Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Notes On Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band @ Va Beach 9/5/16

Springsteen @ Va Beach  9/5/16 (Photo Credit: Jill Walters)

Initially, my third time seeing Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band was going to be on April 10th, 2016 at the Greensboro Coliseum but that show was cancelled two days beforehand in protest of North Carolina’s controversial House Bill 2.

I was proud of The Boss for taking a stand against the law that he said in a statement that “dictates which bathrooms transgender people are permitted to use,” and “attacks the rights of LGBT citizens to sue when their human rights are violated in the workplace,” but selfishly was unhappy that I wasn’t going to be able to see the man and his mighty band perform their classic fifth album The River in full.

Thankfully, the tour was extended and a date was added for a show at the Veterans Home Loan United Amphitheater in Virginia Beach on September 3rd. It was still The River Tour 2016 but Springsteen and Co. had stopped played the full album during the tour's second leg and the shows evolved into epic career retrospectives that sometimes only featured a few songs from the 1980 double record. 

But that didn't matter much as with Springsteen performing three and a half, sometimes four hour concerts full of rarities, deep cuts, and many fans’ requests via homemade signs, I was sure my wife and I would be witnessing a wonderful event, and I was lucky enough to score GA pit tickets so we’d be up close.

Several weeks before the show, a fellow Bruce fan (William Fonvielle of the blog Filmvielle) asked me if I was going to make a sign to request a song, and I hadn’t given that notion a thought until then. In the days before the show, I saw that Springsteen was playing several songs off of his 1973 debut Greetings From Asbury Park so I got to thinking that I’d love to see him do “For You” from that album at Va Beach.

It was the song that first got me into Springsteen
’s music over two decades ago fittingly on a road trip through New Jersey. I also liked that it was a short title that would be easy to put snugly on a piece of poster board. With magic markers and Sharpies I made thick block letters of the two words, and because there was a storm a brewing, my wife laminated it so it wouldn’t be ruined by rain.

On the Saturday morning of the show, it announced that the concert was going to be postponed until Monday, September 5th, because of that tropical storm which was named Hurricane Hermine. First HB2 and now Hermine! Happy that at least the show wasn’t cancelled, my wife and I went ahead with our trip to the area and enjoyed a nice day at Busch Gardens in nearby Williamsburg, Virginia.

Monday afternoon, we arrived at the Amphitheatre and took part in the lottery for our place in the pit. We had a primo spot only behind a few people on the left side of the stage (“right in front of Nils! *” said Ellyn, another Bruce fan on my Facebook chat), and after hours of waiting, The Boss walked out on stage alone approximately 10 minutes before 8 pm. He proceeded to play “For You” on the 
E Streeter Roy Bittan’s white grand piano. So I had made a sign for nuthin’! 

Of course, I can’t really complain about getting the song I wanted to hear, especially since the sign didn’t take long to make and rolled up easily in my pocket so it really hadn’t put me out. But most importantly, it was a gorgeous solo performance of one of my favorite Springsteen tracks which you can see here.

The next five songs were also from Greetings From Asbury Park: “Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street?,” (click on the title to see my video) “It’s Hard to Be a Saint in the City,” “Growin’ Up,” “Spirit in the Night,” and “Lost in the Flood,” and they were all amazing full band performances.

I was hoping they’d keep it up and play the entire Greetings album, but they went on to Springsteen’s second album, The Wild, The Incident, & the E Street Shuffle, for invigorating renditions of four of that albums seven cuts including the tour premiere of “E Street Shuffle,” which I captured on my iPhone:

After that there was a mesmerizing mixture of material from the rest of his catalog which included several sign requests being honored. Springsteen picked out a big sign that said in all caps: “THIS JERSEY GUY WILL PROPOSE TO THIS JERSEY GIRL DURING A FULL BAND THUNDER ROAD.” So Bruce obliged and we got a great version of the longtime staple. 

Other sign requests that were played were “Pink Cadillac,” “Mary’s Place,” and “Save My Love,” a Darkness on the Edge of Town outtake (available on the box set The Promise: The Darkness on the Edge of Town Story) that’s only been played a handful of times since it’s live debut in 2010.

Another tour debut, “Factory,” which could be heard during the sound check hours before the show, was played for the occasion of Labor Day, and a rousing cover of the Isley Brothers’ classic “Shout!” (watch the video I shot of it) appeared in the hits heavy encore. One of the only songs that has a permanent place in Springsteen’s setlists, his 1975 warhorse “Born To Run,” was also broken out during the encore to reconfirm its standing as one of the greatest rock songs ever, and one of the greatest concert crowd pleasers.

“Dancing in the Dark,” which followed, isn’t one of my favorite of Springsteen’s but it’s always fun to watch the women get picked by Bruce to play the Courtney Cox role in a stage dance with Bruce.

It was the second Bruce show for my wife, Jill, and since her first and last show was 7 years ago it was her first time seeing how well Jake Clemons nails his late, great uncle Clarence’s saxophone parts. She took a great photo of Bruce and Jake which is at the top of this post.

The exhaustingly entertaining show had many highlights, one of which was Bruce’s not so smooth crowd surfing during “Hungry Heart,” which was one of the two songs that he played from The River (the other was “Out on the Street”). I took video of the hilarious event – watch for The Boss pointing the people below him to move him towards the stage at 4:48:

Monday night’s Va Beach concert didn’t break any records for length (it was roughly 20 minutes shorter than the longest U.S. show to date at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey on August 30th), but I’m not complaining about a show stuffed with so many satisfying musical moments. It’s definitely the best of the three shows I’ve been too – I was pretty late to the live party as my first Springsteen show was only in 2009 – and I can’t wait for the download of the recording of the show to drop.

My aforementioned friend Fonvielle said that he wondered if Bruce was “trying to create a full sense of history with these final shows to push his book” (Springsteen’s long awaited autobiography Born To Run comes out on September 27th). I bet that’s true, and I believe it’s a beautiful thing. Even though it wasn’t really a River show, it was a dream setlist in many respects, and it more than made up for the Greensboro cancellation.

One of the best signs that I saw a fan holding (and many others did too as it was captured by cameras a bunch of times on the jumbo screens) said “North Carolina Sez Thanks.” We sure do, Bruce. Now please come and visit after we got that bathroom bill mess cleaned up (i.e. after we get McCrory voted out of office).

* Guitarist Nils Lofgren 

More later...

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