made of plastic although there is no threat of anyone tossing one;
Packers jackets mixed with NASCAR windbreakers; and women who owe their
youthful looks to skilled surgeons checking with their baby-sitters by
cell phone. At stage left, behind a pair of saxophones on a stand, is a
throne of gold waiting, like all of us, for Clarence Clemons to emerge from the shadows.
Remember when: Bruce Springsteen at the Carrier Dome in January 1985; his March 6 sellout concert in Rochester proves that there’s no quit in the Boss. MICHAEL DAVIS PHOTO.
The lights go down and a calliope rolls out toward the
crowd, which is jumping up and down after 90 minutes of anticipation. A
violin player and a couple of guitarists emerge, to be followed by the
hulking form of Clemons, arm in arm with the Boss, although he doesn’t
like that nickname very much. (He says, “Nobody likes their boss.”)
He’s outfitted in an unremarkable wardrobe: a black oxford shirt, blue
jeans, cowboy boots and a black vest. The gang’s all here, mostly,
including drummer Max Weinberg, bassist Garry Tallent, pianist Roy Bittan and guitarist Nils Lofgren, with Charles Giordano on keyboards.
The Blue Cross Arena bunch is already louder and happier
than the Albany crowd (including then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer) in December.
Springsteen, touring in support of his new CD Magic (Sony),
taunts the 11,000-plus contingency of the E Street Nation with the
question he’s been asking audiences for 10 years: “Is anybody alive out
there?” Then he surprises his faithful, launching into “Night” from the
1975 Born to Run album, instead of his Magic hit, “Radio Nowhere,” which comes next. After “Lonesome Day” from The Rising and “Jackson Cage” from The River, the war comes home with a long harmonica solo introducing the Magic
cut “Gypsy Biker,” the tale of a town that sent off one of its war dead
by hauling his Harley out into a clearing and setting it on fire. Lead
guitarist Steven van Zandt, garage band and Sopranos hero, trots his solo licks and duels with Bruce in the long bridge that mimics the town’s mourning wails. Temperature’s rising.
Springsteen delivers a family update: The Boss’ missus, Patti Scialfa, says hello, she’s home with the kids, we’ve got three teens, the car got stolen. Longtime keyboard player Danny Federici is coming along fine (he’s currently undergoing chemotherapy for melanoma), and Soozie Tyrell
has put down the violin and is clicking the maracas like she’s in an
aerobics class. Bruce’s voice starts out strained, yet sounds stronger
as the numbers pile up; he’s like a black hole absorbing energy,
sucking in the delight of the crowd he has drawn together.
“I got the key to the city,” says Bruce, seemingly proud
of it. “Means that no matter how bad I fuck up down the road, I’ll
always have Rochester to come back to. You got to let me in.”
Taking a swipe at George Bush, the man he tried so hard
to de-elect in 2004, Springsteen says, “Here’s to the end of seven
years of magic tricks.” At the first hint of political leanings,
however, a nearby woman grouses, “Take a break,” and heads for the beer
stand. That strange dichotomy of the E Street Nation quickly takes
shape: So many worship Springsteen’s music yet fail to grasp the social
or political significance of his lyrics. This tour is decidedly
political, but whenever the message moves toward edgy Springsteen reins
it in and puts the rock’n’roll front and center, even when he’s talking
about rendition and illegal wiretaps and a nasty war.
If you can’t picture politics at a Springsteen concert,
try to get your head around the image of hundreds of people crowding
the stage, holding up their beer bottles or playing anguished air
guitar to “Last to Die,” with a chorus penned by John Kerry himself:
“The last to die for a mistake.” They shout the chorus as if it were
“Thunder Road.” The noise and energy escalate when Bruce agrees to a
fan’s request that they resurrect “Rosalita,” the 1970s ballad about a
boy trying to convince his girl that he’s gonna make it big some day.
The show’s encore finishes with “American Land,” a happy
Irish rock’n’roll jig in celebration of immigration, complete with
fiddles and accordions. People are hopping, rolling and singing along
to the lyrics on the Jumbotron, and maybe a few are even thinking about
what he has to say: “There’s diamonds in the sidewalk, the gutters
lined in song/ Dear I hear that beer flows through the faucets all
night long/ There’s treasure for the taking, for any hard-working man/
Who will make his home in the American Land.” St. Patrick’s Day and
Election Day, all wrapped in one, courtesy of the E Street Band.