In the quietest moment of an uproarious sold-out show on Tuesday at the Times Union Center, Bruce Springsteen responded to a fan’s note with a Mother’s Day Gift: He cued the E Street Band into “Save the Last Dance for Me” and danced with the fan’s mother on stage, administering a charisma overdose but displaying the generosity that warmed the whole three-hour blast. He shook about 1,000 hands, invited three little girls on stage to dance and imitated their gleeful jumping up and down, and worked and sweated so hard he looked like he’d been rocking in a car wash.
The E Street Band itself was generous, swelled beyond its customary eight-pieces (no Patti Scialfa, no Steve Van Zandt) with horns, singers and a percussionist. Likely inspired by Springsteen’s big Seeger Sessions Band, this made the sound bigger, more varied and soulful. Springsteen’s willingness to play fan requests also felt gracious. Noting the crowd had thrown some curveballs, he complied, uncorking sign-requested “Save the Last Dance for Me,” “Better Days,” “Seaside Bar Song,” even the BeeGees’ “Stayin’ Alive.” Oh, yes, he did. Fans laughingly dusted off disco moves, but the arrangement was soul/R&B style dance music.
He started with relatively new songs, mid-tempo rockers whose expansive feel soothed crowd craving for classics and marking Springsteen as one of few rockers to continue, decade after decade, making new music that matters. To open, “Don’t Change,” “My Love Will Not Let You Down” and “This Is the Sword” bookended “No Surrender.” After “Sword,” the anthemic “Badlands” drew to their feet the few fans still sitting. “Death to My Hometown” rode a Celtic groove and percussion ignited “High Hopes.”
Springsteen praised the wisdom of old songs to introduce Roy Head’s “Treat Her Right,” and the show thereafter echoed classic tunes and feels. “Mary’s Place” suggested a party, horns and singers underlining the invitation with the playful uplift of 1960s soul. The recent “Shackled and Drawn” felt vintage when great backup singer Cindy Mizelle took this folkie tune to church. Former Rage Against the Machine guitarist-singer Tom Morello took over “Ghost of Tom Joad,” passionately singing its lyrics of populist struggle and displaying a big bag of guitar tricks in a very outside solo. Morello and Nils Lofgren ably occupied Van Zandt’s musical/emotional space, Lofgren soloing less than Morello but more often called to Springsteen’s mic for harmonies. Young Jake Clemons, nephew of the late Clarence, played good tenor sax and even better sparkplug.
The veteran E Streeters and newcomers blended well; capably tackling unexpected tunes proved they’d been well rehearsed. When Springsteen urged them on, it revved the crowd, too, in a universal “let’s ROCK!”
Springsteen as usual made everybody feel young, with simple, stirring music inviting us into a fun, old-school escape. Rock’s reigning master of scale, Springsteen made something huge feel intimate. His serious moments hit as hard as his soulful jubilation. In the folk lament “The Wall” about Vietnam, Springsteen made awkward phrasing read as sincerity, pain and rage. When he followed with the often misunderstood “Born in the USA,” there was no mistaking the hurt and betrayal powering it. But then he proclaimed we were “Born to Run.” “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out,” “Ramrod,” “Shout” and “Thunder Road” comprised an energetic, departure-free encore,” leaving fans happy despite the traffic jam, heading into the darkness at the edge of town.
Reach Michael Hochanadel at [email protected].