At Rogers Arena on Monday, November 26
Let’s be clear about one thing. Bruce Springsteen’s angry-man bit on new album Wrecking Ball looks as phony and calculated as those terrible JP Morgan Chase and Co. TV commercials the U.S. networks were shoving down everybody’s throats over the Thanksgiving weekend.
On the other hand, at least he’s propping up his hollow romantic Americana with an E Street Band and a pretty righteous back catalogue. It’s hard to maintain the cynicism when long-standing piano man Roy Bittan is pounding out the exultant opening chords of “Out in the Street” or the expanded, 17-piece outfit is powering through “Badlands”. You’re putty once they start doing that shit.
So this is the conflict you might bring to a Bruce Springsteen show. It’s hokey—really hokey when he throws on a coonskin cap and acts out the Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. track “Spirit in the Night” with new sax guy Jake Clemons (nephew of the late Clarence)—but you still don’t want to be anywhere else.
If you had to pull a few highlights from the blazing and relentless set the E Street Band delivered at Rogers Arena on Monday night, then anything previous to 2002’s The Rising generally brought the room to a quivering state of ecstasy. “Darlington County” was given the kind of slinky makeover it’s been needing for 30 years, complete with a few bars of “Honky Tonk Women” thrown in courtesy of guitarist Stevie Van Zandt. His copilot Nils Lofgren careened around the stage like a black-clad battle top during “Because the Night”, injecting metal-machine skronk into a song Springsteen originally flipped to Patti Smith back in 1978.
Prior to that, Lofgren vamped a nice bit on pedal steel for “Red Headed Woman”, from the 1993 Plugged: In Concert album. This was a fan request delivered to the Boss on a human-size paper doll complete with articulated joints, and he was impressed enough to invite it back to his hotel room and throw the unrehearsed number at the band. They took it to the garage and back.
If you want an impression of the crowd, consider that the beaming vocalist pulled a kid on-stage to sing the chorus to “Waitin’ on a Sunny Day” (she nailed it, the song sparkled), and then went cheek to cheek with an octogenarian for “Dancing in the Dark”. As for the man himself, it might look like Springsteen’s joints are always on the verge of seizing up, and he talked about being “an old man” for a theatrically emotional “My City of Ruins”—“I’m a sad man tonight,” he chanted as the song morphed into a tribute to Clemons—but this 63-year-old also crowd-surfed from the middle of Rogers Arena to the lip of the stage during “Hungry Heart”.
The ghost of Clemons (and keyboard player Danny Federici) also hovered over “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out”, with Springsteen dropping to his knees soulman-style as the song built to its long and ecstatic finish. Drummer Max Weinberg still didn’t have a hair out of place (a miracle in and of itself) as he led the band off-stage, when you suddenly realized they’d been up there for three-and-a-half hours. It felt churlish to want more; it’s just that back in the day these guys would play for a week, and I’m pretty sure we’d have stuck around for that.