A Runaway American Dream: Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Charlotte, NC 11-3-09
“Good evening, Charlotte!”
And so it started, the return visit to the Carolinas. The state where something must be in the water. That inexplicable, or is it unexplainable, magic that causes the band to perform beyond even its own mortal ability, as well as for middle-aged and up fans to act far less than their age. While their last visit to Charlotte was under far more difficult circumstances, having lost keyboardist Danny Federici, this one would be under much better terms. There would be no public grieving tonight, just a rock and roll celebration, maybe a little bit of healing, with one of rock’s greatest masterpieces smack dab in the middle.
Kicking off the show with more than just a slight nod to the hard economic times that have befallen the country, Springsteen and the band tore into an angry version of “Seeds.” With the big banks seemingly in his cross hairs, Springsteen sang the lines “I swear if I could spare the spit I’d lay one on your shiny chrome/and send you on your way back home” with pure venom. Immediately bringing the evening to a much lighter note with yet another tip of the hat to the South as well as to The Rolling Stones, Bruce and co. launched into “Darlington County,” a southern fried rock song that sounded on the verge of turning into “Honky Tonk Women” before veering back into familiar territory. “Hungry Heart” found Bruce at some of his most playful. Apparently not content to simply work the front of the stage, he ventured out onto the floor along the perimeter, then between the back of “the pit” and the rest of the general admission floor area. Returning to his daredevil crowd surfing ways, he fell backwards and allowed the fans to carry him through the front general admission area and then back on stage (Bruce, you’re a better man than I). The best that could be said about “Working on a Dream” was that it was a standard version, possibly there only to justify calling this “The Working on a Dream Tour” as that would be the only track from the new album played all evening.
There’s not much that hasn’t already said about the Born to Run album. With his first two albums having sold poorly and on the verge of being dropped by Columbia, Springsteen went into the studio with his career on the line. The album would take 14 months to record, the title track alone would take six. Bits and pieces of lyric and instrumentation would shift from song to song. Characters names would change. The record would also include a Phil Spector-ish wall of sound as well as a four corners concept (each side would start off with a song dealing with hope and promise and then end with loss, sadness and betrayal).
Motioning to himself and the crowd while introducing the album as “the start of our conversation,” Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band took us through a sonic New Jersey landscape, masterfully weaving through “Born to Run” in it’s entirety. The harmonica intro to “Thunder Road” served as gentle invitation, the final lines became a fist pumping promise that “it’s a town full of losers, we’re pullin’ outta here to win.” “Tenth Avenue Freezeout” told the story of how the E Street Band came to be with the big part, according to Bruce, being that “the change was made uptown and The Big Man joined the band.” “Night” would become a theme that would find itself in many of Springsteen’s later songs. “Backstreets” was one of the more impassioned performances of the evening. “Born to Run” is still Springsteen’s most identifiable and seminal piece, his launching pad and the song that former New Jersey governor Christie Whitman petitioned to become the state song (her bid would ultimately be shot down due to its characters wanting to “get out while we’re young”. . . picky, picky). Generally reserved as a set closer or embedded somewhere within the encores, it shone brightly starting off the album’s second side and felt every bit as powerful in this slot. “She’s The One” with it’s Bo Diddley beat flat out rocked, Springsteen grinding his guitar strings along his microphone stand before tearing into a searing harmonica solo. “Meeting Across the River” featured only Springsteen, Garry Tallent on bass, Roy Bittain on piano and Curt Ramm on trumpet. Coming off like the soundtrack to a back alley deal about to go bad, played stunningly no less, “Meeting…” led into the final track, “Jungleland.” Played with a rising intensity, Bruce and the band roared through the story about an urban murder. Soozie Tyrell’s tender violin intro, Steve Van Zandt’s solo, Springsteen and his trusty Fender guitar standing beneath the giant Exxon sign that gives this fair city light, the hungry and the hunted have exploded into rock and roll bands. Clarence’s sax solo became a wonder to behold, soaring and falling, rising higher and higher, sounding almost romantic yet inevitably tragic. After his solo The Big Man not only had a slight smile on his face but, knowing he had done his Boss proud, had more than just a single tear in his eye, enough for Springsteen to come over to make sure he was okay (don’t worry Big Man, I had more than a tear in mine with you).
The rest of the set became celebratory. “Waiting on a Sunny Day,” while not a happy song lyrically, still gave the arena a chance to dance as well as for a young boy to climb on stage to sing. Four audience sign requests were the order of this evening. “I Fought The Law” was chosen quickly, probably for it’s simplicity but also because it’s just fun to play. If the frat rock of “Sherry Darlin'” was a bit of a surprise, the honored request for the juke joint sounding “So Young and in Love” was more of a shock. Never one to back down from a bit of a challenge, Springsteen also chose Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl.” It took Bruce and Van Zandt a minute or two to work out the intro and the chord changes, but as soon as that dust was cleared off it became an E Street Band house rocker. “Lonesome Day,” “The Rising,” and “Badlands” took us into the home stretch and capped off an incredible main set (nixing the setlisted “No Surrender” closer. . . yes Bruce, I did get to peek at your setlist).
With a final nod to difficult economic times and a plug for the local food bank, gospel became the order with “Hard Times,” promising they will “come again no more.” Whether or not you want to believe that coming, from a millionaire, is up to you; however, tonight I’m buying anything at this point. Even a pedestrian sounding song like “Bobby Jean” sounded wonderful. The folk rock of “American Land” sounded a bit forced but “Dancing in the Dark” flowed easy and loose. Honoring one last sign request to play Rosie for a Rosie (a spoiler. . . it was already setlisted in that very slot), “Rosalita” also came out to play. Showing that rock and roll can be communal, Springsteen closed the show with Jackie Wilson’s “Higher and Higher,” the song that started off as a sign request in Philadelphia. Trading vocals with his backup singers, Springsteen and the band managed to do just that, take it higher and higher. With one final jaunt around the arena floor, a victory lap of sorts, Springsteen managed to connect with as many fans as he could, shaking hands, dancing on top of something next to the soundboard, running to the other side of the floor and then back onstage. And of course those words that Springsteen fans love to hear, “We’ll be seein’ ya!”
At two hours and forty minutes it wasn’t a very long show. Judging by many of the other shows on this tour it was definitely one of the shorter ones. Size may not always matter and it sure doesn’t apply here. With a classic album performed under his belt and a promise of “we’ll be seeing ya,” I have only one thing to say. . .
I’m holding you to that promise.