When Bruce Springsteen first crossed the river and played his first show around Philly -- October 1972 in West Chester, opening for Cheech and Chong -- he showed up with a four-man band that didn't even have a name yet. Wednesday night, he hit the stage at the Wells Fargo Center with an army of musicians 17 strong: the core E Street Band, two backing singers, a percussionist and a five-piece horn section.
The expanded band is thrilling and brings a normally exciting Springsteen set to new heights of intensity. The horn section gives heft and muscle to both new material like "Death to My Hometown" and old favorites, even tearing through late saxophonist Clarence Clemons' short "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out" solo in unison. Everett Bradley's extra percussion plays off Max Weinberg's drums nicely, and the two even treated the crowd to a drum battle toward the end of "Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street?"
With a larger band, though, comes more room for something to go wrong. There were a few points in the night where a song almost went off the rails, though it isn't clear if this was because of musician error or sound issues with the band's monitors. Out in the crowd, there were certainly sound system problems, and harsh spikes of feedback -- a rarity at Springsteen shows -- cropped up here and there throughout the night.
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Highlights from Wednesday's show
"Seaside Bar Song"
A Bo Diddley-inspired rager, it's the best tune anyone ever cut from an album.
Last heard in Philadelphia in 2005, it made a welcome return.
This heel-stomper from the new album tips its hat to both Pete Seeger's fiddles and Tom Waits' big beats.