There Was Magic in the Night at Fenway Park

16 Aug

What do you say about a Bruce Springsteen show that starts with “Thunder Road,” the previous evening’s high point, performed simply and in classic style, with just piano and harmonica by Springsteen and “Professor” Roy Bittan?

What do you say about a Springsteen show that includes diverse but amazing audience requests like “Thundercrack,” “Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street?,” “Frankie,” “Quarter to Three,” and “Prove It All Night” (with the 1978 intro), and where a cover of Eddie Floyd’s “Knock on Wood” (a song the band has only performed once before — in 1976) is considered by Springsteen to be the weirdest one of them all?

What do you say about a Springsteen show that also includes an excellent, powerful “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” an awe inspiring “Land of Hope and Dreams,” and a transcendent “Backstreets?”

What do you say about a Springsteen show where he sings “Waiting on a Sunny Day,” and ironically, that’s when it starts raining? Then he does an acoustic “Who’ll Stop the Rain?” and it starts raining even harder?

What do you say about a Springsteen show where he asks for a hot dog and beer so many times that someone actually gives him one — at the start of “Working on the Highway” — and he chugs that entire beer in one sip … while still playing the intro to the song!

What do you say about a Springsteen show where even the usually stoic and serious Max Weinberg smiled a few times?

What do you say about a 31-song Springsteen show where only 12 of those numbers were repeated from the night before, one of which (the aforementioned “Thunder Road“) performed so differently that it kinda doesn’t even count as having been repeated?

What do you say about a Springsteen show that ends — with Ken Casey of the Dropkick Murphys joining the band for “American Land” — and then treats the audience to a fireworks show off the Green Monster as they’re leaving the stadium?

What do you say about a Springsteen show that’s even better than the one the night before?

Really, what can you say other than that you’re lucky to have been there. Damned lucky.

It was just that kind of night last night at Fenway, where Springsteen played the second of two shows at America’s Most Beloved Ballpark. This one ran 3.5 hours again, went way past curfew, and included more than 30 songs (more than the night before).

Whereas Tuesday’s show was marked by lots of talk of ghosts and dearly departed members of the band (and Johnny Pesky), and an engaging but uneven setlist that seemed to gain and lose momentum often, last night was truly the house party Springsteen promised.

It started right after “Thunder Road,” with a collection of what Springsteen called “the summertime hits” (“Hungry Heart,” “Sherry Darling,” “Summertime Blues,” and an audible, the unrehearsed “Girls in Their Summer Clothes”), and continued through a surprising, frequently unplanned set that included so many awesome, mind-blowing performances of covers, rarities, and older tracks that many newer, more casual fans in the audience had to be completely baffled (and disappointed) by what they were hearing.

After finishing up the four-song Wrecking Ball promotional section (which played so much better Wednesday than it did the night before), Springsteen explained that “the rest of tonight’s gonna be like we’re playing at a picnic.” So instead of sitting through show-killers like “Jack of All Trades” and new standards like “The Rising” that don’t really blend well, we had a 5-song audience request section (plus another in the encore) where Springsteen took a truly anything-goes attitude, and that turned the show into what often felt like an impromptu jam session where Springsteen (and the audience) was playing “Stump the Band.”

But here’s the thing: What the show lacked in structure, it more than made up for in stature.

I lost count of the number of times I said “wow.” I was continually knocked out — by Springsteen’s searing guitar solo at the start of “Prove It All Night” and Steve Van Zandt’s later on in that song … by the fun Springsteen and Van Zandt were having on “Two Hearts” … by just how good and how comfortable and confident Jake Clemons has become … by Michelle Moore’s solo on “Rocky Ground” … by the song selections, which were as welcome as they were unexpected … as I said, I lost count.

Oh, and all those unprepared songs? The 15-member E Street Band was always more than up to the task. Had we not been told the songs were unrehearsed or hadn’t been played before, we’d never know. That’s just how good this band is.

Consider this the start of my campaign to have Springsteen and co. officially release this show (and Tuesday night’s) on CD and DVD, hopefully in time for stocking stuffers this year. I’ve got plenty of memories of last night to last me, but how great would it be to have the whole thing documented? (UPDATE: An official release is now available.)

Yes, it was just that kind of magical night at Fenway. A better, more enjoyable show than the one the night before, from the surprising set list and looser tone to the improved sound quality, it was the kind of show that could make a guy’s entire summer — and it did that for me.

I feel lucky to have been there. Damned lucky.

Were you at this show and/or the one on Tuesday? Will you join my effort to get an official CD/DVD release? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

11 Responses to “There Was Magic in the Night at Fenway Park”

  1. garyokee August 16, 2012 at 10:19 am #

    Agreed – well said! A tremendous show – Springsteen is at his apex as a mature artist. The songs from Wrecking Ball stand with – and complement- the best of ’em.

    But – and this is a big “but” I must respectfully disagree about Jake Clemons. It was a heartfelt, sincere gesture to ask Jake to join the E Street Band. But not only does he lack the lung capacity to play the long flowing sax lines properly, but more importantly, he lacks the musicianship. His intonation is off – he plays the instrument sharp consistently. This was not the first time, not an “off” night. He also lacks the improvisational chops to add meaningful riffs to the band. (when the other saxophonist came down from the brass section to solo I felt embarrassed for Jake) Clarence is irreplaceable. His huge lungs and torso produced long, flowing, deep, resonant, raspy tones from his instrument. It may take more than a young Clemons cousin to replicate that.

    Or perhaps that simply doesn’t matter to Bruce, and at this point in his career, he’s willing to sacrifice the pursuit of perfection and allow family allegiance and sense of brotherhood to prevail.

    That’s pretty cool too.

    BTW – I was very, very encouraged by the respectful, positive reception given Michelle Williams’ hip-hop break in Rocky Ground (One of my favorite songs off of WB) She’s been on the Rocky Ground herself.

    • Martin Lieberman August 16, 2012 at 4:06 pm #

      Thanks for the comment, Gary. Glad you liked the review.

      I agree that Clarence is irreplaceable, and no one will ever play the way he did. Your ears are clearly more attuned to the subtleties of Jake’s musicianship than I am, but I do think Jake is a more than adequate replacement, temporary or otherwise. And he adds a similar kind of youthful energy to the band that Jay Weinberg did a few years back when he had to fill in for Max. Either way, I think Bruce and Jake have more than acquitted themselves on this tour in paying tribute to a beloved member of the band. It’ll be interesting to see what Bruce does moving forward when it comes time to record a new album and go on another tour.

      Here’s hoping he keeps the entire horn section. I love what they add to some of those songs, particularly “Thunder Road.”


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