Midway through last night’s Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band concert at Giants Stadium, Bruce held up a sign from an audience member that read “Play ‘Incident on 57th Street’ for your old, bald fans.” He was seconds away from complying when another sign caught his eye. “Ooh, that’s a good one — let’s do that instead,” he said, before blasting into “Blinded by the Light.” Such last-second decisions were the norm during Springsteen’s three-night stand at the venue, where he played to sold-out crowds of 55,000 fans a night — many holding up gigantic homemade signs like they were at Wrestlemania. The overall effect made night felt like a gigantic Jersey house party.
When Magic tour began last September each night was a carefully planned out, two-hour show with little room for surprises. As it winds down nearly a year later, much has changed. Many of the Magic songs have been dropped, and the show regularly stretches well past the three-hour mark. Bruce’s knee slides, preacher rants and even the occasional goofy dance with guitarist Steve Van Zandt have returned. Although the pacing occasionally felt a tad bit off compared to last fall (did “Mary’s Place” really have to be 15 minutes every night?), the thrill of never knowing what may come next more than made up for it. In total, a whopping 55 different songs were played during the three shows.
The highlights are nearly too many to list. Night one of the Jersey stand began with a bang when Springsteen and company took the stage to 1975’s “Tenth venue Freezeout,” which had the entire stadium jumping up and down like it was a Robbie Williams concert in Barcelona. The nightly cover of Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues” featured great vocal interplay between Bruce and Clarence Clemons was always a blast, while Nils Lofgren astounded everyone (including Bruce) with a mid-guitar solo somersault during “Because the Night” on night two. Quiet, long rarities like “Drive All Night” and “Incident on 57th Street” were played to perfection — but they seemed lost on the gigantic crowd who used them for mass bathroom breaks and loud conversations.
Problems like that proved that it’s very hard to play a stadium. The few acts that can fill them (Pink Floyd, U2) prepare carefully rehearsed, hit-packed visual extravaganzas that don’t vary at all from night to night. Springsteen took a complete opposite approach with a bare-bones stage and a willingness to play anything he felt like at the moment. On the second night — after seeing a sign for 1973’s “It’s Hard to Be a Saint in the City” — Sprinsteen had to repeatedly tell the band he wanted to play it in C, much to the confusion of his band who could be heard yelling something close like, “Don’t you mean A?” Such a scene sounds like something you’d see at the Stony Pony, not a filled-to-the-rafters football stadium.
Word on the street is that six nights at Giants Stadium were originally planned, but when sales were initially soft (they all eventually sold out) they scaled back to three. It sure felt like they could have done at least one more, with scores of fans desperate for tickets outside last night and not a scalper to be seen. The tour goes on for eight more shows before wrapping up August 30th at the Harley 105th anniversary concert in Milwaukee. It’s a very odd way to end an epic tour. Hey Jon Landau, how about one more Giants Stadium show in September?