David Remnick’s profile in the New Yorker writes about the “ultra-sincere interchange between Springsteen and his fans.” I’ve never witnessed a clearer illustration of that bond than last night’s concert which began with 55,000 dejected fans waiting more than 2 hours in shelter due to lightning warnings and ended with the entire stadium singing Happy Birthday to Bruce at nearly 2:00 in the morning while his family came on stage for a birthday cake celebration.
Word of Bruce’s marathon Wednesday show and stunning set list on Friday set anticipation for Saturday evening at a fever pitch. But the evening was mired early on by the impending weather storm that caused security to evacuate the floor and general seating areas. As lines snaked around the undercover of MetLife stadium and the clock ticked later and later, all sorts of scuttlebutt made its way up and down the lines regarding whether Bruce would play at all. And if he did, what kind of show would it be? It was hard times all around but I took comfort knowing that the person who was most upset about the delay was Bruce himself. Such is the bond that Remnick writes about.
When we were finally ushered out to the field and Bruce took the stage at approximately 10:30 p.m. with his trademark grin, gestures about the rain and his welcoming – “I think I just invited 55,000 people to my birthday party!” – we knew everything was going to be all right. And it was.
Bruce moved at a fevered clip, making up for lost time and delivering 33 songs in a 3½ hour show that rocked into the wee hours of the morning. It was almost an hour before he slowed down to introduce the band during the resident “My City of Ruins” call-outs. On this tour, this is usually the fifth or sixth track of the evening, but last night it was the tenth, coming after crowd favorites (“Out in the Street,” “Badlands), obscurities (“Cynthia”) and Wrecking Ball cuts (“We Take Care of Our Own,” “Death to My Hometown”).
A spirited cover of Wilson Pickett’s “In the Midnight Hour” and the now familiar rendition of “Who Will Stop the Rain” gave playful comment on the situation. But I also noticed how many of the songs in his set list mentioned rain in the lyrics. It was hard to tell if this was coincidence or part of Bruce’s backstage selection process. Bruce also thanked the audience repeatedly for their patience throughout the course of the evening. Oh, Bruce. You know we’d drive all night to be with you.
I had general admission tickets to the floor and even though you have to put up with unruly fans, lack of readily available exits and the discomforts of standing in one place, I really feel that it’s the best way to see a Springsteen concert. Even with the big screens and video camera wizardry, you need to be up close to really appreciate the showmanship of the E Street Band. From Bruce’s cavalcade of expressions and theatrics to Nils Lofrgren’s exorcism-like guitar playing on “Because the Night” (much of which wasn’t on the big screen) to the entire band dancing in unison to “Shackled and Drawn” you have to be up close to get the full effect.
Additional highlights from the evening included Bruce calling on stage the 73-year-old Gary U.S. Bonds for two songs (“Jole Blon” and “This Little Girl”), more surprise appearances from Born in the U.S.A. (“Cover Me”, “Downbound Train”, “Working on the Highway”) and bizarre theatrics during the encore performances of “Glory Days” and “Seven Nights to Rock”. The latter of which included Bruce playing the piano with his forehead.
By the time the night concluded with Bruce bringing out his mother – Adele Springsteen – and additional family members to distribute birthday cake to lucky members of the audience and tear down the house with a beatific rendition of “Twist and Shout”, it was clear that we were witnessing something special. As Bruce readied his 87-year-old mother to sing back-up vocals, he noted almost as an afterthought, “It’s going to be loud as hell.” He then plugged his mother’s ears with a bit of torn off napkin and proceeded to rock. As fireworks went off above the stadium, it felt like the entire crowd was smiling in unison. Like so many other times in my life, when the world seemed to be ending (which it wasn’t), the music of Bruce Springteen turned things around. It wasn’t the best Springsteen concert I’ve ever been to, but it might be the one I never forget.