Bruce... How do you do it? How do you still, at age 62, manage to maintain your dignity, create inspiring, thought-provoking music and, most importantly, command a concert stage with such effortless authority? [Text by Gabe, photos by Phil.]
Always honing and mastering his craft, Bruce Springsteen has gotten it down to a sweaty science as he brilliantly displayed this past Friday night at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. I've been accused of being biased. It's no secret to anyone who knows me that Springsteen is my all-time favorite artist and that he is, in my opinion, the greatest live performer I've ever witnessed. I'm closing in on my 50th Springsteen concert and I'm here to tell you that yes, the Tampa show of his just-started "Wrecking Ball" tour ranks as one of the fieriest I've seen yet.
A capacity crowd of 17,591 shook the rafters of the Forum for damn near three hours. Few kept their seats warm as Bruce steamrolled through an impressive mix of old and new material with equal amounts of enthusiasm and passion. The show got off to a rousing start with "We Take Care of Our Own," also the lead-off track on Springsteen's newest album, Wrecking Ball. A perfect album opener and also a wise choice for a show opener. Its anthemic, soaring chorus is ideal for singing along and got the raucous crowd into the show immediately. Like a man possessed, Bruce hammered on his guitar harder than I've seen him bash it in a long time. His genuine enthusiasm and eagerness for the newer material shone through brilliantly. The mighty E Street Band was bolstered by a red hot full horn section and the sound came through crystal clear, no easy feat to achieve in the cavernous Forum.
Dressed in black from head to toe, Springsteen looked fit and healthy as ever as he stomped from one end of the massive stage to the other, his vocals commanding and powerful. Only three shows into the current tour, and he and the newly re-vamped band sound spectacular together. While the future of the band was unclear last year following the untimely passing of longtime sax wailer and figurehead, Clarence Clemons, Bruce decided to forge ahead and enlisted Clemons' sax-playing nephew, Jake, to join the ranks. The new recruit has mighty big shoes to fill, but he rose to the occasion in grand fashion. His solos were pitch perfect and recalled the massive sound his uncle provided the band with for so many decades.
Pulling out some nuggets from the massive catalog and hitting the band up with a few "audibles" (as the E Street followers like to refer to the numbers Bruce decides to play on a whim in place of previously slated setlist selections), a Springsteen concert is always a thrill ride of massive proportions when it comes to song selection. Each show is always different from the previous one, part of what makes attending multiple shows on a tour so exciting. The feisty Tampa crowd was treated to some real treasures on Friday night. Besides all the fine material from the new album (which, incidentally, went over incredibly well with a crowd that seemed pretty familiar with it already), Bruce and his band reached way back to his 1973 debut album, and wove a new spin on "Does This Bus Stop At 82nd Street," putting every piece of the burning horn section to good use. The almost 40-year old song sounded revitalized and reborn, and seemed to satisfy the old faithfuls. And in the tradition of recent tours, where fans bring massive posters to shows emblazoned with song requests, one lucky and wise fan had their request granted. "Talk To Me," more commonly known as a Southside Johnny song but actually a Springsteen composition that he never released, was unleashed on an unsuspecting crowd and took the wow factor to a whole new level. Most impressive was how flawlessly the band pulled it off, and that is was makes the E Street Band such an awesome force — their ability to not only deliver whatever comes to The Boss' mind at the drop of a hat, but to crush it.
And don't discount Springsteen's conscience and his constant insistence on bringing burning issues to light and exposing the filthy underbelly of social issues. "American Skin (41 Shots)," a rarely-played heartbreaking account of an unfortunate grizzly's undeserved shooting for being at the wrong place at the wrong time, was particularly chilling in light of 17-year old Treyvon Martin's unfortunate death here in Florida. And "Jack of All Trades," an account of a down-on-his-luck guy doing whatever it takes to make ends meet, rang true in the devastating economic times we're all living through.
But make no mistake about it — an E Street show is by all means a party. The promise of what rock 'n' roll is supposed to represent from its inception is the true message of any Bruce Springsteen show. As the houselights were raised and the majority of the roaring encore was played, it was easy to look around and see thousands of smiling faces and the words to Springsteen's signature tune "Born To Run" being shouted in unison. Talk about the ultimate, memorable rock experience to look back on for years to come.
Bruce Springsteen reinforces my love and passion for rock music exponentially each and every time I listen to his records. With each and every concert I attend, he never fails to deliver the goods and prove how and why he owns the reputation he so rightfully deserves.
The current tour he's on is slated to run a whopping 18 months and cover the globe. Based on the barn-burning performance on Friday night and the pools of sweat that poured from his body for three hours, I honestly still don't know how he does it night after night. He's a powerhouse of energy and stamina, and he steadily delivers unforgettable shows. Friday night was a glowing example of just what Springsteen is capable of. As I walked out of the show exhausted and exhilarated, I heard a dad tell his teenage son "See...THAT'S how it's done!" I couldn't agree more.
We Take Care of Our Own
Prove It All Night
Death to My Hometown
My City of Ruins
Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street
Talk to Me
Jack of All Trades
Waitin' on a Sunny Day
The Promised Land
Apollo Medley (The Way You Do The Things You Do/634-5789)
American Skin (41 Shots)
We Are Alive
* * *
Rocky Ground (with Michelle Moore)
Land of Hope and Dreams
Born to Run
Dancing in the Dark
Tenth Avenue Freeze-out