(writer’s note: I first saw Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band at the Ohio Theater, April 5th, 1976. This coming April 12th – forty years & one week later – I will see them again at the Schott. There’ll be a big forty year Springsteen round-up at that point, so just consider today’s blog a kind of preview to that show. – Ricki C.)
The first three things you’ve gotta know are:
1) For this tour, Bruce Springsteen has scaled the E Street Band back to (almost) their original lean, mean, rock & roll machine line-up: eight men and one woman. No horn section. No back-up singers. No percussionists. No bullshit. Three guitarists (which is one too many, more on that later), one bass player, two keyboards, one sax, one violin, one (magnificent) drummer, five people singing their hearts out. As I said, no bullshit.
2) Bruce’s 1980 album The River gets played, in order, in its entirety to open the show. The opener in Cleveland was River outtake “Meet Me In The City.” (It’s probably been the opener everywhere, but I’m not the kinda guy to go on the InterWideWeb and pore over set lists & such. Consider me, from this point on, your Saturday Night Live Weekend Update Drunk Uncle.) I was hoping for more outtakes interspersed in the set (I’d’ve given anything to hear “Roulette” – video provided below), but Bruce & band just get down to it and alternately sear & simmer their way through the double-album. Expected Highlights: the entire first side of record one, from “The Ties That Bind” to “Independence Day” (and holy shit, how many records have a whole side as great as that one?); the song “The River” itself, possibly the most grown-up rock song written to that point, and the one that extended Bruce’s Darkness On The Edge Of Town theme that everything in Springsteen World was not gonna be all fun ‘n’ games, cars & girls. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) Unexpected Highlights: “I Wanna Marry You,” a song that often got skipped in my back-in-the-day listening (I was getting divorced at the time) and “Stolen Car,” which at that time might just as well have been the story of my life and that divorce; a truly great romp through what I have always considered the throwaway rocker “Ramrod,” including a little dance move from sax player Jake Clemons that I can’t do justice to here, you’re gonna have to go on YouTube or come to the Columbus show.
And that’s just the first two hours of the set.
3) The next 90 minutes of the three and a half hour show are a selection of E Street Smashers that in Cleveland included “Candy’s Room” and “Because The Night” played back to back and a furious run-through of “Youngstown.” (Culminating in the lyrics, "Now you tell me the world's changed / Once I made you rich enough / Rich enough to forget my name." Words to remember in this election season.)
Really, E Street Band sets make almost all other rock & roll shows seem silly and perfunctory.
The second three things you’ve gotta know:
1) Bruce Springsteen is the luckiest rocker on the planet that Clarence Clemons had a nephew who plays tenor sax the way Jake Clemons does. Goddamn, that kid is great. (sidelight: When Bruce crowd-surfed from the pit runway back to the stage during “Hungry Heart,” any other performer would have a roadie help him back onstage. Oh, but no, no, no, that’s too simple for an E Street Band show; Jake hauls Bruce back one-handed WHILE BLOWING A SAX SOLO WITH THE OTHER HAND. It’s a sight to see. Photo below, after the videos.)
2) Oddly – maybe because Jake is SO good at what he does – I find myself missing Danny Federici more than I do Clarence Clemons. Part of that, though, is because former Seeger Sessions organist Charlie Giordano is such a mook that I find I can’t even look at him on the stage. (Luckily, my tickets in Columbus are behind Charlie, so I’ll be looking at his back.) Seriously, Bruce, Danny didn’t have ANY relatives you could have hired before Giordano?
3) I’ve fully known it since 1978, but this River Tour crystallizes just how tightly orchestrated and GREAT Max Weinberg’s drumming is. It’s as good and as exact as anything Brian Wilson came up with on those killer Beach Boy tunes like “God Only Knows,” or anything classical composers came up with for tympani & snare drum parts, but simultaneously POWERS the E Street Band through 3 & ½ hours of killer rock & roll. I witnessed Who drummer Keith Moon in his 1969 & 1972 prime, Max Weinberg is the only drummer I have ever seen even come close to that force-of-nature rhythmic onslaught. And Keith was in his twenties then; Max is 64 fucking years old. Really, you have to bow down to the man.
Okay, I’m well over my 500-word limit. Everything else – including how revitalized Steve Van Zandt is on this tour, which I haven’t even touched on – is gonna have to wait until April. All I can say right this moment is: if you haven’t already, buy a ticket to that Columbus show, you WILL NOT be sorry. – Ricki C. / February 25th, 2016.
Bruce's Three Mile Island song, one of DOZENS of outtakes presented on various box sets, compilation albums & bootlegs. I swear, Springsteen has more and better OUTTAKES than many other rock & roll acts have SONGS.
Check out the little moment between Bruce and Steve Van Zandt at the 1:55-2:30 mark.......
photo by Jodie Weaver; Cleveland, Ohio, 2/23/2016