Bryce Jordan Center State College, PA. March 18 by Ryan O’Malley
When it comes to their music, some artists give new life to it during their storied live shows. Acts like Phish, Widespread Panic, and the various offshoots of The Grateful Dead. While those bands represent the jam band scene, when it comes to legendary straight-forward rock and roll shows, there’s only one term that comes to mind – The Boss.
Otherwise known as Bruce Springsteen, he is out on the road with the iconic E Street Band for a lengthy tour which included a stop at the Bryce Jordan Center in State College, PA. on March 18. After a seven year hiatus, this tour has received almost as much coverage before it even began (due to increased ticket prices) as the band did on their entire last tour. Were ticket prices higher this time around? Yes. Did the show, and most shows on the tour, sell out? Yes. Did anyone complain? No. That’s because Springsteen shows have been heralded for their marathon sets, interaction with the crowd, and just the overall feeling you get after you leave the concert.
Taking into consideration the reputation of his live shows, and remembering that the band’s last outing was to celebrate the anniversary of his legendary “The River” album, it may have been a bit tough for Springsteen to figure out a set list. Not only did he put together a set full of hits and deep cuts, but he basically covered every era of his career, beginning with “No Surrender” from the “Born In The U.S.A.” album. The song is a favorite of guitarist “Little” Steven Van Zandt, and Van Zandt looked noticeably skinnier at PSU, but was full of energy and seemed to relish in the tightness of his band mates.
“Prove It All Night,” a rocking crowd favorite from 1977’s “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” brought the spotlight on Jake Clemons who has been flawlessly filling in the saxophone role created by his late uncle, Clarence Clemons. As this tour has progressed, the band has been debuting songs at some stops, and while it wasn’t a debut, PSU saw the second performance of the slower “I’m On Fire,” which was a welcomed change of pace. Shortly after, the band did offer up a debut when drummer Max Weinberg started off the beginning of “The River” hit “Hungry Heart.” The song is always a crowd-pleaser with Springsteen having the audience sing the first verse. However, presumably since Covid-19, one aspect of the show was missing. During that song, Springsteen normally would crowd surf from the back of the VIP pit to the front of the stage. Springsteen has always been known for his hands-on interaction with the crowd, so it still came as a bit of a surprise to those that have seen him before that it didn’t happen, an illustration of how things have changed in recent years.
“The Wild, the Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle” released in 1973 was represented three times throughout the night, and towards the end of the main set “The E Street Shuffle” was a highlight with its bluesy tempo and some fine backing from a four-piece horn section. Springsteen did talk to the crowd throughout the evening, including introducing the reflective “Last Man Standing” from 2020’s “Letter to You.” It’s certainly interesting to hear the way Springsteen talks about the song’s meaning, as a majority of his work often tells the story of his life, whether metaphorically or straight-forward. It’s a practice that has helped him become one of the most prolific rock storytellers of the last fifty years.
Possibly one of the best examples of Springsteen’s writing would be “Backstreets” from the “Born to Run” album. The song tends to find its way into the set list about a half dozen times per tour, but on this tour the band has been performing it every night. The song has multiple meanings depending on who ask, but Springsteen has pointed out that it is simply about a broken friendship. Whatever the meaning may be, the song has been a high mark of each night of this tour.
The ending of the main set brought out some of his bigger hits, including “Because the Night,” a cut Springsteen started to write before handing it over to Patti Smith. The title track from 2012’s “Wrecking Ball,” meshed into a driving performance of the post-9/11 anthem “The Rising” which saw guitarist Nils Lofgren deliver some spot on solos and sing backup on the song’s ending. Ending the set on a high note, “Badlands” had everyone in the crowd screaming about old men and rich men wanting to become kings, which had Springsteen smiling in approval.
One of the most fascinating parts of an E Street band show is how much everyone comes out of their comfort zones and does things they say they won’t do. Getting goose bumps at the ending coda of “Thunder Road?” You can try to fight it all you want, but it happens. Screaming “whoa” like an angst-ridden teenager – or having your arms in the air waving your fingers during the buildup to the final verse – during “Born to Run?” Check. Fist pumping along to “hey, hey, hey, hey” at the end of “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)”? Guaranteed. Seeing every generation of fan smiling, thinking about their own “Glory Days?” It’s inevitable. People trying to dance like they’re Springsteen or Courtney Cox during “Dancing In the Dark?” It’s become a staple. Springsteen walking around the pit on a ramp shaking hands with fans during “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out?” It’s a safe bet. It’s these things and more that make an E Street Band show legendary.
Ending the night with a delicate solo performance of “I’ll See You in My Dreams” from “Letter To You,” Springsteen gave an appreciative wave and smile to the crowd who showered The Boss with admiration for a man who has helped define multiple generations and has rightfully earned his place as one of the legendary artists of our time. This tour serves as a brilliant display of the music and impact Springsteen and the E Street Band have had on rock and roll. And coming in around the three hour mark, the shows are still one of the best out there.
Just don’t go expecting to have a voice left the next day.
Prove It All Night
Letter to You
The Promised Land
Out in the Street
I’m on Fire
Nightshift (Commodores cover)
Hungry Heart (tour debut)
The E Street Shuffle
Last Man Standing (solo acoustic)
Because the Night
She’s the One
Born to Run
Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)
Dancing in the Dark
(followed by band introductions)
Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out (Pictures of Danny Federici and Clarence Clemons were shown during the song)
I’ll See You in My Dreams (solo acoustic)
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