May 15, 2014

Notes from the road: Hershey

The moon was full, but you couldn’t see it. The cloud cover took care of that. Hershey was the last outdoor concert of the tour (as far as we know, anyway), and the temperature was perfect. It was Bruce weather. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band and took the Hersheypark Stadium stage with rocket fuel in their jet packs, beginning with “Clampdown” into “Badlands.” With thousands of fists pumping into the evening air, no matter how long it had been since you’d seen a show, you were immediately back in the arms of Bruce. (If this was your first show, I can’t even imagine what must have been swirling in your brain.) “Wrecking Ball” was followed by the beloved “Hungry Heart.” We all “had a wife and kids in Baltimore Jack” and per protocol we were quite happy to let Bruce know.

Next came the night’s first sign request: “Candy’s Room.” Candy, Hershey… if anyone in the crowd made that connection, it was surely an afterthought for most, thanks to the immediacy of a blistering performance. Bruce always nails this song, but there seemed to be something extra special about his guitar work tonight.

The first big surprise of the night was “Roulette,” the great “One Step Up” B-side that later saw release on Tracks. This was a vein-popping, fast-flying, intense performance — one where you’re trying hard to sing along but you just can’t keep up. That’s how it went. Soon we got another B-side, “Be True” (from the flipside of “Fade Away,” and again, from Tracks). This tour premiere may not have been a surprise, because it had been carefully soundchecked. But not all gifts need to be surprises, and “Be True” was indeed a gift.

Next up, Bruce had some fun directing the horns. It was “E Street Shuffle” “extended intro” time. After the usual orchestrated cacophony of horns, Bruce playfully had them continue, directing them to play higher notes, lower notes, higher again… then stop. Later in the night, Bruce would draw out “Prove It All Night,” too, breaking out the legendary intro from the 1978 tour.

A rare “Lost in the Flood” followed the “Shuffle,” then the band left the stage as Bruce headed to the piano to play a request. He sat down, had a sip of Roy’s water (we know because he told us) and, stretching out this sequence of early material, began playing a romantic but mournful “For You.” The audience was captivated as Bruce made this 1973 classic brand new, all alone at the keys. I heard no other noise around me, everyone was in a Springsteen trance.

For another one-man performance, Bruce opened the encore with a birthday dedication of “Surprise Surprise” on acoustic guitar. It was quite special to hear it that way: what a great birthday (or even non­birthday present). “The Wall,” next, was another dedication, to our country’s war vets. Having hoped for this song, I closed my eyes and just listened — his voice was so strong and clear. Another magical Springsteen-trance moment.

Bruce pulled us out of quiet time and lifted us right back into rocking again with “Born to Run.” He’s a pro, don’t mess with him. “Dancing in the Dark,” which traditionally gets a few lucky dancers on stage, featured a new element: Bruce stepped into the crowd and took a very large sign. It read, “CAN WE JAM WITH YOU?” Well, it clearly doesn’t hurt to ask. Bruce brought the group (two guys and two gals) on stage; the girls danced, the guys got guitars, and jam they did.

The full moon madness reached another real high point with Bruce’s foray into the crowd during “Tenth Avenue Freeze-out,” before it was time to “Shout” and close the show with “Thunder Road.” Then back to reality and the road home. Great show, Bruce. Great show, Hershey. But one thing — how could you almost drop the Boss during the crowd surf? Let’s be careful out there!

—Jeannette Amodeo,