Concert Reviews and Interviews: Bruce Springsteen and the E. Street Band
Monday, December 16, 2002
The year of The Boss went out with a most memorable bang as Bruce Springsteen and his E. Street Band honored their postponed show from a month earlier on this frozen night in mid-December. Smack dab in the heart of Ohio State's campus, the Schottenstein Center was an ideal backdrop for a definitive, all-American, high energy, feel good, sing-a-long rock'n'roll show. Walking out to a wide open, trouble-free stage that seemed transformed from a small club, the band took their positions and manned their instruments one at a time until finally Springsteen himself sauntered out. “Hey, we finally made it, Columbus! Thanks for waiting…we had a one-eyed saxophone player last month….” His reference was that of Clarence Clemmons, who underwent retina replacement surgery in November, forcing them to postpone several shows.
Wasting little time, Springsteen and gang opened predictably with the title track to their grand new album, The Rising. As this monstrous arrangement simmered and then boiled, the crowd gathered their momentum about them and started to fall in line. “Lonesome Day” quickly followed, and then “Promised Land” from 1978's Darkness on the Edge of Town (a popular period piece throughout this night's set). Three songs deep I began to wonder how long the crowd and the band (most a half century old) would be able to maintain the torrid pace exampled in the first 15 minutes. I would come to be pleasantly surprised on all accounts.
The thing that strikes me most about a Springsteen show is how each and every one of the 10 musicians on that stage becomes such an integral part of the overall production. Try as he might (and he has), The Boss would never succeed as wildly without such grand accompaniment! Nils Lofgren is a masterful guitarist who provides a bevy of different guitar samples, from slide to lap steel to acoustic. Max Weinberg is the quintessential professor of drumming. His technically flawless style is perfect for this band and has really become a lost art. Little Steven Van Zandt's background vocal is more imperative to the Springsteen sound than most anyone realizes. Then there's the Big Man. Clarence Clemmons' signature alto and tenor saxophone parts are as much a staple to the legendary hits as anything Springsteen could muster himself. (Can you even imagine listening to “Thunder Road” without that sax solo?)
Back to the show…. A welcomed and polished rendition of “Candy's Room” almost summoned a need for a breather, as the fans were exhausted a mere half-hour into the set. Two acoustic versions of new songs (“Empty Sky” and the haunting “You're Missing”) gave both me and the sweaty rock masses a chance to towel off. Patty Scialfa (aka Mrs. Springsteen) supplied a shrill, lackluster muse as background vocals for both. As the band joined their leader back on stage, the rowdy new “Waitin' on a Sunny Day” ensued. This proved to be one of the most popular sing-a-long favorites of the night. Certainly the new album was getting more than its due (eventually 11 cuts from The Rising would be featured!). But a trip down memory lane was next with “Out in the Street” and “Two Hearts” from 1980's The River, as well as the epic “Badlands” which stood as one of my personal highlights. A truly fond memory was The Boss ushering Van Zandt to join him on vocals for “Two Hearts” by barking, “Let's go, Steven, I need you on this one….”
The entire band was dramatically and individually introduced by Reverend Springsteen during a long and drawn out adaptation of “Mary's Place.” The crowd approval reached its peak to that point when the larger-than-life Clemmons was called to the forefront. Following a beautiful solo piano take on “If I Should Fall Behind,” the regular set concluded with the rollicking “Thunder Road” (complete with that mesmerizing sax solo) before the poignant new “Into the Fire.” A very brief exit of less than a minute saw the entire band reappear as if to finish what they had so awesomely started. It was here that this glorious experience reached its pinnacle. A surprise performance of the smash “Glory Days” weaved a double coda of “Hang on Sloopy,” which was met with full audience participation (20,000 strong) as everyone cried out “O-H-I-O!” with hand motions over head, ala YMCA. It was truly incredible!
Without so much as a pause, “Glory Days” ended and gave way to the bright houselights being thrown up for a full-throttle run through the marathon “Born to Run.” It was then that I wondered how much gas could even be left in this night's tank. They did exit again, this time for several minutes, only to tread back out for what would become another entire half an hour's worth of memories. The chilling “My City of Ruins” paid tribute to September 11th and its victims, then the incomparable Weinberg stole the show during the crowd-pleasing “Born in the USA.” Oh, the drum solo at the end of that song! Finally, the crowd provided several Santa hats for the band, likely on cue, so they were obliged to offer up a quick romp through “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” Almost as if to say, “I owe you one!”, Springsteen decided to tack on an extended version of “Dancing in the Dark” as the stroke of 11 pm rang. Twenty-five songs in all turned out to be one of the most extensive nights on this tour, and this devout fan of more than two decades couldn't have been more delighted! Without question, this is one of the landmark live rock'n'roll performances I have known in recent memory.
Greet the new Boss…same as the old Boss…