I didn't get chills at the announcement that the band would be playing the album in its entirety, but I did get the feeling that it would be something special. It was never one of my favorite albums – not that there’s anything I hate about it (though I’m not a fan of “Adam Raised a Cain”) – but it does have some of our favorite songs, particularly “Badlands” and “Promised Land,” which we tend to get at most shows anyway. But to hear it from start to finish, with the slower songs – and Darkness has several – mixed in put them in a new light. “Racing in the Street” and “Factory” are particularly moving in the way they seem to be lifted out of the pages of a diary – “Racing” as a recollection of one summer as a teen and “Factory” of the sepia-toned memories of a boy looking up to his hard-working father.
But back to the beginning. We got the penned-for-the-Meadowlands song “Wrecking Ball” to open, and though we’ll probably only ever get it on our iPods as a bootleg or potential live album out of this run, I’m a sucker for Jersey-specific songs. “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” grew slightly stale on me for no good reason after seeing it at so many shows, but it made a comeback after the Super Bowl halftime show. From that, he went into one of my all-time favs in “No Surrender,” which contains one of the lyrics that will make it to my list of Top 10 Springsteen Lyrics That Send Chills Through me whenever I get around to creating it:
I want to sleep beneath peaceful skies in my lover's bed
with a wide open country in my eyes
and these romantic dreams in my head
This is ostensibly the last leg of the Working on a Dream tour, but he’s down to just two songs from the album in regular rotation: “Outlaw Pete” and the title track, which is fine with me. (They bookended “Hungry Heart,” with the crowd-supplied first verse.) There are a couple other individual songs I like on the album, but I’m not dying to see any done live. I was happy, though, that my hunch that “Outlaw Pete,” which I pegged as OK on the album, would be a great live tune was confirmed. The huge screens displaying grainy black-and-white desert imagery and the breeze coming through the stadium heightened the experience.
I was curious to see what we’d get during the request segment, because when he first started doing this during the summer ’08 tour, I didn’t favor it. I think I preferred to be surprised by seeing what Bruce chose to play for us and getting the on-stage audibles that were made when he felt a different tune would fit in place of a pre-planned one. I wanted him to decide whether we were worthy of being treated to “Rosalita” or “Trapped” or “Jersey Girl.” (Yeah, it’s not one of his, but it would sort of complete the experience to see it once.) I’ve seen him add “Ramrod” because Max wanted it and watched from above and behind the stage in Austin nine years ago when Bruce and Stevie kept looking back and forth at one another nodding in a Mafioso kind of way as if deciding between themselves whether or not we deserved just one more. Then they gave us “Cadillac Ranch.” And I’ve looked over setlists and gone to shows hoping to finally hear “Rosalita” only to be disappointed in my luck – I didn’t get to see it, but it was played the night before, or the night after. On this night, however, the requests worked for me. We got “I’m Goin’ Down,” “Be True” (big fan fav and one of the great Tracks gems) and “Jailhouse Rock” – which he claimed the band had never played before. They should consider adding it because, to borrow another phrase from that era, they had the joint jumpin’.
“Jailhouse Rock” launched the band into a charged four-song finale of the main set. On the screens, we saw Bruce calling the audible to Nils and Stevie, but someone near us thought he read “Born in the USA” on Bruce’s lips. Even better, we got “Thunder Road.” Giants Stadium had an arena feel to it when the crowd could be heard singing, “You ain’t a beauty, but hey you’re alright” above the band. In a fortunate quirk, during one of the later choruses, a smoky scent not unlike a campfire reached us. We were two rows from the concourse, and I’m sure the hot dogs and cheesesteaks weren’t cooked over an open flame, but for a few bars, it sure seemed like it. On an October night in northern New Jersey, we could almost smell those skeleton frames of burned-out Cheverolets.
“Thunder Road” led to “Long Walk Home,” my favorite track on Magic and another of my Top 10 “chilling” lines:
You know that flag flying over the courthouse
Means certain things are set in stone
Who we are, what we'll do and what we won't
From there, “The Rising” then took us to “Born To Run.” But rather than leave the stage, the band came to the front for bows, then went back to their stations to play. The sad thing is, I suspect this absence of a traditional departure and return for an encore is the result of Clarence’s repaired/replaced knees and hips and I couldn’t shake the thought that these shows may be his last, that when the band wraps the tour and takes the announced 18 months to two years off, Clarence might not be up for three hours on stage anymore. I’ve seen no reporting to lead me to this fear, and I hope I’m wrong about this hunch.
So then “Cadillac Ranch” opened the encore, followed by “Bobby Jean” and the great jig “American Land.” I love that song, the joyous fiddle of Soozie Tyrell, the jaunty celebration of America as melting pot and the imagery of, “Dear I hear that beer flows through the faucets all night long.” (Not to mention that when he sings, “The McNicholas, the Posalski's, the Smiths, Zerillis, too,” so quickly, it kind of sounds like my last name instead of “Posalski’s.”) And then “Dancing in the Dark” and “Rosalita” – which I’ve now seen at least four times, at each of the three Giants Stadium shows and one Shea Stadium night I’ve attended – closed the night.
Friday night ranks up there with the best of the 13 or 14 shows I’ve seen, and after a bad experience at our first Giants Stadium show back in 2004 (way far away in the upper level, with annoying college kids around us), I vowed I’d only go again if I got lower-level seats. We’ve done that for the last two shows there (July ’08 and this recent one) and both have been high-energy, arena-worthy performances. And while I love the fact that I was part of the only crowd that got Darkness on the Edge of Town from start to finish, after looking at last night’s Born in the USA setlist, I would love to see “I’m On Fire” and “My Hometown” done on an autumn night in the swamp.
But I’ll leave those selections to chance and hope that when I finally do hear them, they’re as much of a treat as I’d expect.