by Michael Natelli ’14
He was Born to Run. He drove on the Thunder Road. He had a very Hungry Heart. He waited on the Ghost of Tom Joad. And now he’s operating a Wrecking Ball.
Last night Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band made their seventh stop on the “Wrecking Ball” tour at Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. As expected, the majority of the songs played were from Springsteen’s newest album, “Wrecking Ball,” though that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. I’ll admit that I didn’t listen to the album prior to going to the concert, but that proved to work to my advantage. Despite not knowing the songs and not being the biggest fan of newer Springsteen music, the band still had me humming along acting like I knew the words. That’s what makes Springsteen shows so amazing. You don’t have to know the lyrics to have a fun time, as was the case when a young boy was brought on stage to sing part of “Waiting On A Sunny Day” and to powerslide with Bruce before being carried (by Bruce himself!) back to his seat.
New songs performed included “We Take Care of Our Own,” “Wrecking Ball,” “Death to My Hometown,” and “Rocky Ground.” Though “Wrecking Ball” was not my favorite song of the night, “We Take Care of Our Own” was a great number to kick off the performance, as it tested the knowledge of the older Springsteen fans and immediately got the crowd into the show. The song focuses on how Americans are strong, independent people as said by the chorus “Wherever this flag’s flown, we take care of our own.” Many of Springsteen’s songs focus on America, hard times (Badlands anyone?), and politics, but regardless of your views on political issues, you still find yourself singing along.
“Death to My Hometown” is similar to “We Take Care of Our Own”, except it has much more of a Celtic feel. The similarity is that it also expresses Springsteen’s view on politics, but this time in more of a “They bring us down even without weapons” kind of way. I’m not going to get into my views on that statement, but that song rocked.
“Rocky Ground” was quite remarkable in that it brought gospel music, rap music and rock music all into one well-done song. The title of the song is based on Jesus’ parable in the gospel Matthew where he talks of seed falling on the rocky ground. This story serves as a metaphor for people who originally listen to Jesus’ message very enthusiastically, but then when times get hard, they fade away because their seeds were never planted; they landed on rocky ground instead of soil. A very deep meaning in a title, but hey, that’s Bruce Springsteen. As I mentioned, the song itself is quite diverse. It starts off with gospel singer Michelle Moore chorusing “We’ve been traveling over rocky ground, rocky ground,” and then proceeds into an intro that sounds very much like a parable that Jesus would tell in the bible. About three minutes into the song, Moore breaks out in a religious rap written by Springsteen (that’s right kids, the Boss is hip!), which adds a very modern sense to an “old” artist’s tunes. The rap goes quite well, unlike recent experiments like Justin Beiber’s intro in his new single,”Boyfriend.” This song absolutely gets an A.
Along with hits from “Wrecking Ball,” Bruce and the band also showed their soul side, playing the Smokey Robinson hit “Apollo Medley” (The Way You Do The Things You Do), which went over fantastically with the audience and also led to Bruce crowd surfing. C’mon guys he’s not that old.
But needless to say, this concert also showcased plenty of the Boss’s most famous classics, including “Born to Run”, “Out In The Street” (by request), “Dancing in the Dark” and “Because the Night”, in which Bruce played a mind-blowing guitar solo; certainly the most impressive I’ve ever heard him play. Guitarist Nils Lofgren also showcased his shredding ability in an earlier song, “Adam Raised the Cain”, which featured his signature spinning around mid-solo, perhaps my favorite part of the show.
One thing that is certainly worth taking note of is the fact that this is Springsteen’s first tour since the loss of beloved saxophonist Clarence Clemons. Bruce was sure to pay tribute to his passing on multiple occasions. The first was prior to “My City Of Ruins.” Springsteen did his “role call,” where he informally introduces each member of the band with a “Is ____ in the house?”, and then a solo by the person follows. After everyone did their solo, Springsteen asked the crowd “Are we missing anybody?!” This was to imply that Clemons and keyboard player Danny Federici were no longer with the band, and had passed on to Rock N’ Roll heaven. After a few minutes of applause in order to honor both of them, Springsteen said “If you’re here, and if we’re here, then I guess they’re here,” and then proceeded to play “My City of Ruins.” This was certainly the most emotional moment of the night, only to be surpassed by the second Clemons tribute Springsteen would make.
“This is the important part!” Springsteen said while playing “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out.” This was prior to the lyrics, “When the change was made uptown and the Big Man joined the band,” which reference when Clemons first joined the band. The crowd knew exactly what Springsteen was talking about, and after he sang those lyrics, the audience joined the Springsteen and the band in applauding their fallen E Street brother. The pause lasted easily three minutes, and it was very touching to see replacement saxophonist Jake Clemons, Clarence’s nephew, looking to the sky praying to his uncle. A full horns section accompanied Jake, because apparently it takes six men to replace the power of the Big Man. Clarence passed away on June 18, 2011 due to heart complications. He was 69 years old.
Though Clarence’s presence was certainly missed, Jake and his horns section performed admirably. Jake nailed every solo, and added his own jazz-based personality into each one. He also displayed his ability to sing, as shown in “Rocky Ground” and other songs, as well as his ability to dance in the song “Waiting On A Sunny Day.” Despite a mistake here and there, the trombone and trumpets also made for a nice touch, but Jake Clemons perfectly portrayed “Little Big Man.”
“Tenth Avenue Freeze Out” was what sealed the night. Any Bruce fan knows the lyrics, and it’s a fun song to dance along to. If you looked around the Verizon Center, not one waist was still; every hip in that arena was shaking. Though some of that had to do with the unhealthy levels of inebriation amongst the crowd, I can promise that it wouldn’t have mattered either way.
The question now becomes whether this will be Springsteen’s final tour. Though he did say “I’ll see you again Washington,” who knows how that’s to be interpreted. Something to take note of is that the last U.S show on the Wrecking Ball tour schedule is in New Jersey, Springsteen’s home state. Could April 29 at Prudential Center be the Boss’s final show? Let’s hope not.