the reverend bruce springsteen and the hands-to-the-sky church: the boss in toronto

On Friday night in Toronto, Bruce Springsteen led the born-again E Street Band and his faithful flock in a rock-and-roll revival meeting. There was soulful rhythm-and-blues, and there was hard-charging guitar rock. There was political anger and there were elegies for lost friends. There was the wonder of mortality and the sheer joy of being alive. There was an intimate lullaby and a rocking house party. I've been trying to recall every Springsteen concert I've seen, and I've come to the conclusion this was the best show I've seen since the late 1970s.*

It was a night that made you shake your head in wonder. When I saw Springsteen as a teenager, we'd leave the concerts sweating and exhausted, and say, If we're this tired, how does he do it, night after night? Here we are 35 years later, asking the same question! At 62 years old, Bruce doesn't try to imitate his younger incarnation - he's not running around the stage nonstop, climbing amps, and dancing on the piano. But he's still performing at peak intensity, nonstop, for a minimum of three hours a night. (The Toronto show ran 3:37.)

And it's not just physical intensity, although there's a crazy amount of that. It's emotional intensity, as it always has been with Bruce. At each phase of his career, Bruce's songwriting and his performing has reflected different themes; right now the theme is spirituality. Not religion, of course. It's never as specific or as crass as that. It's all the searching questions that come with growing older, with surviving loss, with relishing every moment of life because you fully grasp how finite and very brief it is. Often I thought Bruce's stage presence, his gestures and his postures, projected a kind of awed reverence.

The Rogers Centre Skydome is a ridiculous venue for music. It's way too big and the acoustics are horrendous. But the man makes it work. (It didn't hurt that the dome was open, and lovely breezes were wafting by.) One of Bruce's current shticks is a great example of how he works his magic. People in the pit - close to the stage is always standing room, no chairs - hold up signs with song titles, and Bruce chooses some to play. So not only is the set list different every night, but the audience has a hand in creating it.

* * * *

On to some specific highlights from Friday night's show.

First, and always, Thunder Road, a song tied to the deepest recesses of my heart, the lyrics of which I still carry in my wallet. I used to hate the crowd singalong on this - it ruined some of the specialness for me - but now I love the shared moment.

When we saw him in 2007 (during playoffs!), I was blown away to hear the opening notes of Thundercrack. The song is legendary among older Springsteen fans, a number he used to perform in his club days, but never played in big venues, and never released on an album. I couldn't believe it! And I seemed to the only person in our section who knew the song. This time, then, it was a bit less special - is he playing it all the time now? - but still a thrill. Also, it came through a fan's amusing sign: a lightning bolt emanating from someone's bare bottom, which also sported a Springsteen tattoo. Bruce said it must be some Canadian humour.

Much later, Bruce teased the audience, holding a long cardboard sign facing him, until he flipped it to reveal the word so many of us long to see: ROSALITA. Wow. Never thought I'd hear that song again live. It made me miss The Big Man even more.

Other highlights for me were: Incident on 57th Street (Bruce playing solo on the piano), everything he played from Born To Run (Tenth Avenue Freeze Out, She's The One, Born To Run, and of course Thunder Road), the new Death To My Hometown, and The Rising. Jake Clemons on sax brought tears to my eyes several times. He's filling some mighty big shoes, and he's doing a really good job.

Another highlight wasn't musical. Bruce always reaches into the audience for a female fan to dance with. (I've been thinking it's way time for him to dance with a guy.) Lately he's been picking out very young children to sing or dance with. After he danced with a little girl, I thought, he should dance with an older fan! As I'm having that thought, Bruce picks up a sign and holds it to the camera: "BRUCE, DANCE WITH MY WIFE FOR OUR ANNIVERSARY". He pulls the woman onstage, and they dance - a real dance - and hug. He helps her back into the pit, and hugs her husband, too. It was amazing. Then, later, as he and the band are saying goodnight and the usual "You've been a great crowd" stuff, Bruce looks over towards the couple and says, "Happy Anniversary"! The last words he says before he leaves the stage!

* * * *

Set list:
1. Working on the Highway
2. Hungry Heart
3. Sherry Darling
4. We Take Care Of Our Own
5. Wrecking Ball
6. Death To My Hometown
7. My City Of Ruins
8. Spirit In The Night
9. Thundercrack
10. Jack Of All Trades
11. Murder Incorporated
12. Prove It All Night
13. Candy’s Room
14. Mona – She’s The One
15. Darlington County
16. Shackled and Drawn
17. Waiting on a Sunny Day
18. Incident on 57th Street (Solo Piano)
19. The Rising
20. Badlands
21. Land of Hope and Dreams
22. We Are Alive
23. Thunder Road
24. Born To Run
25. Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)
26. Dancing in the Dark
27. Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
28. Twist And Shout
29. Glory Days

Actual Toronto footage!

Review from the Toronto Star: Bruce Springsteen makes us believe in rock ’n’ roll again.

* 1978 (back-to-back nights), 1979 (No Nukes concert), 1980 (also twice), 1982 (June 12 No Nukes Rally, Central Park), 1988, and 2007. I skipped a few tours when I was no longer into arena shows, and because of the musical low of "Born in the USA".

No comments: