December 2, 2012

Notes from the road: Oakland,CA

After playing three shows in Oakland on the Reunion tour and two on the Magic tour, Bruce Springsteen returned for just a single Friday night show as the Wrecking Ball tour steamed down the West Coast. So he did what only Bruce Springsteen can do: he packed an entire stand into a single night’s performance.

“Hello Oakland! Hello Bay Area,” Springsteen shouted during the introduction to “My City of Ruins,” acknowledging his personal ties to the area by noting that both his mother and Clarence lived here for many years. The crowd roared back, whether to acknowledge Bruce’s greeting or to sing along at full-throat throughout the show.

Bruce and the band once again opened with “Land of Hope and Dreams,” an odd opener but oddly appropriate considering the wet and windy weather buffeting the Bay Area leading up to the show. After intoning that “tomorrow there’ll be sunshine,” Bruce went on to play a weather-inspired pair of “Cover Me” (“Outside’s the rain, the driving snow, I can hear the wild wind blowing”) and “Adam Raised a Cain” (“It’s relentless as the rain”) before jumping up on the drum riser, mouthing an audible to Max and Nils, and pointing to Roy for the piano intro of “Something in the Night.”

“Hungry Heart” followed, with Bruce cruising out to the secondary stage, then flopping into the pit to crowd-surf back to the main stage — only to veer off course and briefly appear to be falling to the floor. “I never thought I’d get back here!” he said after crawling up to safety.

The show’s cornerstones came next, the powerful Wrecking Ball trio of “We Take Care of Our Own,” “Wrecking Ball” and “Death to My Hometown,” followed by “My City of Ruins.” Bruce has taken his preaching and singing on this new classic to a near-religious level, summoning the spirits of those we’ve lost, urging the crowd to think of loved ones gone on, and then patiently quieting the crowd to near silence as he stands next to two empty spotlights honoring Clarence and Danny.

Venturing out for sign collecting, Bruce came back with one that read, “Dance with a Hungarian Girl.” “Since this is the oddest one, this is the one I’ll do,” he said, summoning the sign-waver for a Hungarian greeting and a spin on stage during “Pay Me My Money Down.” The next sign had three doors to open, two of which said “Ties That Bind” and “Devils & Dust.” (Bruce read the third to himself and said, “We don’t know that one.”) A third sign requesting “I’m Goin’ Down” completed the scene, as Bruce and the band played it between “Ties” and “Devils.” “Devils & Dust” was particularly impressive, with Bruce starting by softly accompanying himself on electric guitar, only to bring in the entire band for a rocked-up bridge and finish featuring Nils on pedal steel.

It seemed like “Sunny Day” time, but it was actually Boss Time, as Springsteen rose to the challenge of cramming an entire stand into one show with a power-packed run of “Because the Night,” “She’s the One,” and “Shackled and Drawn.” “Sunny Day” then followed, with Bruce pulling a pre-adolescent girl from the pit who sang loudly — and completely off-key. Bruce grinned, perhaps thinking that this was, in fact, the right key for the next generation. Four more songs brought the main set to a close: “Raise Your Hand” and “The Rising,” followed by an explosive take on “Badlands” that had the house on its feet, and a gorgeous “Thunder Road,” with Jake Clemons stepping up to handle the iconic sax solos with 100% confidence and fist pumps at the end.

The encores opened with “Kitty’s Back,” which briefly stopped the audience in its tracks as the show switched from familiar rock rhythms to jazzy riffs. But with the horns screaming and the band in a frenzy, the building was soon swaying again as Bruce launched into the rest of the encores: “Born to Run,” “Santa Claus,” and “Tenth Avenue.” Before “Santa Claus,” enough hats came flying on stage to outfit Bruce and nearly half the band members, who thoughtfully returned them to the crowd at the end of this 27-song, three-hour, epic performance.

— Jon Greer,