November 27, 2012

Notes from the road: Denver, CO

­­­Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band kicked off Thanksgiving week in Denver, Colorado. The Mile High City is among those spots the band missed early in the tour, but as they did in 2009, they’ve made sure to swing through later on. “Get Out of Denver” opened the show, and it was such a natural fit and played so well, many fans may not have realized it’s actually an old Bob Seger song. They followed with a strong but also relatively obscure “I’m a Rocker,” from The River. With heartland favorite “The Promised Land,” fans could be reassured that this was indeed Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. The evolving chemistry between Bruce and Jake Clemons was on display as they traded harmonica and sax solos, and Bruce was jumping up and down by the end of the song.

The jumping continued on “Hungry Heart.” After Bruce strode out on the catwalk, he pleaded before he fell back into the crowd: “I need some strong women down there… strong women!” By the time he was passed back up to the stage, the entire crowd was in an absolute frenzy.

Fans in this part of country may not yet have seen or heard the extended “My City of Ruins,” but Bruce had everyone’s attention right away as he related Hurricane Sandy and the damage done to the song’s original meaning; he also injected the words “the change was made uptown,” lest anybody have any doubts about the ghosts Bruce had in mind when he asked if we’re “missing anybody.” Another strong “Spirit in the Night” had Bruce exhorting the crowd to bring the noise, and they did. He put on an actual coonskin cap that had been tossed onstage (we’re in Colorado!) and goofed around with Jake. More giddiness ensued as the band played a funky version of “The E Street Shuffle” — they played it last time they were in Denver three years ago, and the crowd seemed to remember.

We were in for a few real treats as the band granted some sign requests. “Bishop Danced” was well done and well received, especially for such an early obscurity. Bruce ended the song by pointing at Stevie as if to say, “See? I nailed this!” (which Stevie graciously acknowledged). After closing out “Human Touch” with a scorching guitar solo, Bruce found a sign that read, “My mom worked at Big Man’s West.” Clearly tickled, he launched into some storytelling about Clarence’s early-’80s foray into the bar business. He added that if the sign-maker’s mother worked there, “she probably didn’t get paid!” — so he was going to pay her back by playing a song for her. “Savin’ Up,” which Bruce wrote and Clarence recorded way back then, was brilliant and fun, and the crowd ate it up.

The two-pack of “Working on the Highway” and “Shackled and Drawn” saw Bruce pick up his acoustic guitar and show off some dance moves. If there is one song from the second half of the tour that has had the entire band locked in and smiling, it’s Wrecking Ball’s “Shackled.” New and old fans alike continue to be impressed by nearly the entire band lining the stage and grooving in unison.

A surprise “Raise Your Hand” reminded everyone to expect the unexpected. On a fist-pumping “Badlands,” Bruce, Nils, and Stevie patrolled the stage, urging fans to keep bringing it. Max closed it out with some spectacularly strong drumming; “Land of Hope and Dreams” ended the main set with more intensity from the Mighty One.

The most poignant moment of the night brought a hush to the crowd as the encore began with a song the E Street Band hadn’t played since the Tunnel of Love tour more than 20 years ago. Bruce recounted a chance conversation he had had with a Denver woman the day before this show who thanked him for helping her through some tough times with his music; he replied that he owed us a thank you for helping him. There were tears in the crowd and maybe a few onstage as well for “Across the Borderline,” written by John Hiatt, Ry Cooder, and Jim Dickinson. It was a beautiful rendition of a soul-searching song.

The party started back up and the lights came on for “Born to Run,” the house staying lit up as the band raced through “Bobby Jean” and “Dancing in the Dark.” Bruce waded out into the crowd and invited two women onstage to dance with Roy; he then found a young woman on the other side and danced with her. She was clearly stunned to be onstage with the Boss himself but kept it together for the dance. All the while, Jake displayed serious lung power on an extended and jubilant sax solo. As Bruce picked up a Santa hat and the band played “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town,” it was this week’s holiday that came to mind — the E Street Band is something to truly be thankful for.

 — Greg Paukstis,