For the “Wrecking Ball” tour, cynical critics have seemed offended by the reverence of Springsteen’s fans. They have criticized his use of a teleprompter although President Obama, Frank Sinatra, and Bon Jovi also use them, membership in the 1% while writing about the 99%, the nepotism of his band as if there is something heretical about a rock and roller practicing family values, and too much saxophone by rock and roll standards.
Frankly, they are clueless about his appeal, which is his unparalleled storytelling. I have always worshipped the “Boss” because of his uncanny ability to encapsulate exactly what I am thinking about the current state of national politics. (This has made me question if Springsteen’s number one fan in New Jersey, Governor Chris Christie has ever paid attention to the lyrics.) While some of the music on his new album, “Wrecking Ball" stray far from the my preference for guitar and drum based rock and roll; its political zeitgeist was pitch perfect.
At his first concert at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, the crowd went crazy for the opening one two punch of “We Take Care of Our Own” and “Wrecking Ball”. The entire stadium sang anthem like, with fists pumping, the chorus of both songs. Travyon Martin, the recently murdered black teenager in Florida, was memorialized with the timeless “American Skin (41 Shots),” which was originally written for Amadou Diallo shot to death by New York cops a decade ago.
In introducing his new song “Jack of All Trades,” the greatest political troubadour of our time, said, “People are losing their homes, money, and retirement accounts. The way that they are being preyed upon now is un-American.”
For the first time, Springsteen introduced rap to his fans with the gospel inspired “Rocky Ground” that features a brief rap by Michelle Moore. While I am not a rap aficionado, I had goose bumps at the end of this song. He recalled imitating Smokey Robinson’s voice to get the girls before singing “The Way You Do The Things You Do”.
Clarence Clemons was remembered with a poignant question- “Are we missing anyone? I can guarantee that if we’re here, you’re here, they’re here.” All that was missing was a montage of the Big Man’s pictures, which was added to the New Jersey shows.
Despite the serious highfalutin ideals that he writes about, Springsteen makes sure that his fans know that they are attending a rock concert not a political rally. In the age of bodyguard, there is no separating Springsteen from his fans. As drummer Max Weinberg told me last week, “I always keep my eyes on him when we are on stage because I never know where he is going to go.”
The 61-year-old Springsteen did his customary slide across the stage and body surfed in the crowd to make his way back to the main stage from a second one in the middle of the sold out stadium. He delighted fans by taking a beer break in the stadium’s seats, practically seating on Philadelphia Inquirer’s music critic Dan Deluca’s lap. One brave young boy went home with the memory of a lifetime-Bruce pulled him on stage to sing a solo of “Waitin’ on a Sunny Day” before more than 17,000 people. For the final bow of the night, he moved from the center stage to the right end so that he could put his arm around his wife, band singer Patti Scialfia.
He demanded, “I want you to go home with your feet hurting, your hands hurting and your sexual organs stimulated.” The crowd was happy to comply.
Jake Clemons, the late Clemons’ nephew, is the breakout star of the now 16 member E Street band. His solos recalled the early years of the Big Man.