If it is, it’ll be because of what’s played, and not whose birthday it is the next day.

2. At least two tour debuts of rarely played, Springsteen-composed songs (not covers), that are played because Bruce wants to and not because of a sign. The band is clearly comfortable with the regular live catalog (most of the first six albums, The Rising and Wrecking Ball) and that will continue to be the bulk of the set. Recent trends have shown, however, that Bruce is experimenting more with his back catalog as the tour progresses. (Witness “None But the Brave” coming out in Chicago or “Nothing Man” in the Washington, DC soundcheck).

Back at home, without having to fly in to the shows, Bruce will have extra time to prepare and do pre-show rehearsals. Maybe this stand is where “TV Movie” finally comes out. Maybe it’s something safer, such as “Roulette” or “Pink Cadillac.” Hopefully it’s something like “Roll of the Dice,” “Tunnel of Love” or “You’ll Be Coming Down.”

3. “Jersey Girl” will be played at least once. (Ok, maybe this prediction isn’t so bold).

The “Stay Hard, Stay Hungry, Stay Alive” Wishlist:

1. Anything from “The Promise.” It is inexplicable to me why “Talk to Me” and “Save My Love” haven’t been played more than four times this tour.

2. “I Wanna Be With You.” It’s been played a handful of times on past tours, but this gem from Tracks could be an every-night addition to the set and wouldn’t grow stale.

3. Songs from Magic. It was at Giants Stadium in 2009 that Bruce revisited “Long Walk Home” and “Last to Die” for the first time since the Magic tour ended. Now’s as good a time as any to do it again. “Living in the Future” would be a great choice.

4. Patti Scialfa. Bruce has mentioned from the stage recently that he’s got a “two-touring family now” but hopefully Mrs. Springsteen is in town and can make it to the shows. From a setlist perspective, there are lots of things that tend to only get played when she’s at a show (“Easy Money,” Tunnel of Love songs, “Human Touch”), but I also am a fan of having her there with the band and it’s always quite fun to watch her and Bruce interact during the show.

5. “Lyin’ in a Bed of Fire.” An extreme longshot? Sure. Trust me, though, this would be incredible.

Washington, Nationals Park, September 14, 2012

I wrote the “Notes from the Road” for this show for Brucespringsteen.net, which you can find here:  http://brucespringsteen.net/news/2012/notes-from-the-road-washington-dc

A couple of other things that happened at Nationals Park:

1. “My City of Ruins” now includes solos from Barry and Eddie in the horn section, whereas previously it was only Clark, Curt and Jake.  A nice development. (Note that this actually first happened at Wrigley one weekend prior).

2. Michelle Moore was on-stage for the entire show, singing on every song that Curtis and Cindy were also singing on.   Too bad “Rocky Ground” has been reduced to sporadic appearances, though.

3. The disaster that was entry to the stadium for field ticketholders has been well documented elsewhere but suffice to say that I fear for Nationals fans when the playoffs come around and the incompetent stadium staff is again tested with large crowds.

Philadelphia, Citizens Bank Park, September 3, 2012

Where did things go wrong?

Did Bruce simply start off too strong, with the five straight songs from Darkness, and was unable to keep the intensity up?

Was the performance on the three songs in a row from Greetings a little flat?

Was it just not that good a crowd?

The answer is probably a little of everything.  Which is not to say that this was a “bad” show, but perhaps one that didn’t meet the extreme expectations that a “last night in Philadelphia” show has attached to it going in.  Personally, the one thing I was really disappointed was that nothing from the prior show’s soundcheck (“None But the Brave,” “County Fair,” or “TV Movie” made the set, no matter how much that might be wishful thinking).

As for “Jungleland,” I suppose that its appearance was to be expected, particularly after it came out at the last night in Boston.  I understand why Bruce is playing it again, but my opinion remains the same as it was at the beginning of this tour – that it’s ok for some things to be retired.  Any even-handed, fair analysis of Jake Clemons’ playing would note that he’s done a very good job on most of the solos this tour, but that shouldn’t serve as a mandate for everything to be put in the set.  Retiring “Born to Run” would be a big deal, but not playing “Jungleland” would’ve been just fine.

Additionally, while it didn’t detract from the musicians’ actual performance, it certainly wasn’t appropriate to have all the stadium lights up as the song was played.  Steve Van Zandt agreed, and repeatedly gestured to the crew backstage that the lights should be killed, and then shook his head disapprovingly when he was apparently told that they wouldn’t do so.  Given the length of the show (with “Tenth Avenue” and an additional song coming afterwards) there was plenty of time to kill the lights and then bring them back up before the show ended.

 

Philadelphia, Citizens Bank Park, September 2, 2012

My review of the show can be found at Backstreets.

A few additional notes:

Show was 3:43:42 in length.  I think that’s the longest in the US so far this year.

I was shocked that Bruce continued the soundcheck after he became aware of all the fans in the ballpark cheering, and not only did he continue but the choices he made (County Fair, TV Movie) were great.  Taking the time to address the fans there was a great moment and to me showed how relaxed he is about his relationship with the fans at this point in the tour.  It wasn’t Helsinki but it was a similar sort of thing, an obvious bonus for the early arrivals.

Which is not to say that “County Fair,” in a full band arrangement, wouldn’t be extremely welcome in the set.  I had it as a possibility for Vernon Downs but it would be welcome anywhere.  “TV Movie” is more of an out-of-leftfield choice but perhaps Bruce thinks Philly is the place to give this a try.  It was last sounchecked in Philly as well, at the Spectrum during the Devils & Dust tour.

Bruce had a surprising number of uses of the F-word tonight (three during his introduction to “Spirit in the Night, plus Lost in the Flood).  The introduction about the (“m-f-ing Jersey Turnpike) was amusing but the profanity made me wonder if Bruce was annoyed at something.  Maybe the beachballs being batted around the pit?  (I’ll gladly take credit for killing two of them myself).

I really like the placement of “Badlands” between “The Rising” and “Land of Hope and Dreams.”  I’ve felt Bruce has struggled with where to put “Badlands” in the show (it moved from opening the set to closing it and back over the past few tours) recently, and as the penultimate song of the main set keeps the audience energy up and of course also makes thematic sense in that spot.

The E Street Choir had a couple of extra unannounced guests tonight.  “Working on the Highway” featured a woman who I believe is Garry’s daughter; and also a very young lady who bore a striking resemblance to Michelle Moore (her daughter?).  The second young lady stood next to Michelle for “Twist and Shout” (and had good rhythm on the tambourine) and also got special recognition (but no introduction) from Bruce.

A packed pit led to a partially obstructed view of Bruce for me at times but I had great fun watching the horn section and choir dance and sing along.  Both sections, particularly the horns, have really come into their own (in both personality and performance) over the past two dozen shows on the tour.