August 24 2012
The tour for Bruce Springsteen's recent Wrecking Ball album hit Toronto's Rogers Centre for an exhaustive three hour and thirty five minute marathon performance. It's worth pointing out that Bruce tours from years past were often structured as ninety minute opening sets then a twenty five minute or so break followed by a longer second set. Although band members came and went at different times during the show, make no mistake about it, Bruce himself was onstage for every moment of the extended endurance test.
For this tour the E Street Band has been augmented with a group of backing vocalists adding gospel style swells to much of the set and a five man horn section (including Ed Manion a veteran of the 1988 Tunnel Of Love tour) for bright flourishes when required.
The easy going atmosphere of a summer show in an outdoors baseball park (well, the roof was open) was made immediate with the upbeat opening songs "Working On The Highway", "Hungry Heart" and "Sherry Darling", an audience request that stumbled a bit melody wise in the first verse but was quickly corrected.
The mammoth twenty-nine song set featured a total of seven tunes from the new album which were not only enthusiastically received but many in the crowd seemed just as familiar with the lyrics as to the older material. A fact not surprising in the case of "Land Of Hope And Dreams" which, although making it's studio debut on Wrecking Ball, has been played live consistently since 1999.
During a lively "Spirits In The Night" an audience member passed Bruce a plastic cup of beer which was quickly drained then tossed back into the crowd.
An unusual audience request that surprisingly was granted was for "Thundercrack" a staple of early 70's live shows but never released on an official studio album (the 1998 Tracks boxed set has an outtake version from the 1973 sessions for The Wild,The Innocent And The E Street Shuffle).
Things took a bit of a dark turn with a fierce version of "Murder Inc" that raised the energy level considerably. Bruce traded angry guitar leads with Little Steven Van Zandt and Nils Lofgren adding an aggressive slant to the night.
Conversely a delicate "Incident on 57th Street" performed by Bruce solo on piano was heartbreakingly beautiful casting a spell over the enthralled audience.
How Springsteen and his band are playing longer sets in their respective 60's than they did years ago is a wonder. At a time when, to be honest, many acts in this age group merely go through the motions for an easy pay cheque, The E Street Band are definetly working hard at giving the fan full value for their money. What other stadium sized group actually takes requests from the audience?
For the 40,000 fans (my area included Allan Thicke, Tie Domi, Councellor Doug Ford and Mayor Rob Ford) it was a fantastic evening of exhilarating music performed under the stars.
And it doesn't get much better than that.