rock 'n' roll appreciation 101

Bruce Springsteen’s tour on The River


During an unseasonably pleasant Rochester night in late February, Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band rolled into the Blue Cross Arena to play to a sold-out audience. Now, I have never had much luck with the greats, missing out on the Stones and McCartney by losing out to bulk ticket buyers and refusing to pay the outrageous StubHub prices. So when the purchase went through on Ticketmaster’s website shortly after 10AM on the Friday they went on sale, I was the happiest girl ever.

Consider this a check off the bucket list if you will.

This tour’s premise was to perform from first track to last, every cut from The River. The rest of the set would be whatever the Boss wanted to do, as he is known to take the requests from fans’ signs. So, just a few minutes past 8 o’ clock, the crowd starting “Brucing” as the house music dimmed. The E Street Band, sans Patti Scialfa entered from center stage, taking their respective places. A denim-clad, Telecaster-wearing Springsteen then appeared on stage, raising his guitar and taking the microphone to greet his audience, then saying the first words any music fan loves to hear:

“1-2-3-4! 1-2-3-4!” The band erupted into “Meet Me in the City” while the crowd was on their feet taking in every word and note.

The arena went dark after the song finished as a spotlight lit up Springsteen. He welcomed the audience to his performance of The River-his “coming-of-age” record. “I took notice of all the things that bond people to their lives. Work, their commitments, their families,” he said. “I wanted to imagine and wanted to write about that and I figured it would be a first step to having those things in my own life. So that’s what I did. I wanted to make a big record that felt like life or an E Street Band show. I wanted the record to contain fun, dancing, laughter, sex, jokes, good comradeship, love, faith, lonely nights and of course, teardrops. And I figured if I could make a record big enough to contain all of those things, maybe I could get a little closer to finding some of the answers I was looking for and was trying to find.”

“Come along with us on ‘The River’ and see what we can find.”

Listening to an album, or in this case a double album is one thing, but hearing it in its sequential format live is another. Springsteen is a stellar storyteller, sneaking in some of these moments in-between songs. It is an emotional ride from the power numbers to the heart-wrenching odes. Springsteen explained how “Independence Day” is about a family’s “dreams and hopes that maybe didn’t work out so perfectly,” and that they end up “working out compromises they had to make.” As the story continued, Roy Bittan added a piano solo opening that laid the foundation for the song. After the emotional drainage of “Independence Day,” the E Street Band launched straight into “Hungry Heart” with an exuberant audience shouting out the lyrics to the first verse while a grinning Bruce paced along the stage with his microphone thrust toward his fans. To cap off the song, he crowdsurfed back to the stage without missing a single lyric.

As the final strains of “Wreck on the Highway” were fading out, the first half of the show came to a close. “The River is about time,” Springsteen said. “You realize you have a limited amount of time to do your work, raise your family, do something good.”

The post-River set became the ultimate crowd pleaser with hand-picked songs and cuts from the classic hits. Springsteen and the E Streeters, were ready to play more after playing for a non-stop hour and a half. Bruce walked toward his screaming audience and plucked a sign from the fan. One side read “I Wanna Be With You” and  “I’m Goin’ Down” on the other. The band surprised us with both, as they happened to be tour premieres on this date. By this point, the crowd was panting for more, and the Boss delivered with “Badlands” and “Because the Night” that included a very animated Nils Lofgren spinning around during his solo, aggressively keeping in time with each spin as he fed off the crowd’s energy.

Bruce snapped up another sign requesting “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out,” which contains heavy sax play and a nod to the “Big Man,” Clarence Clemons. At that point, a video started to play on the two screen located on each side of the stage showing images of Clarence Clemons and keyboard player Danny Federici.

The band did exit the stage before a rousing and perfect encore to satisfy the demanding cheer of “Bruce!” With just a moment of collecting themselves and taking a breather backstage, the band hit the stage once more to blast right into the hits. Max Weinberg’s rapid-fire slamming of the drums has one quickly register the first strains of “Born to Run.”

“Do you have anything left Rochester?” Springsteen asked the thousands of screaming faces. They had already played “Dancing in the Dark” and made a woman’s day by invited her up on stage and playing guitar with the band.

“Rochester! Rochester! Rochester!”

The crowd roared.

“I want you to go home tonight and tell all your neighbors that you have just seen the heart-stoppin’, pants-droppin’, earth-shakin’, hard-rockin’, booty-shakin’, earth-quakin’, love-makin’, Viagra-takin’, history-makin’, legendary E Street Band!”

With the vocal power of the Isley Brothers, the band began to play “Shout.” The house lights were on at this point and the sea of bodies waved as they jumped up and down and pumped fists. Every time I hear this song, I am instantly reminded of Animal House, but this put that famous frat party scene to shame.

The band may have left the stage for good this time and it left a charged hangover as the crowd started to disperse, walking over flattened beet cups to return to the slightly chilled night air.

I have not seen a performer like Springsteen carry so much energy for 3+ hours and still have that consistency. The E Street Band is made up of seasoned, professional performers who go night after night on long tours and bring nothing but amazing enthusiasm to each show. Given the opportunity, go, buy a ticket and savor the bliss of rock and roll.

1. Meet Me In The City
2. The Ties That Bind
3. Sherry Darling
4. Jackson Cage
5. Two Hearts
6. Independence Day
7. Hungry Heart
8. Out In The Street
9. Crush On You
10. You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)
11. I Wanna Marry You
12. The River
13. Point Blank
14. Cadillac Ranch
15. I’m A Rocker
16. Fade Away
17. Stolen Car
18. Ramrod
19. The Price You Pay
20. Drive All Night
21. Wreck On The Highway

22. Night
23. No Surrender
24. I Wanna Be With You
25. I’m Goin’ Down
26. Badlands
27. Because The Night
28. The Rising
29. Thunder Road

30. Born To Run
31. Dancing In The Dark
32. Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)
33. Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
34. Shout

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