An Evening With The Boss

Originally posted May 12, 2009

Well, as I expected, I can cross “Born To Run” off my wish list of live performances. Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band used the long-time classic to close the main portion of last night’s concert in St. Paul, with the house lights up and the audience of about 20,000 singing along.

I sang along, too, from our perch in the upper levels, tears in my eyes.

I’m not entirely sure when seeing The Boss in concert went on my wish list of things to do. But I think it happened during my late-1980s stay on the North Dakota prairie, when, for the first time, I began to dig into Springsteen’s music and legacy. So ever since then, I’ve been hoping for a time when means and opportunity would coincide. And they did so last evening.

Like some other acts I’ve seen – Paul McCartney and Bob Dylan come to mind – Springsteen has such a vast catalog of songs, accumulated over a recording career that’s not all that short of forty years, that one could go to one of Springsteen’s legendary three-hour shows and still assemble a top-notch concert from songs left out. And with such an absurdity of riches in his catalog, Springsteen must find it difficult to leave some beloved songs in the dressing room night after night.

There were a few whose absence surprised me last evening: “Thunder Road,” “Hungry Heart” and “Glory Days.” Missing the latter didn’t disappoint me, but the other two would’ve been nice. Still, Springsteen and his mates performed twenty-seven songs in a show that lasted nearly three hours, and there were plenty of songs nearly as treasured and just as fun. With two new faces in the line-up – Charlie Giordano now sits at the organ where the late Denny Federici held court for years, and eighteen-year-old Jay Weinberg played the first third of the show on drums before giving way to his father, Max – the show started, as has been customary on this tour, with “Badlands.”

From there, the concert was a tour through most of Springsteen’s catalog, with the scheduled songs ranging from “Born To Run” (1975) and “Promised Land” (1978) through three numbers – the epic “Outlaw Pete,” “Kingdom of Days” and the title track – from this year’s Working On A Dream. Perhaps the most moving part of the show was the trio of “Seeds” (released only in a 1985 performance on the 1986 live package), the fiery “Johnny 99” and the haunting “Ghost of Tom Joad.”

There was, of course, fun, too, and plenty of it. I think one of those having the most fun last evening was Springsteen himself, singing, testifying and moving along the lip of the stage and along the rail at the back of the stage. I got the sense, though, that one of the most fun things he did all night was to collect posters with song requests written on them. He spent about three minutes at one point in the show grabbing about fifteen of them. (He also collected a Wisconsin cheesehead and seemed to have no idea what to do with it.) Then he and the band did three of those requested songs: A rousing cover of the Young Rascals’ “Good Lovin’,” which Springsteen said the group had never played, and old friends “Prove It All Night” and “The E Street Shuffle.”

And even as the band left the stage after “Born To Run” and then came back on stage for an encore set, there were surprises to come. The encore set began with the Stephen Foster tune, “Hard Times Come Again No More,” and moved on to “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out,” “Land of Hope and Dreams” (found in the 2000 performance released as Live In New York City), “American Land” and “Bobbie Jean.”

Then, as the crowd roared and the band seemed about to take its last bows, Springsteen saw a green sign in the crowd about twenty feet beyond the stage. He dashed to the lip of the stage and beckoned with his hand, asking the crowd to pass the sign forward. Once he had it in his hand, he showed the sign to the band and then to the camera for the big screens to the side of the stage. The crowd roared louder.

“C’mon, Steve!” Springsteen called, and standing side-by-side, he and guitarist Steve Van Zandt led the band into a kick-ass rendition of 1973’s “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight).”

Then the lights came on for good, and we made our way up the steep stairs, the first steps on our way home. My hands hurt from clapping, and my voice was gone from cheering and singing. My ears were ringing.

And my eyes were still damp.

Here’s last night set list and a couple of treats:

Badlands
Radio Nowhere
Outlaw Pete
No Surrender
Out in the Street
Working on a Dream
Seeds
Johnny 99
Ghost of Tom Joad
Raise Your Hand (Eddie Floyd)
Good Lovin’ (Young Rascals)
Prove It All Night
E Street Shuffle
Waiting on a Sunny Day
The Promised Land
I’m On Fire
Kingdom of Days
Lonesome Day
The Rising
Born To Run
Hard Times Come Again No More (Stephen Foster)
Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
Land of Hope and Dreams
American Land
Bobbie Jean
Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)

“Seeds” by Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band
From Live/1975-85 [1986]

“Land of Hope and Dreams” by Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band
From Live In New York City [2000]

Edited slightly since original posting.

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