Springsteen at Fenway: Another Reason I Love New Jersey

Bosston- As a Long Islander, New Jersey has always been very important to me. Without the NJ, I might not have developed the personal confidence and pride that can only come from being raised in the second-most insulted place in the country (or in the Northeast anyway, because there’s always Pittsburgh- the ‘Cadillac of Cities’ may not have the mall acreage, but it doesn’t mess around when it’s time to get boring).

So thank you, New Jersey. Thank you for making my Strong Island second-worst. Thank you for calling yourself the Garden State and filling your most visible areas with belching heavy industry. Thanks for being the Velcro sneakers, the calculator watch, the portly kid of the Eastern Seaboard riding around the neighborhood on the Huffy that wasn’t quite a dirt bike, in corduroys, in the middle of August. In your un-mintness, you were always mint to me.

This past Sunday, I realized the only greater thing you did than save my childhood was produce Bruce Springsteen (and Jovi, but that is for another day, and only Slippery When Wet counts anyway). After lucking into some last-minute tickets, I experienced my first Bruce show on the previously untouched-by-rock-and-roll grounds of Fenway Park. It was truly something special. Almost as special as Newark. The Boss put on nothing short of the big summer rock evangelism show, and I am now a true believer in the man from Asbury Park.

The set-list (27 songs!), the band, the venue, the crowd were awesome. He played the big songs, threw in a few unexpected nuggets, gave the crowd some things to think about and offered respect to Boston both subtly and openly, performing some Boston home-grown tunes and expressing his honest affection for the city. In what might have been a little advance thanks, Boston even offered up one of its 5 annual days of nice weather for the occasion.

Taking the stage a bit after 8 PM, the band walked out to “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” played by E-Street Band organist Roy Bitten and sang back by the crowd. The first of many choruses shouted over the evening, it reminded you where you were and that this was going to be a damn good time. After a brief hello, Bruce launched the band into “Diddy Wah Diddy” a cover of a classic rock and roll tune by Boston-based band Barry and The Remains.

With baseball and Boston squarely acknowledged, Bruce took a little time to play two tunes off of his latest album The Rising: the title track followed by “Lonesome Day”. Although more cerebral and moody than the energized frustration or nostalgia of classic Springsteen, the tracks were solid reminders that Bruce is still writing great songs, not just working through the classics like some other ‘older’ rock stars. Mick and Keith take note.

After “Lonesome Day”, he teased the crowd with what was to come with “Adam Raised A Cain”. With the band lockedinto the simple groove, Bruce absolutely exploded on lead guitar. You forget that this guy plays the electric guitar. You get lulled into thinking he’s a coal miner misplaced on the Jersey Shore, some singer-songwriter acoustic troubadour, and then he just bangs the hell out an electric guitar solo. As amazin as the guitar work was seeing the E-Street band, after who knows how many years of witnessing these outburts, shaking their heads along with the audience at his unexpectedly powerful solos.

After pulling back a bit with a few more tracks from The Rising, the gloves came off for good withthe swaggering anthem “Spirit of the Night”. From there, they cruised through “For You”, “Because the Night” (which was not written by 10,000 Maniacs), “She’s The One”, “Badlands”, “Mary’s Place” , “Jungleland” and “Thunder Road” before the first break.

Wincing and rasping his way through every vocal, with the crowd in consistent support, he covered every inch of the stage, sliding across the front stage on his knees like James Brown, and even hanging upside down from the mic stand at one point. This guy is 52 and can run faster singing than I can, well, running.

It was in “Mary’s Place” that Bruce played up the spectacle of the evening, and showed he was really just having a lot of fun being there.

Over an extended jam by the E-Street Band, he launched into a mock religious revival speech, introducing the members of the band and evangelizing their collective power to perform rock and roll exorcisms of any kind. This being Boston, and Fenway Park, there was of course only one exorcism that needed to be addressed: the evil of that city, the one with the pinstriped ballplayer,s to the south. The the evil seat of greed, inconsideration and Red Sox frustration whose name would not be spoken. As the Boss put it…. New… New… New… New-port, Rhode Island.

With the crowd now fully in his hands, Bruce went on to finish the show with two encores which included “Glory Days”, “Born in the U.S.A”, “Dancing in the Dark”, “Born to Run”, and “Rosalita.” Amidst the onslaught of hits, Bruce took time and thanked the city of Boston, for its support through the years and the opportunity to play the first, and only, rock concerts ever held at Fenway.

Going beyond simply saying thanks, Bruce left the evening with one more tip of his hat to Beantown, closing with the song “Dirty Water” accompanied by Peter Wolf of Boston-based J. Giles Band. After nearly 3 hours of music, and much respect paid, Boston was unquestionably owned by Bruce last weekend. As for myself and Long Island, our obligations go deeper still: thank you, New Jersey.