There is something inherently summery about the music of Bruce Springsteen. Whether it's the vacationland postcard on the cover of his debut, the boardwalk adventures he chronicled so well in his early work or that line in "Jungleland" about the "barefoot girl, sitting on the hood of a Dodge, drinking warm beer in the soft, summer rain," the E Street tunes just sound better when they're blowing in a warmer wind. And when experiencing the band beneath the open sky in Fenway Park for the first of two engagements on Tuesday, there was indeed "magic in the night," as he so famously sings in "Thunder Road" ( a song which sounded especially seasonal last night).
Another refreshing facet of Springsteen in the summer is that he seems under less pressure to promote a product. Where his March visit to the TD Garden hit hard with "Wrecking Ball" material right out of the gate, last night saw the Boss stroll onto the stage, put his harmonica to his mouth and begin with "The Promised Land," from 1978's "Darkness on the Edge of Town."
Although Patti Scialfa was absent last night, the rest of the E Street
Band was in top form. Little Steven was especially entertaining with
some silent film-type facial expressions and Nils Lofgren was especially
entertaining with a killer guitar solo in "Because the Night."
What Springsteen has always excelled at is knowing how to put together a strong thematic set list, even if they do differ from night to night. He wisely chooses songs from his canon that work together with the songs from whatever new album he is promoting.
Last night's set benefited from the exclusion of what I call the
"3-pound weight songs." A number of the songs from "The Rising" have a
violin lead that feels like a soccer mom tempo for a light workout, namely "Lonesome Day," "Mary's Place" and "Waitin' On a Sunny Day." Only
the last number was brought out last night, but any flaws erased when
Springsteen literally picked up a kid from the audience and carried him
to the stage for a guest vocal appearance.
Where during his spring trip to Boston, Springsteen dug into a few of those "3-pound"ers, and seemed to lean heavily on the theme of financial struggle that abounds in "Wrecking Ball," last night dealt more with the wonders of mortality, which is something he definitely can relate to better.
Several times he saluted "Mr. Red Sox," Johnny Pesky, who died on Monday. During "My City of Ruins" the first extended talking portion of the evening, he said, "We should probably get a light on that pole in right field, there." He went on to explain how the song is about "living with ghosts," and though I have had the chance to see Springsteen three other times while touring for this album, the ramp-up that he does to get back to the chorus never fails to give goosebumps. As he introduces the band members and salutes the ones who have died, he tells the crowd, "if you're here and we're here, they're here."
He continued to explore this theme with an amazing rendition of "Spirit in the Night," still giving himself entirely to the crowd after all of these years. After wander into the adoring audience, he sat at the lip of the stage with sax player Jake Clemons, the nephew of Bruce's original foil, Clarence Clemons. Springsteen said, "This was all before you were born," to the sax player before going into the final verse. It was not meant in a disparaging way, but like an elder passing on a vital piece of family information.
Elsewhere, "Atlantic City" resonated differently than it does on the "Nebraska" album. Where the line, "maybe everything that dies someday comes back" feels like a killer rationalizing his actions in that context, last night it felt like a hopeful plea that he would see his departed friends again.