I’m still feeling it five days later, the buzz of witnessing three outstanding Bruce Springsteen shows in four nights at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford last Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.
As Bruce, members of his family and the E Street Band were finishing “Twist and Shout” at close to 2 a.m. Sunday, fireworks went off over the stadium completing what will go down as a legendary three-night stand.
From the first song, “Shackled and Drawn,” on Wednesday, to the finale on Saturday, Bruce played 89 songs, 61 of them different.
As I finally get my energy back (“maybe we ain’t that young anymore”), let’s take a look at some of the special moments from the swamps of Jersey.
The Saturday birthday show is going to be remembered for many reasons. One is for the delay due to the heavy rains that came through the area. The show, which normally would have started around 8:20 to 8:30 p.m. began at 10:27 p.m.
As Wilson Pickett’s “In the Midnight Hour” played over the PA, Bruce took the stage and said: “I think I just invited 55,000 people to my birthday party.”
And it was quite the party. A 33-song, 3:09 show with four tour premieres and Bruce mentioning all night that it was his birthday.
During one of those premieres, “Cynthia” Bruce said: “Ahh you’re looking good. When you’re 63 everyone looks ****** good.”
Bruce did quite a bit of cursing over the final two shows.
After a wild seven-song start (“Out in the Street,” “The Ties That Bind,” “Cynthia,” “Badlands,” “Who’ll Stop the Rain,” “Cover Me,” and “Downbound Train”), Bruce settled into his normal four-pack of “We Take Care of Our Own,” “Wrecking Ball,” “Death to My Hometown,” and “My City of Ruins.”
Before “My City of Ruins” Bruce said: “We made it!” That’s right! Tonight I’m going to be another year older, IF I don’t get a lightning bolt up my ass.”“I don’t think I’ve played on my birthday, let me see, before the cellphone, before the internet. I believe it was before the manually operated hair dryer. That’s right, you used to not be able to dry your own hair when I played on my birthday the last time.”
Actually the last time Springsteen played on Sept. 22 was in 1992 when he was filmed in a Hollywood studio in front on an audience for MTV’s “Unplugged” series. Last time he played an actual show on his birthday was on Sept. 23, 1988 in Oakland, Calif., on the Amnesty tour.
On Saturday, as he began “It’s Hard to be a Saint in the City” Bruce talked about the start of his career.
“I was 22 years old and took a bus from Asbury Park to New York City. Let’s hear it for public transit. Went up, up, up in the elevator in the Columbia Records building, went into an office and I had my guitar and sat down, and this was the song that got me my record deal.”
Gary U.S. Bonds returned for a second straight night to join in on “Jole Blon” and “This Little Girl” before “Pay Me My Money Down” a song that was a highlight of the Seeger Sessions shows in 2006.It was after midnight when Bruce finished his 16th song of the night “Janey Don’t You Lose Heart,” and the crowd started to serenade him with “Happy Birthday.”
“All right, let’s hear it. Are we past 12 o’clock? Is it my birthday? Well then let me hear by birthday song!” Bruce said.
He then called on the band to play “In the Midnight Hour.” ”I’m an old man!” he said. It was the first time “In the Midnight Hour” was played at an E Street Band show since the legendary Dec. 31, 1980 performance at the Nassau Coliseum.
A touching moment came next as Bruce dedicated “Into the Fire” (a tour premiere) to fallen New York City firefighter Rich Nappi and his wife Mary Anne. Nappi, a huge Springsteen fan and a friend to many of us, died while fighting a fire in Brooklyn in April. His friends and family had a big tailgate prior to the show to celebrate the life of the guy we knew as “Fire Rich.”
The main set ended, for the second straight night, with a classic Springsteen back-to-back from an album. “Meeting Across the River” played by just Bruce, a fantastic Curt Ramm on trumpet and Garry Tallent on bass segued into “Jungleland,” where Jake Clemons nailed his late uncle’s signature solo.
After playing “Thunder Road” to kick off the encores, Bruce reflected on the evening.
“Thank you for being with us tonight, and I want to thank you for your patience, we appreciate it,” he said. “Hey I’m glad I got to see you on my birthday, or did I mention, today’s my birthday? I thought I forgot to mention that, it slipped my mind. Yes, yes! It’s a good one. I’m going to sleep the rest of it away.”
Next up was “Glory Days,” played the only time of the three nights. “It’s my birthday” Bruce again said as he started the song. In the middle of it, he said “Hey Steve, did I mention it’s my birthday?”Steve: “No you didn’t mention it!”Talk about Abbott and Costello!More fun continued as “Seven Nights to Rock,” a cover of the 1956 Moon Mullican song, was played for the first time in the U.S. on the tour.
“Dancing in the Dark” saw Bruce with a special dance partner, Steve’s wife Maureen Van Zandt who also played Silvio’s wife, Gabriella Dante, on “The Sopranos.”
After the tribute to Clarence Clemons on “Tenth Avenue Freeze-out” the evening ended with a full-fledged birthday party with 55,000 guests.
As Bruce’s mother Adele came out, Steve said “The boss of bosses has just come on stage. The person responsible for all this.
‘”Yes, she had her work cut out for her 63 years ago,” Bruce followed up.
Joining Adele was Bruce’s oldest sister Ginny, his mother-in-law Pat and his brother-in-law Michael Scialfa as a guitar-shaped birthday cake was brought out.“Oh I’m surprised. This is going to take all night now. That’s enough. I just winded myself. That’s about all I can handle,” he said as he blew out some candles and then cut the cake.
As the entire band came down to the front, Steve led a singalong of “Happy Birthday.”
“Cake for everybody” Steve yelled. “The first piece goes to Obie, our first fan, right there.” As Bruce handed Obie, known as “Fan No. 1,” who was in the front row, a slice.
Bruce: “Obie we love you. Obie was following us when we were 16. We love you O!”
Bruce gave out a few more slices of cake before realizing he didn’t have any more plates.
“Someone give me a guitar quick,” he said. “All right, she’s (his Mom) going to join the backup singers, 87 years old. Are you ready? It’s going to be loud as hell! We have any earplugs? Can a man deafen his own mother on his birthday? I don’t know.
“I can deafen my mother-in-law I guess, I can’t deafen my mother.”
That led into a superfun “Twist and Shout” as fireworks were set off at the top of the stadium.
As the song ended, Bruce saluted the crowd.
“Thank you for being here with us tonight! We love Jersey! Thank you for your patience, we had a great night. And did I mention, it’s my birthday! Mike Scialfa, my brother-in-law, it’s his birthday too. What are the odds?”
“Thank you! We love you. Thank you Jersey. Drive safe going home. My mother is for rent for $250 an hour to any parties and Bar Mitzvahs.
“Thanks for a memorable birthday!” We love you, thanks so much for a great night. Thanks for three great nights.”
Now, how ’bout that Friday show, which was my favorite of the three.
I wrote on my blog afterward that it was fun. And looking back a few days later, I still smile and laugh when I think of its highlights.
When Bruce opens with a world premiere — “Living on the Edge of the World” — from the “Tracks” box set, you just knew it was going to be a special evening.
It wasn’t perfectly played, Bruce struggled with the words, but it was cool to hear.
“That (would have been) even better if we had got it right,” Bruce said.
An early highlight was a very intense “Lost in the Flood.” Great guitar work by Bruce
Every night at MetLife saw a poignant “My City of Ruins.” On Friday, Bruce said: “Good evening, good evening. My people!” He mentioned how he wrote the song for his adopted hometown.
“It’s doing pretty good. Who’s been to Asbury Park lately? It’s nice, it’s nice,” he said.
“Tonight we got a lot of old faces and new faces in the E Street Band, and there’s old faces and new faces in the crowd. Whose never seen the E Street Band before? “ he asked to a small response. “All right, all right, we’re going to do it right for you.”
And as he’s been doing this whole tour, Bruce talked about ghosts. “When you’re a kid, ghosts frighten you. But as you get older, you realize ghosts are there to walk with you and give you an appreciation of time, preciousness of life, the value of the day, the goodness of things. They’re always all around you,” he said. “We stand blessed in their presence, the people who have come before us and left us with things and given us their love, and worked for us and sacrificed for us, and fought alongside us. So I’m going to do this tonight for all your ghosts. For all the missing brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers and friends and for our ghosts too.
“This is always my favorite time of year,” he continued. “I can pass on a lot of the summer. After January, New Jersey is deadly. But right here at the very end of summer, beginning of fall, you can feel everything in motion. New things coming, things leaving, people coming, people going. This is when we used to have a little house party and put all the furniture out in the backyard. We’d get everybody over and get the grill out and see who was there and who was missing.”
Next up was another fun spot, “Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street” from the “Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J.” album. “I wrote this on the bus traveling through New York City,” Bruce said. “I had some friends who let me crash up on 82nd Street when I was writing music for my first record.”
Then he kidded piano player “Professor” Roy Bittan.
“Professor don’t (mess) it up. Professor usually (messes) this one up bad, don’t (mess) this one up. I’m watching you!” he said.
That led into the evening’s special guest, Gary U.S. Bonds, and performances of “Jole Blon” and “This Little Girl.” Bonds was back to sing the same two songs on Saturday.
Bruce said Bonds “came all the way down on that Long Island Expressway, that’s worse than the Turnpike man.” Bruce had seen a sign for “Jole Blon.”
“This sign right here, I’ve seen at 95 shows,” he said. Bruce asked her how long she’d been carrying the sign. “My whole life” she said into the microphone.
“She’s even got the right key! There’s a prepared fan right there,” he said.
Another tour premiere, “From Small Things (Big Things One Day Come),” was next after Bruce saw a sign for it. An outtake from “The River” sessions, it is on the 3-CD “Essentials” set. It has only been played a handful of times at E Street Band shows over the years.
The evening’s highlight for many was next.
Bruce performed “Talk to Me” off “The Promise” and probably better known to many from New Jersey as one of Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes’ signature songs.
It had been played only four times this tour, including the May 2 show at the Prudential Center in Newark.
The best way to describe it is for you to watch the video below as Bruce tries to explain what to do when you are in trouble with your significant other. WARNING: some may find Bruce’s language offensive. He drops a few F-bombs.
<iframe width=”640″ height=”360″ src=”http://www.youtube.com/embed/Lbni6lWrodE?feature=player_embedded” frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen></iframe>
“This Depression,” one of the lesser played songs off of “Wrecking Ball,” changed the tone. It was only the fourth time it has been played.
A song Bruce fans got very tired from past tours, “Mary’s Place” made a nice reappearance. It hadn’t been played since the first rehearsal show of the Working on a Dream tour (March 23, 2009 at Asbury Park’s Convention Hall). Bruce used to do a long rap during “Mary’s Place” on the Magic tour about “building a house” and drew the song out far too long. Just played straight, it was good to hear.
Closing the main set was another of the ultimate Springsteen back-to-backs: “Incident on 57th Street” into “Rosalita.” The tracks are next to each other on “The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle.”
Only the third time since 1980 the songs had been played together. As the final piano notes of “Incident” were played, you could feel the anticipation for the first guitar chords of “Rosalita.”
“Incident” was beautiful and “Rosalita” was more fun. Bruce and Steve really hammed it up on the front center extension.
The encores featured “Ramrod” – more fun between Steve and Bruce, and “Bobby Jean,” a song that’s not one of my favorites, but it has not been overplayed lately.
“Dancing in the Dark” saw people dancing all over the place.
A friend, Danielle DeCarolis had a sign asking to dance with (guitar tech) Kevin Buell. Bruce let her come on stage but she couldn’t find Kevin, so she ended up dancing with Little Steven. Another friend, Kiley Armstrong, had a sign asking if she could dance with a tech and Bruce brought her up. There was also a woman dancing with backup singer Curtis King among others and Bruce had his own dance partner. Did I mention it was fun?
Show ended with “American Land.”
Interesting note: There were no songs played from “Darkness on the Edge of Town.” Only the second time that’s happened at an E Street Band show since 1977.
Bruce plays a surprise two-song acoustic set for early arriving fans on Wednesday:
The opening show on Wednesday began with an exclusive preshow for early arrivals. As fans entered the front general-admission pit around 5:30 p.m., Bruce, after finishing his sound check, came down to the front of the pit and greeted many fans with a handshake and posed for some pictures. He then took the stage and played two acoustic songs “Growin’ Up” and “For You.”
Wednesday’s special guest was original E Street Band drummer Vini “Maddog” Lopez who played drums on “E Street Shuffle” and later played the tambourine on two songs during the encores.
Also, it was the only show that Patti Scialfa was at and “Easy Money” (always played when Patti is there) returned to the set list. That led to “Shackled and Drawn” as the show’s opener for the first time this tour. “Shackled” is always a highlight of these shows and backup singer Cindy Mizelle does an excellent job. Quick trivia: Mizelle’s son, Devin Fuller, is a freshman quarterback for UCLA.
It was also the only show Bruce crowd-surfed. He jumped in from the back of the pit during “Hungry Heart” and it was a long way and took him a long time to make it back to the stage. I guess he thought he better not attempt it again. On Friday and Saturday he instead ran through openings set off by barriers that allowed him to go to the back of the pit.
I thought Wednesday’s show got off to a slow start but picked up with the tour premiere of “Mansion on the Hill” a Bruce and Patti duet into an absolutely stunning “Racing in the Street.” Bittan’s piano reached new horizons.
Bruce said “Mansion on the Hill” was one of the first songs he wrote for “Nebraska.” He talked about going to the Jersey Freeze (in Freehold) as a kid with his parents and grandparents. He said he didn’t really like ice cream, but he liked the cones, so they would cut up the cones and save them for him. Also how there was a big radio tower on the edge of town and his mother would tell him that it was a big giant, and the red lights were the giant’s buttons.
The Wednesday show ran 3:46, the longest of the three.
Some final notes: It was like the United Nations at the shows. Fans traveled to New Jersey from all over the world. There was a group of close to 100 who came in from England. I met fans from all over Europe, Brazil, Canada and Australia. Even driving through Asbury Park and Freehold last week, I saw many fans from all over with cameras checking out the Springsteen sites.
Bruce has played 161 different songs over his 67 shows this tour.
Next show isn’t until Oct. 19 at Scotiabank Place in Ottawa, Ontario. A well deserved break for fans and the band.
There are 18 arena shows scheduled on this leg with the final one on Dec.6 in Glendale, Ariz. Will this be the end of the tour? My guess is no. I believe you’ll see Bruce and the band back next year for more shows in Europe and another leg or two in the U.S. Going by past Springsteen tour history, I bet we see dates starting in late February, early March running to the end of summer of 2013.
The three nights will go down as a legendary three-night stand (instant classic as they say on the Yes Network). It’s another spectacular chapter in the Bruce Springsteen history book. The man continues to raise the bar higher and higher and is able to jump over that bar every time.
Even at 63, he’s the Energizer Bunny, still going and as Frank Sinatra sung “The Best is Yet to Come.”