Saturday, September 8, 2012

Concert Review – Wrigley Field, Chicago September 7

Looking at the back-to-back baseball field precedent of the Fenway performances last month, there was a temptation to think that the first night at Wrigley would be Bruce’s safe night and pale in comparison to the second night’s wild and unpredictable powerhouse. Such concerns were instantly eradicated the second Bruce stepped on stage and opened with “Prove It All Night” (’78 Opening).

From that lengthy, guitar-heavy salvo, he segued into “My Love Will Not Let You Down” from Tracks. It was almost as if Bruce was testing the audience right off the bat to see how many fans were in attendance and who was ready to party. When the audience earned his trust, he quickly returned the favor by turning to audience participation heavy favorites “Out in the Street” and “Hungry Heart”.

From that point it was apparent that all bets were off. The next thing you know, Tom Morello is jumping around stage in a Cubs hat unannounced and shredding his unclipped guitar alongside the band in “Death to My Hometown.” An hour or so later, who’s that walking on stage? None other than Eddie Vedder. He was rumored to join Bruce in Philadelphia after being sighted near backstage but an appearance didn’t materialize. This time? Here he is joining Bruce for a stark duet of “Atlantic City”.

Other notable moments included the tour debut of the quietly powerful “None but the Brave”, the best live version of “Land of Hope and Dreams” I’ve ever heard (every instrument powerful; every lyric precious) and the always appreciated “Trapped” (which had our beer guy shimmying up and down the aisle). There was also the unexpected Born in the U.S.A. one-two punch of “I’m Goin’ Down” and “Darlington County” that sent my wife to Stubhub scouring for seats to Saturday night’s concert (cooler heads prevailed after the show).

Seeing Springsteen at Wrigley Field marked a series of firsts for me:
• The first time I’ve seen him perform outside of New Jersey
• The first time I’ve seen him perform in a baseball stadium
• The first time I’ve seen him joined by surprise guests on stage

This was my eighth Springsteen concert but the first outside of the Garden State. It was startling the first time I heard him yell “Chicago!” instead of "New Jersey!" Seeing it in Wrigley provided great atmosphere but I did find the audio quality lacking. Perhaps it was just the location of our seats toward the back of the lower tier but the sound was often distorted, which made Bruce’s speeches even less intelligible than usual.

When Morello joined for “Death to My Hometown” I can’t say it made much difference to me but it was fun to see him bobbing around. His addition to “Jack of All Trades” was more significant but his presence really came alive during “The Ghost of Tom Joad”. The feverish powerhouse conclusion of which was the heaviest guitar playing I've ever seen in a Bruce concert. As the night progressed, Morello seemed happy camping out on stage and by the end, it felt like he had joined in for so many songs that he might as well just become a permanent member of the E Street Band – something I would wholeheartedly endorse.

On the subject of additions to the band, during “Spirit in the Night” Bruce had Jake Clemons join him on the steps and the two reprised the kind of pantomime that Bruce and Clarence had been doing since the 1970s. Their repartee wasn’t as smooth as it could have been, the sax blurts not timed completely right and for a moment the performance reminded me of Jimmy Stewart trying to recreate his lost Madeleine in Vertigo. But only for a moment.

The band finished with a rollicking encore that featured a sign request for “Jungleland” and capped off the night with “Twist and Shout” with the remarkable jumbo screen image of Springsteen, Vedder and Morello all singing into the same microphone. Who knows what kind of magic is in store for the second night at Wrigley. We can suspect it will be full of sign requests, other guests and jaw-dropping rarities. But however it unfolds, this first night was truly one for the ages.

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