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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

on drums.

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

most striking.

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

Bruce Springsteen, First Union Center, Broad & Pattison,

Philadelphia, 215-336-2000. Sold out. Sunday, October 6, 7:30 p.m.

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