Springsteen & the E Street Band offers Richmond a show to remember (08/18)

On Monday night, Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band traveled to Richmond, Virginia for one of the final stops on their now 11-month, 100-show long “Magic” world tour. Ever since I was a little kid, I have been accompanying my mother to Springsteen concerts, regardless of the location, date, or venue. At first it was almost a chore, but as my tastes changed and I began to understand the true talents and accomplishments of the musician they call The Boss, I eventually developed into a diehard myself. Still my mother’s fandom remains unmatched and with Monday’s show marking her 25th Springsteen concert, I figured there is no better person to review the night’s events than the very person who first introduced me to Bruce and his E Street Band…

– Alex Young, Founder/Publisher

I’ll confess right now that I’ve never seen a Springsteen show I didn’t love. A veteran of some 20+ shows, I’ve seen Bruce and the E Street Band perform at stadiums and arenas in Philly, New York, New Jersey, Washington, DC, and Richmond, VA. And I’ll lay claim right here that Monday night’s show at the Richmond Coliseum was the best Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band I’ve seen. Ever.

Bruce has some serious love for Richmond because, as he puts it, “back in the early days, the only places we could play were Richmond and home.” One of his earliest bands was Steel Mill, and Richmond resident Robbin Thompson – not Bruce – was lead vocalist. The result? Bruce, Robbin and Steel Mill logged thousands of miles riding up and down I-95 between Richmond and NJ/Philly.

The last time Bruce and the ESB played Richmond was March 6, 2003, during “The Rising” tour – some 30 years after Steel Mill’s last appearance. That was a raucous show, and Bruce played tribute to the city that was there for the early days, before he became “Bruce Springsteen: Rock and Roll Legend.” Both Robbin Thompson and Bruce Hornsby appeared on stage that night, and the City of Richmond rocked in a way it probably hadn’t in, oh, let’s just say 30 years.

I knew when I got GA tickets just seconds after sales started on Ticketmaster that I’d, again, get a special show in Richmond. Just how special it might be slowly dawned on me as the set lists started showing up from summer European shows and the second leg of the U.S tour in Giants Stadium, Foxboro Stadium, Jacksonville’s Veterans Memorial Arena and  North Charleston Coliseum in Charleston. First, it was the signs. People always bring signs to a Springsteen show – and Bruce usually ignores them. Until Europe. At some point during that leg of the tour, it morphed from “The Magic” tour into an “All Requests Tour.” So people brought more signs, and Bruce started collecting them from the crowd, playing whatever struck his particular fancy on any given night. Since returning to the U.S., Bruce noticeably leaves three for four slots blank on the set list – to be filled with requests, including some rarities from Springsteen’s extensive catalog.

Armed with our signs and anticipation, we staked out our spots in the Pit. Standing in the Pit at a Springsteen show is a major commitment, akin to a marathon, only longer, standing the entire time – five hours, minimum. It’s also a huge responsibility, because the energy in the pit is what fuels Bruce and the band.

Finally, the house lights dropped at exactly 8:30 PM, and the band hit the stage – minus wife/E Street band member Patti Scialfa, who stayed behind in NJ as eldest son Evan prepares to head off to college. We’ll assume they’ve resolved the hash brownie issue, as Bruce didn’t mention it last night.

“Tenth Ave. Freeze-Out” opened the show. Always a favorite, this song tells the story of the band and has taken on a special poignancy following the death of keyboardist Danny Federici back in March. The crowd responded as enthusiastically as you’d expect, and we were off and running with the first song in what would be a three-hour set and the best show I’ve ever seen.

Ask any Springsteen Tramp, and they’ll tell you that Bruce’s mood often distinguishes a merely great show from an amazing one. If you get Goofy, Chatty Bruce, expect and amazing show.

Bruce was both Goofy and Chatty last night.  The next five songs in the handwritten set list were “Radio Nowhere,” “Out in the Street “, “Prove it All Night”, “Lonesome Day”, and “Spirit in the Night”, all crowd-pleasers, but Bruce kicked it up a notch with a barn-burning “Spirit,” and sustained that energy for the rest of the night. The energy level in the Pit was off the charts, and Bruce soaked it up like a sponge, only to leave it all out there by the end of the song. At one point, Bruce lay back on the center catwalk, while fans from both sides reached out and touched him, Then he lifted one lucky boy up on to the catwalk to sing the chorus with him.

The narrow center catwalk is welcome addition to Springsteen’s otherwise minimalist staging, and first appeared in Europe this summer in the stadiums. Bruce clearly loves the addition, walking out into the crowd too many times to count last night to interact with the fans around it. He crouched and lay on the stage, held hands, serenaded the youngsters, let fans bang out on his guitar, and even laid back into the crowd as dozens of hands reached up to hold him aloft. Just when you think a Springteen concert can’t get any better, some genius engineers a simple center catwalk and, well, holy shit.

After “Spirit”, it was time for the collection of signs. First up was the rarely played “Stand on It”, followed by an enthusiastic “Cadillac Ranch”. At that point, another sign in the crowd caught Bruce’s eye: “My band broke up today. Please play Backstreets.” That the sign was written with pen on a sheet of notebook paper elicited even more sympathy from Bruce who agreed that, yes, “it sucks when your band breaks up,” and then tore into Backstreets. The last request in the main set was “For You”, but not the full-band version. Instead, Bruce sent the band off for a needed rest and sat at the piano to back himself up in a slower, much more passionate version.

Then it was back to the set list.

Highlights from the main set included:

  • The powerful one-two punch of “Youngstown” and “Murder Incorporated” As usual, “Youngstown” allowed Nils to shine during an amazing, extended solo that had him spinning, crouching and shredding his guitar while Bruce looked on like a proud papa. Bruce, Nils and Steven traded guitar riffs during “Murder,” and Bruce proved to the jubilant crowd that he can still kick ass on the guitar.
  • “Mary’s Place” was absolutely transcendent in Richmond.  A track from The Rising, it’s continued as a set list standard on the “Magic” tour that typically sends tour regulars (who hear it at every show) running for the beer stand. If you did that last night you missed something powerful. Bruce took it to an entirely different level — up from where I don’t even know. Those in the pit realized we were getting something special and, when he reached out into the crowd to hold onto a woman’s hand while he sang, well, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one whose eyes filled – not from sadness, but from sheer joy and respect for a performer who sees no boundary between himself and his audience. I fully expected Bruce to propel himself in the crowd as he ran into a knee slide that only ended when he ran out of stage.
  • ”I’ll Work for Your Love”, has inexplicably been missing from most of the “Magic,” tour, which is too bad because it’s one of the best tracks on the cd. We got it last night, thanks to a woman who simply refused to have her request denied and kept her sign up. One woman’s passion with a sign quickly becomes an annoyance to the people standing behind her, but her faith was rewarded when Bruce took her sign, “Drive All Night” (one of my favorites) was dropped from the handwritten set list to make room for “I’ll Work for Your Love,” but I’m not bitter. Really.

The band left the stage for a  one-minute intermission (yes, one minute, after a two-hour main set), and then returned for the encore set.

And, oh boy, what an encore!

Once again, Bruce headed out into the crowd looking for signs. He took one for “Freehold”, and the crowd exploded at the idea that 13,500 Richmond fans would be lucky to hear Bruce’s highly personal autobiography put to music.

Alas, it was not meant to be as Bruce reached out for another sign – lime green and rolled up into a long tangled scroll. His curiosity piqued, Bruce untangled it and read the words “Crush on You”. Laughing, he proclaimed this probably the stupidest song the band ever recorded –  which probably explains why it’s remained unplayed since 1980. Still, we’d been enjoying a goofy Bruce all night and he decided to let it roll. After Steven ran through the chords with Nils, the band kicked it in and the Coliseum rocked out to a crazy version of “Crush on You”. Even after 28 years, the crowd still knew all the words and treated the band to a full-fledged sing-a-long. Dropped from the handwritten set list was Thunder Road, but I don’t think many would complain.

And why would we, because “Crush On You” obviously inspired Bruce to extend the encores, because he then inserted “Quarter to Three,” last played at Shea Stadium during the final show of “The Rising” tour, ahead of “Born to Run.” Bruce loves a house party, and this encore set was all about starting one. The crowd danced and stayed on its feet while the house lights stayed on during “Born to Run”, “Rosalita”, “Bobby Jean”, and “Dancing in the Dark”. When fiddler Soozie Tyrell broke into the familiar bluegrass intro of “America Land,” usually the last song in the show, we in the Pit knew that wouldn’t be the end. Sure enough, Bruce brought out Robbin Thompson, his former Steel Mill band mate, and the house party continued with “Twist and Shout,” Robbin, again, taking on the lead vocals for most of the song. Bruce whipped the crowd up into a frenzy, only to take them down to catch their breath before whipping them all back up again. Just when we could stand it no more, Bruce wound it down as the crowd cheered them off stage.

Another show in the books, another one for the ages.

Twenty-eight songs in a three hour show. Bruce Springsteen will be 59 on September 23.

Tenth Avenue Freeze-out
Radio Nowhere
Out in the Street
Prove It All Night
Lonesome Day
Spirit in the Night
Stand on It
Cadillac Ranch
For You (solo piano)
Murder Incorporated
She’s the One
Livin’ in the Future
Mary’s Place
I’ll Work for Your Love
The Rising
Last to Die
Long Walk Home
Crush on You
Quarter to Three
Born to Run
Bobby Jean
Dancing in the Dark
American Land
Twist and Shout (with Robbin Thompson)

Additional photos can be found on backstreets.com



“Mary’s Place”

Collecting signs

“Crush on You”


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