Shows I’ll Never Forget: Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, April 22, 2009

by Mark Saleski, in Boston

You know, every time I go to a Bruce show, I come out of there thinking it was the best one ever. A few days later, after the adrenaline levels drop back to normal, memories of past concerts come back into focus: “Wait… what about back in…?”

This time, the adrenaline obliterated by not nearly enough sleep (and what the hell, city of Boston, where are those freaking extra trains at North Station on event nights? Sheesh!!), I have to say that this one does indeed deserve a spot right near the top.

Bruce and company came on shortly after 8 p.m. (pretty early by his standards) and man, he was on. People accuse him of mailing performances in. They haven’t seen the way he leaned in hard to the opening “Badlands.” The intensity was brutal right from the start. The crowd was a boiling sea of energy, beaming back waves to the band and boy, did they respond.

“Outlaw Pete” isn’t exactly my favorite Working On A Dream song, but in concert it took on new life, with swelling power chords, soaring background vocals, and yes, Bruce’s goofy hat at the end. He might take his career as a whole seriously but he’s sure not beyond havin’ a good time.

There were many highlights. “She’s The One” was probably the first tune that pushed the audience to the lift-off stage. While the “bad-times three-pack” (“Seeds”->”Johnny 99″->”Youngstown”) was capped off by the blistering guitar work of Nils Lofgren, it was the crowd sign request part of the show that took everything up a notch. With the band playing an instrumental version of “Raise Your Hand,” Bruce pulled sign after sign from outstretched hands. After dumping them all near Max Weinberg’s drum riser, Bruce sorted through carefully and stood up with what looked like a sheet of 8.5 x 11 notebook paper. With a huge grin on his face, he walked over to show Miami Steve. An even bigger smile spread across Steve’s face. On the paper was “I Wanna Be Sedated.” The crowd went sorta crazy when they saw this on the video screens. After conferring on key/chords, Bruce let out a raspy cackle and they launched into the Ramones classic. Let me tell you, 17,000+ screaming the words to this song? Fantastic. Bruce and the E Streeters nailed it too. It was pure joy.

Ah, but request time had one more surprise in store. Bruce went back to the sign pile, picking up several and leaning them all against his microphone stand: “For You.” I couldn’t believe it. We were then treated to not one but two songs from the Greetings From Asbury Park days: “For You,” followed by a rousing “Spirit In The Night.” Incredible.

Because I was right in the middle of the crowd on the floor, I noticed something that had escaped me at past concerts. Bruce does indeed have a legion of younger fans now. In their late teens teens to nearly thirty, they seemed to really be pumped up by material from The Rising, “Waitin’ On A Sunny Day” in particular. “Fans” from the message boards love to complain about these songs, but it’s clear that somebody loves them. I turned around to look up at the masses in the balconies with their hands up in the air and commented to TheWife™, “Hey, look at how much they hate this song!”

Earlier in the day, I had an e-conversation with a writer cohort about the issue of emotion at concerts. I can easily be overwhelmed with emotion in the moment and wondered how I would react last night, given the crazy changes that have affected my family over the last year. Well, there were a couple of times when it was tough to hold back. The first came early, during the louder parts of “Candy’s Room.” My mom loved that song and would always ask me to crank it up during those parts. The second, which did overcome me, came during “The Promised Land.” When Bruce sang “Mister I ain’t a boy, no, I’m a man…” it just hit me that I am, indeed, no longer anybody’s little boy. I sort of hoped that nobody would see the tears, but I sort of didn’t care either.

Other surprises included the appearance of “Jungleland,” an audible from the setlist over “Racing In The Street.” I’ll take this one. It was majestic. And, as usual, lights came up during “Born To Run.” So much fun to be right in the middle of a giant group of people, all of them pretty much losin’ it!

The encore segment kicked off with the gospel intensity of “Hard Times,” followed by my favorite Springsteen song, “Thunder Road.” After “Land Of Hope And Dreams,” Bruce brought out Tim Brennan (and his girlfriend Diane) from the Dropkick Murphys. On one knee, Brennan proposed to Diane (who really did seem genuinely shocked). Quite a moment there, as Diane said “Yes!” and Bruce and the band launched into their “wedding song,” “So Young And In Love.” We were in a frenzy at this point, pushed just a little bit further by the appearance of the rest of the Murphys, who helped out with a rockin’ “American Land” and then “Glory Days.” I was a happy (and exhausted) man at this point as the band slowly headed toward the back of the stage. But wait! Bruce changed his mind and brought everybody back out for a show-closing “Seven Nights To Rock.”

At just a smidge under three hours of pure fun and intensity, it would be hard for Bruce to top this one.

Setlist, April 22, 2009 — Boston:
Badlands
Candy’s Room
Outlaw Pete
She’s The One
Working On A Dream
Seeds
Johnny 99
Youngstown
Raise Your Hand
I Wanna Be Sedated
Spirit In The Night
For You
Waitin’ On A Sunny Day
The Promised Land
Jungleland
Kingdom of Days
Radio Nowhere
Lonesome Day
The Rising
Born To Run

Hard Times
Thunder Road
Land Of Hope And Dreams
So Young and In Love (with Dropkick Murphys)
American Land (with Dropkick Murphys)
Glory Days
Seven Nights To Rock

Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski is a writer and music obsessive based out of the woods of central New Hampshire. A past contributor to Jazz.com, Blogcritics.org and Salon, he writes several weekly features including the Friday Morning Listen, (Cross the) Heartland, WTF! Wednesday, and Sparks Fly on E Street. Follow him on Twitter: @msaleski. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.

Here's where you talk back ...