The Boss on the big screens at Wrigley/ Photo by Hondo Hughes
Several thoughts after seeing Bruce Springsteen and the expanded E Street Band for two nights at Chicago’s Wrigley Field over the weekend:
• This is the freshest and most invigorated Springsteen has sounded in concert since his 2006 Seeger Sessions tour, which did not feature the E Street Band.
• New saxophonist Jake Clemons, 24, doesn’t try to fill his late uncle Clarence Clemons’ shoes but added a freshness, energy and enthusiasm that had missing from the ailing Big Man for years. Plus, having a full horn section takes the pressure off of Jake, who knows how to rise to the occasion anyway.
• Springsteen knows how to lay on the crowd pleasers in a stadium: there was lots from “Born to Run” and “Born in the U.S.A.” both nights but surprisingly not “Born in the U.S.A.” or “Glory Days,” which is perfect for a baseball stadium. Personally, I could do without “Hungry Heart” but it’s a fan-favorite sing-along; there are superior stadium songs on “The River.”
• Chicago-based Jam Productions, which promoted the Wrigley shows, negotiated with Twins representatives to present Springsteen at Target Field this year. But they couldn’t agree on contract terms so Jam opted for two nights at Xcel Energy Center in November (11th and 12th) instead.
• The Boss was in strikingly fine voice. Clear, strong, powerful but never forced or strained. And he performed for 3 hours and 25 minutes Friday, and three minutes short of 3 hours on Saturday. (By the by, he broke the 11:30 p.m. curfew on Friday by 20 minutes.)
• Springsteen was very aware of where he was, giving shout-outs both nights to people on rooftops (which happens at Cubs games) and to No. 10, the Cubs’ late great Ron Santo.
• Two hometown boys served as special guests both nights—Tom Morello and Eddie Vedder. On “Ghost of Tom Joad,” Morello’s explosive guitar launching sonic rockets turned this into Rage with the E Street Band. He played on at least a half-dozen songs the first night. Vedder, who stayed for the second night even though he had planned to be elsewhere, stood out on “Darkness on the Edge of Town.”
• Nils Lofgren had outstanding guitar solos on both nights – “Prove It All Night” on Friday and “Because the Night” on Saturday (a torrid, slashing passage that recalled his old pal, Neil Young). Steve Van Zandt seemed to be missing in action too much of the time.
• The Boss must have heard ex-Vikings coach Mike Tice (now a Bears assistant) refer to Chicago as a tough-guy town. Because Springsteen apparently cut his right index finger early in Saturday’s show but never stopped to attend to it. Moreover, a steady drizzle encouraged rather than discouraged him for the final 65 minutes Saturday. Not only did he perform in the rain (while the rest of the band remained under the big stage roof), he seemed to relish it, lying in a puddle and spinning on his back during “Rosalita.” He also threw in an ad libbed solo acoustic treatment of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Who’ll Stop the Rain.”
• A few times he commented about the number of kids in the crowd (and brought a little girl onstage each night to sing “Waiting on a Sunny Day”) but, in conversation, he dropped a few f-bombs. Hmmmm. Bad dad.
• Springsteen did six or seven songs each night from his new “Wrecking Ball” album but never plugged the album once.
• Both nights, he called audibles that weren’t in the set list. In fact, on Saturday, he even changed the opening song to “Promised Land” and then played the planned “Because the Night” later in the show.
• With two shows drawing about 42,000 each, Springsteen set a concert attendance record for Wrigley. The stadium allows four concerts a year; he did two and Roger Waters and Brad Paisley did the others.
• The set-up at Wrigley seemed less efficient than at Target Field for the Kenny Chesney-Tim McGraw show. Wrigley is old and felt cramped, with little leg room and too-narrow chairs (not that anyone really sat down much). Plus, too many concertgoers were smoking cigarettes. Yeah, tough-guy and –gal town.
• Lots of celebs showed up in Chi-town, including sports figures Pat Riley (ex Lakers coach), Tom Thibodeau (current Bulls coach), Robin Ventura (current White Sox manager) and Paul Molitor (baseball Hall of Famer who played only 3 games at Wrigley).
• Ran into several Twin Citians in Chicago including Maureen Reeder, Glenn Kelley, Doug Fugh, Tom Edelstein, Hondo Hughes and Sandy Tapp and her crew.
• The woman behind me on Saturday was pregnant, with her baby due in three weeks. This is the third time she has attended a Springsteen show while pregnant – with three different children. She stood in the rain without a raincoat. The woman behind her had an oxygen tank. Talk about devoted fans.