Review and photographs by Martin Benjamin
The signal that the show was beginning was some pink lights flashing on and off a couple of times and the start-up of the large video screens stage left and right and behind the stage. On came images of a police motorcade leading some large black SUVs through the streets outside Fenway Park. From seats you could see the lead SUV pulling into the stadium to the right back of the stage. Exiting from the SUVs were E Street Band members and Bruce Springsteen. The video coverage followed them walking up the ramp to the stage as a recording of “Take Me Out The Ballgame” played, enticing the 40,000-plus fans to sing the vocals.
It was surely a great entrance and a signal of the great, great moments to come. After some hellos, Bruce introduced the first song as one “we used to do like this back in the 1970s,” as Bruce sang “Thunder Road” with only accompaniment by E-Streeter Roy Bittan on piano. It was a rare, powerful, goose-bumpy start to what would be three and a half hours of great moments, emotion and music.
Early on Bruce shouted out, “Are you ready for the heart-breakin’, love-makin’, Viagra-takin’, curfew-hatin’ E Street band?” His second song was “Hungry Heart,” which he allowed the crowd to sing the first verse to him on their own. The stage was set up in deep centerfield, and from my seats in left-center, the sound was great. Then Springsteen exclaimed, “We are going to start off with a summer theme,” as he launched into “Sherry Darling,” followed by “Summertime Blues” and “Girls in Their Summer Clothes.” (“This is for all the super-fine Boston women tonight.”)
With good-natured booing from the crowd at the mention of the NY Giants football team during “Wrecking Ball” – and a between-lines apology from Bruce, “Sorry about that one” – you knew you were in Bosox and Patriots territory. It was also the most (close to completely) Caucasian crowd I have been in for some time. He continued with “Death to My Hometown.”
Next there was a touching tribute to the Red Sox infielder and long-time Boston resident Johnny Pesky who had died two days earlier at the age of 93. Starting with Bruce imploring the crowd “Are you missing anybody? Are you missing anybody tonight now? Well, the ghosts are all here, so let them hear your voices,” a tight spotlight appeared on the retired jersey number of 6, along with a tall sliver of light illuminating only “Pesky Pole” – the right field foul pole in Fenway. Bruce then launched into “My City of Ruins.” It was a fitting tribute to the ghost of Johnny Pesky, as the crowd got to cheer for their Red Sox legend once again.
He started taking sign requests at about a third of the way through the night. He picked “Knock On Wood” stating, “This is a song that has never been performed with the E Street Band.”
He told the story of the band’s early days when they opened for such acts as Sha Na Na, Anne Murray, Brownsville Station, Black Oak Arkansas, Chicago and the Eagles. He explained that it forced them to “come up with stuff that caught the people’s ears right away and was tricky.” He added, “This was our first show-stopper. I hope we get through it. We haven’t done it in a long time,” and the band kicked into “Thundercrack.”
He introduced “Frankie,” explaining that he wrote the lyrics in 1978 while sitting on a porch at a farm, watching fireflies. He asked the crowd if there were any fireflies out tonight. The crowd produced their smartphones with screens lit up, giving the effect of fireflies all around the stadium as he performed the song.
It’s hard to believe, but from there on, the show got even better. In total, Bruce performed 30 songs. Before the start, there was an announcement about evacuation procedures due to strong thunderstorms heading toward Boston. Rain was forecast. For much of the show you could see the huge clouds hovering to the right, behind the stage – seemingly not moving forward, as if unwilling to compete with Bruce and the band for the endless energy being exuded on stage. A light rain began to falling just past the midway point of the show as, ironically, Bruce performed “Waiting On A Sunny Day” as his 19th offering.
Four songs later, Bruce played a solo acoustic version of Credence’s “Who Will Stop The Rain” like he did at a late sound check before early-arriving fans at SPAC in 1986. In ’86, it actually did stop the rain as 35,000 people were arriving for the concert. This time the rain continued lightly and added emotion, depth and atmosphere to what, up to that point, had already been exceptional. The rain most definitely enhanced the rest of the event!
On came “Backstreets,” “Badlands” and “Born To Run.” He played “Detroit Medley” like he did to finish a show at the Music Hall in Boston that I saw maybe 38 years earlier. He pulled out “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out,” followed by the show-ending “American Land,” bringing up Ken Casey of the Dropkick Murphys to share the vocals.
There never really was a bona-fide encore as, probably due to the rain, they never left the stage and took only a very brief pause onstage after 22 songs and kept going for another hour, performing three and a half plus hours. The show ended 33 minutes after the city-imposed curfew of 10:30pm.
Blogs and tweets alike have praised this show for its incredible set list, and, as harkening back to 1978, as being “magical,” “a classic” and “epic.” In baseball terms, it could be described as a two-game series sweep, with the previous night also being well-received, yet much different. Something great, with no disappointment, was finally happening in Fenway Park this summer.
BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN & THE E STREET BAND SET LIST
Summertime Blues (Eddie Cochran)
Girls in Their Summer Clothes
We Take Care of Our Own
Death to My Hometown
My City of Ruins
Knock on Wood (Eddie Floyd)
Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street?
Prove It All Night
Darkness on the Edge of Town
Working on the Highway
Shackled and Drawn
Waitin’ on a Sunny Day
Land of Hope and Dreams
Who’ll Stop The Rain (Creedence Clearwater Revival)
Born to Run
Dancing in the Dark
Quarter to Three (Gary “US” Bonds)
Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out