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This article by Richard J. Skelly was prepared for the October 2, 2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Singing Along with New Jersey’s Boss
When Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band take the
stage at the First Union Arena on Sunday, October 6, the fans will
likely be treated to a better-rehearsed ensemble than the one that
performed opening night at the Meadowlands Arena in East Rutherford
on August 7. Not to suggest for a moment that the opening night show
was lacking all that much, because the band had been rehearsing at
the arena and the week before in sweltering temperatures inside Asbury
Park’s un-air-conditioned Convention Hall.
On that August opening night at the Meadowlands, Springsteen and his
E Street Band performed for nearly three hours, and fans attending
the Philadelphia show can expect the same. The tour will no doubt
continue and more dates will be added, so if you find yourself without
tickets for the upcoming Philadelphia show, keep in mind other shows
will be forthcoming. Here are my impressions of the Meadowlands Arena,
tour-opening show, a show I rank as one of the great rock ‘n’ roll
shows I’ve ever attended.
First off, after leaving the arena and waiting for traffic to clear
out, it struck me that had he been there, folksinger Pete Seeger would
have been proud. Proud of the way Springsteen and his E-Street Band
had a crowd of 22,000 singing along to so many of his songs, not nearly
as simple, lyrically, as much of Seeger’s material. It’s kind of a
strange phenomenon for an avid concertgoer who has never had the chance
to see the kid from Freehold, now 52, at one of his fabled arena shows:
so many voices singing along with Bruce! So many people who know every
line to nearly every song and even every nuance and change in phrasing.
"It’s always great to be opening our tour here in the Garden State,"
Springsteen said, after he and his 10-piece ensemble, which now includes
Soozie Tyrell on violin, took the stage at the Meadowlands Arena around
8:15 on a cool night, the first Wednesday in August. In addition to
Tyrell and Springsteen’s wife, Patti Scialfa on rhythm guitar and
vocals, the E Street Band includes Roy Bittan and Danny Federici on
keyboards, Gary Tallent on bass, Little Steven Van Zandt and Nils
Lofgren on guitars, Clarence Clemons, saxophone, and Max Weinberg
Springsteen and company played a lot of material from their current
album, "The Rising," [Columbia Records] the first studio release
from the reunited E Street Band since 1984’s landmark, much-hyped,
over-the-top production, "Born in the USA." It was clear within
the first three tunes, "The Rising," "Lonesome Day,"
both from the new album, and "Prove It All Night," that he
and the band’s time earlier that week doing thorough rehearsals and
sound checks at the Meadowlands Arena was for good. Sound was not
muddy, every instrument and vocal mike was clear and distinct, and
the light show was simple yet served to amplify the music’s impact.
For example, toward the end of Springsteen’s opening night — for
a tour will encompass at least 46 cities and 46 one-nighters in the
U.S. and Europe — the arena’s house lights were turned up for
two songs, "Glory Days" and "Thunder Road." It was
here and at one other point in the two hour, 45-minute show that the
sing-along effect and Springsteen’s ability to move an audience was
Early in the show, before he launched into his sixth
selection, "Empty Sky" from his current album "The Rising,"
Springsteen told the crowd: "I’m gonna need some real quiet for
the next song and the one that follows. I know you can do it —
I mean, I’m excited too." The audience sat hushed and hanging
on every word while he sang "Empty Sky" sans his customary
guitar. He followed it with "You’re Missing," another mournful
tune written in response to the September 11 attacks on the World
Trade Center and the Pentagon. However, as is the case with any good
songwriter, not all of the tunes on Springsteen’s new album concern
the shocking events of 9/11. Many of the songs that were inspired
by the tragedy can be interpreted on a number of levels.
Highlights of Springsteen’s set included a slower band arrangement
for "Darkness On The Edge Of Town," a really good, clear harmonica
solo on "Promised Land," and one of the few upbeat tunes from
his new album, "Meet Me At Mary’s Place."
After that audience-rousing tune, he introduced his band mates, noting
Van Zandt’s starring role as Silvio Dante in the HBO series, "The
Sopranos," as well as his role as syndicated radio show host with
"Little Steven’s Underground Garage."
In introducing Lofgren, who the band leaned on for most of the show’s
complicated guitar solos, Springsteen said simply, "the great
Nils Lofgren!" In introducing his wife, Scialfa, Springsteen bowed
low on the stage and described her as "natural Viagra!"
Other high points in the show included the two numbers the band performed
with the house lights up, so they could see the audience during "Glory
Days" and "Thunder Road." Finally, the audience sat in
silence again when he sat at the piano to sing "My City Of Ruins,"
his song about Asbury Park, the once-bustling seaside resort. Asbury
Park may yet see a commercial renaissance, thanks in part to Springsteen’s
idea to host a national broadcast of "The Today Show" on the
beach there on July 30, the day "The Rising" was released.
Although perhaps 80 percent of the audience opening night were fellow
Garden State residents — Springsteen lives on a farm in Monmouth
County — there were license plates in the parking lot that included
cars from Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, North Carolina, Connecticut,
Massachusetts, and Maine.
By the end of the show, there was no question in my mind that Springsteen’s
opening night was one of the greatest. A gifted songwriter, Springsteen
takes his art seriously enough to work the E Street Band through meticulously
elaborate rehearsals. Some of these rehearsals were thrown open to
the public, for free, during their week at Asbury Park’s Convention
While it’s great to have 22,000 people singing along to "Prove
It All Night," "Thunder Road," "Glory Days," and
"Promised Land," later, in the parking lot, as people made
the slow bumper-to-bumper grind out of the arena and back onto the
Turnpike, there was little music — other than Springsteen’s —
that could be heard blaring from car stereos. In a way, it’s sad that
many of these die-hard Springsteen fanatics don’t seem to take much
interest in other musicians. If these people would take the time to
learn about the music of Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Muddy Waters,
and Gary U.S. Bonds — to name a few — they would develop a
deeper appreciation for where Springsteen’s music is coming from.
— Richard J. Skelly
Philadelphia, 215-336-2000. Sold out. Sunday, October 6, 7:30 p.m.
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