November 1, 2012

Notes from the road: Rochester, NY

Wednesday night, at a concert postponed from Tuesday due to Hurricane Sandy, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band delivered another three-hour performance with rarities galore to a raucous crowd at Rochester’s Blue Cross Arena. A rare Halloween night performance, the show included a pair of monstrous live premieres just for the holiday. But most of all, this night was about an artist and a band’s connection to a place and the people they love.

“Tonight we carry a lot of sadness in our hearts,” Bruce said as he introduced “My City of Ruins.” “This was originally a song about my adopted hometown struggling to get on its feet. It struggled for 25 years — a quarter century — while we watched for Asbury Park to come back. And we are very proud to say over the past decade, it has risen up and flourished in a way I wasn’t ever sure I’d see in my lifetime. And it will do so again.”

Originally written for Asbury Park, the song helped many through the grieving and healing process after the tragic events of September 11, 2001, and it also spoke to Springsteen’s state of mind following the death of Danny Federici and Clarence Clemons. Now it comes full circle, as Springsteen sent “My City of Ruins” out to those down the shore recovering from the superstorm: “We’re gonna do this tonight from our hometown to your hometown. We’ll send this out to all the people working down there, the police officers, the firemen, and also to the Governor, who has done such a hard job this past week.”

The repeated refrains of “Come on rise up” and “With these hands” took on added meaning this All Hallow’s Eve as Bruce and the E Streeters didn’t sing as much as they sent prayers to the Tri-State area. “I’m so sad tonight,” Bruce repeated as he clung to the mic stand, talking about the destruction along the coast.

The theme of recovery continued with “Atlantic City,” as Bruce appeared to be imposing his will on the efforts needed for his home state: “Everything that dies some day comes back.” The beloved “Drive All Night” took on a different meaning on this night, too. Rather than singing the song to a single person, you could hear Bruce singing to a place for which his love has no limits and there is nothing he wouldn’t do. The encores opened with a heartfelt rendition of Tom Waits’ “Jersey Girl,” now both a wistful memory and a hopeful vision of things to come: “’Cause down the shore everything’s all right / You and your baby on a Saturday night.”

As with all Springsteen concerts, however, he and the band struck far more than one note, ranging from  sadness to determination to celebration — and on this Halloween night, a dose of spooky, too. The night began with the live world premiere of his “A Night with the Jersey Devil,” Springsteen wreathed in smoke as he howled into the bullet mic: “So kiss me baby, ’til it hurts!” Later in the set, a sign request fetched the band’s first-ever cover of “Monster Mash.” Bruce admitted reluctance to playing the Bobby “Boris” Pickett tune: “Of all the great Halloween songs… this is not one of them!” he laughed, adding mid-song, “This is terrible!” But he still hammed it up, giving in to the reggae rhythm and breaking into dance.

“Spirit in the Night” provided a touch of comedy as Bruce sat on the stage singing. While he wanted to slow the pacing, the crowd continued the song. At which point Bruce chuckled and asked: “Why don’t you let me take it?”  But the Rochester crowd was clearly engaged on this night, and after “Jersey Girl” they proved their worth again with the singing of “Thunder Road.” Sure, there was the customary “Maybe we ain’t that young anymore,” but tonight the crowd continued into the second verse as Springsteen voiced his approval: “Sounds good,” he said as he backed away from the mic and let the crowd take more of the duties.

A host of other classics, new and old, kept the energy high: “We Take Care of our Own” and “Badlands” played with particular passion, along with strong versions of “Something in the Night,” “Jackson Cage,” and a rare Born in the U.S.A. two-fer of “Cover Me” and “Downbound Train.” In the encore, a sign from the 100-level seats prompted a stomping version of the Mitch Ryder “Detroit Medley.” Nothing keeps a crowd going like “Devil with a Blue Dress,” “Good Golly Miss Molly,” “C. C. Rider,” and “Jenny Take a Ride!”

Four years ago, Bruce left Rochester with a key to the city, interpreting that to mean that “if everything went horribly, they have to let you back in.” No problem. Bruce, you are welcome here any time.

– Paul Gotham,