Bruuuuuce! The Boss proves it to ‘Steensboro’

by Ryan Snyder

There might be an unanticipated item on the Greensboro City Council’s agenda at the May 19 meeting, as there seems to be a pervasive movement

in place to rename the city to “Steensboro.” There were more than 18,000 rabid Bruce Springsteen fans at the Greensboro Coliseum on May 2, poised to take the suggestion on one attendee’s sign to referendum. Not that there’s a template for measuring what constitutes a typical show from one of the most venerated songwriters and performers of the modern music era, but this particular show was far from ordinary. The online buzz among BTXers, Springsteen’s official fan circle, was that this show was certainly special. Despite what could best be described as a passable start, it had all of the necessary ingredients to make for an indelible experience: a set list full of left-field rarities, Bruce’s surging energy level and the crowd’s own obvious excitement. The opener, “Badlands,” was about as predictable the rising sun, as it’s been used to open every show on the current tour. It was fun to see an especially dazzling Clarence Clemons get into the act from the get-go with a brilliant sax solo in the opening minutes. Interestingly enough, Jay Weinberg started the show on drums in place of his father Max, which points to further impending responsibilities as the elder Weinberg prepares to resume duties for Conan O’Brien before the Scandinavian leg of the tour. With the younger Weinberg bashing the skins with a ferocity rarely seen from his papa, the muddy sound compromised what might have otherwise been a furious opening barrage from a visibly animated Boss. He channeled his fiery, inner Pentecostal preacher before the band tore into tour staple “Johnny 99.” “We’re gonna rock the house and we’re gonna build a house of love,” Springsteen growled. “We’re gonna use the Good Word and we’re gonna use the Bad Word.” Though she had briefly returned for the previous date in Philadelphia, Patti Scialfa was on the shelf again due to injuries sustained after falling off a horse. Violinist and backup singer Soozie Tyrell took on a more extensive role and provided a haunting overture to “The Ghost of Tom Joad,” which was met by an equally spirited solo by the masterful Nils Lofgren. Requests, anyone? The Boss turned to the crowd for some set-list support as the band jammed a funky intro to “Raise Your Hand.” Max Weinberg made his first appearance on the kit, though he was seen wandering the side of the stage and shaking hands with whomever, as the otherwise run-of-the-mill show took on a truly unique persona. Springsteen pulled more than a few surprises from the pile of written crowd requests, starting with a tiny sign that prompted Bruce to first mull over the difficulty with Steven Van Zandt. “Stevie says it’s hard,” he concluded, though that didn’t hinder a stunning cover of the Willie Dixon classic “Seventh Son” just as the sound unstuck itself from the morass. What followed, however, was easily the show’s defining moment. Calling it a “bar-band special,” Bruce also remarked, “People come here asking for things they think we can’t play.” The house lights were thrown on just as the Boss asked for a little help from the crowd, the E Street Band tore into a cover of the McCoys’ “Hang On Sloopy.” For about three minutes, the noise level approached deafening proportions and the building shook from the impact of nearly 40,000 feet stomping in unison. Still reeling from “Sloopy,” “I’m On Fire” came on two songs later like a postcoital smoke, with the Boss bathed in red lighting. Aside from the essential “Tom Joad,” this particular tour hasn’t been kind to much of his ’90s material, though it was excellent hearing “Human Touch” getting the scarce live treatment. Regular show closer “Born to Run” arrived to satiate the casual fan’s appetite for hits, but was supplanted from its post by the rocking “Cadillac Ranch.” E Street encores always offer a compelling and lengthy ride, though a certain cover-singing, aquatic love machine sharing the show with the YES! Weekly crowd was skeptical. Making monetary wagers without having first done your homework is inadvisable, but that didn’t stop the Walrus from taking the under on a four-song minimum bet. In classic Boss fashion, Springsteen gave his anti-death penalty spiel before firing back with six more, running the gamut of some of his most sanctified works. Walrus was relinquished from most of his obligation, however, with the licks taken here effecting his penance. Audience members were literally swooning at this point, and not just because they couldn’t believe Walrus made that bet. Van Zandt helped pull one young lady out of the crowd in the midst of passing out during “Tenth Avenue Freeze- Out.” The heat amidst the dense general admission crowd was repressive, which, combined with prolific consumption, put even the band members on high alert. “American Land” saw a guest appearance by Session Band alum Frank Bruno Jr., while the scintillating “Glory Days” closed out the show with a “Louie, Louie” tease to cap it off. There’s no solid explanation as to why every Greensboro show from the Boss seems to raise the bar; some say that it’s the proliferation of Northerners within spitting distance, while others claim there’s a clandestine faction of militant Bruce fans in the area. Regardless, this particular show managed to overcome a seemingly pedestrian fate to be one of the most memorable, stirring dates on the Working On A Dream tour.

Bruce Springsteen shares a triumphant moment with saxophonist Clarence Clemons. (photo by Ryan Snyder)