Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
Chaifetz Arena, St. Louis, MO
March 6, 2016
It's only March, and 2016 has already been a pretty brutal year for music fans: David Bowie, Glenn Frey, Maurice White. And this mass extinction event isn't likely to abate anytime soon, given the ages of your average classic-rock ensemble.
Did I mention Bruce Springsteen is 66 years old? Granted, of all the rockers still touring, he's one of a very few who truly seem ageless, giving 110 percent at every show over the past 41 years, and as incomprehensible as it is to think we may one day live in a Bruce-free world, I'd be lying if I said the possibility this might be the last go-round wasn't a significant factor in getting tickets to The River tour in St. Louis.
[Also, when the tour was first announced, there weren't any Texas dates; he's now playing Dallas on April 5. Also, my sister and I wanted to take our dad for his 70th birthday.]
If that wasn't enough, the past few years have also seen several bands scale back their road schedules (Rush, Elton John) or call it quits altogether (Mötley Crüe, Black Sabbath). Springsteen himself no longer plays back-to-back shows anymore, and performing every other day or not, it's only a matter of time before his Herculean sets are a thing of the past.
That said, The River is kind of an odd choice for the "whole album" concert experience. Neither as wire-to-wire recognizable as Born in the U.S.A. nor as iconic as Born to Run or Darkness on the Edge of Town, it's a double album besides. Judging by the reaction at the relatively intimate confines of Saint Louis University's Chaifetz Arena (go Billikens!), no one really shared my hesitation.
Opening with "Meet Me in the City," itself an outtake found on the recently released The Ties That Bind: The River Collection, Springsteen went into some more detail about the thought process behind The River, which contributed a helpful narrative continuity through the first two-thirds of the set ("Independence Day," for example, is supposed to evoke the image of two people talking at their dining room table). In the end, the Boss reminded us, the album is about time, and how the decisions we make stay with us throughout our lives.
Heavy stuff indeed, leading at times to some ponderous renditions. "Point Blank" was particularly tortured (though mercifully pivoting into the rousing "Cadillac Ranch"), and "Drive All Night" went about 20 minutes longer than necessary (or maybe just felt that way). How long does it take to buy some goddamn shoes?
Other cuts enjoyed a new appreciation, especially those rarely heard live. "The Price You Pay" was a welcome treat, and "Stolen Car" is a personal favorite, but even familiar tracks had new energy. "Hungry Heart," for example, was one of the first in which the audience helpfully provided most of the vocals. And even though the crowd's singing was up to the task, the folks on the floor weren't very adept at passing a crowd-surfing Boss back to the stage. For a few tense seconds, it almost seemed like they were going to drop him. Between that and the Riverport Riot, St. Louis might never have recovered.
Springsteen was particularly indulging of the audience all night, pulling a young man out to perform along to "Working on the Highway," and bringing up a gaggle of women — both young and otherwise — to bop along to "Dancing in the Dark." I was overlooked for the latter, in spite of my obvious mastery of Courteney Cox-style moves.
Otherwise, what does one say about a guy who not only plays a double album in its entirety live, but also tacks on a dozen legendary tunes to close out the night? The last plaintive strains of "Wreck on the Highway" had barely faded out before the band launched into "Working on the Highway," followed by "Prove It All Night" and a Murderer's Row of classics, including "Badlands," "Thunder Road," "Born to Run," "Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)" and several others.
Of course, one can't discuss an E Street show without mentioning the E Street Band. They've been together so long it's kind of unfair they only get singled out when there's a mistake, which wasn't the case Saturday. Jake Clemons has grown more comfortable in the shoes left by his uncle Clarence, and guitarist Nils Lofgren and (the mighty) Max Weinberg were particularly on point. The communication between Springsteen and his band always figures prominently in these shows, and they were certainly dialed in.
Those unconverted to the Boss's cause will likely remain dismissive of his greatness and grow bored when his devotees wax rhapsodic, and that's fine. But consider how much ink and/or praise any other band would get for playing a three-hour-and-20-minute set, and realize this is what Springsteen and company do every show — enthusiastically — almost without fail. Dismiss the music if you must, but respect the man. He's literally one of the last of his kind.
Personal Bias: There is no Boss but Bruce and Van Zandt is his prophet. Or something.
The Crowd: The mild, the not-so innocent, The E Street faithful.
Overheard In the Crowd: "Little Steven isn't very little these days."
Random Notebook Dump: "There's an Andy Williams 'Moon River' joke in here somewhere."
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Meet Me in the City
The Ties That Bind
Out in the Street
Crush on You
You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)
I Wanna Marry You
I'm A Rocker
The Price You Pay
Drive All Night
Wreck on the Highway
Working on the Highway
Prove It All Night
My Love Will Not Let You Down
Because the Night
Born to Run
Dancing in the Dark
Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)
Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out