Incident on 7th Street Redux
And the band played on.
The second half of the Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band's double-header was a very slight letdown after Sunday's terrific opening salvo.
Nothing wrong with Monday's performance, per se - just that the intensity seemed to be off early in the show. Less energy flowing from the audience to the stage, perhaps, giving Bruce and the band less to work with. On the other hand, the sound was much better - to the point that you could clearly hear most of Roy Bittan's piano lines. And the band (and crowd) did dial it up eventually. The encore was pure fire.
The set was shortened by a song (and exactly six minutes), and there were a few new entries - some wholly welcome ("Thunder Road"!), some absolutely not (Patti's "Town Called Heartbreak"). There was a new face in the crowd, too, at least in my section: Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner, who emerged from the backstage area with a copy of the set list, which he flashed to the folks in the free-for-all G.A. section of the floor just before the show began.
In case you missed it, here's how it went down:
Radio Nowhere: The song doesn't crackle quite like it did on Sunday. Could just be me, having already been here, heard this. But I think there's an energy issue in the room. Sunday's crowd was exceptional from the start. Monday's: Less so. Is anybody alive out there?
The Ties That Bind: A big change from the first night, when "No Surrender" filled this slot - and "The River" wasn't represented in the set. "Now you can't break the ties that bi-yi-yi-yi-ind!" Bruce sings. There's something charmingly wobbly about this performance. There's something wonderfully indulgent about a five-guitar attack, too.
Lonesome Day: Attending a Springsteen concert is a little bit like going to a "Rocky Horror Picture Show" screening, as you really have to know your cues. Here, it's "it's all right" repeated three times - at which point, the lights flash the crowd, whose members are supposed to raise their arms in the air and scream "YEAH!" in unison.
Gypsy Biker: Another strong performance, once again highlighted by Bruce and Little Stevie's searing, tangled riffs.
Magic: You'd like to think that Springsteen doesn't work from a script, but he's recycling his banter from the previous night's show almost verbatim. He does, however, do something new in the introduction, dedicating the song to D.C., which he jokingly calls "the city of magic." A brief blast of feedback during Bruce and Patti's tandem howling is deflating.
Reason to Believe: Love the piano fills and Nils Lofgren's explosive riffs. These guys could be a pretty fine blues band if they wanted to.
Jackson Cage: Another new addition - and a second song from "The River." But Springsteen sounds somewhat flat. "Night" was significantly better in this slot on Sunday night. (Speaking of Sunday, here's Jersey boy Scott Galupo's first-night take, from the Washington Times.)
She's The One: The energy seems to surge during this arena-rattling stomp that's driven by Max Weinberg's drums.
Livin' in the Future: More recycled banter as Bruce riffs on civil liberties and a Constitution under attack. This time, he says there's something about D.C. "that reminds me of the handle on the screwdriver." Danny Federici's Hammond break sparkles.
The Promised Land: Sunday, Springsteen talked about wounded soldiers from the Bethesda Naval Hospital in introducing this one. Monday, he turns his attention to Walter Reed and notes that "we're humbled by their service and sacrifice." The performance is, once again, deeply soulful.
Town Called Heartbreak: Patti's song takes over the space that previously belonged to "I'll Work For Your Love." It's heartbreaking, indeed, that this filled one of the set's 23 precious slots when so many great Springsteen songs were left out. Good for household harmony perhaps, but not for Bruce Springsteen fans who go to a Bruce Springsteen show to hear Bruce Springsteen songs. Strangely enough, Wenner, who's been seated for the entire show, stands up for this one. Perhaps his leg is cramping? Or maybe he's tired of me looking at his argyle socks, which were clearly visible when he had his feet up on the rail.
Backstreets: An inspired choice, taking over for "Tunnel of Love." Inspired performance, too.
Working on the Highway: A joyous reminder that as serious as Springsteen can get, he can also flat-out have fun.
Devil's Arcade: The lyrics are too vague for my tastes, but I love the way the song closes with that kick-drum heartbeat.
The Rising: Lofgren's slide guitar, the churchy vocals, the pounding beat - they all move the song skyward. By the by, listen closely to the drums the next time you hear this one in concert and think of "Billie Jean." Yes, the Michael Jackson song. It's uncanny.
Last to Die: Strangely enough, the symphonic intro to this one sounds a lot like a Smashing Pumpkins song. Namely, "Tonight, Tonight." I'll take Bruce's growling over Billy Corgan's nasally bray any day. The rant doesn't sound quite as fiery as it did Sunday, but it comes close.
Long Walk Home: Springsteen's furious riffing is a highlight.
Badlands: Hearing 20,000 some-odd people shouting "I don't give a damn!" at high volume is a thing of beauty. The energy clearly issue isn't an issue anymore. This is one of the night's clear highlights.
Girls in Their Summer Clothes: If Don Henley and Brian Wilson wrote a song for Bruce Springsteen, this might be it.
Thunder Road: The opening harmonica line sends a shiver through the crowd. "He just made my night," the fan next to me says. When Bruce beings to sing, accompanied only by The Professor's piano - it's over. A total gimme, but it's a great performance of one of Springsteen's greatest songs. It's a painful trade, though, as "Thunder Road" stands in where two songs existed on Sunday: The 1973 tracks "Growin' Up" and "Kitty's Back."
Born to Run: The house lights are cranked up, and you can see clear across the arena, and people are going absolutely ape. There's something funny about everybody diving into the "tramps like us" line as the crowd doesn't seem to be particularly trampy. But who knows what lurks beneath...
Dancing in the Dark: The lights are still up, and the audience is still going ape. The band is really attacking this song. So much momentum in this encore.
American Land: Another unbridled performance as Springsteen et al make one final, boot-stomping statement before leaving the stage after just under 2 hours and 10 minutes.
The crowd hangs out - and on - hoping for at least one more encore, but it's not gonna happen.
Eddie, Rosalita and the little dolly with the blue jeans on will have to wait until another night.
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