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Bruce Springsteen And The E Street Band At Metlife Stadium, Tuesday, August 30th, 2016, Reviewed

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One part Guinness Book Of Record attempt, one part act of flagrant egotism, one part deep nostalgia trip, one part (late) mid-life crisis, one part brinksmanship, one part hometown advantage, one part long goodbye, and  add one of the most astounding setlists he has ever put together, and you have Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, last night at Metlife Stadium.

Whether by desire or by design, Bruce played the longest US set of his career on Tuesday, August 23rd, a 33 song three hours and 52 minute behemoth, he took a day off and followed it with the longest US set of his career on Thursday at four hours. After a quick trip to Chicago, Bruce was back at the scene of the crime yesterday to beat all comers with four hours and one minute. And if you don’t think he had one eye on the clock, and the other on Helsinski, where he performed for four hours and six minutes back in 2012, for the winner and still champion, you’re wrong. Just one more song, we’d have had it all but it was not to be.

Ken Davis reviewed the first two nights for us (here), and was excited enough to convince me to head down myself and while running on fumes today, it was worth it. I’d seen a variant of this The River Tour first in February and then in March of this year. Those gigs were at the much smaller (a quarter the size), Madison Square Garden, and had intended on missing out on the Stadium portion. The thing about those two gigs is that they were serious performances of a work of art, and despite the fun portion, which was huge, Springsteen had a whole lot on his mind. Not least of the ties that bind as it pertained to his father, encroaching adulthood, and the meaning of family. There were stories to tell and not particularly happy stories, either. Immediately superior to his previous tour, if only because the spotlight was on the E Street Band as a band, and not a band with a horn section that kept butting in, this was E Street today. In 2016, Clarence and Danny, if not exactly a memory (“Clarence doesn’t leave the E Street Band when he dies, he leaves it when we die…”), were a part of a past.

Sometime during the European leg of the tour, Bruce ditched The River and by the time he reached Metlife last week, the concert had become a greatest hits platter -or rather, a greatest whatever Bruce felt like playing platter. The three sets were not unlike the 2000 tour, with no real album to push and no agenda, not even a political one despite the Presidential elections hovering in the near distance, Bruce appeared to have been having blast playing both whatever he felt like, but also with a reason we weren’t privy to: last night he followed “Candy’s Room” with “She’s the One” –neat jokes like that abounded. August 23rd was heavy on The Rising, and August 25 was Tom Morello time. Last night, after the current concert opener, “New York Serenade” with a string section, Bruce claimed they were gonna try and get to the songs they hadn’t managed to perform in the previous two nights. With that as the modus operandi, the band performed a handful of songs from Greetings From Asbury Park, followed by a handful of songs from The Wild, The Innocent And The E Street Shuffle, and completed with a handful of songs from Born In The USA, around those three albums, he pulled out four songs off Born To Run, and also even more songs, from the expected “Badlands” to the unexpected, “Living Proof, and the full on surprise “Secret Garden”.

The E Street band can really and I mean really, bum me out. I loathed their set at the Rock N Roll Hal Of Fame Inductions a couple of years ago, when they jam hard they are tirelessly tedious, but when they concentrate their force, they are tremendous. The highlight of the evening was a 1 – 2 I watched them pull off in 2009, the “Incident On 57th Street” segueing into “Rosalita” just like the album was a show stopping masterwork of rock and roll adrenaline. I am not sure if Bruce blew the lyric, or just felt it was inappropriate, but he passed on “Incidents” best line, “Now let them black boys in to light the soul flame”, and that was the only misstep. Gone are the days when he held “Rosalita” for the last song of the night to be played solely in the swamps of Jersey. If that was the greatest moment, all of the covers, “Summertime Blues”, “Jersey Girl”, “Twist And Shout”, and “Pretty Flamingo” –with the only monologue of the evening, a tall tale about a girl which morphs into a tribute to his wife, all worked for me. We didn’t get many featured stars either, but the one star we did was a doozy: Ricki Lee Jones singing back up on “Spirit In The Night” –a pity he didn’t hand her a verse. Ricki is opening for Steely Dan during their October run at the Beacon, if you are going, go early. Though  the sets inner tick tock seemed a little strange  I can’t help but wonder… I wish I had the time,  I’d analyze all three nights and try and figure out what Bruce was thinking, -was there more than I know, was something internal there I’ve missed?. While part of you might think, a show whose second song of the evening is “Blinded By The Light” needs no further explanation, part of you might be as nosy as I am.

For sure, the deepest meaning lay in Bruce and his relationship with his audience, a joyful, playful, exuberant, relationship that is always and clearly touching. Whether bringing up three people to dance in the dark, guzzling an audience members beer, slapping hands as he tore around the arena (he did everything but body surf)  Bruce was so friendly and fun; on top of which it was a terrific game of  “I can’t believe he is playing that” for four hours straight. And always, making us the fifth Beatle. It is like we are his guitar, his lead instrument: he plays us, uses our energy to fuel his reaction. And the night felt for us, as if he was really and truly offering us a memory. An evening, and a stand, that might have been just another night on the road on the ongoing never-ending Bruce tour, was made into an event. Why? Why was he giving his home town this huge gift, this mammoth 12 hours of rock? Here is a reason: at first Bruce wasn’t gonna tour behind the deluxe The River Box set (I had tickets to see Nils Lofgren solo in April) at all, and then he was gonna do a handful of major market stadium gigs, and then it grew and grew. He decided to do it because Bruce is working on a solo album with a tour to follow, and he was worried it would be five years before he’d be back on the road with the E Street Band, maybe not again till Springsteen was in his mid-70s. Bruce is doing it now, while he can, because the future is encroaching upon him. I’m not claiming he is saying goodbye as such, but more or less, goodbye to a certain stamina performance, or maybe “just in case”, like the way I tell Helen I love her before I go to work, just so it is said one more time. In case. With Clarence Clemons and Danny Federici gone, mortality is nearer, the end is closer than further away, so an immortal home stand was in order.

It was immortal. If he had played seven songs off Working For A Dream, well, then not so much, but these were songs from the albums near the edge of time on the other side, from the beginning. Break it down, 4 off Greetings, 5 off Wild, 4 from Run and 7 off USA. Bruce wasn’t here on business; he was only here for fun.

Grade: A+

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