REVIEW WRITTEN BY ROB NAGY
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band held court at the Wells Fargo Center on Friday night in support of the 1980 classic album, “The River”
Greeted by a sellout crowd, with hundreds left out in the snowy cold still hoping to score tickets, “The Boss,” as he is affectionately known by fans, and his E Street Band mates (Little Steven Van Zandt (guitar & vocals), Garry Tallent (bass), Nils Lofgren (guitar and vocals), Max Weinberg (drums), Roy Bittan (piano), Patty Scialfa (guitar and vocals), Soozie Tyrell (violin, guitar and vocals) and Jake Clemons (saxophone) and Charles Giordano (keyboards) ) did not disappoint.
The Band took the stage just past 8 P.M. and another Springsteen concert marathon was officially underway. Launching into his opening song, “Meet Me in the City,” an outtake from “The River,” Springsteen welcomed the packed house with an enthusiastic, “Philadelphia! My brothers and sisters, are you ready to be entertained?” The crowd responded, in unison, with an arousing “Yes!”
Preempting the album’s first official song, “The Ties That Bind,” Springsteen spoke of how “The River” was his coming-of-age record. “Before that, we were a community of outsiders on the streets of Asbury Park. I was looking to get inside. So, 30 years on, tonight we want you to come along with us again as we go down to the river. We’ll see what we find.”
By the time “The River” was released in 1980, Springsteen, 31, had already attained superstar status for his “Born to Run” (1975) and “Darkness on the Edge of Town” (1978) albums. Fans identified with Bruce’s meaningful lyrical content and rejoiced in celebration at his signature high-energy live shows.
“The River,” a double album collection of 20 songs, again spoke to his fans, this time not about girls and cars but about real-life topics like adolescence, family, marriage, career and the human experience. These were the challenges that we could all relate to. While our world has evolved into a very different place some 36 years later, Springsteen’s message continues to resonate with fans of all ages. Tonight was no exception.
While the Boss and company played to a predominantly older audience of seasoned fans, I observed the occasional adolescent whose parents were undoubtedly sharing the unique experience of a Springsteen concert with a new generation.
Fueling the intensity of a frenzied crowd, Springsteen brought fans to their feet for the duration. Dancing, swaying, and singing in unison became the evening’s protocol, making for a non-stop party atmosphere.
What was most striking to me was Springsteen’s ability to shift the vibe of a chaotic 20,000-seat sports arena into one of an intimate club setting. It was as if every song was being performed for each and every fan.
Without hesitation, Springsteen ventured into the audience throughout the evening, often after pausing for a visual check on his mother, who was seated in the front row stage right. Aisles on both sides of the main floor, connected by a steel walkway through the crowd, gave Springsteen intimate access to his fans. Shaking hands, giving high fives, hugs and signing a handful of autographs symbolized the decades of mutual appreciation and respect that Springsteen shares with his audience.
I don’t know of any rock stars that would allow their audience to physically crowd surf them above their heads and back to the stage, which remains a Springsteen concert tradition and epitomizes the mutual trust between the man and his fans.
Highlights from “The River” set included fan favorite “Hungry Heart,” “Out in the Street,” “The River,” “Point Blank,” “Drive All Night,” “Cadillac Ranch,” etc. It’s tough to pick favorites from this musically and lyrically significant masterpiece.
“The River was really about time… you realize you have a limited amount of time … to try and do something good,” said Springsteen before playing the final cut off the album, the soul searching “Wreck on the Highway.”
Almost understatedly, Bruce said “That’s it. That’s the River,” as the final notes drifted off stage and as the Band segued into several tracks from Springsteen’s vast catalogue.
A deliberate and comical moment took place during the song “Wrecking Ball,” when Springsteen was greeted with a wave of good natured booing after announcing, “My home’s in the Meadowlands,” referencing the home turf of the New York Giants. Bruce laughed at the expected response from his Philly audience.
Bruce and company also offered up “The Rising,” the poignant “Human Touch” and a spine tingling delivery of “Jungleland” with Jake Clemons channeling his beloved Uncle Clarence and visibly moving the Boss during the provocative sax solo. Next came long time favorites “Thunder Road,” and “Born to Run,” with fans singing in unison, never missing a beat. During “Dancing in the Dark” Springsteen invited Philly Elvis on stage to dance with Soozie Tyrell, while Bruce himself danced with a woman from the audience, eliciting cheers from the crowd. The effervescent “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)” brought the evening toward a climactic close. Yet, still energized, Bruce finally finished out the night with an invigorated version of the Isley Brothers classic “Shout.”
Three and a half hours later, after a 33 song set (the longest of the tour so far), fans streamed out of the Wells Fargo center floating on the adrenaline of another memorable Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band concert, looking forward to a long weekend ahead.