BluesWax Spotlight On
The E Street Band
The Blues Had A Baby
By Bob Gersztyn
When Muddy Waters sang that “The blues had a baby and they named the baby rock ‘n’ roll,” he was endorsing a genre that would produce a plethora of sub-genres, while at the same time maintaining its own sonic integrity. Just before he graduated into eternity Bo Diddley told this writer that each generation had to create its own music, and that every time that happens it’s inspired by what preceded it, while at the same time it creates its own individual identity. Bruce Springsteen, with and without the E Street Band has over a period of four decades created a brand of American music that incorporates elements from every branch of primitive roots music from folk and country to gospel and blues.
On Wednesday, November 22, 2012, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band appeared at the Rose Garden Arena in Portland, Oregon, to rock the City of Roses to high heaven for over three hours. The show began with “Land of Hope and Dreams,” off the new Wrecking Ball album, a Woody Guthrie-sque train image that opened like a gospel lament, taken from the prophet Jeremiah. The call and response conclusion used Curtis Mayfield’s 1965 pop-gospel R&B hit “People Get Ready” as the song faded out and seamlessly segued into “No Surrender.”
The third song was “Hungry Heart,” and Bruce walked out into the crowd of general admission standing room-only ticket holders while singing and playing guitar, until he reached a raised platform in the middle of the crowd, which he stepped onto and played to reaching hands that he fell back onto and body surfed by. The crowd then propelled the Boss back to the stage, while singing the song’s lyrics, along with him, until they thrust Bruce upright back on stage. By the time that he began “We Take Care of Our Own,” the first song and radio hit, off the new album, it became apparent nobody was going to sit down, even if they did pay for a seat.
“Death To My Hometown” was performed in a Gallic style featuring Soozie Tyrell on fiddle, Charlie Giordano on accordion, and Everett Bradley beating a marching bass drum like a wild man. The trio walked to the edge of the stage where Bruce joined them as they kept cadence to the music they were producing, while Springsteen sang –
“Now get yourself a song to sing
And sing it ‘till you’re done
Sing it and sing it well…”
Little Steven Van Zandt and Nils Losfgren also joined the edge of the stage marching line, as their guitars screamed along with the Boss’s, until everything built up to a high-energy crescendo prodded on by the driving beat of Max Weinberg’s pounding drum kit, along with Bradley’s drum major performance. After the conclusion’s explosion of sound died to only the ringing in the audience’s ears, Springsteen greeted the crowd by saying “Hello Portland, we’re back together again with some new band members and old ones.” He talked about his adopted hometown of Asbury Park, New Jersey. “It was vacant for 25 tears,” he said, “and ten years ago it came back, but Hurricane Sandy put it back a little. This is from the Atlantic coast to your coast,” Bruce said as the band began playing “My City of Ruins,” from 2002’s The Rising album. The horn section made up of Jake Clemons – saxophone, Barry Danielian – trumpet, Clark Gayton – trombone and Eddie Manion – saxophone was now featured, as each member of the quartet took a turn as a soloist. Then Bruce told the audience “I want to do a roll call to see who’s in the house tonight. I want to see who’s with me now,” as the band switched back to Mayfield’s – “People Get Ready,” while Bruce went through the names of everyone in the band, one at a time, introducing all 16 of them. After the introductions were over the band went back to playing “My City’s In Ruins.” Bruce raised his right arm and waved making an upward movement with his hand to encourage the crowd to react to the lyrics as he sang, “Come on rise up, come on rise up.”
“We’ve been around the world asking just one question,” Springsteen said and then asked, “Can you feel the spirit now?” He wound up the crowd asking that question, as the Rose Garden became church. “We’re here to bring you the good news,” he told the throng, as the band began playing “Spirit In The Night.” Springsteen stood in front of his center stage microphone stand and leaned back on it, while playing his guitar sliding down to a sitting position with his legs spread. Bruce had everyone in the band take a short solo, as he faced the band with his back to the audience, although there were even occupied seats in back of the stage, whose occupants were grateful for the attention. Jake Clemons, nephew of the late Clarence Clemons was now part of the E Street band, filling his late uncle’s shoes. Jake’s father is Bill Clemons, a former Marine Corps band director. Jake came and sat down with Bruce at the edge of the stage, as the duo performed together in perfect harmony. The enthusiastic crowd was going hysterical with emotion, as this writer witnessed a move of the spirit comparable to any he had ever experienced in decades of Pentecostal church services.
At one point Springsteen gathered up all the signs that people were holding , with names of song requests on them. He picked one out of the pile that was a multiple choice spinning needle and he had a woman come on stage to spin it. The needle fell on “Steve’s Choice,” so Van Zandt picked “Born On The Loose End,” which was supposed to be on The River, but didn’t get included. Bruce pulled a guy up on stage to sing “Growin’ Up,” his first song that he wrote when he was 16, along with him.
Max Weinberg was beating his bass drum, as it thundered in the dark along with Roy Bittan’s keyboard accompaniment. Bruce began singing “Jack Of All Trades,” with a trumpet solo and Nils Lofgren passionately playing with his signature guitar phrasing.
“The banker man grows fatter, the working man grows thin
It’s all happened before and it’ll happen again
It’ll happen again, they’ll bet your life
I’m a Jack of all trades and, darling, we’ll be alright.”
By the end of the song violin, accordion, Lofgren, Springsteen, bass, and bass drum were all standing at the edge of the stage, practically marching off the edge into the adoring ocean of raised hands extending from the pulsating throng of humanity that comprised the organism that was the audience. “Seeds,” a song that describes a scenario similar to the one described by John Steinbeck in the Grapes of Wrath, only using an oil field instead of an orchard this time, was the next number, with Bruce angrily screaming into the microphone after a raging guitar intro. He sang of a family who move south to find work, only to be told to move along. A raging guitar solo split open the soul of anyone still embracing an ounce of apathy, as Bruce sang –
“Well I swear if I could spare the spit I’d lay one on your shiny chrome
And send you on your way back home.”
“Johnny 99” first appeared on the Nebraska album and is another story about hard times leading to crime. By the time the band ripped through the story, the entire horn section came down to the very edge of the stage, in front of the center-stage microphone and pulled out all the stops as they played to a driving keyboard accompaniment. “Darlington County” was next as Bruce left the stage once again and got on the ramp in the center of the arena. “I’ve seen the glory of the coming of the Lord,” he said. He interacted with the crowd and then grabbed a 2×8 banner sign that said “Lesbians Love [Love was in the form of a heart] Bruce,” which he brought back with him when he returned to the front stage. He began to reach out and pull women up on the stage to dance, and by the time he was done there were five females rocking out with the band. The one thing that they all had in common was they were wearing T-shirts with the same message as the banner.
The stage was dark as Bruce taunted the crowd by saying – “Give it to me! Ya, ya, ya, ya…,“ as an introduction to “Shackled and Drawn.” Michelle Moore, one of the three backup singers, came forward and called the house to prayer. As she wailed with Bruce, once again the horn section came down to the edge of the stage. In fact, the entire band of everyone that had a non-stationary instrument came forward and danced in rhythm to the song at the end of the stage. Springsteen and Van Zandt traded acoustic guitars for their electric ones and began playing “Waiting On A Sunny Day,” as the horn section took over and then led into singing the chorus of “ It’s raining it’s pouring,” woven into the lyrics and performance, until Bruce once again pulled audience members up on the stage to join him and the band. This time it was a couple of young ladies that he had singing the song’s lyrics to his enthusiastic encouragement.
“I need you to chase the blues away
Without you I’m a drummer girl that can’t keep a beat…
Your smile girl, brings the mornin’ light to my eyes
Lifts away the blues when I rise
I hope that you’re coming to stay.”
“Drive All Night” was the next song and it took the pace down a notch and was probably the only time during the entire concert where a majority of people with seats actually sat down. Jake Clemens came forward and did a saxophone solo sitting alongside Bruce until the energy of his performance drove people back to their feet. “The Rising” was the title song from Springsteen’s cathartic post 9/11 release and took the resurging energy level of the audience back into overdrive, with Nils Lofgren handling the guitar solo. “Badlands” reached back 35 years, but kept up the energy level as Max Weinberg attacked his drum kit with a ferocity that defied credibility, especially for a 61-year-old man. He kept up an eardrum-rupturing intensity with the hammer blows that he dealt to the skins, keeping perfect time with Garry Tallent thumping on bass to provide the same rhythm section that recorded the original in 1978 on Darkness On The Edge Of Town.
“Thunder Road” reaches back to Springsteen’s first critically acclaimed album Born To Run in 1975. It continued the performance’s intensity by further escalating the energetic enthusiasm of the crowd until it once again reached a crescendo and erupted in an orgasm of delight by simply using his greatest hits catalogue. By the time that Springsteen was singing –
“Oh-oh come take my hand
Riding out tonight to case the promised land
Oh-oh thunder road, oh thunder road oh thunder road.”
The entire audience was singing the words to the song, as the band, once again walked to the edge of the stage as it concluded its outro and took a bow, in unison. The lights dimmed and everyone exited the stage to ear-deafening thunderous applause, whistling and foot stomping until, in less than a minute everyone came back out. Bruce walked to the edge of the stage and took a sign from a guy that read, “We played this at our wedding,” it read, “If I Should Fall Behind.” The Boss played it on his electric guitar with minimal accompaniment as he sang the words –
“And should I fall behind
Wait for me…”
The band segued into “Born To Run” as Bruce walked out into the crowd again, this time holding his guitar horizontally in the air as members of the audience that he turned towards, began picking, plucking, and strumming the strings. The audience interaction with the guitar created a mass of noise in the middle of an instrumental interlude. Springsteen started singing again –
“I wanna die with you Wendy on the streets tonight,
In an everlasting kiss…”
“Rosalita” followed and led into “Dancing In The Dark,” as the crowd went nuts screaming, shouting, and continuing to sing the lyrics at a volume that drowned out the band, until Bruce began talking and the audience quieted down. “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” has been a staple in the pre-holiday concerts for years, and tonight was no exception. The night’s intensely insane, pull-out-all-the-stops performance concluded with “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out,” as the crowd of nearly 20,000 continued to drown out the band until they finally left the stage and the house lights came on to thunderous applause. Wow!
Bob Gersztyn is a contributing editor at BluesWax.
About the Author: