Springsteen at Citizen’s Bank Park in Philadelphia, September 3rd.
by Jane Roser
After paying $98 for my ticket and then driving 3 rainy hours in the middle of the night from Virginia to Philly for my first Springsteen concert, I was very grumpy. I didn’t think I would get my money’s worth. Boy was I wrong.
The stadium at Monday night’s concert was filled with over 40,000 screaming, beach ball-throwing, enthusiastic fans. Some holding signs naming songs they hoped The Boss would pick to sing- everything from ‘Proud Mary’ to ‘I Wanna Be Sedated’ to ‘Secret Garden’ (and a “Bruce For President” sign thrown in for good measure). A stagehand came out early on to take photos of the signs. I assume so Springsteen could pick his favorites to perform later.
As dusk approached, Springsteen walked out to begin the set wearing jeans, a chambray shirt, a vest and looking mighty fine for a 62 year old Jersey boy. A somber acoustic version of “Factory” set the tone for the evening and we were fortunate to have the rain hold off for the entire 3 hour and 24 minute show.
The full band exploded into “Adam Raised A Cain”, “Streets Of Fire” and “Prove It All Night”. Clarence Clemons’ nephew, Jake Clemons, joined the 16 member line up and proved that sax talent definitely runs in the family.
Springsteen has intense stage presence. He strums his guitar with long, dramatic strokes and gestures. He sings with his eyes closed, invoking the emotion of the evening’s themes, ghosts and economic injustice, onto the audience.
Songs from Wrecking Ball came next. The album’s first single “We Take Care Of Our Own” was well received. “Wrecking Ball” and “Death To My Hometown” followed with Springsteen shouting “Can you feel the spirit?”
Sitting cozily on stage, he sang a haunting rendition of “Spirit in The Night”, then “Does the Bus Stop at 82nd Street?” and “It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City”. The next song was introduced as “a song about the rebirth of my adopted hometown. It’s now become a song about many things, one is ghosts. As you live your life you gather ghosts all around you. I’m gonna do this song for your ghosts“. A gospel feeling “City of Ruin” then began. He kindly allowed two women in the crowd to sing ‘goodnight’ into the microphone. His response to the first attempt was “Not too bad“. To the second woman, Springsteen chuckled and said “We’ll quit while we’re ahead“.
Springsteen then surprised the audience with his first request choice “Frankie”, a song I’m told he rarely performs (the sign holder had written a catchy “Frankie has never been to Philly”. I just kept thinking- good thing he remembers the lyrics if he never performs it).
The Boss talked about the significance of this show being on Labor Day. He reminisced about how his father struggled to find work and said he wanted to “take a moment and remind his fellow musicians on stage that we’re all bums. We didn’t do what our parents told us and find real jobs“. Then he thanked the audience for the work that they do and for “letting us work for you tonight“, then he segued into the workingman’s tune “Jack Of All Trades”.
“Atlantic City” and “Darlington County” were crowd pleasers and I made a mental note to get to any future Springsteen concerts I may attend early since he lets the audience strum his guitar (what?!), give him hugs (swoon!), sing (ummm…no..) and dance with him on stage (hell yeah!) At one point, he threw his guitar high into the air and a stagehand caught it effortlessly. Bad. Ass.
“Shackled And Drawn” was a highlight for me, and a very emotional one since the company I had worked 11 years for filed for bankruptcy, closing within 3 months and costing over 300 people, mostly women, their jobs.This song illustrates exactly how I felt at the time and became something of an anthem for me. Singing “The sun on my face and my shovel in the dirt. The shovel in the dirt keeps the devil gone…” Springsteen used his guitar to make shoveling motions, then backup singer Cindy Mizelle came down and just killed it with her rich gospel style vocals. “Waitin’ On A Sunny Day” followed, then another audience request, this one from a woman whose husband was in Afghanistan. Springsteen eased into “The River” and the camera panned to the woman’s quiet, emotional reaction. It was a stunning, heart-wrenching moment. “Lonesome Day”, “Badlands” and “Thunder Road” rocked out next. Springsteen then took a minute to shake the sweat from his boots, the audience cheering him on thinking that was the coolest thing ever.
In keeping with the theme of ghost stories, he spoke of the last song he had written for Wrecking Ball. He wasn’t feeling inspired at all, then he thought back to a time when he was young and his mom would take him and his sister to the cemetery where they would laugh at the funny names on the tombstones. He thought about what those people went through 100 years or so ago and he wrote “We Are Alive”. Another beautiful, sombre song that was performed against a moonlit backdrop.
“Born To Run” blasted out like a firecracker followed by “Dancing In The Dark”, “Jungleland” and “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out” which culminated in a moving tribute to Clarence Clemons: “when I came to town and a big man joined the band“. The music suddenly halted, a montage video of Clarence Clemons appeared on the screen and the entire stadium stood up to pay their respects.
The evening ended with “American Land”, an Irish sounding, fiddle laden tune inspired by a poem written by an immigrant steelworker and set to music by Pete Seeger. The set ended on an energetic high note and I’m still amazed at this man’s stamina. I can’t say as much for the beach ball which began our night of fun and pomp. It lay squashed like a bug on the stadium floor. A sad victim of a thrilling, passionate, inspiring, dayum! fine pageantry of badassness.