October 23, 2012

Notes from the road: Hamilton, ON

Copps Coliseum in Hamilton was built in the 1980s in the hopes that the city would land a National Hockey League franchise. With its style more reminiscent of older arenas, it’s the kind of place where the sound is loud and it gets sweaty — in short, Bruce Springsteen’s kind of place.

When Bruce and the E Street Band took the stage to the theme from “The Magnificent Seven,” Bruce appeared determined to conquer this part of Ontario, just as they had a couple months earlier in nearby Toronto. The band launched into a blistering version of “My Love Will Not Let You Down,” with the house lights on for much of the number. Bruce followed with a pair of songs from The River:  For “Out in the Street,” he personalized his delivery by going down to the front rows; then a huge roar for “Hungry Heart,” featuring Springsteen right there in the pit, carried aloft.  Has Bruce crowd-surfed so early in a show, or for so long?  I don’t know. But  I do know that three songs in, Ontario was safely in Bruce’s control.

After conjuring up the visions and voices of ghosts in the Wrecking Ball portion of the show, he went way back to his very first album for a pair from Greetings From Asbury Park, NJ: “Spirit in the Night” and “Does this Bus Stop at 82nd Street?”  Bruce played shaman during “Spirit,” shaking his hands just over the outstretched reach of the audience.  “Bus Stop” included a drum-off between Max Weinberg and Everett Bradley, with Bruce hand signaling the band a number of downbeats between each segment. Fannies finally were planted in seats for the first time when Bruce slowed it down for “Jack of All Trades.”

Reports from Friday’s show in Ottawa indicated that the request section of that show had been skipped. The certainly was not the case in Hamilton. As in Toronto, “Canadian humor” was the order of the day. Bruce openly laughed at several signs; there were multiple signs with flashing lights, signs for songs played every night and signs for songs played almost never.  Except for the one sign with the birthday card — “Thanks, I needed the reminder!” — he seemed to take them all.  First up was “We Are ‘Trapped’ In Hamilton.”

Then, “Hi Bruce.  I just got dumped.  I’m Goin’ Down.”  Has Bruce ever played analyst on stage before? Now he has. After noting that everyone does get dumped, with the obligatory laughing at every girl who left him back in the day, Springsteen decided to interview the poor guy and determined that, yes, the girl was “probably right!” Then, “hug!” and the dumpee was on the stage in an extended man-hug with his tough-love analyst.

Other sign-holders also got stage time, throughout the night.  There was a flashing sign by a young girl for “Waitin’ on a Sunny Day,” which earned her the singing solo. (She nailed it, duplicating the octave switch that the Toronto singer had used so effectively during the summer.) A flashing “Because the Night” sign brought that song to the set; Bruce needed multiple guitar changes before proceeding with it, and the song ultimately ended with a monster ten-twirl solo from Nils Lofgren.

The most unusual sign selection was for “Terry’s Song.”  There have only been two known instances of Bruce playing this moving  Magic bonus track live: the first was at Terry Magovern’s service, and the second time just prior to Danny Federici passing away. In Hamilton, granting the rare request in honor of a local 11-year-old girl who died in August, Bruce was providing comfort to an entire audience as he played the song alone on guitar and harmonica. One could have heard a pin drop in the Coliseum during the performance.

Bruce completed his Canadian conquest during the encores, opening that final segment with yet another request, this time for the seldom-played “I’m a Rocker,” and later on by taking a tattered sign that has followed Bruce around Canada for years: “Canada loves Rosalita.” Stevie obliged here, by taking the line “Some day we’ll look back on this and it will all seem funny,” adding, just for a bit of final punctuation on the show, “HA HA!”

After 26 songs and a touch over 3 hours, Bruce had conquered Ontario. Again.

—Matt Orel, backstreets.com