At the Los Angeles Sports Arena: For those fans who engage in the armchair sport of setlist watching, there had up until recently been some concern that Bruce Springsteen’s current Wrecking Ball tour seemed to be following a very set pattern in terms of the song selection. As the tour has progressed, such silliness has proven to be groundless of course. Tour premieres have long since become a near nightly occurrence. Hardcore fans have been rewarded with rarities like “The Promise” and “Janey Don’t You Lose Heart” during recent stops, and Tampa, Florida even got the ultra-rare “Talk To Me.”
The sold out crowd at the Los Angeles Sports Arena this past Thursday got none of these, during the first of Bruce Springsteen and the newly expanded E Street Band’s two night stand there. But they did get a blazing, uber-high-energy show from Springsteen, who at 62 remains the hardest working man in show business. The setlist likewise did not disappoint, including one genuine “holy shit!” moment, that led into one of the more memorable “three-pack” segue I’ve ever seen at an E Street Band show.
But we’ll get to more on that in a minute.
If anything, Thursday night’s show reminded me a lot of the shows I saw back on 1978′s mythical Darkness On The Edge Of Town tour. The energy level of the E Street Band was off the charts, and the crowd response at times nearly threatened to blow the roof off of the building. It was the first time I’ve seen Springsteen open a show with “Badlands” since way back then — and with the house lights up, no less (the building didn’t go dark until the second song, the usual show opener “We Take Care Of Our Own”).
Something else I haven’t seen Springsteen do since then, is venture out into the crowd for a little up-close-and personal “one-on-one” with the fans. But in Los Angeles, Springsteen took this even one step further — guzzling a quick beer handed to him by one fan, and falling backwards into the arms of the rest of the crowd, who then carried him back to the stage during the “Apollo Medley.” The crowd-surfing action was repeated again with “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out” during the encores.
The Darkness album was likewise represented by the first genuine shocker of the evening, a letter perfect version of the rarely played “Something In The Night” from that album, making its Wrecking Ball tour debut. But this was only the first of a powerful three-pack, that also included “Candy’s Room,” segueing right into “She’s The One.” By this time, the usually more subdued L.A. crowd became completely unglued.
Tour premieres and rarities aside, this was not just a greatest hits fest in the same way that the marathon two-year run behind the Magic and Working On A Dream albums was, particularly towards the tail end. Much as he did with the post 9-11 album The Rising, Bruce Springsteen has a message and a story to tell on the new Wrecking Ball album, and the new songs like “Death To My Hometown” and “Jack Of All Trades” proved even more powerful in concert than they are on the record.
For both of these songs, Springsteen was joined by Rage Against The Machine guitarist (and occasional social and political activist) Tom Morello, who turned in a particularly powerful solo at the end of “Jack Of All Trades.” Morello’s guitar solo at the end of Springsteen’s Great Depression era dirge “The Ghost Of Tom Joad” was something else entirely though. For this song, Morello put on a fiery, emotionally charged display of guitar pyro, with his fingers moving like lightning in and around the fretboard, and even up into the higher harmonic register.
On a purely musical level, Morello’s playing here was the most jaw-dropping moment of the night, an even more impressive feat playing with a bunch of guys as great as the E Street Band.
Despite the themes of working class struggle inherent in the new songs from Wrecking Ball though, Springsteen also added some much needed levity when it was most needed, at one point even adding certain “old rich guitar players” to the Occupy movement’s hit-list of one-percenters. For every song threatening (albeit, somewhat humorously) to “send the robber barons straight to hell” though, the promise and hope of a better day yet to come was represented by something like “The E Street Shuffle” or even the much maligned “Waiting On A Sunny Day” (which is actually not all that bad played live).
But the other big story on this tour of course, has been the “new faces” and “old faces” of the E Street Band. The spirit of Danny Federici, and especially Clarence “Big Man” Clemons was acknowledged often in a way which mourned, but also celebrated them (“If we’re here, and you’re here, then they’re here”). The final tribute to Clemons, a montage of photos of the Big Man played on the overhead screens during “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out,” was particularly touching.
For their own part, the E Street Band’s newly expanded horn section also did an admirable job of filling those over-sized shoes of Clemons too. The new E Street “Big Band” adds an element of soul to the “big noise” they are already famous for, and works particularly well in the context of the more R&B and gospel tinged songs on the Wrecking Ball album.
Clarence’s young nephew Jake Clemons also seems to be settling into his role as the E Street Band’s “Little Big Man” quite nicely. For the most part, he’s been nailing the sax parts on songs like “Badlands” and “The Ties That Bind.” At this show, he also got a little more into Clarence’s act as Springsteen’s primary onstage foil, displaying some of the Big Man’s patented song and dance moves.
Like everything else at this great show, the crowd ate it up too.
Setlist, April 26, 2012, Los Angeles:
We Take Care Of Our Own
The Ties That Bind
Death To My Hometown (with Tom Morello)
My City Of Ruins
The E Street Shuffle
Jack Of All Trades (with Tom Morello)
Something in the Night
She’s The One
Waiting On A Sunny Day
The Promised Land
Apollo Medley (The Way You Do The Things You Do/634-5789)
The Ghost of Tom Joad (with Tom Morello)
We Are Alive
Land Of Hope And Dreams
Rocky Ground (with Michelle Moore)
Born To Run
Dancing In The Dark
Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out (with Tom Morello)