May 18, 2014

Notes from the road: Uncasville, CT #1

As a fan of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street band, you know that there are the fun nights, there are the good nights, and there are — if you’re lucky — those nights where you know with absolute certainty that the E Street Band are the greatest band in the universe. Tonight in Uncasville, CT at the Mohegan Sun Arena was one of the latter.

It was a night where the setlist was bulletproof, where the choices were inspired and the execution of those selections was right on. Beginning with “Racing in the Street (78)” from The Promise, to the “Hearts of Stone” / “Talk to Me” two-pack, to “Quarter to Three” being selected from a clock drawn onto a paper plate, to the immaculate execution of the Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive,” the energy and performance was absolutely off the charts.  This would extend to regular setlist stalwarts such as “Badlands” and “The Promised Land” and newer numbers like “High Hopes” and “American Skin (41 Shots).”

It was also the night of the return of Miami Sugar Little Steven Van Zandt, back home on E Street after an extended stay in Norway. There was no introduction or formal announcement, short of a “C’mon, Steve” from Bruce, beckoning him to the mic during “The Ties That Bind.” The crowd’s roar of welcome was warm and unmistakable, and continued into “Two Hearts,” the glee on both Bruce and Steve’s face (matched by smiles all over the stage on the faces of their bandmates) blindingly evident. This would reach a pinnacle when Bruce came to the microphone and asked the crowd what one plus one equaled in math. Then he asked what it equaled in rock ‘n’ roll. The fans in the pit shouted “THREE!” gleefully, knowing what was next: “Frankie Fell In Love” from High Hopes, the tale of youthful friendship and camaraderie.

Other notable moments of the evening included a powerful version of “The Price You Pay” and an absolutely incendiary “Ghost of Tom Joad,” the latter notable for Tom Morello’s energetic guitar work and vocals, matched tonight note for note by Bruce, ending with the two of them standing arms aloft, silhouetted in red. Even “Light of Day” at the set’s end was anything but usual, with the highlight being a guitar solo by Nils Lofgren which included a back-and-forth with Max Weinberg, guitar and drums trading off as Nils climbed onto the drum riser.

At the beginning of the encore, Bruce appeared alone, holding an acoustic guitar, and without any preface, launched into “I’ll Work For Your Love,” a song in this context clearly dedicated to the audience. As the band returned to their places, Bruce gestured at them to hold back, and noted that “A good song just needs a guy and a guitar,” and that when his records were finished, he would go somewhere and play the songs by himself on acoustic guitar. “If they come to life, if they breathe and without all the production, I knew I had something lasting.” He then began to introduce “one of my best songs,” and told the familiar story about being a young man, living above a beauty salon, and sitting in the back on an out-of-tune piano, and trying to “invent a superhero whose sneakers I could fill.” This narrative led to an absolutely lovely rendition of “Growin’ Up” on acoustic guitar, accompanied by the entire audience in fine voice, singing when they were requested to and even when they weren’t. (Any fears that a casino audience on a Saturday night would be filled with high roller types there to see and be seen were removed at the first note, as the capacity crowd stood and danced all night.)

And then the houselights came on and “1! 2!” and back in familiar territory, as “Born to Run,” “Dancing in the Dark” and the usual parade of hits brought the mood up one more notch. And when the E Street Band was done, Bruce returned again, acoustic guitar in hand, to serenade the crowd with a delicate, lilting “If I Should Fall Behind” and another acoustic sing-a-long for “Thunder Road.”  “We’ll be back tomorrow night, with another spectacular!” Bruce promised, as he waved goodbye.

—Caryn Rose,