«You’ve been incredible» were the farewell words from Bruce at his first show at the Garden. The audience was enthusiastic and completely focused on the concert, enjoying every minute and responding with big roars of approval to every highlight of the show. And there were many.
While the wonderful «New York, New York» was sounding on the PA, Bruce Springsteen and his band took the stage, the lights stayed on and suddenly the classic «One, two!» yell exploded into a rousing version of «Badlands». A quick look at the setlist might not seem very impressive, but that’s tricky. At the first MSG show there was extra energy and passion in every song. After the ever-moving «My City of Ruins» came the tour debut of «Murder Incorporated», with burning guitar duels between Steven and Bruce, followed by «Johnny 99», which ended in an orgy of horn solos (with all the musicians in front of the stage and the audience going nuts). Finally «Shackled and Drawn» was back in the set, and it was a great version. It should stay. Next came another tour debut: «Lion’s Den», flawless, powerful, surprising.
Two things are clear on this tour: Bruce defends his new album with conviction and enthusiasm, and the horns add a lot to the sound of the band. They are ubiquitous, always in the background but on the spotlight when it’s necessary. Jake Clemons’ role gets bigger and bigger and he gets a rousing response everytime he does one of his uncle’s famous sax solos.
The E Street Band and its current 17 current members sound as great as ever o even better. They are tight, powerful and full of life. It is possibly the best tour start in many years. And Bruce comes on stage with a personal mission: here I am, at 62, delivering the goods, in case somebody had not yet heard. We are less but we’re alive.
The first night had some special dedications to the city of New York, with the trilogy of «American Skin», «Lonesome Day» and «The Rising». «Thunder Road» finishes the set with an uptempo version, close to the original, featuring a great sax solo, joined inmediately by the full horn section before ending the song. Short solos, but powerful.
Brief pause, endless cheers from the audience. Bruce dedicated the next song to his mother, his sister and his family, sitting on the right side of the stage. Great version of «Rocky Ground», with Michelle Moore on vocals. Minutes later comes «Kitty’s Back». Always good, always exciting, but Friday’s version was off the roof. Simply the best version we’ve ever seen. Long, intense, wild, and full of fantastic solos from the horns, Charlie, Roy and Bruce. The E Street Band shone on this one. After a fantastic «Born to Run» with the full lights on at the magnificent Madison Square Garden, «Dancing in the Dark» was next and Bruce danced with his mother and a niece. Everyone was dancing, and the Garden was literally shaking with so many people jumping up and down. «Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out» closed the show, with its heartfelt tribute to Clarence Clemons, and the whole audience in awe.
After the show on Friday, Bruce Springsteen returned to the World’s Most Famous Arena on Monday for a second and final concert. The stakes were high but Springsteen had no problem to deliver another magical performance. It’s hard to say which show was the best, but to be honest, who cares? Both were phenomenal. We heard Bruce say so many times in recent years that the E Street Band was better than ever. Well, this time it’s true: The E Street Band sounds extremely compact, powerful, tight. And Bruce is on top form: vocal and physical. No hint at all of the sore voice we heard sometimes during the previous tour. His display of physical energy on this tour is simply incredible.
On Monday «Badlands» opened the show again, to great effect, followed by two perfect renditions of «We take care of our own» and «Wrecking Ball», sounding better and better as the tour progresses. «Out in the Street» came next, a bit chaotic at the beginning, but ended up putting the audience on its feet. «My City of Ruins» is now a clear highlight every night: it has meaning, soul and features a wonderful tribute to the missing E Streeters.
Bruce then said he would play some stuff from the early days, and both «Spirit in the Night» and «Thundercrack» followed, in splendid versions, particularly «Thundercrack», full of guitar interplay between Bruce, Nils and Steve.
After «Jack of All Trades» the show grew in intensity with the newly rediscovered version of «Trapped», superb in this tour, sounding a lot like in its 1981 debut, followed breathlessly by an exhilarating «She’s the One»: fast-paced, with tons of percussion, guitars and harmonica… and the wonderful vocal duo between Steve and Bruce. From there the show went up and up, with a fantastic «Because the Night» featuring one of Nils Lofgren’s best ever guitar solos. The end of the show was near, and when we expected another moving version of «Thunder Road», Bruce surprised with a wonderful «Backstreets». It was sung with passion, and it was the highlight of the show. Such a masterpiece. It was paired with a great «Land of Hope and Dreams» to end the concert.
The E Street Band was back onstage quickly for «Rocky Ground», improving each night and gaining the audience’s approval. After that Bruce announces he can’t leave New York without playing this one: and a great «Rosalita» follows, full of joy, with great work from the horns. «Born to Run» comes next in full force, sung by 20,000 euphoric voices. After a full-speed «Dancing in the Dark» the show ends with «Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out», performed with incredible energy (I believe this has been the best version of the tour yet). Bruce sang as if it was the beginning of the concert, after being over three hours on stage, running to the small stage behind the pit, with the lights on at the Garden and the audience in ecstasy.
Sal Trepat reporting.
Photos: courtesy Caryn Rose/Jukebox Graduate.com