November 16, 2012

Notes from the road: Omaha, NE

Thursday night’s show in Omaha, Nebraska would unexpectedly open with a 1-2-3 from the actual Nebraska album: “Reason to Believe” (in its crunchy, ZZ Top-esque incarnation from the Magic tour), “Johnny 99” (in its rollicking, zydeco-like incarnation), and the classic E Street Band version of “Atlantic City.” By the time the night was over, there would be more songs played from Nebraska than Wrecking Ball!

Bruce seemed to appreciate the energy in the crowd, heading to the mid-floor platform for “Hungry Heart” and crowd surfing back to the stage. He later spotted a young child at the side of the stage and asked him how old he was and what song he wanted to hear. The boy held up a sign — not for “Sunny Day,” but for “Badlands.” “The future is secure,” Bruce declared, “There’s a ten-year-old with a ‘Badlands’ sign!” He went on to explain to the boy that the song “comes late” in the set: “You don’t gotta go to school tomorrow, tell ’em the Boss says so.”

A majestic “Lost in the Flood,” via sign request, was another highlight of the evening, with a bone-crunching solo bringing the song to a close. Bruce twisted the bottom tuning peg back and forth, invoking the sound of a car revving up and then pulling away. The stage remained dark at the end of the song, before Bruce would return to the microphone, carrying a black Gretsch for a commanding solo performance of Nebraska’s “State Trooper,” ending the song by pulling haunting distortion out of the instrument.

The big band version of “Open All Night” would appear later, featuring a strong performance from the E Street Horns (highlighted by Bruce’s jitterbugging center stage) as they played and traded solos. And for the last Nebraska number, “Highway Patrolman” included some color from the band as well as a very nice assist from the E Street Choir on the choruses.

“Dancing in the Dark” can often result in surprise moments onstage, but few more surprising than tonight. A sign reading, “Bruce, I love you, but can I please dance with Max?” was successful, and the sign’s owner made her way onto the drum riser. Max then stood up and tried to dance and keep drumming. Bruce noticed this state of affairs and came running up to the drum riser to take over for Max so he could continue dancing, to mixed (and amusing) results.

Earlier in the show, Bruce had chided the fans throwing Santa hats onstage, saying, “It’s not even Thanksgiving yet!” But he clearly had a change of heart, pulling out a sign reading, “Did Santa come to Omaha?” toward the end of the encore. Donning a Santa hat, he began the song with the traditional “ho-ho-ho”s, saying, “Big Man, we need ya!” and later invoking the audience’s enthusiastic assistance for the lines Clarence used to sing, closing the night out and bringing the season in.

— Caryn Rose,