(Photo by Eason Jordan)
“I think I just invited 55,000 people to my birthday party!”
What can I say about a series of hometown shows that concludes with a Springsteen family “Twist and Shout” sing-along in the wee hours of his birthday? A night that also includes an evacuation, a two- (technically, three-) hour lightning delay, two audience renditions of “Happy Birthday,” a giant, guitar-shaped birthday cake that Bruce personally served to a few lucky folks in the pit and a guest appearance by Gary US Bonds?
I’m still recovering.
This week’s three E Street Band shows at MetLife Stadium (disclosure: I wasn’t at the 9/19 show) were indeed a party, with as much spectacle and chaos as any I’ve seen – a good match for the atmosphere fellow fans (including Blogness correspondents Sue, Sarah and Leann!) and I cultivated together in the parking lot each afternoon.
The shows weren’t razor-sharp musically or theatrically as they were in the not-too-distant past – Bruce needed a lyric sheet to complete a botched “Living on the Edge of the World” opener Friday – but it was great to see the perfectionist comfortable offering the live premiere of a more than 30-year-old song, openly reading lyrics and calling out directions to the band.
The shows included some of the Wrecking Ball material we’ve come to expect, with favorites like “Shackled and Drawn,” “Death to My Hometown” and “This Depression,” as well as the unexpected like “From Small Things” and “Cynthia.”
With his 63rd birthday looming, he dipped back much further with a trio from Greetings From Asbury Park: “It’s Hard to be a Saint in the City,” the song that got him a record deal at 22, “Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street” and an even more intense “Lost in the Flood” than I recall from Gillette Stadium last month. “Incident on 57th Street,” followed by “Rosalita,” which replicated the way so many of us first heard them on The Wild, The Innocent and The E Street Shuffle, clearly stirred the collective memory of thousands. A similarly poignant segue from “Meeting Across the River” into “Jungleland” Saturday was incredibly moving, despite having heard it, too, at Gillette. As a friend said later that night, it got pretty dusty at MetLife during “Jungleland” – strange considering all the rain.
Bruce has said the meaning of a song changes depending on whom you sing it with. It also changes for the audience depending on the band members we see him play it with, and it was great to see Jake continue to nail his solos, evoking as much emotion in Bruce as the rest of us, while Ed, Curt, Barry and Clark got a bit more attention than earlier in the tour.
Of course, song meanings change depending on whom you hear them with as well. I’ve always loved “Downbound Train,” but watching a friend’s eyes light up at its first notes and seeing her hands fly to the top of her head in disbelief made it as great a surprise as the blistering guitar on “Cover Me,” the hilarious “Talk to Me” and the two-night Bonds two-fer of “Jole Blon” and “This Little Girl.”
There were few disappointments in East Rutherford over the weekend, save the inexplicable exclusion of “Quarter to Three,” especially on Saturday when so many of us were driving home at that hour. Even my standard lament about setlist stalwart “Waiting on a Sunny Day” suddenly seemed a bit less valid this weekend, during the only shows I’ve seen for which my group included a child. When I returned from the ladies room (What? Stop judging!) to find my friend’s 9-year-old daughter – a first-timer who had nodded off a few times due to the delay – up and dancing, I finally saw its potential to hook a whole new generation.
The shows felt like a celebration for us all, and in the end a bit more of the sweetness usually seen with those “Waiting on a Sunny Day” kids surfaced as he closed his birthday show by inviting his mom, sister, mother- and brother-in-law, and “Mrs. Van Zandt” up to sing back-up on the final song. If ever you wanted to give the man a hug, it was when, before launching into “Twist and Shout,” he tore up tissues to plug his mom’s ears.
(See the full setlists for Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.)