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Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band at Madison Garden Saturday November 7th, 2009: Spectacular At The Penultimate Concert Of Multi-Year Tour

During the encore last night, the bit where they all link hands at the edge of the stage, Bruce Springsteen’s wife, Patti Scialfa, whisper to her husband “That was a good concert”. Yes, it was THAT sort of a night; the sort when the main person in your life, the person who has been with you for decades and played next to you at every show, finds it neccessary to mention just how good you were, just how well you’d captured the moment. 

Why? Who knows what alchemy occurs with Springsteen? Who knows what makes the best rock performer ever dump the two lousy  albums he has been forced to perform for years (he plays exactly one song between the two of them)  dumps the “Is there anybody alive out there?” schtick and triumphantly performs a concert for the ages.

There was no waiting for Springsteen and  the E Street Band to setttle into the three hour plus set. The first song is “Thundercrack” an outtake from The Wild, The Innocent And The E Street Shuffle (he’ll play the album in order a little later). This is one of several songs I’ve never heard live before and it is better than most bands second encore. The band is already warmed up, great swathes of the audience know it (I had it on Bruce’s “bootleg series” Tracks album from 1998) and the rest don’t care. I think he left it off The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle for two reasons: the album was already too long and the sexual innuendo was a bit strong for the time, tonight it leads the way.

In a three hour set Springsteen played a handful of songs I actively dislike: “Working On A Dream”, “Waitin’ On A Sunny Day”, “The Rising” and “Wrecking Ball” and all of them were okay tonight. When Springsteen writes a good song, decades of the stuff, he rights it because he nails the lick first and leaves the lick to do the work for him and as often as not he lets the keybs not the guitar repeat it. Listening to “Born To Run” it underpins the song all the way through. He can write em in his sleep but he hasn’t written a killer lick in way too long. tonight, I don’t care, even the much hated “Wrecking Ball” is OK with me.

Forty five minutes into the set Springsteen plays “The E Street Shuffle” . At the start of the concert Springsteen noted that the The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle tanked and also that half of the songs were observances about his native New Jersey and the other half fantasies about New York. To hear these two parts merge was one of the great moments in my concert going experience. You haven’t sung along to “Everybody form a line” till you’ve sung along to it with 20,000 other people, you haven’t dance till you’ve danced with a very pretty, very drunk girl to Springsteen’s “E Street Shuffle”.

The album is 47 minutes long, the live performance around 77 minutes but most of the extension was on a dynamic “Kitty’s Back”with band member taking solos, the horn section powerful, and Roy Bittan almost entirely rhythmic  piano, but best of all was Bruce center stage, bending notes like he was taking lessons from Jeff beck at the Hall of Fame.

It is all leading to “Incident On 57th Street” and “Rosalita”. “Incident” is a beauty with the entire audience singing along “meet me tomorrow night at lover’s lane”. Were we ever that young? bruce knows where he’s going and so does everybody else but he teases us along with an extended segue which has all of us just dying to sing at the top of our lungs. The piano motif, a lullaby of Broadway, tinkles and shines and that sound you here is 20,000 people holding their breaths before the piano disappears in a guitar chord and blast from the big man. Is there a more thrilling start to a song? Is there anything like the first line? “Spread out now Rosie, doctor come cut loose her Mama’s reins” . Has anybody ever answered the contradiction in being a rock star than Bruce’s “The record company Rosie just gave me a big advance”. he plays this song whenever he plays Jersey but he doesn’t play this, he doesn’t let it build the way it does on The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle. This is loose, woolly, fun rock and roll. Ariel Swartley woulda flipped.

I wanna grab Conor Oberst by the scruff of his neck and drag him to the front row of MSG and have him watch and learn how Springsteen works over a New York audience during “Glory Days”. How you use homefield advanatage. “It must be done, it must be done. Congratulations, New York,” the boss says holding up a sign that reads “World Champs 27 Wins” and dedicating the song to the Yankees. He name checks various players towards the end and then holds his guitar like a baseball bat while Little Steve pretends to lob balls.”we’ve played night after night night for three years to get here” Springsteen annouces. This is the penultimate night of a World tour that has lasted through three years, hundreds of nights, two albums, a Presidential election and economic collapse, and Springsteen is still giving it everything imaginable. he is the fucking Joe DiMaggio of rock. “NEW YORK”, he shouts, his guitar slung behind him like it isn’t there “NEW YORK NEW YORK NEW YORK…”

I’ve written about music non stop for months on end now -often very negatively about Bruce’s recorded work,  but if I hold any credibility for you then believe me: Springsteen has nothing left to learn about rock. he knows it all. The only thing left for the Boss to do is teach what he knows so it doesn’t end with him.

“Prove It All Night”
“Hungry Heart”
“Working On A Dream”
“The E Street Shuffle”
“4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)”
“Kitty’s Back”
“Wild Billy’s Circus Story”
“Incident on 57th Street”
“Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)”
“New York City Serenade” (with Richard Blackwell)
“Waitin’ On A Sunny Day”
“Raise Your Hand” (with excerpt from “You Sexy Thing”)
“Does This Bus Stop At 82nd Street?”
“Glory Days”
“Human Touch”
“Lonesome Day”
“The Rising”
“Born To Run”
“Wrecking Ball”
“Bobby Jean”
“American Land”
“Dancing In the Dark”
“(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher” (with Elvis Costello and Richard Blackwell

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