LIVE MUSIC: Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band @ The Verizon Center - 4/1/12

Photos courtesy of Springsteen SUPERFAN Stephanie Germeraad

At some point during every Bruce Springsteen tour, there is a breaking point; a moment in which the Boss decides to stop tirelessly promoting  his newest album, and just plays what everyone really wants to hear—classics and deep cuts.  Lucky for those at the Verizon Center in Washington, DC, April 1st was that night. 

After beginning with “We Take Care of our Own,” and “Wrecking Ball,”—the single and title track from his new album, respectively—the band launched into Born to Run’s “Night,” signaling to fans that they were in for a good show.  Springsteen reinforced the promise of the evening by taking a moment to acknowledge that although the composition of the E Street band has changed, “the mission remains the same: we want to wake you up and shake you up and we want to take you to higher ground.  We want to sing you home with your hands hurting and your voice hurting!”   The band delivered on their guarantee—anyone who didn’t leave that show with arms sore from fist pumping and a voice coarse from singing along from the depths of their soul was assuredly doing something wrong. 

Bruce Springsteen rocks the Verizon CenterThe performance continued on a somber tone as Springsteen explained the focus of the show, saying that “tonight’s story is a story of hellos and goodbyes.  Things that remain and things that go away,” before playing “My City in Ruins,” a song off The Rising reflecting a depressed Asbury Park, New Jersey and a post-9/11 New York City. 

Springsteen introduced the band during the ruckus and fun “Seaside Bar Song” off of Tracks, a 1998 box set of previously unreleased songs and B-sides.  The stage was packed with 18 musicians, and the Boss called on the choir, the horn section, and then everyone individually to solo along with the backbeat.  He paid homage to the band’s recently-deceased members, saxophonist Clarence “the Big Man” Clemons and organ/accordionist Danny Federici, by crying out to the crowd, “Do I have to say their names?”  Uproar and cheers from the crowd allowed him to conclude that “if we’re here, then they’re here.”   Before the tour, many wondered whether songs with Clemons’ saxophone parts would be filled in with other instruments or omitted altogether.  The sax parts remained, and there to play them in his stead was the Big Man’s talented and dynamic nephew, Jake Clemons. 

The performance lasted 27 songs, making it the longest show on the tour so far.  Most surprising to hear was “The Promise,” a track that didn’t make it onto Darkness on the Edge of Town but was recently released as the title track of a compilation of rare material.  Springsteen had only played this song twice previously, so while casual fans weren’t prepared to sing along, diehard Springsteen followers felt they were witnessing a historic performance.  Other setlist highlights included “Adam Raised a Cain,” a calypso-style “Does this Bus Stop at 82nd Street?” and a performance of Springsteen’s 1978 collaboration with Patti Smith, “Because the Night.” 

This is why they call him THE BOSSSpringsteen talked about his recent visit to the historic Apollo Theater and how he loved the chance to play where all his heroes had once played.   He journeyed into the crowd singing The Temptations’ “The Way You Do the Things You Do” and Wilson Pickett’s “634-5789” before crowd-surfing his way back up to the main stage.  The show took on a serious tone as the band played “American Skin (41 Shots),” the chilling tale of New York City police firing 41 fatal shots into an unarmed Guinean young man.  Although Springsteen did not make any specific commentary, the song conjured up feelings about the recent shooting of Trayvon Martin, the latest fatal victim of racial profiling. 

A dissatisfaction of the pervasive inequality in the United States was present throughout the night.  While some of the Boss’ lyrics rang hollow with me when I reviewed his new album, I ate my words as Springsteen explained that “it ain’t about 99% or 1%, it’s about what side of history you’re on.”  As he played “Jack of All Trades,” he conjured up images of someone trying to support his family by any means necessary, a reality true today in America as people continue to lose their jobs and struggle to put food on the table.  The message couldn’t have been more significant anywhere but in our nation’s capital.  Much of the audience at the Verizon Center Sunday night surely works in the politics and government of our country, where so often it is easy to get caught up in the struggle for power and influence and to forget what you are actually working for.  Springsteen once again proved the power of music to bring about clarity and purposefulness as he reminded a city full of hacks and wonks what it’s all about. 

The show ended in a powerful encore.  Springsteen pulled a sign from the crowd with the request on it for “Out in the Street,” spurring him to say that although he’s played the song thousands of time, the band hadn’t been rehearsing it.  Oh well, he decided, “the E Street Band knows their shit.”  The rip-roaring night ended in “Tenth Avenue Freeze-out.”  As he came to the line, “They made the change up town and the Big Man joined the band,” a reference to Clarence Clemmons, Springsteen stopped and stood in silence for at least a full minute as the crowd maintained a deafening roar.  The night proved that although Danny and Clarence are sorely missed, the E Street band carries on without them, continuing to put on the best live show in the business. 

We Take Care of Our Own
Wrecking Ball
Death to My Hometown
My City of Ruins
Seaside Bar Song
Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street?
Jack of All Trades
Adam Raised a Cain
Easy Money
She's the One
Waitin' on a Sunny Day
The Promise
The Way You Do the Things You Do
American Skin (41 Shots)
Because the Night 
The Rising
We Are Alive
Thunder Road

Rocky Ground
Out in the Street
Born to Run
Dancing in the Dark
Land of Hope and Dreams
Tenth Avenue Freeze-out