“Bring on your wrecking ball,” Bruce Springsteen sang at the beginning of his Friday concert. He wasn’t being metaphoric; when they raze Giants Stadium in January, one imagines there will be quite a few wrecking balls on the scene.
To commemorate its demise, Springsteen brought the E Street Band for five final concerts. “Now my home is here in the Meadowlands,” he sang to rapturous applause in opener “Wrecking Ball,” “where mosquitoes grow big as airplanes / Here where the blood is spilled / The arena’s filled / And Giants play the game.”
Springsteen composed the song especially for these performances, but just as “Working on a Dream” survived debuting last fall for the Obama campaign, it’s hard to imagine this is the last time we will hear this one. The rare topical song with broader appeal, a few lyric revisions are all that stand in the way of it becoming a barn-storming E Street regular. Springsteen started singing alone on stage, a single spotlight silhouetting his electric guitar, when the chorus hit the band blasted in as if it were a Darkness on the Edge of Town classic. With the “woah-woah-woah” sing-alongs and holler-til-your-throat-breaks chorus, this reviewer was reminded of “Badlands,” not coincidentally the night’s second tune.
Giants Stadium may have as much importance in music history as the Newark Airport, but for Springsteen it looms large. E Street has run through the concrete behemoth dozens of times since 1985, most recently at a sold-out ten-night stand in 2003 and a quickie three-nighter last summer. Plus the guy lives about twenty minutes from East Rutherford, so affection by proximity helps connect him with thousands of Jersey fans.
Though the bizarre rumors circling the crowd before showtime (appearances by Mick Jagger and Eric Clapton proved popular) came to nothing, the E Street Band found a more fitting way to celebrate and remember: by playing Born in the U.S.A., the album that started it all, from beginning to end. Though this multi-multi-platinum disc shows its age more than some other Springsteen classics, the cheeseball sound of “Glory Days” and “Dancing in the Dark” got 50,000 rocking like it was 1985 all over again, dated synth sounds be damned.
It helps that the songs themselves haven’t aged a bit. As always, “No Surrender” gets fists pounding, “I’m On Fire” gets couples snuggling, and “Bobby Jean” gets tears streaming. Guitar wiz Nils Lofgren unleashed a whirling dervish of a solo on “Cover Me” and Clarence Clemons defied his age (67) by blowing album-perfect sax solos throughout. The album’ only real live rarity, “Downbound Train,” delivered the real emotional wallop though when fans sang every word as if the pain of tough circumstances and arbitrary layoffs were not soon forgotten.
Try as they might though, the audience rarely succeeded in outperforming the band. The absence of recently deceased organist Dan Federici hung over the proceedings (Springsteen dedicated “My Hometown” to his memory) but off-the-bench replacement Charlie Giordano handled every boardwalk swirl and accordion flourish with deft ease.
The rest of the band have lived on E Street far longer than Giordano though, and they showed their collective comfort with off-the-cuff performances like a second-time-ever take on the Rolling Stones’ “The Last Time” to satisfy an impromptu fan request. Returning to the fold after recent absences was Springsteen’s wife Patti Scialfa, performing an intimate duet with Springsteen on romantic endurance song “Tougher Than the Rest.”
Also keeping it in the family was Jay Weinberg, son of Max, manning the drum kit for “Born to Run.” It was a relatively easy night for Jay – this summer he has frequently taken over the whole show when his dad’s Tonight Show obligations kept him away.
Even E Street offspring couldn’t keep pace with Bruce though, who tore through the three-and-a-half-hour set with the energy of a hungry twenty-something determined to prove himself to his family, his home and the world. After a lengthy meander through the crowd during “Hungry Heart,” he decided the quickest way back to the stage was on top of the fans. This sixty-year old crowd-surfed his way stageward, gesturing the band to keep playing as he made his airborne journey. The only face to rival his joy the entire night was the middle aged man holding the “Bald men can dance too” sign when Springsteen brought him onstage to jitterbug (and dirty dance) during “Dancing in the Dark.”
“You’re only how old you feel,” the saying goes. Problem is, most of us feel pretty much like our age. Springsteen doesn’t just defy age though, he beats it into submission with a guitar windmill, knee slide, and mic-stand dangle. When he bounced around singing the “You Sexy Thing” lyrics to concert staple “Raise Your Hand,” he grinned like a teenage prankster getting away with a good one. When he tore into “Kitty’s Back” intro, he wailed on his guitar like it was the only thing holding him back from the boring-old-guy ledge.
Still, after three-plus hours even the most hopped-up warhorse needs to wind down. The new Celtic-punk “American Land” brought the band to the stage lip for intros and bows, but Bruce decided they had time for one more and launched into the Tom Waits song “Jersey Girl.” While setlist-watchers at home questioned closing Giants Stadium with a slow song, everyone in attendance sung along with such passion it made “Born to Run” look like a bathroom break. Waits wrote the song about his own wife Kathleen Brenner, but Friday night the girl in question was the stadium itself, given one last grateful pat on the back before New Jersey headed off into the just-started drizzle.
Spirit in the Night
Working on a Dream
Born in the U.S.A.
Working on the Highway
I'm on Fire
I'm Goin' Down
Dancing in the Dark
Tougher Than the Rest
The Promised Land
Last to Die
Long Walk Home
Born to Run
* * *
Raise Your Hand
The Last Time
Waitin' on a Sunny Day
Seven Nights to Rock