Last night in Newark, Bruce closed out the first US leg of his Wrecking Ball tour in typical fashion: a perfect powerhouse performance that spotlighted the new album, offered rarities to satiate the diehards and brought out enough of the classics so not to alienate the newcomers.
The night featured two of the most esoteric moments I’ve witnessed at a Bruce Springsteen concert. The first was when he referenced literary great Philip Roth, citing him as both a Newark native and a badass. The second was when he launched into “Bishop Danced” a head-scratching curio from Disc 1 of Tracks. In his intro, Bruce stated it would be the first time they’d ever played the song as a full band. “Bishop Danced” is a song that the Legends of Springsteen editors have long puzzled over, noting its utter incoherence, even by Bruce standards. It’s by no means a great song but hearing it live gave us that uncanny (and completely unfounded) feeling that so many people express at a Bruce concert, like he was playing the song specifically for us.
A moment that will surely go down in the annals of Bruce legends was the beginning of the encore when Bruce trotted over to an audience member and grabbed a sign requesting a tribute to Levon Helm, the singer and drummer from The Band, who died in mid-April. Before launching into a beautiful cover of “The Weight”, Bruce said, "We’re gonna do our best on this." Ah, his false humility charms me every time.
The more predictable elements of the show (in as far as a Bruce show can be predictable) were fantastic as well. He opened with “No Surrender” (keeping the lights on) and then segued into the angriest version of “We Take Care of Our Own” that I’ve noticed; growling, “Where’s the promise, from sea to shining sea,” with vitriol.
“Death to my Hometown” was as invigorating as ever but I almost wish it came later in the set when the crowd is at a fever pitch. After leaving off “Shackled and Drawn” from the two Izod nights, Bruce played it for the first time in New Jersey and I was really glad I had the opportunity to see it live. Bruce's ‘shackled shuffle’ dance moves are up there with his “Death to my Hometown” ‘kicking off dust’ footwork and the horn section parading along the stage during the conclusion was a great sight.
I’m currently reading Dave Marsh’s “Glory Days” and couldn’t help but catch a Rolling Stones allusion in the lyrics to “Shackled and Drawn.” As Marsh chronicles, Bruce was a fan of playing “Street Fighting Man” during his encores in the 1980s and had an affinity for the lyric “Well, what can a poor boy do, except to sing for a rock n roll band.” In retrospect, it’s easy to hear that sentiment echoed in “Shackled and Drawn” with “What’s a poor boy to do but keep singing his song.”
In characteristically epic style, Bruce brought the three-hour show to a thundering conclusion gliding from “Born to Run” to “Dancing in the Dark” to “Rosalita” to “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out.” It doesn’t get much better than that and the crowd couldn’t have been happier.
This was my third show of the tour and I’ve got tickets for when Bruce returns stateside in the fall. Despite being fortunate enough to see multiple shows, I’m still incredibly envious of the Europeans who will be enjoying Bruce concerts all summer long.