When Bruce Springsteen first played Giants Stadium in the summer of 1985, he was at the height of his fame. Born in the U.S.A. yielded an astonishing seven Top 10 hits that were inescapable on the radio and MTV. Last night, 24 years and 24 Giants Stadium concerts later, he returned to the New Jersey venue to play the final show there before it’s demolished. In honor of the event, he played Born in the U.S.A. in its entirety in the middle of an epic three-hour-and-20-minute farewell party. Despite predictions that it would rain all night, barely a drop fell until the the very minute Springsteen walked offstage with his arm around Clarence Clemons — at which point it began pouring.
As he did at the previous four Giants Stadium shows, Springsteen opened the concert with “Wrecking Ball” — a defiant tune written specifically for these gigs. The song is written from the point of view of the stadium itself, but weeks after Springsteen’s 60th birthday it was impossible to not hear a dual meaning with lines like these: “Now when all this steel and these stories, they drift away to rust/And all our youth and beauty, it’s been given to the dust/And our game’s been decided, and we’re burning down the clockâ€¨/And all our little victories and glories, have turned into parking lots.”
Early on, during a crowd sing-along of “Hungry Heart,” Springsteen ran onto the general admission pit on the field. Unlike prior shows, where he circled the pit before walking back to the stage, he made what looked like a spontaneous decision to crowd surf across the entire length of the rather deep pit. It was precarious and at times his body began sinking down and it truly looked like the crowd was going to drop him, but not only did he continue singing while flat on his back, he kept signaling to the band to elongate the song’s outro while he made the slow journey back on the hands of hundreds of fans. His wife and bandmate Patti seemed much more concerned for his well being than he did.
Soon afterwards he kicked off the complete performance of Born in the U.S.A.. 1984 was the year of the mega album (Like a Virgin, Purple Rain, 1984, Sports, Private Dancer), but hearing Born in the U.S.A. straight through for the first time in ages made me realize how different it is from the rest of those LPs. The 1980s drum and keyboard sounds made most of the songs radio-friendly, but the subject matter is quite bleak: a struggling Vietnam vet (“Born in the U.S.A.”), a town torn apart by racism and unemployment (“My Hometown”), saying farewell to a best friend (“Bobby Jean”) or longing for the past (“Glory Days”). Even “Dancing in the Dark,” which brings to mind a frolicking Courteney Cox, seeps with frustration and pain. Still, singing along to every word with 50,000 other people, the whole thing still felt like a celebration.
During the encores Springsteen scooped up request signs from the floor while singing “Raise Your Hand.” He settled on the very appropriate choice — the “The Last Time” by the Rolling Stones — which he claimed the band had never played or even rehearsed. They still managed a near note-perfect rendition. As the clock inched towards the three-hour mark, the band launched into 1973’s “Kitty’s Back” — one of the longest tunes in the Springsteen catalog. It was extra long, as Bruce let nearly every member of the band take a solo in what was one of the greatest versions of the song I’ve ever heard.
Fireworks exploded over the stadium at the end of “American Land,” but after bows the band returned to their instruments for one last song, “Jersey Girl.” It’s a bizarre irony that one of Springsteen’s most beloved song about New Jersey is actually written by Tom Waits. Cheers erupted after every reference to Jersey (there were lots) and the entire stadium seemed to be swaying in unison as they sang “Sha la la la la la.” After the band walked off, Springsteen briefly turned around and held up his guitar with a huge grin on his face, savoring one final moment onstage at Giants Stadium.