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Come On Rise Up!: One Night in St. Louis with the E-Street Band

by Dan heaton


In the days leading up to the August 30th Bruce Springsteen concert in St. Louis, my thoughts often focused on one specific question: Is it worth the high price? My tickets in Section 105, Row FF would offer a clear view of the band, but remained a considerable distance from the stage. Did this merely adequate spot warrant 75 dollars (plus nine additional big ones for Ticketmaster)?

Just a few minutes after the E-Street Band started playing, the worries about my paltry budget quickly dissipated. Strolling onto the Savvis Center stage to monstrous applause, they blared into "The Rising," the first single from the recent album of the same name. Springsteen stood in darkness and uttered the lines "Can't see nothin' in front of me, can't see nothin' up behind, I make my way through this darkness, I can't feel nothin' but this chain that binds me." The band then kicked into full gear, which brought the crowd (including your mild-manned narrator) into a crescendo of chanting and fist pumping.

An energy-charged rendition followed of "Lonesome Day," a slowly building personal tale of struggle against the forces of isolation (possibly caused by 9/11). The chorus of "It's alright, it's alright, it's alright, yeah" once again moved us all into an energetic frenzy. Never one to shy from past classics, Bruce next cranked up the guitar for a rockin' solo during "Prove it All Night," a classic from 1978's Darkness on the Edge of Town album. Only a short distance into the 150-minute set, the E-Street Band appeared set to claim the moniker of the "greatest rock 'n roll band" currently in existence.

In 1995, Bruce Springsteen rejoined his former bandmates in the studio to record a few tracks placed at the end of his Greatest Hits album. This event lifted the hopes of longtime fans towards possible E-Street Band reunion concerts sometime in the near future. However, Bruce again embarked on a solo tour in support of his The Ghost of Tom Joad album. Finally, everyone came together in 1999 for a joyous and lengthy collection of shows that spanned the next 17 months. The three-guitar attack of Springsteen, Nils Lofgren, and "Little" Steven van Zandt sounded better than ever, and all of the original players returned to the fold. Saxophonist Clarence Clemons, bassist Garry W. Tallent, pianist "Professor" Roy Bittan, organist Danny Federici, and singer/guitarist Patti Scialfa helped to create a remarkable live show.

The reunion concerts spanned throughout Springsteen's entire back catalog, especially pulling from Darkness on the Edge of Town and 1980's The River double album. Crowd favorites like "Badlands," "Out in the Street," and "Born to Run" mixed nicely with such past gems as "Factory" and "Spirit in the Night." Both the band and the audience had a wonderful time, and drawn-out versions of "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out" and "Light of Day" revealed Springsteen as a premier showman. He knelt on the floor and spoke about providing a "musical baptism," which didn't seem as far-fetched as you might expect.

During the final run of shows at Madison Square Garden in New York City, they introduced "American Skin (41 Shots)," a saddening tale of the troubling realities of life in America focused around the plight of Amadou Diallo. The tone of sadness and quiet seemed a bit out of place within the gala atmosphere, but it still delivered a strong message. This less-celebratory tone resonates often within the St. Louis concert, with The Rising material often pointing (indirectly) toward the September 11th attacks. Following its rousing start, the music slows down for an interlude of mournful tunes about tremendous loss. "Empty Sky" and "You're Missing" both closely relate to the feelings of people who faced the death of loved ones. The audience sits down and maintains a quiet hush that leads to some of the evening's most powerful moments.

Never one to keep things mournful for too long, Springsteen raises our spirits with "Waitin' on a Sunny Day," a new crowd favorite that includes plenty of loud singing from many of us. Moving back into the catalog, "The Promised Land" gets everyone moving with one of his most enjoyable classic tracks. After slowing down for the Sufi choir chants of "World's Apart," the band kicks into "Badlands," which possibly generates the largest response during the main set. The fist pumping of the often middle-aged crowd returns in full force, and the sadder feelings are quickly forgotten. "Mary's Place" allows for the usual band introduction and some silliness from Springsteen while dancing on Bittan's piano. The crowd is ready for "the rising" now, and almost anything will keep them dancing and cheering.

Unfortunately, the next selection represents one of the band's few missteps of the evening. "Countin' on a Miracle" works decently on the studio album, but it lacks much energy live and does not warrant such a prominent place in the setlist. This was also the case with "The Fuse," which appeared earlier in the evening and nearly brought the show to a grinding halt. I completely understand the E-Street Band wanting to perform their new material, but these choices do not reflect their best output on The Rising. In fact, two of the better tracks, "Nothing Man" and "Further On Up the Road," have not been seen in any of the shows thus far. However, the audience quickly jumps back onto the bandwagon after the first chords of the frequently covered "Thunder Road," always a fan favorite. Closing the set with "Into the Fire," a sobering tale of courage, ends the main set with emotional force.

Any doubts about a lack of greatest hits quickly disappear during the first encore, a joyous celebration of Springsteen classics. "Dancin' in the Dark" works much better without its dated keyboard melodies, and "Glory Days" inspires dancing throughout the aisles of the Savvis Center. This excitement leads into the still-prevalent "Born to Run," which plays to a completely lit arena of giddy adults. Scanning across the reverie at the beaming faces of people with little in common, the immense power of this remarkable collection of musicians became remarkably clear.

Returning for one last encore, Springsteen sat down at the piano and played the first verse of "My City of Ruins," introduced at the Concert for America following 9/11. Although written about his hometown of Ashbury Park, New Jersey, the lyrics also closely apply to the landscape of New York City. When the band chants "come on rise up!" the message easily could apply to the residents of America's largest city. Next came a straightforward rock version of Born in the U.S.A., a historic tale of another troubling era in our country's history. Springsteen introduced the track by warning the audience about the lessening of civil liberties following the terrorist attacks. "Land of Hopes and Dreams" ended the show with considerable energy. This encouraging song speaks of a train filled with "saints and sinners . . . losers and winners," and it gives a perfect summation to a compelling night of musical excellence.

Although response to The Rising and its concert tour have been especially positive, grumblings have appeared about Springsteen using September 11th for commercial gain. Although the high ticket prices obviously reveal his entrepreneurial nature, I believe that the material is heartfelt and genuine. The intensity and passion of the live shows is something that cannot be faked for so many years. Next summer, the E-Street Band plans to embark on a second American leg that will hopefully reveal even more inventiveness and power. Undoubtedly the setlists will vary more considerably and please even the most diehard fans from Springsteen's earliest days.

Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band
August 30th, 2002 - Live at the Savvis Center in St. Louis, MO

Main Set: The Rising, Lonesome Day, Prove it All Night, The Fuse, Downbound Train, Empty Sky, You're Missing, Waitin' on a Sunny Day, Promised Land, Worlds Apart, Badlands, Bobby Jean, Mary's Place, Countin' on a Miracle, Thunder Road, Into the Fire

Encore 1: Dancin' in the Dark, Glory Days, Born to Run

Encore 2: My City of Ruins, Born in the U.S.A., Land of Hopes and Dreams

Issue 11, October 2002 | next article

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