Sunday, November 18, 2012

"Bring On Your Wrecking Ball"

(Photo credit to Joe Ledford/Kansas City Star)

"We're gonna do this song from our ghosts to yours," rock-and-roll evangelist Bruce Springsteen exasperatedly announced before he and the overhauled E-Street Band played the elegiac "My City of Ruins." Through and through it was a show for ghosts , for the ghosts of the band still haunting the stage. For those "ghosts of electricity" Bob Dylan once sang about, ghosts that the Boss taps into each night he plugs in that iconic Esquire Guitar. And after all the chaos, loss, and heartbreak of the past few weeks on the East Coast, it was a show for the ghosts of those quickly remembered and never forgotten.

Springsteen's shows have always taken on a tone of the religious and last night in Kansas City was no different. From the soulful opening of "Kansas City" it was clear Bruce and the band wanted to save more than a few souls, baptizing them in the name of rock-and-roll. An ensuing double dose of Darkness tracks muddied those clear blue baptismal waters, tossing saint and sinner about on an open sea of guitar riffs. Such surfing took on a literal bent during "Hungry Heart" when The Boss found himself on top of the crowd grinning from ear-to-ear. For the all the thousands of shows he's done over the years, he still plays every night like it's his first show. Like he has everything to prove, and nothing to lose.

While Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band might play with the enthusiasm of freshmen, their focus is anything but. The request section of the show has become their proving ground for the past few years now, and last night was another sterling page in that history. The group played a well-worn cover of Joan Jett's "Light of Day," boogied through a slowed-day "E-Street Shuffle," and stormed through Born in the USA's "Cover Me." That particular performance was marked with hilarity, as it came via request of a bra Springsteen referred to as the "ultimate jawbreaker."  

The triple guitar threat of Springsteen, Nils Lofgren, and Steven Van Zandt was frantic with its fretwork, but never out of control. The same could be said of the always reliable "Mighty" Max Weinberg, especially during fan-favorite "Badlands" where his lockstep drumming was militaristic in its intensity and precision.  Stalwart bassist Garry W. Tallent was the immovable object, giving steady subtlety when it was called for, and launching into sublime basslines on tracks like "Fire." And then there was Jake Clemons. At this point, he's the only one in the band with any pressure on him. Each night is a struggle to prove he belongs with the band, that he can fill the boots of "The Big Man" Clarence Clemons. And he stopped that struggle with his sax. His first test came during "Prove It All Night" as he glided through the short solo with ease. With his position firmly established the band ready to run.

The set itself was a fascinating blend of the familiar and the "obscure" shuffling between the ghosts of E-Street past ("Incident on 57th Street") and the comfort food of "Born to Run" with effortlessness. The former might have been the biggest surprise of the night, as an out-of-character Springsteen nervously announced "last time we played this, we f***ed up real bad." The unwieldy eight minute tune was a highlight of the night, as the crowd swelled into the ecstatic chorus of "goodnight, it's alright Jane." It was an exorcism of those "ghosts" Springsteen spoke of, where unbridled optimism vanquished the spirits of sorrow and regret.

The final threads of that exorcism were sewn together during finale "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out," the Born to Run "mythology" track well known for the fiery Clarence Clemons playing. Earlier in the night Bruce recalled lines from the song during "My City of Ruins," singing "when the change was made uptown" over and over again. At the time it seemed as if The Boss was refusing to mention "The Big Man" in the next line, turning the repetition into some midnight mantra, delivered after waking up from a nightmare. That acknowledgment came in "Tenth Avenue" with Springsteen screaming the line before a moving series of clips featuring former members Danny Federici and Clarence "Big Man" Clemons played on the Sprint Center's screens. It was an eternity, as an entire life played before everyone's watering eyes. Then in an unforgettable moment, Clemons own nephew Jake tore back into the song, channeling the spirit of Clarence.

Early in the night a sweat-soaked Springsteen delivered the title track from his new album "Wrecking Ball" and its philosophizing of standing strong was the advice of the night. "Hard times come, and hard times go" the chorus recalls. We've all had our hearts broken, we've all loved and lost, prayed for rain and seen only drought, we've all been down and struggled to get back up. For all the blood spilled, for all friends and family lost, and for all the ghosts that still haunt us, we're still here, singing along with Springsteen on the Jersey Shore as we wait for the approaching storm; bracing for the wrecking ball.      

"Wrecking Ball (Live at Giants Stadium)"

1. "Kansas City Medley"
2. "Prove It All Night"
3. "Candy's Room"
4. "She's The One"
5. "Hungry Heart"
6. "We Take Care of Our Own"
7. "Wrecking Ball"
8. "Death to Our Hometown"
9. "My City of Ruins"
10. "E-Street Shuffle"
11. "Fire"
12. "57th Street Incident"
13. "Because the Night"
14. "Cover Me"
15. "Downbound Train"
16. "I'm On Fire"
17. "Shackled and Drawn"
18. "Waiting on a Sunny Day"
19. "Raise Your Hand"
20. "The Rising"
21. "Badlands"
22. "Land of Hopes and Dreams"
23. "Light of Day" (Joan Jett)
24. "My Beautiful Reward"
25. "Born to Run"
26. "Dancing in the Dark"
27. "Santa Claus is Coming to Town"
28. "Tenth Avenue Freeze-out"  


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