You gotta hand it to Springsteen. A few years ago when I was asked why I think so highly of the aging rocker, I said, “Because he pores every ounce of his being into every performance.” Saturday night’s show at Wrigley Field was no exception, as Springsteen and his ever-growing E Street Band withstood the elements – namely, a steady rain for much of the show – to lead 40,000 fans in song for close to three hours. At sixty-three, The Boss has lost none of the energy he possessed when I attended his concert at Alpine Valley in 1984, and it begs the question: if a 63 year-old guy can still put this much exuberance into a show, why do so many other performers phone it in?
In addition to high energy, the other element Springsteen brings to a show is surprise. Of the 27 songs performed on Saturday night, fourteen hadn’t been performed the night prior. So sure, I wish he’d performed “Atlantic City” and “The River,” but instead I got “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” “The Ties that Bind,” an unexpected “Because the Night,” and an even more unexpected “Rosalita,” which was presented almost as a gift for the die-hard fans who by that point were as drenched as Springsteen himself. So who could complain?
Wrigley is a terrible place to see a concert, but that was to be expected; visual obstructions, an overpacked concourse and lines to the bathrooms are part of the drill at the century-old ballpark. My daughter and I sat about ten rows behind a pole in section 239, but we were especially pleased to learn that despite no shelter overhead, the rain left our area dry and landed about five seats to our right.
For the hard-core fans on the field, there was no escaping the elements. Many had brought ponchos, but most just continued to dance and cheer and sing in unison to Springsteen’s repertoire. The rain prompted Springsteen to play an acoustic version of CCR’s “Who’ll Stop the Rain,” but it wasn’t answered until a half hour after the show. Aside from the main console, which was sheltered under a tent, nothing else was protected, and it left me wondering about the condition of Steve Van Zandt’s guitar and Soozie Tyrell’s violin.
The new tracks from Wrecking Ball, when interspersed throughout a long set, played better than they do on the album. “We Take Care of our Own” sounded powerful and fit in seamlessly on the heels of “Hungry Heart,” and “Wrecking Ball” and “Death to my Hometown” worked well despite their repetitiveness. One of the evenings highlights was “The Ghost of Tom Joad,” a raucous, balls-to-the-wall version with a spastic guitar solo by Tom Morello that left the crowd erupting. Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder returned for the second Wrigley show, adding effective vocals to "My Hometown" and "Darkness."
After Clarence Clemons died last year, I wondered if Bruce would continue to play "Tenth Avenue Freeze Out," and was pleased to hear the song's return with a newly added pause after the line "the big man joined the band," during which a minute-long photo montage of Clemons appeared on the video screens. It was a nice touch, and a moving one that drew applause from those in attendance.
After the last chord of "Americanland," my daughter and I could see the various band members walk behind the stage toward the ballpark exit. Springsteen, rather than running out as quickly as he could, spent several minutes backstage before making his way toward the right-field corner of the outfield, where he pumped his fists in appreciation for an audience who toughed it out.
I was sixteen when I first saw Springsteen, and if you had told me then that I’d one day attend another show of his with my fifteen year-old daughter, I’d have flipped.
How cool is that to share a little bit of my past with a big part of my present?