Notes from the road: Limerick
It was an auspicious and glorious night for Bruce and the band’s first return to Ireland since two shows at RDS Stadium in Dublin a year ago, and their first ever show in Limerick. Prior to taking the stage with the mighty men and women of the E Street Band, Horns, and Choir, Bruce delighted the early arrivals to the show this evening with a three song acoustic pre-show consisting of “Does This Bus Stop on 82nd Street?”, followed by “For You” on the piano, and then a stunning, rarely played “Hearts of Stone.” The crowd went wild, and he was clearly in fine form and ready to rock the house.
To say that the audience’s excitement was at a fever pitch would be putting it mildly. And the show was stellar tonight – exuberant and joyful in part, somber and reflective in part, deeply emotional on all counts. Early on, Bruce acknowledged to the capacity crowd of over 40,000 under the blue sunny skies that it was their very first time in the city of Limerick. Also, for what I believe to be the first time in Springsteen’s entire career, he opened and closed with the same number, the portentous and venerable Civil Rights anthem popularized by Fannie Lou Hamer in the 1950’s, “This Little Light of Mine.” Cindy Mizelle soared on this, taking the whole audience up to a higher power, connecting us all to whatever essence you believe to be that which the universe turns on. It set the tone right away for an unforgettable evening, as much a rock and roll concert as a gospel tent revival.
“LIMERICK! LIMERICK! LIMERICK!” Bruce greeted the crowd. “We’re so glad to be here with you tonight. We are here to fill you with the everlasting power of rock and roll!” The band roared into the entirely appropriate neo-Irish classic “American Land” from the Seeger Sessions album, which was anthemic to this audience. As far as the eye could see, there was dancing, stomping, jumping and singing along. Soozie Tyrell’s fiddle on this was perfection.
A passionate “Badlands” followed, taking the show into the stratosphere early in the set. This was bookended by “Death To My Hometown,” which also sounded particularly passionate this evening. Clearly the band was on fire, feeding off the crowd’s Irish energy. This song always simultaneously chills and thrills me in its power, especially the ending with the front line framed by Jake and Everett drumming.
“Hungry Heart” was next, as Bruce urged, “Come on Limerick!” and ran back and forth across the stage, gladhanding those in the front. At the end of the song he accepted a beer and was shown on the big screen chugging the entire thing down in one swallow. “I drank that beer and I think I earned my Irish passport!” he exclaimed, delighted, showing the audience a beautifully made sign he had been handed that had been fashioned to look like a real Irish passport with his name, birthdate, and photo. This took up residence at the drum stand so all could see it. “That was a nice cold Irish beer. I’m fully loose now!”
Preceding the magnificent spooky love story of “Spirit in the Night,” Bruce went into full-on gospel preacher mode: “We are here tonight because WE NEED YOU! WE NEED YOU! WE NEED YOU! We need the Irish on our side tonight. We can’t do it alone!” At the close of “Spirit” he canvassed the crowd for signs, of which there were many. This yielded a large number of comments on his behalf, from “we don’t know that one” to “we just did that one” to “we could probably do that one” and so on. One sign read “Bruce O’Hagan,” prompting Bruce to explore his Irish roots. “That’s right, I come from the O’Hagans. We were McNicholas and O’Hagans.”
The sign collection prompted a rarely played cover nugget from club days, the Temptations’ classic “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg,” which could not have been anticipated let alone rehearsed yet was smokin’ hot and spot on, showing yet again the elasticity and brilliance of this band.
During the sign collecting Bruce had noticed another sign on the side of the stage and asked for it to be passed up to him, then displayed it for the crowd. It was “American Skin (41 Shots).” An immediate hush settled as we all recognized the significance of this request on the heels of the Travyon Martin trial verdict just days before. “We’ll send this as a letter back home for justice for Trayvon Martin,” Bruce said before launching into what was surely the emotional centerpiece of the show. The audience and the band both appeared to be choked with tears at points in the song; rarely had the lyric “You can get killed just for living in your American skin” sounded more tragic or true. As it wound to its end and Bruce stood alone at the mike staring straight ahead with as much tension and anger as I’ve ever seen him display during a song, just chanting “you can get killed just for living in…” over and over, it was a moment never to be forgotten and a beautiful tribute to a young life sadly wasted for no good reason.
As we were still wiping our tears, the mood took an upswing next with “Promised Land,” followed by “Wrecking Ball” and “We Take Care of Our Own.” This trifecta was followed by the soulful ballad “Jack of All Trades” which always strikes deep especially with the ending spotlighting Nils on guitar, Curt on trumpet, and Bruce solemnly hitting the bass drum. The crowd went ecstatic when the next song was “The River.”
Many concerts would have been over now, but clearly this one was only just getting started. A masterful live reading of the entire “Born to Run” record in album sequence order followed. One of the highlights here was the rarely played long Sam Cooke-flavored soul wrenching outro to “Backstreets,” a true treat for the Irish fans: “Just me and you darling…Just you and those sad eyes…You and the lonely sad eyes…I get lost in your lonely sad eyes…” Other highlights: being magically transported to the inner city streets of “Meeting Across the River” by Curt’s trumpet solo; Soozie’s graceful violin intro to the anthemic “Jungleland” greeted with pure rapture by the audience; 40,000 plus Irish voices raised in the chorus “Down in Jungleland” during that mythic tale of the wounded, not even dead.
“Waiting on a Sunny Day” this night featured young Ross, aged 12, as a sign pointed out it was his birthday and what a way to celebrate – a birthday Ross will never forget! This was followed by “The Rising,” seamlessly continuing the gospel feel of the entire show, rousing us all to come on up. “Land of Hope and Dreams” closed out the main set and the band took their bows. But Bruce, of course, was nowhere near finished breaking our hearts and making us dance.
The encores kicked off with “My Hometown,” which Bruce dedicated to local jockey JT McNamara, who had been seriously injured in a fall earlier this year. Only Bruce Springsteen can make a sold out stadium feel like a small room of people singing and swaying as he did with this number.
The epic “Born in the USA” was next, its power shaking the skies. Time then for some major silliness as Bruce and Steven went to the center front platform and sang “Glory Days” posing in crazy hats, which Steven kept on for the whole song and later tried to hand off to Garry. Acknowledging the recent historic win by the Limerick hurling team, the song was dedicated to them.
The mood was up, up, up as “Bobby Jean” came next, and then Bruce smiled. “I got a promise I gotta keep,” he said, before going into a riveting version of “Drive All Night,” a ballad perhaps all the more loved for how rarely it is seen. In a word, it was sublime.
Ratcheting up the energy again Bruce blasted into “Dancing in the Dark,” choosing as his dance partner a beautiful young brunette girl who was celebrating her sweet sixteen that night. But finished? Surely you jest! The rousing barn burner “Shout” was played in an absolutely James Brownian frenzy, with the crowd following Bruce’s stage directions to bring it louder now, then softer now. At one point he slid all the way down to the floor, rolled over and wiggled his legs in the air. “I’m just a prisoner,” he screamed at song’s end, “of rock and roll!” To which I can only say show us the cell keys, jailer, and lock us all in.
This extraordinary night roared to its conclusion with a reprise of “This Little Light of Mine,” complete with Steven doing the James Brown cape routine on Bruce, and gorgeous gospel churchiness, raising a joyful and beautiful noise unto the Lord. The reprise framed this very special and emotional show perfectly as a marriage of gospel, rock and soul. Exhausted? Hell no. We all headed out into the night thrilled to think what awaits us down the road as the merry E Street caravan rolls through the Emerald Isle.