April 9, 2014

Notes from the road: Cincinnati

Since Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band last played in Cincinnati in March, 2008, the United States has gone through two presidential elections and a great recession. Two cherished members of the E Street Band have passed away. Bruce has released two powerful studio albums and, along the way, has enabled new voices and new sounds for his Hall of Fame-bound band.

During those six years, while the rest of us aged, Bruce somehow became younger. We can conjecture from what or where his fountain of youth came. Was it from the booty shaking? The love making? The earth quaking? Perhaps it was the Viagara taking. He has mentioned Viagra taking. Whatever the elixir, whoever the alchemist, the results have been spectacular.

But what about Cincinnati?

When Bruce played Cincinnati in 2008, the show didn’t pass the two-hour mark until the evening’s last song. Tonight’s show could have come with a warning label: For a show lasting longer than 3 hours, audience members should call their doctors immediately.

Many fans saw the video stream from the outdoor March Madness concert in Dallas. But there’s nothing like being in the building when Bruce and the band hit the stage. In that moment, there is one place in the world to be; if you’re in the building, you’re at that place. That’s when magic begins, and that’s where mysteries are revealed.

If the March Madness show had a bit of an attitude of “fun and games,” beginning with an opening tip-off, tonight’s show was all business from the outset. Bruce and the band launched directly in to “High Hopes,” punctuated by a searing guitar solo by Tom Morello. “Badlands” and “Death to My Hometown” followed, providing a high voltage reminder — both in Bruce’s output and its meaning — of the past six years.

Bruce called out, “C’mon Jake!” for the evening’s first audible: “Night.” The crowd response was ecstatic (as it remained all evening), and Bruce appeared to be in a great mood. “Hungry Heart” followed, starting with a very high guitar toss and ending with crowd-surfing.

Shining a small flashlight up on his face, Bruce asked the audience if they believed in ghosts. After recounting the tale of an automatic toilet seat he encountered in Australia (a spirit?), he turned to his Cincinnati audience: “You haven’t had me for six years! But we cannot choose how or where spirits manifest themselves.” This led to a mighty “Yeah, yeah,” and then “Spirit in the Night,” during which Bruce went to the rear section of the floor and to the arena’s lower bowl to sing with stunned fans.

At this point, the show wasn’t even an hour in, and we were all getting younger by the minute. But Bruce and the band were just getting warmed up. A monumental performance of “Lost in the Flood” from a sign request was followed immediately by “Because the Night,” with Patti Scialfa taking center mic to sing with Bruce, and with a patented multi-twirl Nils Lofgren solo.

The U.S. debut of “Heaven’s Wall” put the spotlight back on High Hopes, featuring Everett Bradley leading in on percussion and Nils and Tom trading licks. “American Skin (41 Shots),” also on the new record, is now incendiary in concert, with soloing from Morello.

It was wonderful to see the E Street Choir shine tonight: a rollicking Dixie-style sing-along on “Pay Me My Money Down” was complete with a full band procession and second line umbrellas for the singers. And on “Shackled and Drawn,” it’s all about Cindy Mizelle: sure, sure, there’s the 14-person lineup down front at the end of the song. But I come to hear Cindy sing.

In the encore, Bruce brought up 136 people, give or take a half dozen, to dance with him during “Dancing in the Dark,” starting with a young woman who came on stage during the second verse… and stayed. Then her family. Then other families. And so on and so on and so on. More fan interaction on a rare “Growin’ Up,” which came as a birthday sign request. Tonight’s story started with advice: “Before your first gig, you need to dream yourself up.” Bruce brought the birthday man on stage to sing the final verse, and then the fan — with no warning at all — dove in to the pit in an attempt to crowd surf. Bruce’s shocked reaction was priceless; fortunately, nobody was hurt (never far from many concert-goers’ minds here, even 35 years after The Who).

With the band going just as strong at the three-hour mark as at the start, tearing through “Shout” as a last hurrah, Bruce announced himself to be a prisoner of the “everlasting eternal ass-kicking power of rock and roll.” And still, he wasn’t done. After ushering the band offstage, Bruce concluded the evening with a call for donations to a local food bank, and by serenading the audience with a gorgeous rendition of “Dream Baby Dream” from the pump organ.

After the show, I spoke to a long-time friend who has seen many shows: “This show moved me,” he said. Yes, the elixir works.

– Matt Orel Backstreets.com