Peter Chianca: Springsteen delivers a moving house party at Fenway
GateHouse News ServiceWhen Bruce Springsteen asked Boston’s Fenway Park crowd who was seeing him and the E Street Band for the first time, a surprising number of hands went up.
“The pressure’s on!” he declared. He needn’t have worried.
One can only assume the newbies in the crowd went home in awe that the 62-year-old Springsteen had managed to live up to his billing and then some, barnstorming through a 3 1/2-hour set that energized the Fenway crowd from start to finish.
What’s perhaps even more remarkable is that Springsteen and the band also managed to match his own high standards set through decades of memorable Boston shows. While it may have traded some of the raw emotion of March’s TD Garden concert for a house-party vibe more appropriate for the venue, Tuesday’s show spotlighted Springsteen’s energy and his band’s versatility as well as any Beantown show in recent memory.
The specter of loss was still a major theme, with mentions of ghosts in Fenway and beyond, and tributes to late saxophonist Clarence Clemons coming along with a nod to late Red Sox legend Johnny Pesky, who passed away this week. (“Better shine a light on that right field foul pole,” Springsteen said during “My City of Ruins,” motioning toward the park’s legendary Pesky’s Pole.)
But where those emotions felt more raw back in March, here they took on the feel of an Irish wake, of moving on joyously without forgetting the past. As Springsteen sang in “Badlands,” “It ain’t no sin to be glad you’re alive,” and that was definitely the case at Fenway Park Tuesday.
The Boss and his band stomped and hollered through a litany of driving numbers, kicking off with a tight, focused “The Promised Land” and launching right into a raucous “Out in the Street.” But he really got down to business with the songs from his latest album, “Wrecking Ball,” which Springsteen imbued with even more thunderous energy and heft than he did at his Garden show.
“We Take Care of Our Own,” the album’s sole true rocker, showed Springsteen at his anthemic best, and the soaring “Wrecking Ball” continues to grow in power as an aging man’s (and band’s) rage against the dying of the light. And “Shackled and Drawn” was an absolute highlight, with its chain-gang beat and fabulous shared vocals by Cindy Mizelle of the “E Street Choir.”
Much of the rest of the setlist featured material familiar to even more casual fans, with songs from the monster hit “Born in the USA” taking up several slots. Springsteen made the most of them, turning “Darlington County” into a massive sing-along and strumming furiously through “Working on the Highway” immediately after.
But the rest of his long career was also well represented, with a stunning “Spirit in the Night” featuring Springsteen seated on the stage and flanked by saxophonist Jake Clemons, nephew of Clarence. (“This was all before you were born,” Springsteen stopped to tell him before closing out the song.)
“The E Street Shuffle” felt made for the horn section and the stellar percussion of Everett Bradley, and two “Nebraska” tracks – “Atlantic City,” a standout for drummer Max Weinberg, and the band’s boogie-woogie take on “Johnny 99” featuring Roy Bittan’s rollicking piano – were terrific mid-set surprises. Also, Nils Lofgren’s whirling dervish guitar virtuosity (on a new set of hips, yet) brought power and personality to a driving “Because the Night.”
A few rarities also popped up, including an aching “Drive All Night” from the River and a bluesy garage rock take on John Lee Hooker’s “Boom Boom” by request. It all added up to a classic effort by a man and a band that never seems to give up.
By the eight-song encore, with Springsteen feigning (?) exhaustion and his perennial sideman Steven Van Zandt prowling over him with a wet sponge to revive him for the last two songs, band and crowd were one – a huge, sweaty, smiling mass of rock ’n’ roll redemption.
The ghosts of Fenway couldn’t have asked for a better night.
Peter Chianca writes about Bruce Springsteen for Gatehouse Media’s Blogness on the Edge of Town.