Location: Philips Arena, Atlanta, GA, April 25, 2008
Supporting Act(s): none needed
In The Company of: Joe B., Bryan D., Mark M.
There are a handful of acts that certain music lovers yearn to experience in their lifetime. The Beatles. The Rolling Stones. The Doors. The Clash. When it becomes apparent that experiencing some of these acts may not happen, it’s a bitter pill to swallow. I have never seen a Springsteen concert. I yearned to see one before it was all over. When keyboardist Danny Federici lost his long battle with cancer last week, the E Street Band’s immortality was in question. This was one, I thought, that I must see.
Bruce began the show with a tribute to Federici. The lights stayed off while a slideshow of forty years of photos flashed on the big screens. Accompanied only by his harmonica, Bruce performed “Reason To Believe” (“…In a whitewash shotgun shack an old man passes away / take his body to the graveyard and over him they pray / Lord won’t you tell us tell us what does it mean / Still at the end of every hard earned day people find some reason to believe”).
The E Street Band then joined Bruce for a rollicking “Out In The Street.” The band sounded tight and played like, well, like they’ve been together for a lifetime. Nils Lofgren on guitar sounded incredible. His guitar solo would make Eddie Van Halen sit up and take notice. The Mighty Max Weinberg, on hiatus as musical director and resident drummer on Late Night with Conan O’Brien, was the workhorse of the band. A virtual machine and a man possessed. Incredible. Steven Van Zandt, a.k.a. Little Steven, a.k.a. Miami Steve was all over the place, singing exceptional harmony with Bruce and playing great guitar. Most recently, Van Zandt wrapped up eight seasons playing mobster Silvio Dante on HBO’s The Sopranos. And of course, The Big Man Clarence Clemens, dressed in all black – hat and all – sounded as fresh and exciting as he did the very first time I heard him on a record. Anytime his name was mentioned or he played that sax, the sold-out crowd showed him its love in a loud way. While he’s moving a bit slower these days, he definitely did his part. Springsteen has recorded and toured with and without the E Street Band. But with them, everything is richer. They complete him.
The third song out of the gate was the catchy and rocking “Radio Nowhere” (“This is radio nowhere / is there anybody alive out there?”) from last year’s Magic. This latest release has been a commercial as well as a critical hit for The Boss. An argument could be made that this song refers to America’s faltering role in the war in Iraq. It would make sense since Bruce is an outspoken critic of the current U.S. involvement there. Later in the show, we heard further evidence supporting this idea, “The Last To Die” (“Who’ll be the last to die for a mistake…Whose blood will spill, whose heart will break”). Another “statement” song was “Livin’ In The Future” which seems to be dealing both with global warming and our current political plight (“The earth it gave away / The sea rose toward the sun / I opened up my heart to you it got all damaged and undone / My ship Liberty sailed away on a bloody red horizon / The groundskeeper opened the gates and let the wild dogs run”). As I drove away later that night, I half expected to see a bumper sticker or two reading, “I’m A Springsteen Fan And I Vote.”
I was happy when the song that I craved to hear, “Blinded By The Light,” was played early on and for the first time on this tour. As those old enough to remember must know, Manfred Mann’s Earth Band covered this song in 1977 earning them a number one hit. But Bruce wrote this one. It was the first song – and first single – on his debut album, Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. which hit record stores on January 5, 1973. The 45 of this song was the first record I ever purchased. I was thirteen years old and had discovered Rock and Roll.
Another standout was “Trapped.” This is a song written by reggae god Jimmy Cliff that appears as a live track on The Essential Bruce Springsteen release from 2003. It was recorded during the Born In The USA tour in 1984. Before playing “Your Own Worst Enemy,” Bruce announced, “…in honor of producer extraordinaire Brendan O’Brien…it won’t be as good as the record, but we’ll try.” Magic was recorded in O’Brien’s Atlanta Studio.
“The Rising” was a stark reminder of September 11, 2001. It is a single from 2002’s album of the same name which Bruce wrote as a touching tribute to his city in ruin and the heroes who served us that day (“Left the house this morning / Bells ringing filled the air / Wearin’ the cross of my calling / On wheels of fire I come rollin’ down here / Come on up for the rising / Come on up, lay your hands in mine”).
If the nineteen songs were not enough to wear out the crowd, the Boss and the Band came back out with a five-song encore for the ages. The songs were mostly culled from 1975’s Born To Run album. “Thunder Road,” “Born To Run,” “Rosalita,” and “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” blew us all away and was a snapshot of what defined authentic Springsteen. These are the songs everyone knows. The band jammed like it was back in the 70s again and the crowd frequently raised their shining cell phones in lieu of lighters. Wrapping up the evening was “American Land,” a song taken from Bruce’s recent tribute album to Pete Seeger. It seems destined to become a Springsteen staple. I know this because it was the only song that had its lyrics shown on the big screen to promote fans’ involvement. It was a foot-stompin’ Irish jig of a song that’s still kicking around in my head.
Absent were many of the big hits and pop-influenced songs from the mid- to late-eighties. Tonight was meant to showcase the new stuff and highlight the classics. Bruce appeared desirous to work for every ticket sold and every dollar spent by his loyal fans. He was relentless in his passion and enthusiasm, making the audience show theirs. The man is also in excellent physical shape, or at least it seemed so from my distant seat. I can only hope that I’ll be in such favorable condition when I’m 58-years old. If that’s the case, I’ll need to hire a personal trainer and get started. He ran, jumped, and sweat enough for all eight members of the E Street Band. It was an experience I’ll not soon forget and I look forward to their return.
Set List / Album / Year
Reason to Believe / Nebraska / 1982
Out in the Street / The River / 1980
Radio Nowhere / Magic / 2007
No Surrender / Born In The U.S.A. / 1984
Blinded By the Light / Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. / 1973
Your Own Worst Enemy / Magic /2007
Trapped / The Essential Bruce Springsteen / 2003
Murder Incorporated / The Greatest Hits / 1995
Prove It All Night / Darkness On The Edge Of Town / 1978
She’s the One / Born To Run / 1975
Livin’ in the Future / Magic / 2007
The Promised Land / Darkness On The Edge Of Town / 1978
Bobby Jean / Born In The U.S.A. / 1984
Point Blank / The River / 1980
Devil’s Arcade / Magic / 2007
The Rising / The Rising / 2002
Last to Die / Magic / 2007
Long Walk Home / Magic / 2007
Badlands / Darkness On The Edge Of Town / 1978
Thunder Road / Born To Run / 1975
Born to Run / Born To Run / 1975
Rosalita / The Wild, the Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle / 1973
Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out / Born To Run / 1975
American Land / We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions / 2001