Hartman Group As rock 'n' roll's preeminent purist, it makes perfect sense…
- Posted on Mar 10th 2012 1:08PM by Dan Reilly
Debra L Rothenberg, Getty Images
Sponsored by SiriusXM for the company's 10th anniversary, the intimate concert started with Springsteen and the E Street Band walking on stage and rubbing the Apollo's famed Tree of Hope stump for good luck. With a nod to James Brown's 1962 performance at the venue, Springsteen gave himself a lengthy intro as the band started up 'We Take Care of Our Own.'
"Ladies and gentlemen are you ready for showtime? Welcome to Harlem's legendary Apollo Theater! I'd like to introduce to you, right now, a young man, he was Born in the U.S.A! Arrived here tonight in his Pink Cadillac! Winner of the Academy Award! He brought you such great hit as 'Dancing in the Dark,' 'Born to Run,' 'Hungry Heart'! I'm talking about "Mr. Badlands," the Jersey Devil himself, the man who paid the cost to be the Boss, the hardest working white man in show business! Let's hear it for Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band!"
Introducing the next song, 'My City of Ruins,' Bruce addressed Clemons' passing indirectly, noting that they were up there with some old friends and some new friends. "The E Street Band's mission remains the same: We're here to bring the power hour after hour, we're here to put a whoop-ass session on the recession, we're here to bring a smile to your face, an extra beat to your heart, and to raise your spirits high in these hard times. And of course, as usual, we've got a story to tell, so let's get started."
Midway through the song, Springsteen brought Clemons' absence up again, without being too literal about it, during a roll call of the band. "Are we missing anybody?" he yelled, goading the crowd into response. "That's right. We're missing a few," he said without naming the Big Man or keyboardist Danny Federici, who died in 2008 following a battle with cancer. "But the only thing I can guarantee tonight is that if you're here, and we're here, then they're here. If you're here, and we're here, then they're here."
Bruce repeated that last part a few times, letting the emotions build before returning to the song with the lines, "Now there's tears on the pillow/darling where we slept/and you took my heart when you left." Appropriately, during the song's refrain of "with these hands," Jake was the first to put his fist up.
Another poignant moment came during 'Jack of All Trades,' where Springsteen talked about writing a lot of the 'Wrecking Ball' album in 2009, before there was an Occupy movement or accountability for the Wall Street banisters and politicians who let them run wild. Backlit by the spotlight and standing mostly still without his guitar, Bruce gave off the impression that the track, obviously too subdued for a lead single, might be the most important to him of all his new material, letting the subtle power of lines like "If I had me a gun, I'd find the bastards and shoot 'em on sight" do all the work.
After a few more upbeat numbers, including Boss nearly doing a jig during the Celtic-infused 'Shackled and Drawn' and venturing out into the audience during 'Waitin' on a Sunny Day,' Bruce and his wife Patti Scialfa duetted on a quiet, emotional rendition of 'Mansion on the Hill,' which they finished off with a kiss and a joke about their 22-year-old son: "That's how the whole f---ing thing started."
Bruce's next tribute was for the Apollo, "the home of the Gods and the true temple of soul." He rattled off his soul heroes, saying they were his real teachers: Sam Cooke taught him history, religion came from Aretha Franklin, sex education was Marvin Gaye and poetry was all Smokey Robinson. With that, Springsteen kicked into a medley of the Robinson-penned Temptations hit 'The Way You Do the Things You Do' and Wilson Pickett's '634-5789,' the latter of which Bruce sang while making his way through the mezzanine, then climbing over the balcony, walking through a VIP box and shimmying back down onto the stage. Pretty nimble for a 62-year-old.
The main set closed with 'Thunder Road,' with Jake blasting out a huge sax solo to the delight of the crowd. A quick break was followed by 'Rocky Ground,' a new song that features a hip-hop verse by singer Michelle Moore -- and believe it or not, the mostly white, middle-aged crowd ate it up.
The most heart-wrenching moment of the night was saved for 'Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out,' when Bruce and the band came to a stop after the line, "The big man joined the band." Springsteen wildly waved his arm, willing the crowd to scream for Clemons while the rest of the band looked on, appearing both drained from the epic performance and invigorated by the memorial.
'Freeze-Out' then morphed into the epic closer of Sam and Dave's 'Hold on, I'm Coming,' a show-stopping soul powerhouse that featured Bruce doing his best James Brown impression. As the song barreled on, he did the Godfather's signature "I can't go on" move, with Steven Van Zandt putting a small black towel over the Boss's shoulders. Springsteen faked staggering off the stage then ran back to his microphone to repeat the chorus for what seemed like the 84th time (we're not complaining). With a nod to fans listening at home, he promised them that E Street was coming to them soon, with the 'Wrecking Ball' tour less than two weeks away.
The Apollo concert was the perfect tribute to Clemons: Solemn at the right moments, but mainly a celebration of the Big Man, with Jake ably paying tribute to his late uncle and becoming a star member in his own right. I'm not sure how the rest of the tour will play out, but it seems like Springsteen and the E Street Band might approach the 'Wrecking Ball' trek as if they're bringing a memorial service to the fans. The sadness will be there, but the joy Bruce brings in honoring his fallen comrade will make it as enjoyable as any passing can be.
'We Take Care of Our Own'
'Death to My Hometown'
'My City of Ruins'
'The E Street Shuffle'
'Jack of All Trades'
'Shackled and Drawn'
'Waitin' on a Sunny Day'
'The Promised Land'
'Mansion on the Hill'
'The Way You Do the Things You Do'
'We Are Alive'
'Rocky Ground' (with Michelle Moore)
'Land of Hope and Dreams/People Get Ready'
'Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out'
'Hold On, I'm Comin''
A huge thanks to my friends and go-to Springsteen experts Caryn Rose and Glenn Radecki for helping out with this report.
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