Concert Review: Bruce Springsteen & The E-Street Band - Wrecking Ball Tour Live at Wrigley Field (Friday, 9/7/12 From The Upper Deck and Saturday 9/8/12 From The Wrigleyville Rooftops)

Concert Review: Bruce Springsteen & The E-Street Band - Wrecking Ball Tour Live at Wrigley Field (Friday, 9/7/12 From The Upper Deck and Saturday 9/8/12 From The Wrigleyville Rooftops)
Photo by Jim Ryan

Friday and Saturday, Bruce Springsteen & The E-Street band were joined by what “The Boss” referred to as “A cavalcade of stars” as Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder and Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello joined the band for two sold out shows at Wrigley Field.  Friday, I ventured inside the park for night one, catching the show from the Wrigleyville Rooftops at 1032 W. Waveland on night two…

Well… everything I’ve heard and read about live Bruce Springsteen shows proved true on Friday and Saturday at Wrigley Field.  Somehow he managed to live up to the immense hype.

Ever mindful of his blue collar appeal, Bruce Springsteen works harder onstage than just about any live performer I’ve seen this side of Bono.  Over three and a half hours Friday night, “The Boss” and the E-Street Band performed twenty-eight songs.  Saturday night, it was twenty-seven over three hours.  With nary a break on either night (and despite a heavy rain that fell throughout two thirds of the show on Saturday) Springsteen treated the Chicago crowd to two spectacular concerts that focused on a tight band playing great music.  The E-Street Band now numbers a whopping eighteen and they populated the massive stage in place of pyro or other stadium accoutrements.

Over two nights, Springsteen performed radically different setlists spanning his entire career.  Friday night, was a party focused on hits.  Saturday night was the longtime fan’s dream featuring numerous rarities and deep cuts.

While both shows were great, the opening to Friday’s show was truly outstanding.  For ten minutes (and with the extended piano intro from the ’78 live renditions fully restored), “Prove it all Night” was fitting as that’s exactly what Bruce set out to do until just before midnight.  For over twenty minutes, “Prove it All Night” turned into “My Love Will Not Let You Down” and “Out in the Street” showcasing Bruce’s underrated skills as a guitarist along the way before turning over vocal duties to the crowd for “Hungry Heart.”  Saturday night started in a decidedly different manner, opening with “The Promised Land,” “The Ties That Bind” and “No Surrender.”

What continues to amaze me in the days following the two concerts at Wrigley is the command of catalog.  When rain started to fall on Saturday, Springsteen and company didn’t skip a beat launching straight into “Waitin’ on a Sunny Day,” with an apropos focus on lyrics like “It’s rainin’ but there ain’t a cloud in the sky” and “I’m waitin,’ waitin’ on a sunny day.  Gonna chase the clouds away.”

“No rain!” screamed “The Boss” as he moved deftly from “Waitin’ on a Sunny Day” to an impromptu, solo acoustic rendition of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Who’ll Stop the Rain.”

One need look no further than the nightly setlist of the average outdoor concert extravaganza to see that, generally, these shows are scripted so tightly that impromptu anything is an impossibility.  The fact that Springsteen & the E-Street Band were able to immediately switch gears and cater to the evening’s unique vibe was beyond impressive.

“A cavalcade of stars tonight!” exclaimed Springsteen as his guests for the evening were introduced on both nights.  Pearl Jam frontman and Evanston native Eddie Vedder took lead on “Atlantic City” Friday night, and “My Hometown” and “Darkness on the Edge of Town” Saturday night.

Rage Against the Machine guitarist and Libertyville native Tom Morello was onstage enough both nights that I think he may just be an unofficial member of the E-Street Band at this point.  Both nights he played on “Death to my Hometown,” as he did on the Wrecking Ball album, and both nights he proved to be the showstopper later on.  Moving from a guitar solo that has to be seen to be believed on “The Ghost of Tom Joad” straight into “Badlands,” Morello’s cameos stole both shows.

And ghosts were a theme across both nights at Wrigley Field.  “Are we missing anybody?” asked Springsteen repeatedly.  The E-Street Band is:  Piano player Danny Federici passed away in 2008 followed by saxophonist Clarence Clemons in 2011.  The tribute to Clemons during “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out” proved to be one of the evening’s more poignant moments on both nights:  The band stopped the song on a dime following Bruce’s delivery of the lyric “When the change was made uptown and the big man joined the band.”  Brief silence preceded the crowd’s roar as video rolled of Clemons on the stage jumbotrons while his nephew Jake played the sax.

While I was curious about how exactly the rooftop experience would shake out Saturday night, it really couldn’t have been better.  Atop 1032 W. Waveland in left-center field, the sound was perfectly fine and I had a good view of the majority of the stage… The perfect view in fact as Nils Lofgren channeled Taz spinning and kicking across the stage while he soloed during one of Saturday’s finest moments in “Because the Night.”

A view from the Wrigleyville Rooftop - 1032 W. Waveland - Bruce Springsteen & The E-Street Band live at Wrigley Field in Chicago 9/8/12
A view from the Wrigleyville Rooftops – Photo by Jim Ryan

One definite advantage the Wrigleyville Rooftops offered on Saturday night was a more lively crowd.  Friday night, those around me in the upper deck inexplicably sat on their hands for the majority of the show (and from what I could tell across the street, it appeared to be more of the same on Saturday).  While the field appeared to be completely up for grabs (especially the general admission section in front of the stage), the upper deck couldn’t have been more dull.  I’m told this was anything but the case when The Boss performed in years past at United Center and I know from experience that nobody sat down last year during Paul McCartney’s sets at Wrigley so I’m not quite sure what to make of this weekend’s crowd.

Luckily, “Thunder Road,” “Born to Run” and “Dancing in the Dark,” got everyone moving both nights… But with as hard as Springsteen was working onstage, sitting still strikes me as inexcusable.

That said, it was a rare treat to see three of the more socially concious rockers in America onstage together for two nights this past weekend in Chicago.  While politics was never directly adressed on either night, one need look no further than the structure of both setlists and the lyrics of the new Wrecking Ball material to know that it was in “The Boss’s” thoughts.

At sixty-two years of age, and for a total of over six hours on Friday and Saturday, Bruce Springsteen proved once again to be the ultimate escape.  It was impossible not to have a good time in the presence of one of rock’s greatest entertainers.  Love him or hate him, that power of music as escape and catharsis is something Bruce Springsteen has never lost sight of and it was on full display all weekend in Chicago.

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