November 4, 2012

Notes from the road: Louisville, KY

Almost exactly ten years to the date from the last time Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band played Kentucky during The Rising Tour (Lexington’s Rupp Arena, November 14, 2002), the Wrecking Ball Rock and Soul Revue pulled into town Saturday night. They proceeded to play a glorious set of new and old material which kept an all-ages packed audience on their feet for the duration.

The evening started with the spectacular setpiece “Shackled and Drawn,” an extremely high energy opener that right away set the tone for the rest of the night. This song, a standout on the Wrecking Ball album, has become in its live arrangement a force of nature, a stone cold soul revival. Cindy Mizelle is outstanding as she exhorts the crowd along with Bruce on the middle center stage, and they kick it up about ten notches when the song ends with the band, horns, and background singers together in a Motown-inspired dance line.

Capping a remarkable week of performances (and their fourth night in a row, if you include the NBC Hurricane Sandy Telethon performance) prior to heading into a brief break before next weekend’s concerts in St. Paul, Bruce was overbrimming with energy tonight. He bobbed and weaved in and out of the crowd, surfed his way to the stage from the back, grabbed hands, mugged with audience members, and engaged directly with fans on his way to and from the center stage in the middle of the floor. And the audience responded accordingly, all night long.

Deviating several times from the set list to take sign requests or toss off an audible, Bruce kept up the momentum started with “Shackled and Drawn” clear through to the end well over three hours later. One might think that the breakneck speed of changing from mood to mood or genre to genre (the sensational “E Street Shuffle” into the somber, soulful “Streets of Philadelphia” for instance) would cause whiplash, but au contraire. Not with this man, and not with this band.

Highlights? There were many. The aforementioned “E Street Shuffle” was a show-stopper. This was a taut, muscled read of the tune which roared into a percussive coda straight outta the streets of Spanish Harlem. Percussionist Everett Bradley and Drummer Max Weinberg whipped the audience into a froth as they played off each other. And yet – and yet – we weren’t finished off until the horns left their perch and came down to join Bruce on the middle center stage. The reworked, gospel rendering of “Spirit in the Night” is as spine chilling as any church revival service. This relatively new arrangement has reinvigorated this 1973 classic, and elevated the story of Crazy Janey to new and glorious heights. And there was a wonderful moment when Bruce dedicated “Growin’ Up” to a 20-year-old in the pit for his birthday, his reaction to which evidently causing Bruce to bring the young man up to join him in singing the song. The birthday boy was so overwhelmed he kept jumping up and down while singing along, and he knew every word. “Good lord, I got energy for the next five shows after that contact high,” Bruce laughed afterward. “You’re making me feel lazy now!”

It was wonderful to hear the rarely-played “Streets of Philadelphia” again in all of its measured beauty (a tour debut), anchored by the ghostly chorus and Garry Tallent’s redoubtable bass. Ditto “Open All Night,” with the ragtime swing arrangement that Bruce and band have brought to a simmering fine perfection on this tour. A posse of young girls in blinged-out pink cowboy hats inspired a rollicking read of “Darlington County”, at the end of which the girls ended up on stage rocking out with the band. “The River” (another birthday request, this one for a 19-year-old fan) had the entire audience singing the first verse just as they did thirty-two years ago on The River tour. “Because the Night” was not only spectacular, but informed by magnificent lighting (in fact the lighting on this tour has been consistently outstanding) and by Nils Lofgren’s world-class twirling guitar solo that brings the song to it’s raucous conclusion.

The encores featured the welcome return of the achingly spiritual “Rocky Ground,” which felt very timely given the recent storm. This song has earned a solid place in the pantheon of great Springsteen ballads and it was great to see it performed again. Michelle Moore’s rap never sounded more potent than now, a week after Hurricane Sandy and mere days before the Presidential Election which will set the tone for the next four years of American politics.

A jubilant finish to the night started with “Born to Run” (augmented by some incredible moves on the part of the horn section – make sure to watch them next time you see this performed); perhaps the wildest and silliest “Rosalita” I have yet seen (by request) which featured not only Bruce doing his best gangnam-style moves but also a hilarious Three Stooges routine with Steven at the middle stage mike; “Dancing in the Dark,” and “10th Avenue Freeze Out.”

– Holly Cara Price