“Are you ready to be transformed, Albany?,” Bruce Springsteen shouted in full preacher mode. He had just led his sprawling, 16-piece E Street Band through a rousing rendition of the party-in-the-face-of-despair anthem “Mary’s Place,” an hour into his nearly three-hour concert at the Times Union Center on Tuesday night.
It wasn’t a rhetorical question…
Of course, by then most of the fans at the sold-out concert had already experienced a transformative moment or two. Maybe it was when he simply shouted, “Guitar!,” in the middle of the opening INXS cover “Don’t Change,” and Nils Lofgren and Tom Morello both stepped forward to join Springsteen as a choreographed, front-line guitar army. Maybe it was at the end of “No Surrender” when Springsteen turned his back on the audience and raised his guitar up high over his head, shaking a ferocious blast of feedback from it. Maybe it was “Badlands,” the first full-blown, Church of Rock & Roll sing-along of the night. Of course, it wasn’t the last…
The wild ride took quite a number of twists and turns, from the Celtic-flavored “Death to My Hometown” to the gospelesque “Shackled and Drawn,” from the subtle, solo “Kingdom of Days” to the the percussively propulsive “High Hopes.”
“You threw us some curve balls tonight,” Springsteen admitted, and the highly interactive performance was the proof. Four times during the show he plucked fans from the crowd to dance with him on stage – from the mom who got a belated Mother’s Day slow dance to the Drifters’ gem “Save the Last for Me” to the trio of young girls who bounced in ecstasy all throughout their sign-request of “Seaside Bar Song.” (“You want to hear this song? It’s ten times older than you are,” said a genuinely surprised Springsteen.)
“This is a serious night of audience participation,” he told the crowd, “What’s got into you?”
In addition to the impromptu fan-dancing, Springsteen scrapped much of the middle of his intended setlist in favor of a string of five consecutive sign requests. And along the way, despite his enduring, international superstar status, Springsteen often managed to transform the arena into something resembling your favorite neighborhood bar.
The cover songs of the night stretched from the BeeGees’ “Stayin’ Alive” (trading the disco backbeat for a Dixieland rave-up to showcase the individual talents of the horn section) to Roy Head’s ’60s soul nugget “Treat Her Right,” after which Springsteen declared, “That song has magic in it. Magic, I tell you.”
There was plenty of magic in the encore run, too, beginning with his most solemn (and personal) song of the night, “The Wall,” a tribute to his hometown musical mentors Walter Cichon and Bart Haynes, who were killed in the Vietnam War. He followed the thread with perhaps his best known (and most misunderstood) song, “Born in the U.S.A.” I thought that I never needed to hear the song again – not because I don’t like it, but rather because, like Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” it’s a song that I’ve simply heard too many times. I was wrong. Although Springsteen has sung it countless times, his eyes-closed, veins-popping rendition was brimming over with electrifying passion, and Max Weinberg’s mid-song drum solo echoed the song’s explosive lyrical content.
And it takes a consummately confident performer to play some of his most dramatic songs – including “Born to Run” and “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” (in tribute to the late Clarence Clemons) – with the house lights up full, breaking down the wall between performer and audience and relying solely on the power of the song, as well as the we’re-all-in-this-together spirit.
But the undeniable highlight of the show was the back-to-back pairing of “The Ghost of Tom Joad” (a dynamic duet with Morello, who staked his claim on the Woody Guthrie/John Steinbeck-inspired song not only with his defiant vocals, but also with the single most electrifying solo of the night) with the anthemic “The Rising,” underpinning Springsteen’s talent as a musical historian and his rare ability to turn America’s tragedies – from the Dust Bowl of the ’30s to the still-fresh terrorist attacks of 9/11 – into something deeply personal, deeply poignant and yet undeniably hopeful, always hopeful.
Paul Rapp’s review at Metroland
Stan Goldstein’s review at The New Jersey Star-Ledger
Peter Jon Lindberg’s review at Backstreets.com
Lowell D. Kern & Rebekah Mann’s review at BruceSpringsteen.net
Sara Foss’ review from Thinking Through It
Excerpts from Michael Hochanadel’s review at The Daily Gazette: “In the quietest moment of an uproarious sold-out show on Tuesday at the Times Union Center, Bruce Springsteen responded to a fan’s note with a Mother’s Day Gift: He cued the E Street Band into ‘Save the Last Dance for Me’ and danced with the fan’s mother on stage, administering a charisma overdose but displaying the generosity that warmed the whole three-hour blast. He shook about 1,000 hands, invited three little girls on stage to dance and imitated their gleeful jumping up and down, and worked and sweated so hard he looked like he’d been rocking in a car wash. The E Street Band itself was generous, swelled beyond its customary eight-pieces (no Patti Scialfa, no Steve Van Zandt) with horns, singers and a percussionist. Likely inspired by Springsteen’s big Seeger Sessions Band, this made the sound bigger, more varied and soulful. Springsteen’s willingness to play fan requests also felt gracious. Noting the crowd had thrown some curveballs, he complied, uncorking sign-requested ‘Save the Last Dance for Me,’ ‘Better Days,’ ‘Seaside Bar Song,’ even the BeeGees’ ‘Stayin’ Alive.’ Oh, yes, he did. Fans laughingly dusted off disco moves, but the arrangement was soul/R&B style dance music.”
BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN & THE E STREET BAND SET LIST
Don’t Change (INXS)
My Love Will Not Let You Down
This Is Your Sword
Death to My Hometown
High Hopes (the Havalinas)
Treat Her Right (Roy Head)
Something in the Night
Save the Last Dance for Me (the Drifters)
Seaside Bar Song
Stayin’ Alive (the BeeGees)
Kingdom of Days (solo)
Shackled and Drawn
The Ghost of Tom Joad (duet with Tom Morello)
Light of Day
Born in the U.S.A.
Born to Run
Dancing in the Dark
Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
Shout (the Isley Brothers)