Springsteen and the E Street Band play for those here and gone at Gillette Stadium
By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK Editor
There is very little like that opening shock of a Bruce Springsteen show. One by one, the members of the E Street Band walk onto the stage and to their stations, and before long, Springsteen himself is front and center, and they’re all launching into “Lonesome Day,” an exhilarating and contemplative start to an evening that would repeatedly touch on all those moments.
On this second of two nights at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass., Springsteen and the E Street Band once again defied age and conventional wisdom, delivering a tour-de-force show that brought the goods while tinkering with the typical structure of their shows.
He hasn’t been constructing an entirely static setlist and has mixed things up from night to night — such as breaking out “Lonesome Day” for the first time in six years to open the proceedings — but there is more of a structure and method to his show this time around. Other reports have noted that he’s focused on loss and mortality a bit, and some other aspects of his show, like pulling requests from signs in the crowd, have been tabled for now.
What remains, though, is a high-energy, high-wire act that no one from his generation can approach. Running through a set that stretched from his earliest days to his most recent records, with plenty of room along the way for the classics from his late 1970s/early ’80s heyday, the show tells a loose story with themes of living for the moment and for those gone popping up throughout.
Pointedly, Springsteen paid tribute to George Theiss, a member of Springsteen’s first band The Castiles who died five years ago, multiple times on this night. First in passing on “Ghosts” from his most recent album with the E Street Band, Letter to You, and then more explicitly on “Letter to You” and “Last Man Standing.” And in between, songs from the E Street catalog reinforced that theme.
The E Street Band themselves remain a marvel that can handle whatever the Boss tosses at them. From the cover of the Commodores’ “Nightshift” from Springsteen’s recent Only the Strong Survive album to the high charge of “The Promised Land” to the jolt of “Candy’s Room,” sliding right into the shifting gears of “Kitty’s Back,” they have a depth and range that few groups — outside of The Band, perhaps — could ever match. Steven Van Zandt and Nils Lofgren weave in and out on guitars between Springsteen’s biting rhythm and leads, while Jake Clemons has fully embraced his role, now more than a full decade since he stepped into his famous uncle’s slot. Soozie Tyrell’ violin provides the most recognizable hook on “Lonesome Day.” Of course, Max Weinberg and Garry W. Tallent form a machine on the rhythm, keeping the E Street machine chugging along for just about three hours on this night.
And special mention should be made of Roy Bittan, who cements so many of these songs with their distinct introductions on piano. “Backstreets” was again a centerpiece, anchoring the theme of the evening, looking back on the past and remembering those friendships that have been lost to the inevitable march of time. During the song’s breakdown, Springsteen again paid tribute to his lost early bandmate, keeping him and his records in his heart before returning to run and hide on the backstreets.
But just as the weight of those tough moments can begin to sink down, hope and positivity returns. “Wrecking Ball” is punctuated by its affirmation that “hard times come and hard times go.” “The Rising,” with its obvious connection to the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, provides a reminder of the hope and resiliency that can appear in the worst of times. We rise up and remember that it’s no sin to be glad you’re alive on “Badlands.” And we escape to experience the unknown on “Thunder Road.”
Again, the “encore” exists in name only. Following “Thunder Road,” the band said thank you, took a bow and almost immediately launched into “Born to Run” with the house lights at full blast, turning the audience into an auxiliary branch of the band. And it’s a race to the finish, giving the E Street Band full room to flex, especially on “Rosalita” and “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out.” And again, it’s was as life-affirming a string of songs as he could have possibly strung together. The man at heart is an entertainer, and he worked the crowd into a frenzy through this entire stretch. If that had called it there, everyone would have gone home happy and without complaint.
But Springsteen returned to the stage for one last song, “I’ll See You in My Dreams,” with the lights back down, stripped back to his just guitar and harmonica. And his message of cherishing the moment while remaining determined to carry on was reinforced once more:
"I'll see you in my dreams when all our summеrs have come to an end
I'll see you in my dreams, we'll meet and live and laugh again
I'll see you in my dreams, yeah around the river bend
For death is not the end
And I'll see you in my dreams."
We’re here to make the most of our time, for ourselves and for everyone around us. And then we’re gone, while others remain, carrying on until it’s time. Springsteen and his band delivered on that, making the most of these three hours and doing what they can to spin their magic trick into an unforgettable evening, in tribute to all that made it possible and in celebration of everyone who has made it this far.
E-mail Nick Tavares at firstname.lastname@example.org