Live & Loco: Four Hours, Four Minutes...Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band Play The Longest Show Of Their Career On 9/7/16 In Philadelphia
Bruce Springsteen will celebrate his 67th Birthday in two weeks.
I begin with this fact just because of how especially amazing it seems to me juxtaposed with his performance last night at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, a city that Bruce has rocked with countless marathon shows dating back to his Jersey shore bar band days during the Nixon Adminstration.
Last night was officially the longest of these many marathons.
Not just in Philadelphia but in the entire history of the E Street Band’s four and a half decades spent playing countless shows all across the USA they were born in.
Four Hours, Four Minutes.
When you hear the phrase “longest E Street Band show ever”, it’s a pretty safe bet to also be one of the longest concerts played by any act in America in my lifetime.
It certainly is, at the very least, the second-longest if not longest show this longtime live-music fiend has ever seen.
The only competition for that crown in my years of attending shows would be a Prince show at the LA Forum five years ago on the Welcome 2 America Tour, a concert Chaka Khan opened at 7:30 PM on a Saturday, while I guestimate Prince came out by around 8:30-8:45 but by the time the final encore concluded it was already well into Easter Sunday morning in Inglewood.
That’s unofficial, much like the run time of the secret show Prince did at the Palladium on Sunset a year later that ended up being 255 minutes (4 hours, 15 minutes).
I know what some of you are thinking…there goes Bomb, finding a way to somehow make it about Prince again.
And you’re not wrong.
But when it comes to marathon shows, indefatigable commitment to givng the crowd his best performance and bullwhip-cracking, band-leading, legendary top-of-the-marquee badassery…who else in their prime during my lifetime can I put in Bruce’s class other than The Purple One?
And now that The Purple One’s run was tragically cut short, nine years younger than the age Bruce is about to become…who else is the measuring stick used to measure what Springsteen, armed with what’s left of or been added to the E Street Band, brings to a stage when he and the band play?
“No One, No One, No Oooonnneee!”©Alicia Keys
But let me get back to the events of a hot, humid, otherwise unremarkable Wednesday after Labor Day in Philadelphia with Bruce Springsteen.
This was my seventh time seeing the man accompanied by his legendary band, between their initial reunion tour in 1999 up thru last night billed as Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band’s “The River” tour, an album he’s been touring in promotion of since last year due to the expanded reissue edition of the double-album originally released in the Fall of 1980.
And never mind that he only played two songs from that double-album over the course of a four-hour show…those in attendance last night certainly didn’t seem to mind a bit.
The E Street Band looks quite different, both in terms of physical appearance and personnel, then they did 17 years ago when I first saw them onstage in the flesh.
“Mighty” Max Weinberg’s Late Night/Tonight Show hair has given way to a full gray.
Nils Lofgren in more recent years has taken to The (Mad) Hatter look that he had going once again onstage last night.
Little Steven Van Zandt remains short, still rocking his ever-present bandana, but nowadays in addition to picturing him sharing a mic with his childhood buddy, it’s easy to also envision him as a tough Mafioso ready to take Adriana on that long walk into the Pine Barons, or maybe on the lam in the snowy hills of Norway.
Bruce’s wife of 25 years, Patti Scialfa, was a regular member of the band then. In recent years, she has vacillated between the road and home during E Street tours. Last night in Philadelphia was a show without Patti.
Danny Federici, whose organ solo he wrote for “4th of July Asbury Park (Sandy)” we waited in vain to witness during my first three E Street shows, was unfortunately absent from the second leg of the Magic Tour and sadly passed away shortly after his final public performance before that tour ended in 2008.
Danny’s passing makes Garry Talent not just the only surviving member not named Bruce of the first incarnation band, it also makes him now the only band member that Springsteen fans may not recognize right away in public.
Vocalist/Violinist Soozie Tyrell is somehow still not technically an E Street Band member, despite her playing on more Bruce Springsteen records and being on more tour dates than any member of the band over the past 25 years.
Maybe it’s the violin, which isn’t really a cool instrument, especially not if you’re a rocker from Jersey.
Violin did play a part in last night’s magic tho, with a string section accompanying the E Street Band in the show's opening and intermittently throughout the show.
The biggest difference in the band comes from the largest man, whose iconic side-profile casts an extremely large shadow on the proceedings even in his absence.
A shadow so big that no one will ever be able to truly fill it so best you can hope for is to honor his memory and keep it in the family.
I speak of course of Clarence Clemons aka The Big Man, a legend with the befitting nickname and the best-known saxophone player in the long history of rock & roll.
The Boss’ Consigliere.
The Deke/DC to Bruce’s Allen Iverson.
The Biggest Man of Soul & Substance on the whole dang roster.
The Bodyguard, there to pick up our mercurial little magic man whose skill and will make the whole team's engine go.
There isn’t anything I can write or say about Clarence that Bruce hasn’t already wrote or said himself more eloquently.
There also isn’t anything Bruce has ever written or said that can do so better than hearing Clarence’s nephew, Jake Clemons, hit *those notes* while playing that supremely great trademark saxophone solo on “Jungleland”. Especially last night while a huge video montage played from center field at CBP. I used to tear up a little bit just seeing Clarence himself play it. Today with his nephew carrying the mantle? As a nephew now blessed with a couple nephews of my own, its circle-of-life soulfulness feels devastatingly beautiful.
I note the differences in the E Street Band over the past 17 years to also say that amazingly, Bruce Springsteen looks virtually the same.
What does this guy do?
What keeps this man going this hard, doing four hour shows over four decades into his career, with nothing left to prove?
Your guess is as good as mine and we've got nothing but time.
Still no amount of time speculating on Bruce’s aging process or ostensibly onstage, his apparent lack thereof, will ever enable us to answer that question.
Bruce might not even know the answer, let alone me, a fan even if by birthright.
A baby boy born in the City of Philadelphia in 1976, like America 200 years before.
1976 was also the year after Bruce was first fully born into the American consciousness with Born to Run.
The breakthrough hit song, album and title of his forthcoming autobiography.
An autobiography whose cover photo was taken out on the street, in my hometown, across the river in Southern New Jersey.
The shot was taken by photographer Frank Stefanko during the same fruitful day that yielded the Darkness on the Edge of Town cover and the quintessential seventies Springsteen black-and-white shot leaning against the pole in his leather jacket out front of my hometown barber shop, Frank’s. Frank’s was the barber shop many boys turned men in my town got their hair cut, up until its beloved owner with the shop bearing his name, Frank Montemurro, one tragic day five years ago decided he’d finally had more than he could bear.
Depression is real, people.
In times of struggle, do your best to talk about it. Lean on those that love you like Bruce leans on the Big Man’s broad shoulders on Born To Run’s gate-fold cover.
Meanwhile to all those brand-new, Twitter lookey-loo’s…spamming up timelines with “Bruce Springsteen Chronicles Depression” headlines, in a craven need for recycling “content”, tossing water on good times spent perusing the World Wide Web’s News Reel in Real-Time looking for details on Bruce’s longest show, rather than lifelong struggle.
A struggle that mind you, anyone paying close enough attention to the stories he’s told in song over the course of his career already had a pretty good idea about.
To all of them I say in Marge Simpson voice, ‘well, duh’.
As the God MC, Jay-Z, famously rhetorically asked on “Renegade” with Eminem, “do you fools listen to music or do you just skim thru it?”
Were folks too focused on watching a young Courtney Cox wiggle across the stage in the video, doing her version of Eddie Murphy’s routine from Raw about white people dancing, to notice the lyrics to “Dancing in The Dark”?
Much like how then-president Ronald Reagan was too enamored with the big shouted chorus and those cheesy eighties synths to understand that “Born in The USA” was an anti-war-anthem, before co-opting it without permission for his re-election campaign then subsequently getting cease-and-desisted?
Or the NYPD PBA President who encouraged his city’s department to boycott Springsteen’s final leg of the E Street Band’s reunion tour back in the early 2000’s due to his then-new song about the killing of Amadou Diallo at the hands of four officers called “American Skin (41 Shots)”?
Similar to the Santa Clara police union threatening to boycott working 49ers games over Colin Kaepernick’s posture during the Star-Spangled Banner before backing off that threat today?
Bruce played “41 Shots” last night. He played the allegorical protest song “Death To My Hometown” documenting the unaccountable corporate greed run a muck as well as the ground-zero firefighter story from the Shakespearean 2002 single “The Rising” made an appearance just a few days short of 9/11.
With Bruce you can never be sure if any of these songs were included as a commentary on current events or whether Bruce just has so many of those type of songs with heavy themes in them, that they're bound to pop up organically or coincidentally putting on a show like this.
This was a show with minimal between song monologues, removing the long introductory segments for each band member commonplace on earlier post-reunion tours.
Just pretty much four straight hours of pure heat.
When I checked the makeshift set list in the ‘notes’ section of my phone (a habit which now as a paid professional that stays with me even on off nights) it occurred to me that he’d been onstage for two hours before we heard a song that had been released after 1973.
The first ten songs were from the Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. and The Wild, The Innocent & the E Street Shuffle while the 11th and 12th songs were the 1973 fan-sign-requested B-side “The Fever” and the unreleased early live era band showcase “Thundercrack”.
It wasn’t until 14 songs into the show that we got a song that was released during my lifetime. And not until the 21st song did we hear anything from The River, despite its title printed on the tickets. And when we did it was the crowd-pleasing/participation classic “Hungry Heart” which could have popped up in any 'greatest hits'-centric show anyway.
Walking into Citizens Bank Park for the first time with a purpose other than going to a Phillies game, something I haven’t done since returning two months ago because who wants to see them right now, there was nothing in the humid air to suggest we were about to witness history.
There’s also nothing to guarantee that this record won’t be topped by the end of the weekend.
None of it feels especially premeditated, outside of a commitment to giving paying customers what they came to see.
On the longest night of his long, illustrious career...as he and his band-mates re-enacted the classic James Brown cape routine towards the end of a ten-plus-minute cover of The Isley Brothers’ “Shout”, which was the sixth of a seven-song encore…Bruce had once again paid the cost to be The Boss.
New York City Serenade (with string section)
Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street?
It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City
Spirit In The Night
Lost In The Flood
The E Street Shuffle
Incident on 57th Street
Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)
The Ties That Bind
My Love Will Not Let You Down
Jack of All Trades
American Skin (41 Shots)
The Promised Land
Working on the Highway
Because The Night
Streets of Philadelphia
Born to Run
Dancing in The Dark
Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
Shout (Isley Brothers cover)