Bruce Springsteen Brings Darkness and Depth To The Party at Verizon Center
By David Malitz, Monday, April 2, 1:01 PM–The Washington Post
That went for both the rumble and the message that came from the Verizon Center stage on Sunday night when Bruce Springsteen delivered a full three hours of rock-and-roll in his signature blend of romantic, redemptive and reflective. Springsteen and his now-supersized E Street Band know how to preside over a party, and although Sunday’s show had its share of arms-around-your-buddy, beers-in-the-air moments, the bad times were clearly on the Boss’s mind more than the good ones.
The tone was set early when Springsteen opened with “We Take Care of Our Own” and “Wrecking Ball,” the title track of his newest album. Both songs find Springsteen stepping into the role of Everyman conscience of America, one he has played startlingly well for some four decades. On the former he slashed at his Fender Telecaster and sneered the titular chorus, which has a message that’s equal parts “we’re-in-this-together, America” and “get-your-act-together, America.”
Another rarity to make the cut on Sunday was “Adam Raised a Cain,” a thundering, brooding track from 1978’s “Darkness on the Edge of Town.” It shook the arena with the force of three bands — mostly because that’s pretty much what Springsteen had on stage with him. This 17-piece incarnation of the E Street Band is a true power-in-numbers ensemble that succeeds on sheer abundance of sound. When they took the stage it was something like an NFL team assembling into a wildcat formation, and the expanded lineup helped rescue some of the limp new material. At times it was like a rock-and-roll version of “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” There were five guitarists strumming, four tambourines shaking, three trumpets blasting, two keyboards buzzing and one Max Weinberg sitting behind the drum kit holding everything together with his fierce and precise playing.
Of course the E Street Band roll call was not entirely complete; organ player Danny Federici died in 2008 and saxophonist Clarence Clemons died last summer. This is Springsteen’s first tour without the Big Man, and it was hard to envision him on stage without one of rock-and-roll’s most iconic sidemen to his right. A five-piece horn section helped cushion the blow, and that it was headed by Clemons’s charismatic and able nephew Jake was a nice multi-generational touch for a show that featured plenty of parents with children in tow. “Tenth Avenue Freeze-out,” an old Clemons showcase, ended the concert, and when the music cut out after Springsteen sang the line, “When the change was made uptown/And the Big Man joined the band,” cheers erupted for a full minute in tribute.
Not that it was all death, doom and gloom. Grown men hugged each other during “Born to Run.” A medley of soul chestnuts including “The Way You Do the Things You Do” and “634-5789” saw Springsteen race across the stage and into the audience, touching dozens of hands that likely won’t be washed for a good two weeks. He plucked a sign out of the audience and granted its request of fan favorite “Out in the Street.” He shook his hips like it was 1984 during a houselights-on version of “Dancing in the Dark.” Moments like these are now standard at Springsteen shows, and the fact that he can still make them feel special is a testament to his abilities as a pure entertainer.
Springsteen could have offered nothing but entertainment and pure escape, and it would have easily been a show worthy of his reputation as one of live music’s best. But on Sunday, he didn’t escape, he dove headfirst into the heart of America and if what he found wasn’t always pretty, it sure was powerful.