November 2, 2012

Notes from the road: State College, PA

Thursday night’s show at the Bryce Jordan Center in State College, PA was on the campus of Penn State University, whose mascot is the Nittany Lion — so what else could have opened this show but “Lion’s Den?” With a big smile from Bruce and a booming baritone sax solo from Eddie Manion, the band had things rocking immediately in central Pennsylvania. As they wrapped up more than three hours later with a blow-out version of the Isley Brothers’ “Shout!” (or should that be Otis Day and the Knights?), the collegiate atmosphere clearly had a lot to do with the set.

But it wasn’t all B.M.O.C. action at this second post-superstorm show, where Springsteen continued to pay tribute to the spirit of his beleaguered home state. “We’re here tonight with a little bit of sadness in our hearts, because we’re a band that you cannot separate from the Jersey Shore,” Bruce told the crowd as they played “My City of Ruins.” He recalled Asbury Park, the original inspiration of the song, remembering how the city “had a real personality of its own, and it became a destination again… it took 25 years to build it back the first time, but it’ll come back a lot sooner this time!” He specifically thanked the Governor of New Jersey “for doing such a fine job for our citizens; we’ll send this out to him tonight.”

As Bruce collected signs, he spotted one for “Seaside Bar Song” and quickly grabbed it from the pile, calling out to the band and exclaiming, “Let’s keep that Jersey Shore theme going!” A sign for reading “Never Forget” and requesting “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)” made its way on stage at Bruce’s direction as well, and it was clear that given the theme of the evening, Bruce was playing it because it was about the Jersey Shore, and not because its title included the same name as a storm. The sign obviously belonged to one of the many PSU students in the crowd as the flip-side of the sign read, “I wrote my college paper on ‘Badlands.’”

The middle of the show featured a triple shot of songs from side A of Born in the U.S.A., including a goofy “Working on the Highway,” where Springsteen at one point threw his microphone to Steve, who delivered a spot-on impression of Bruce, telling the band to “keep it rocking now, boys!”  “Darlington County” featured trips to the riser in the middle of the floor for both Nils Lofgren and Jake Clemons. “Cover Me” made another rare appearance and included a fiery guitar solo from Bruce at the end.

The encore opened with Bruce again speaking of the band’s connection to their home state: “We’ve traveled around the world and wherever we go, people think of New Jersey!  Who would have ever thought that would happen?” Bruce put a sign that read “Jersey Strong” against his microphone stand as the band played a poignant “Jersey Girl.”

The entire arena was rocking with “Rosalita” and “Dancing in the Dark” in the encores, but things finally went over the top as Springsteen extended the show with “Shout!” — “a song the E Street Band may have never before played.” The crowd ate it up, with arms in the air and even twisting down to the floor on the “a little bit softer now” part, egged on by Bruce (“How low can you go?”).

Bruce and the band clearly enjoyed being on campus and playing to a crowd with tons of young people; as Steve would tweet the next day, “Wow! I knew I should have gone to college! What a crazy night.” During “Spirit in the Night,” Bruce asked, “Who here has never seen the E Street Band before?” and received loud cheers.  Assuming a boxer’s stance, he proclaimed, “We’re gonna fuck you up!” and as the crowd roared its approval back, “That makes me happy!”

– Staff,