From the moment Bruce and the E Street Band strode onstage shortly after 8pm looking for all the world like a gang of lean and mean rock and roll gunslingers ready to turn the audience inside out and leave them hoarse with screaming, the fact that this was going to be a special night and a magnificent show had already been established.
This was the case because the owners of the venue had decided to give back to the community and donate a portion of ticket proceeds to two local food banks (the Food Bank of Central New York and the Utica Food Bank) as well as the Central New York Veterans Outreach Center. Chairman of American Racing and Entertainment, Fred Gural, also personally matched each donation and paid for 2,000 concert tickets to be distributed amongst the USO’s active military members.
The nearly full moon shone like a bright white coin in the sky on a beautiful late summer night as Bruce announced, “Ready for the races!” and the horns erupted into a classic horse racing preamble before the first song, “Out in the Streets.” They were off and running like a shining, gorgeous thoroughbred and the pace kept up throughout. From very early on in the show, Bruce was in and out of the audience grabbing signs and grinning like a demented schoolboy. The second number came from a sign request, “Saint in the City.”
The setlist was peppered with sign requests in fact, throughout the night. At this point in the tour, the band has proved that they are beyond capable to play just about anything, with or without prior rehearsal. Bruce was as thrilled to play for this clearly delighted audience as they were to have him there in what amounted to a three and a half hour plus grin plastered on the face of everyone I saw around me. There wasn’t a lag moment in the fast-paced show, not a single one. Sometimes the stars align perfectly: no humidity, clear skies, an almost full blue moon, and each song perfectly placed.
Not only that, but the passion during songs like “Saint In the City”, “My City of Ruins,” “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” “Backstreets,” and staples like “Badlands” and “Prove It All Night” resonated like the songs were recently written and freshly minted. Another highlight – “The E Street Shuffle” roared into a percussive coda with Everett Bradley on congas joyfully bringing it to a crashing close with the world’s ending power of Max Weinberg’s drumming. And yet another – the new ragtime arrangement of “Open All Night” (sign request). And another – the greatly beloved “Frankie” (sign request) which has now evolved into the perfect summer song, with a beautiful emotional intro by Bruce with violinist Soozie Tyrell, eventually matching note to note as the song swirls into its story of young love. During “Frankie,” Bruce called for fireflies to light up the night and thousands of cellphones were brandished aloft looking for all the world like a thicket of fireflies.
The “Wrecking Ball” songs effectively pivot the show from tentpole to tentpole – “We Take Care of Our Own” and “Death to My Hometown” establish the context and tone early on; the somber “Jack of All Trades” at the halfway point bringing us back to the cold hard facts of our day to day existence; “Shackled and Drawn” (which has evolved into a show-stopper from beginning to end) heralding the moment where the show starts to blast off into overdrive and separate the wheat from the chaff. Plenty of guitar shredding from the power three (Springsteen, Van Zandt, Lofgren); plenty of silliness and pure joy; plenty of sorrow and looking back to those who are no longer with us on stage; plenty of rebirth and redemption. Two tour debuts; the frantic ‘history lesson’ to quote Bruce, “Stand On It,” and the fiercely beautiful “Human Touch.” Both made perfect sense and both were heartily embraced by the audience.
“Happy End of Summer – here we go!” Bruce said as the encores began with “Thunder Road,” studded like diamonds with show stoppers like “Rosalita”, “10th Avenue Freeze-Out,” “Quarter to Three” (sign request), and “Twist and Shout.” And this sweet summer night turned into a summer dream, of the best and brightest kind.