All Eyes on the Big Man

J. Freedom has already given a Cris Collinsworth-esque breakdown of both Bruce Springsteen shows at the Verizon Center, as you've surely seen by now. All the insights you could ask for, including details on Jann Wenner's socks. Monday night was my first ever Springsteen live experience and I wanted to give a different take, since he's much more the Bruce expert than I am. (Don't worry, when that Pavement reunion tour hits town in 2011 I'll do the same for you.) So throughout the night I decided to pay close attention to the Big Man, Clarence Clemons.

When the house lights first went down and all 10 members of the band emerged, there was Clarence, looking a whole lot like the Undertaker, dressed in dark clothes and slowly walking to his stage right area. Big Man Land consisted of a stand that held a pair of saxophones, a pair of tambourines and various other percussive instruments. He also had a chair directly behind him, because hey, if Roy Bittan gets to sit down, Clarence gets to sit down sometimes as well. After the jump, check out another song-by-song rundown, except this time the focus will be solely on Clemons.

Radio Nowhere: The Big Man starts the concert off playing ... a washboard? It's true. He emerged from his stage right spot for a sax solo later in the song.

The Ties That Bind:: A simple tambourine for this song, before getting another solo, giving him a perfect 1.000 batting average so far. He certainly wasn't needed on guitar since this was one of a handful of songs in the set that featured five guitarists.

Lonesome Day:: Clarence went with the double tambourine for this one before emerging for a brief solo. Half credit for that one.

Gypsy Biker: More percussion for the Big Man, this time on shakers. But he may as well have taken this song off because he wasn't even close to being on the beat. But he wasn't even close to being near a microphone, either.

Magic: Another song with no saxophone part, so Clemons took a brief rest in his chair. This wasn't just your average folding chair, it was one of those futuristic-looking game show chairs, the kind you'd see on "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?"

Reason to Believe: Bruce wails away on harmonica on this bluesy shuffle, Clarence is back on tambourine duty before getting back into action on the sax.

Jackson Cage: And back to tambourine.

She's the One: Double shakers on this one before he rips off a big solo. This was one of my favorites of the night: Max Weinberg was seriously rocking that classic Bo Diddley beat.

Livin' in the Future: The Big Man gets another solo, but the best part of this song was when Bruce was in the middle of his political rant before the song started and the guy behind me says to his friend, "I'm going to the bathroom."

The Promised Land: It's the usual tambourine into sax solo for Clemons here. How do you think Nils Lofgren feels about being positioned next to Clarence? When the band first hit the stage it was pretty daunting. There's Bruce! There's the Big Man! There's Silvio! There's Mighty Max Weinberg. There's ... Chris Kattan?! Oh, I kid, it was obviously the diminutive local legend Lofgren. You think he might be able to swap spots with Steve Van Zandt, but I guess Lofgren doesn't much care about those things, as well he shouldn't.

Town Called Heartbreak: During this Patti Scialfa song, Clarence joined the rest of the sold-out crowd by resting his legs. Really, who could blame him?

Backstreets: After the previous song you knew Bruce would have to seriously make up for it and he did so in a big way. No saxophone for Clarence on this one, but he showed off some new form on the tambourine. Two shakes, then a longer shake as he moved across his body, left to right. Have to keep things fresh, I suppose.

Working on the Highway: Another highlight of the set, Clemons was seated for the beginning of this one before rising for some tambourine action. At one point in the middle of the song Bruce called out to him and it seemed to catch the Big Man off guard as he shot the Boss a puzzled "Get off my lawn!" look. Bruce probably just wanted him to chime in with a solo and Clemons was more than happy to oblige.

Devil's Arcade: Clarence takes a seat for this slow, somber tune. He seemed to be playing some combination of bells and a drumstick, but it's pretty inconsequential.

The Rising: The old double tambourine for this one before a brief saxophone part. Including half credits, I have him at 8-for-15 at this point.

Last to Die: Back to the washboard for this one, although it doesn't seem to have his full attention. He spends much of this song arranging his tambourines, making sure they don't slide off their resting places.

Long Walk Home: The Big Man rings them bells before blasting off a solo.

Badlands: He starts off on tambourine, but we all know what's coming here. One of his best solos doesn't disappoint at all.

Girls in Their Summer Clothes: I'll agree with J. Freedom that this song is pretty much pure cheese, but Clemons stayed busy. He started with bells, moved on to double tambourine and finished out with a solo. He even took some time to straighten out his black fedora before blowing those first few notes.

Thunder Road: After being a forgotten man for much of the middle of the set, Clarence is getting a chance to shine at the end. Another fantastic solo in this one after starting out on tambourine.

Born to Run: OK, I'll admit I didn't notice what the Big Man was doing before knocking another solo out of the park. Once the house lights went up I couldn't help but look around the arena and just take in the sheer joy. People with arms around each other, giddily singing along. Arena shows can certainly feel impersonal at times, but this one resonated with every single person in the arena.

Dancing in the Dark: I was very glad this one got the repeat treatment. This song has always made me laugh, for two reasons. First, the original video. I'm sad to report that Clarence did not clap along last night as he does in that link. Second, the parody of the video from when Courtney Cox hosted "Saturday Night Live" back in the '90s. Adam Sandler does a pretty good Boss impression, except for the letter R. Listen for it. And the SNL writers were smart enough to include clips of the Big Man clapping along.

American Land: Clemons finishes the evening off on ... recorder. So he starts on washboard and ends with recorder, fair enough. Final tally below.

Saxophone: 15 songs, 13 full-fledged solos, two half-credit solos
Tambourine: 14 songs, including 3 double tambourine
Bells: 3 songs
Shakers: 2 songs
Washboard: 2 songs
Recorder: 1 song

By David Malitz |  November 13, 2007; 12:17 PM ET Springsteen
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Comments

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You do know he's 65 and had both hips replace a couple of years ago, hence the chair. He's moving around a whole lot better than he did on the Vote For Change tour, when everyone was worried about him.

The Big Man is the Big Man. Gotta love him. He shakes a mean tamborine, even if he can't keep the beat.

Posted by: Big Man Fan | November 13, 2007 12:39 PM

thought i saw courtney cox leaning against the stage all night. boy did she look bummed that she didn't get some stage time.

Posted by: tim | November 13, 2007 1:21 PM

What did Patty do with all the money Bruce gave her ? What money ? The money for singing lessons ! Sounds like a cat stuck in a dryer !

Posted by: Ouch | November 13, 2007 1:27 PM

He is still the Big Man ! He has two new hips, but he is still the Big Man. Can't have an E Street Band without him.

Posted by: another Big Man fan | November 13, 2007 1:30 PM

Nice to see a (minor) nod to the local connection Nils has with DC - a gradute of Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda, circa 1974 give or take a year...

Posted by: CSH | November 13, 2007 1:42 PM

Only a non-Bruce devotee would say something like this. Clarence is the heart and soul of the band. He and Bruce have a bond that will endure forever. He looked thin and not well but I'm just glad that 30 years later, I can still see all of these original guys doing their thing and spreading joy to people and lift them out of their humdrum lives for a few hours. You sound like the typical Washington, DC, cynic.

Posted by: carolyn | November 13, 2007 1:45 PM

Jeez, Carolyn, take it easy. I love the Big Man, that's why I was focused on him all night, I just love watching him do his thing. Even if that thing is occasionally shaking a tambourine off beat. Deep breath, OK?

Posted by: David | November 13, 2007 1:51 PM

By my new Puscifer album. Send more money buddy!

Posted by: Maynard James Keenan | November 13, 2007 2:44 PM

He is a great performer; even better with the E Street Band. But keeping people waiting for an hour, from 7:30 till 8:30, for no reason is rude!

Posted by: Wayne | November 13, 2007 3:19 PM

Wayne,
Bruce and the band started the practice of coming out 45 mins to an hour late back during the Reunion tour in 1998. That's why the venue was still half empty at 8 PM. :) My group and I didn't take our seats until 8:15.

I suppose a casual fan wouldn't know this going in, and I'm sorry. Bruce would really tick off fans if he did, indeed, begin a show promptly at 7:30 to a half-empty venue. There are plenty of Bruce fan communities online where you can learn and share all things Bruce. Including the info that shows on this tour start between 8:20 and 8:30, and end between 10:30 and 10:40. :) Just google "Springsteen online community" and the first hit on the list will take you one of the best fan sites.

Welcome!

Posted by: Big Man Fan | November 13, 2007 4:08 PM

His horns were very shiny and they made deep sounds when he blew them. The crowd of people surged each time he did so.

Posted by: Furious Styles | November 13, 2007 4:18 PM

You stupid non-Bruce devotee.

Posted by: I am Better than You | November 13, 2007 5:29 PM

When "Dancing in the Dark" came on, my brother and I immediately started doing the Courtney Cox dance, singing along in our Sandler-doing-Bruce voices and wondering if Clarence would start clapping. Glad that we weren't the only ones.

Posted by: Chris | November 14, 2007 12:32 PM

It was a fantastic show! Classic Bruce and the E Street Band. Some of us have grown up with him and it's been a rock n' roll good time!

Posted by: Laura | November 14, 2007 7:44 PM

In regards to show-start time. The shows I've seen in Europe have startede almost on time like a clockwork...

Posted by: Lars | November 22, 2007 6:52 PM

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