Bruce and the E Street Band hit the BB&T Center stage with a ferocious version of the Clash’s “Clampdown,” and with “Badlands” following, we were off. Feeling its way into the groove, the crowd cheered for Tom Morello’s guitar wizardry on “High Hopes,” especially as he played with his mouth. A fun “No Surrender” and the lyric “like soldiers in the winter’s night with a vow to defend” had me looking closely at Bruce and Tom’s shirts: as opposed to the plain black shirt and vest we’re used to, Bruce’s was adorned with narrow red shoulder patches, echoing his new collaborator’s red-starred armed forces gear like buddies in the same unit.
Collecting signs from the crowd, Bruce laughed and admitted he must be getting old as he read his first fan-written request, “Is your son available?” The next sign obviously had an impact on Bruce; the author wrote that he just proposed and wanted to hear “I Wanna Marry You.” This song has been so infrequently played — only twice at an E Street Band show since the River tour — I thought Bruce was just reading it to congratulate the couple, rather than gearing up to actually play it. But then and there Bruce said the band was “in the love business,” asked for an acoustic guitar, and delivered a touching, solo acoustic version.
The next four songs were insanely rare and unpredictable, making this night truly different from any other. For the first time ever in concert, the E Street Band performed “Linda Let Me Be the One.” This gem from Tracks, originally recorded for Born to Run in 1975, featured a smooth solo from Ed Manion — and a first-time-jitters bumpy patch in the middle when Bruce had to stop things for a moment, but then the band picked up and rendered a sweet, sweet version.
By request, “Boom Boom” was awesome, as the horns were jamming at the front of the stage. The horns sounded so full one couldn’t help but clamor for more and more songs with horns. What would Bruce take a chance and play next? He picked up a sign for “Hearts of Stone,” another extremely rare performance. He introduced it by talking about giving the song to Southside Johnny Lyon in the ’70s, when Southside “needed a couple of songs to finish an album”; it became the title track. Here in Florida, Bruce laid down a slow, exquisite version of the song. He then called for a doubleheader of Southside-donated songs and played “Talk to Me,” another horn-centric rave-up. Since Patti wasn’t there, Bruce found a foil in the front of the pit: he got down on his knees while acting out the song, but the woman signaled that wasn’t good enough. Come on, she wanted Bruce closer to her. He aims to please, so he made his way onto the pit floor, next to her, and she was finally satisfied — very cute and funny.
During the rare performances — due to our shock, along with Springsteen’s immersion in the music — time seemed to move in slow motion. Bruce wasn’t just playing songs one-by-one to get to the next. He was flowing in his craft, definitely in the zone. The night seemed like it would go on forever. Setlist-watchers at home must have been doing double takes as they read the titles online.
“Wrecking Ball” was well fairly well received, especially mention of the New York Giants; many of the fans had clearly migrated to Florida from New Jersey and New York. After an exhilarating “Save My Love” and an enthralling “The River” came the classic ’78 intro for “Prove it All Night.” As it stretched out, the lighting focused only on the four band members present who recorded and played this live version back in the day: Garry Tallent, Roy Bittan, Max Weinberg, and Bruce. Following Bruce’s searing solo, the whole band came in and everybody was illuminated — a very nice touch.
Often on this tour, Bruce has been dipped into his bag of tricks for locally-inspired songs. In this case it was notable what he didn’t play: perhaps with a little reverse psychology, Bruce decided not to play “Waitin’ on a Sunny Day” — as the South Florida weather has recently begun to approach 90 degrees and droughts are beginning to flourish, who needs it?
During the night Bruce saw a woman with an AC/DC shirt in the crowd, so encore number one was “Highway to Hell,” receiving the loudest cheers up to that point. “Born to Run” finally brought fannies completely out of the seats, dancing and cheering. For “Dancing in the Dark,” how could Bruce resist his dance partner’s request? Her sign said she’d been to 154 shows and wanted to dance with Bruce to check it off her bucket list before she went to a nursing home. He was chuckling when he brought her up; lo and behold, she could actually bust a move. “Tenth Avenue” followed, complete with pictures of Clarence and Danny on the monitors. A raucous “Shout” had everybody still out of their seats waving their arms and dancing. From High Hopes, “The Wall” was played with heart before the E Street Band finished the night with yet one more, a full-band version of “Thunder Road.”
For those who appreciate rare songs and Mach 5 intensity, this was a very special night to see Bruce Springsteen and his newly inducted band of Rock and Roll Hall of Famers.
– Gary Kahn, Backstreets.com