Notes from the road: Columbus

April 15, 2014 turned out to be strange day to hold a concert in Columbus, Ohio. If you were lucky enough to have filed your taxes on time, you still had to contend with weather that went from 70 degrees to snow in 24 hours. Who better to assist with these conditions then the newly Hall of Fame-inducted E Street Band and their fearless leader?

Let’s get the formalities out of the way: Little Steven was not with us tonight, likely shooting a new season of Lilyhammer. Ms. Scialfa was not to be found, either, despite her wonderful return for a week of shows through the last one in Virginia Beach. We were left with 17 other extraordinarily talented musicians, more than enough to get the job done. Steve’s absence moves Nils to stage left with Garry, the latter bearing his new sunglasses look and singing backup more than he has in many years, while the former became an integral part of the show and delivered over and over again, like it was 1985.

Three big surprises of the night: two sign requests, “Blinded by the Light” and the extended ’78 version of “Prove it All Night,” and the main-set-closing “Light of Day.” A staple of previous tours, “Light of Day” rarely comes out these days, but this was a powerful reminder of just what a raucous blast it can be. As High Hopes has given us studio recordings of some previously live-only tracks, “Light of Day” feels worthy of that treatment, too.

About a third of the way into the show, Bruce poked fun at his infamous 2009 “Hello Ohio” greeting to a Michigan crowd, acknowledging that it hadn’t been his best night. No need for concern, as one fan says: “We’re Ohio — we thought it was hilarious that he called our rivals by our name.” But if Bruce had any lingering guilt over that one, he made up for it tonight, winning over the audience with such secret weapons as the new arrangement of “Johnny 99,” horns ablaze. There were few if any asses in seats.

Along with the rave-ups, there were also moments of weight and intensity: “Trapped,” with an extended intro; “American Skin (41 Shots),” lit up with the power and pathos of part-time E Streeter Tom Morello’s guitar; and a fine “Backstreets” to begin the encore.

A note about two performances that continue to evolve: Cindy Mizelle’s role in “Shackled and Drawn” gets better and better, and if this is possible, so does Morello’s “Tom Joad solo.” Just awesome. Cindy and Curtis King seem more prominent in general these days, perhaps making up for the missing backing vocals of both Steve and Patti.

The requisite group of exhilarated fans, a couple of whom had just graduated high school, adorned the stage for “Dancing in the Dark.” One was sweet enough to greet each and every member of the band personally — one of the nicest moments of a very nice night. Bruce and the band repaid the kindness by getting “Tenth Avenue Freeze-out” just right and wringing out every last drop of energy with “Shout.”

After the band filed off stage, Springsteen took a seat at a small pump organ, closing things out himself with a swirling, magical “Dream Baby Dream” to send everyone out into the unusually cold, snowy night. A strange day in Columbus, but a pretty darn successful E Street Band show — whether you finished your taxes or not.

- Gary Rubin Backstreets.com

hp_red crowd

Notes from the road: Virginia Beach

Bruce Springsteen must have a different calendar than the rest of us. Although the date on the ticket from Farm Bureau Live @ Virginia Beach said April 12, tonight’s show made it seem like it was August on E Street.

Moreover, the location added to the summertime feel, as a warm, sunny day highlighted the similarities between Virginia Beach and the Jersey Shore. Everything was set up perfectly for Bruce and the E Street Band to shake the crowd out of their winter doldrums.

Once again, the show opener paid tribute to a local band. This time, Bruce picked a relatively obscure song, “May I,” by Bill Deal and the Rhondels, a band from Portsmouth, Virginia, to kick things off. A cross between soul music and beach music, “May I” allowed Bruce and the E Street Choir to show off their vocal chops while setting a party mood for the night. The second song of the set, “Mary’s Place,” also found Bruce without his guitar and continued the party setup for this Saturday night.

Following “High Hopes,” “Badlands” and “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” Bruce again showed his awareness of location, using the intro to “Wrecking Ball” to gauge how much of the crowd was from Virginia and how much of the crowd was from New Jersey, deciding that it was a pretty even split.

A few songs later, following a crowd surf during “Hungry Heart,” “Sherry Darling” kicked off a sequence that was the highlight of the show. “Sherry,” in the spot that has recently been occupied by “Spirit in the Night,” added to the summer party atmosphere. But Bruce decided that he still needed more. Taking a sign from the crowd, the band launched into “Talk to Me,” a staple of summertime on the Shore. Clearly, Bruce had found a groove and his story for the night. The ending of “Talk to Me” was a totally ad-libbed back-and-forth between Bruce and Patti that was simply brilliant, leaving you wondering if they walk around the house singing to each other all the time.

Bruce introduced “Seaside Bar Song” by taking about the Osprey in Manasquan, the club that inspired the song. With the crowd in a frenzy, Bruce started the next song himself, playing the opening notes to “Jersey Girl” on his guitar. Four songs in a row, three of which Bruce called for on the fly, cemented the connection between Virginia Beach and Asbury Park and left the crowd in awe. Bruce took seven of the first 12 songs and wiped four months off the calendar. If the crowd was suddenly magically attired in bathing suits, nobody would have been at all surprised.

But, of course, this is Bruce Springsteen and the Hall of Fame-inducted E Street Band we’re talking about. So 12 songs is less than half a show. The party continued with the “raise your hands” chants of “Heaven’s Wall.” Patti provided harmony vocals during the middle of “Because the Night,” which featured a typically blistering solo by Nils Lofgren. Two lines from “Not Fade Away” served as an intro to “She’s the One.”

The party then hit another level, with “Darlington County,” a particularly intense version of “Shackled and Drawn,” and a featured child singer on “Waitin’ on a Sunny Day” that Bruce had previously seen on YouTube.

There were still more surprises in store as the encore began. Bruce told a story about a trip to Washington DC during which he was seated near Robert McNamara at an event, which led to the writing of “The Wall,” a High Hopes track now given its E Street Band debut.

The encores also featured a great version of “Seven Nights to Rock” in addition to the linchpins of “Born to Run,” “Dancing in the Dark” and “Tenth Avenue Freeze-out.” Bruce has ended the two previous U.S. shows with solo numbers, but the fantastic crowd in Virginia Beach got the full band version of “Thunder Road” to close.

If this tour doesn’t extend into the summer of 2014, at least we’ll have the summer show of Virginia Beach to fall back on.

- Lowell D. Kern Backstreets.com