Early on in Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band’s final gig of their two-year world tour, Bruce began telling a familiar story: the night of a wicked nor’easter in Asbury Park, New Jersey, circa 1971, when a gigantic saxophone player walked into a club and asked to sit in with the band. “We got into a Cadillac at the end of the night and drove out to the outskirts of town,” Springsteen said as he called Clarence Clemons to the center of the stage to thunderous applause. “We got very sleepy and we fell into this long, long, long, long, long dream. And when we woke up, we were in fuckin’ Buffalo, New York!”
Coming into the show, many hardcore fans — who traveled to Buffalo from across the world like it was a pilgrimage to Mecca — worried that after this show the 38-year dream of the E Street Band might be over. During a marathon, three-and-a-half-hour, thirty-four-song concert Springsteen seemed determined to quell those fears by playing a ferocious set that proved the remarkable strength and vitality of the band as they approach their fourth decade. “The E Street Band has come thousands of miles tonight to be here one last time —Â for a little while,” Springsteen told the crowd, emphasizing the world little. “It’s been just about the best time in our band’s work life. We want to thank you for supporting our old music, our new music, our tour.”
It was the old music that formed the core of the show, particularly the first-ever live performance of Springsteen’s 1973 debut album Greetings From Asbury Park, NJ. He dedicated it to John Hammond, the Columbia executive and producer who signed them to the label. “This was the miracle,” he said, “This was the record that took everything from way below zero to… one.” He was being modest. While the LP lacks the cohesiveness and raw emotion of The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle, and the epic grandeur of Born To Run it remains a tremendously solid, fun debut that fully warranted all the hype it received at the time of its release.
When Springsteen wrote the songs on Greetings he was barely into his twenties. Listening to it you really felt like he spent his days hanging out with Crazy Janie and Hazy Davy down at Greasy Lake — though it was a bit a stretch to picture him as the “pimp’s main prophet.” He wrote better songs as he matured, but never anything so effortlessly carefree as “Spirit In The Night” or “Blinded By The Light.” Each of the tracks on the album was played at some point during the tour’s run with the exception of “Mary Queen Of Arkansas” and “The Angel.” The former has been dismissed as a Dylan knock-off, while the later is largely seen as half-baked. Last night he breathed new life into them both, playing them acoustically with tremendous care and passion. The highlight of the mini-set was an epic “Lost In The Flood,” which culminated in a jaw-dropping guitar solo by Springsteen.
Shortly afterwards Bruce dipped into deeper into the archives by busting out The River outtake “Restless Night.” Steve Van Zandt has long hailed it as a lost masterpiece that deserved a spot on the double album. “For years he’s been asking to play this one song,” said Springsteen. “This is Stevie’s very favorite song of all time, it’s very obscure, it’s on the Tracks record. We’re gonna do this for his birthday tonight.” Though bits of it seemed out of his range, it still sounded great and Steve grinned the entire time. Said Bruce at the end: “Dammit, he might have been right all these years!”
The request portion of the show brought out a back-to-back Christmas shot of “Merry Christmas Baby” and the inevitable “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town.” Afterward, he challenged the band with a fun and highly appropriate cover of Chuck Willis’ “(I Don’t Wanna) Hang Up my Rock and Roll Shoes.” After some brief discussion about what key it was on, the band plowed forward even though it was clear not all of them knew it — though with a band that big it usually doesn’t matter. The main set wrapped up with “Born To Run” and “10th Avenue Freezeout,” which Bruce said they played to “tell you the story of my band.” The encore began with the rarely played Magic track “I’ll Work For Your Love,” which was clearly aimed at Springsteen’s fans.
The previous two E Street Band tours ended with solemn performances of “Blood Brothers,” with tears running down the faces of many in the band. Many expected a repeat performance, but Springsteen wisely decided to not go out on a bummer and opted for John Fogerty’s “Rockin’ All Over the World.” By this point, three and a half hours had passed, and even though Bruce had been moving non-stop that entire time he looked like he could go all night. Somewhere there’s a portrait of that man aging. As the entire band locked hands at the end Springsteen addressed the crowd: “We appreciate you coming out to see the E Street Band. So we’re gonna say goodbye, but just for a little while… a very little while.”