April 16, 2014

Notes from the road: Columbus

April 15, 2014 turned out to be strange day to hold a concert in Columbus, Ohio. If you were lucky enough to have filed your taxes on time, you still had to contend with weather that went from 70 degrees to snow in 24 hours. Who better to assist with these conditions then the newly Hall of Fame-inducted E Street Band and their fearless leader?

Let’s get the formalities out of the way: Little Steven was not with us tonight, likely shooting a new season of Lilyhammer. Ms. Scialfa was not to be found, either, despite her wonderful return for a week of shows through the last one in Virginia Beach. We were left with 17 other extraordinarily talented musicians, more than enough to get the job done. Steve’s absence moves Nils to stage left with Garry, the latter bearing his new sunglasses look and singing backup more than he has in many years, while the former became an integral part of the show and delivered over and over again, like it was 1985.

Three big surprises of the night: two sign requests, “Blinded by the Light” and the extended ’78 version of “Prove it All Night,” and the main-set-closing “Light of Day.” A staple of previous tours, “Light of Day” rarely comes out these days, but this was a powerful reminder of just what a raucous blast it can be. As High Hopes has given us studio recordings of some previously live-only tracks, “Light of Day” feels worthy of that treatment, too.

About a third of the way into the show, Bruce poked fun at his infamous 2009 “Hello Ohio” greeting to a Michigan crowd, acknowledging that it hadn’t been his best night. No need for concern, as one fan says: “We’re Ohio — we thought it was hilarious that he called our rivals by our name.” But if Bruce had any lingering guilt over that one, he made up for it tonight, winning over the audience with such secret weapons as the new arrangement of “Johnny 99,” horns ablaze. There were few if any asses in seats.

Along with the rave-ups, there were also moments of weight and intensity: “Trapped,” with an extended intro; “American Skin (41 Shots),” lit up with the power and pathos of part-time E Streeter Tom Morello’s guitar; and a fine “Backstreets” to begin the encore.

A note about two performances that continue to evolve: Cindy Mizelle’s role in “Shackled and Drawn” gets better and better, and if this is possible, so does Morello’s “Tom Joad solo.” Just awesome. Cindy and Curtis King seem more prominent in general these days, perhaps making up for the missing backing vocals of both Steve and Patti.

The requisite group of exhilarated fans, a couple of whom had just graduated high school, adorned the stage for “Dancing in the Dark.” One was sweet enough to greet each and every member of the band personally — one of the nicest moments of a very nice night. Bruce and the band repaid the kindness by getting “Tenth Avenue Freeze-out” just right and wringing out every last drop of energy with “Shout.”

After the band filed off stage, Springsteen took a seat at a small pump organ, closing things out himself with a swirling, magical “Dream Baby Dream” to send everyone out into the unusually cold, snowy night. A strange day in Columbus, but a pretty darn successful E Street Band show — whether you finished your taxes or not.

– Gary Rubin Backstreets.com