This is my original review, posted on timesunion.com Saturday, 9/22/12
The story also appeared in the Times Union print edition. I wrote a page A2 “People” item as well as a condensed version of the review below. It is archived here.
By Joyce Bassett
Bruce Springsteen is celebrating his birthday this weekend with with three shows in New Jersey at MetLife Stadium. Friday’s set, the second of three shows, served up a “one for the ages” performance that will be tough to top during the grand finale Saturday, when the crowd-surfing ultimate rock performer turns 63 at midnight.
The betting line on Saturday’s performance at an 82,000-seat football stadium suggests he’ll top Friday’s show.
This week marked Springsteen’s first appearances at MetLife, which opened in 2010. He closed the former Giants stadium next door with five shows in 2009 during his “Working on a Dream” tour. He wrote a song for that special occasion, “Wrecking Ball,” that became the title track of his latest album.
His references to Jersey during Friday night’s show brought huge roars from the nearly sold-out arena, with general admission ticket holders filling up the floor. He dipped back into his early albums and certainly felt right at home, introducing those songs with storytelling, a trademark of his early ’70s and ’80s shows. He explained “Does this Bus Stop at 82nd Street?,” from his 1973 debut album, was written during a bus ride through uptown Manhattan. (It was also part of his demo for John Hammond of CBS Records which earned him a recording contract.)
The “Wrecking Ball” songs are still a core part of the tour’s stadium shows. The lyric’s reference to “the arena’s filled and Giants played their games” at the home field of the Super Bowl champs provided a comparison to early shows on the tour, including the band’s April visit to Albany.
Seeing Bruce early in a tour and at arenas is like going to watch the Giants during spring training in Albany: arena shows are more intimate, the sound is terrific and the atmosphere is subdued but often thrilling. At stadium shows, the sound isn’t as good, some seats are far, far away from the action — but the atmosphere is beyond-incredible.
In spring training, Giants players are starting a long journey on the road to reaching a Super Bowl. On tour, Springsteen builds on and perfects his setlist, building up to ultimate performances that showcase an entire tour, like Friday night in New Jersey.
And the big plays are bigger. At each Springsteen concert, you have your tour premieres and surprises. In Albany, an acoustic rarity “Janey Don’t You Lose Heart” was the talk of Twitter during and after the show. The “Born in the USA” songs “Darlington County” and “Downbound Train” also made their debuts in Albany.
The tour premiers and rarities at “MetLife 2″ were nothing short of spectacular. “Living on the Edge of the World” as the opening song was “especially for New Jersey,” he said. It was the first time the tune (a B-side from 1980′s “The River” and a feature on his 1998 collection “Tracks”) was ever played live. Special guest Gary U.S. Bonds took the stage with a rousing cover of “Jole Blon” followed by “This Little Girl,” a one-two punch from Bonds’ 1981 album “Dedication,” which was co-produced by Springsteen and E Street guitarist Steven Van Zandt. The album also featured an all-star roster of musicians and vocalists, including the entire E Street Band as musicians, including the late Clarence Clemons on saxophone and the late Danny Federici on keyboards and accordion.
Another kind of dedication, the sort that flows to hometown fans, was the theme of the night. “Lost in the Flood,” also from Springsteen’s debut, showcased pianist Roy Bittan. It was Bittan who carried the band during the most powerful portion of the night, a full-band run-through “Incident on 57th Street” that naturally led into “Rosalita,” just as it did on Springsteen’s sophomore album, “The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle.” A rarely combined one-two shot, and a powerful conclusion of the main set.
The encores, which are almost like a second show, proved Springsteen was pacing himself for “MetLife 3.” Bonds came back out for “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” and “American Land” to close the show, complete with fireworks. Bruce ended the 3-hour, 9-minute performance (Wednesday’s concert clocked in at 3:46) by promising to bring back Bonds Saturday night, and I would expect a romping “Quarter to Three” to complete the trilogy.
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
MetLife Stadium, New Jersey
Dates: Sept. 19, 21, 22
Highlight: “Incident on 57th Street” into “Rosalita,” finishing off the main set.