Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band’s concert Monday night at Times Union Center started nearly an hour late, but all was forgiven once the 16 musicians took the stage and gave the packed house a night of power, emotion and showmanship.
Highlights included a video tribute to saxman Clarence Clemons, who died last June; the many sax solos by Clemons’ nephew Jake Clemons, which often left Springsteen’s face beaming with pride in classics such as “Thunder Road”; Springsteen’s solo performance of his rarely played “Janey, Don’t You Lose Heart,” an outtake from 1983’s “Born in the U.S.A.,” which began with his tentative finger picking on his guitar, as if trying to relearn the song; the dueling guitar leads between Stevie Van Zandt and Springsteen during “Murder Incorporated”; hits such as “Badlands,” “The Promised Land,” and the evening ending string of “Born to Run,” “Dancing the Dark” and “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out”; and 62-year-old Springsteen’s amazing energy and connection with his fans, pulling three people out of the audience to dance or sing with him.
Wow. And did I even mention Springsteen pouring a fan’s bottle of water down his back, then downing another fan’s beer before diving into the crowd and letting himself be carried back to the stage?
Musically the biggest thrills of the night came from songs off his much-lauded new album, “Wrecking Ball.”
The gospel-influenced “Land of Hopes and Dreams” took full advantage of all the musicians onstage, veering away from the driving rock for a more nuanced and, well, hopeful approach, supported by horns, strings, percussion, keyboards and voices. The song’s hopefulness is punctuated by an ending that is taken from Curtis Mayfield’s own gospel-influenced hit, “People Get Ready.”
“Rocky Ground” stood out for the power and poise of singer Michelle Moore, whose stunning voice integrated a moment of rap in this gospel-inflected song as a counterpoint to Springsteen’s raspy voice. This was especially poignant as she sang “We’ve been traveling over rocky ground,” and Springsteen responded with “I’m a soul child soldier,” and “There’s a new day coming.”
Recognizing hardship but also sensing hope and joy resonated throughout the evening, especially in a song like “Wrecking Ball,” with the refrain of “Hard times come; hard times go.”
Springsteen even mentioned the needs people have in tough economic times and encouraged donations to the Northeast Food Bank. Songs and words such as these have led many commentators to say Springsteen has tapped into something deep in the American psyche. The problem with such a statement, though, is that it is hard to say Springsteen speaks for all of America when his audience, at least the one at Times Union Center, was mostly white, lacking the diversity of America, of the city of Albany or even of the musicians on stage.
The one off moment during the concert for me was the unnerving applause generated by a line in “Jack of All Trades,” which pits the working class against bankers: “If I had me a gun / I’d find the bastards and shoot ’em on sight.”
The imagined violence, no doubt, plays to real feelings of powerlessness and dejection; luckily, Springsteen counters that sentiment with the transcendent power of rock ‘n’ roll. As he said early in the night, “The E Street Band has returned, but our mission remains the same … to bring joy into your heart.”
Welcome back, and thanks for the rocking night.
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
When: 8:30 p.m. Monday
Where: Times Union Center, 51 S. Pearl St., Albany
Length: Nearly 3 hours
Crowd: Packed with people dancing, pumping their arms and singing along