October 9, 2003

The Boss Rocks Shea

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With the Mets finishing in the National League cellar yet again this season, fans at New York’s Shea Stadium haven’t had much to cheer about lately. All that changed this weekend as Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band brought their barnstorming rock show to town for the final three dates of their 14-month world tour in support of The Rising. After playing 120 shows in 82 cities across the globe, it was only fitting that the 54-year-old Mr. Springsteen should wind up back in New York City, the scene of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks that inspired much of the material on his latest album — a record that garnered almost universal popular and critical acclaim.

Mr. Springsteen’s artistry was on full display Friday evening as he skillfully crafted a set-list featuring a combination of his post Sept. 11 work as well as all the requisite hits and anthems penned prior to the unfortunate date, with a healthy dose of blue-collar democratic politics thrown in for good measure.

“The Boss” opened up the show with a batch of songs off The Rising including the title track and the heart-wrenching “Empty Sky,” made all the more poignant by the ethereal view of the post-September 11 New York City skyline from the Stadium. But just as he was able to turn a nation’s mourning and despair into a testament to hope on his latest release, Mr. Springsteen managed to turn what might have easily been a melancholy gathering into a rock ‘n’ roll celebration. His gritty, heart-felt vocals, ferocious guitar solos, and dynamic stage-presence energized a crowd in which baby-boomers, twenty-somethings, and teenagers alike danced together in the aisles.

The E Street Band — Clarence Clemons on saxophone, guitarists Steve Van Zandt and Nils Lofgren, keyboardists Roy Bittan and Danny Federici, bassist Garry Tallent, drummer Max Weinberg, guitarist/vocalist Patti Scialfa and violinist Soozie Tyrellwa — was in top form all evening. Mr. Van Zandt’s fretwork was as superb as usual with Mr. Clemons delivering some truly inspired horn solos. And Mr. Weinberg’s pounding drums propelled the band through a rollicking three-hour set that touched on just about every hit from their catalogue, ranging from a raucous rendition of “Badlands” to an equally high-spirited “Mary’s Place” that included a cameo appearance by the liberal author and humorist Al Franken.

Shea Stadium is an acoustical nightmare but the band still managed to sound good. Mr. Springsteen’s powerful rockers were flawlessly executed, with much of the crowd accompanying him on every word. And on the rare occasion when he slowed things down a bit, his delivery was so riveting that you might as well have been in an intimate club with 50 people as opposed to a stadium with 50,000. The band also played a few covers ranging from Patti Smith’s “Because the Night” to the evening’s closer “Twist and Shout.” The latter being Mr. Springsteen’s way of paying homage to the Beatles and their legendary performance at Shea in 1966.

Mr. Springsteen was not shy, nor has he ever been, about his politics. The show featured a sound collage of President George W. Bush’s voice alternating between the words “peace” and “mass destruction,” which was followed up by a declaration that “we need a man in the White House who knows what he’s doing.” Mr. Springsteen, in an apparent reference to the conflict in Iraq, went on to demand that people from all political parties hold “our leaders accountable for their actions.”

But in the end, the show was more about the spirit of the music than politics. And during a vamp on “Mary’s Place” as Mr. Springsteen stood atop a piano, singing and shouting his heart out with the band playing behind him, you could almost feel the collective burden of the past two difficult years being lifted. There might be no such thing as rock ‘n’ roll salvation, but this was as close as it gets.

Archived article by Mathew Gewolb