I can scratch one thing off my bucket list. Last Friday, I saw Springsteen and the E Street Band rock First Citizens Bank in Philly. For nearly four hours, against record-breaking heat, the band ripped through song after song spanning The Boss’ long career. The set was a mix of hits, including “Out on the Streets,” “Badlands,” “Born to Run,” and “Dancing in the Dark,” juxtaposed with deeper cuts, including “Loose Ends” and “American Skin.” The band was relentless, barely resting between songs. Early in the set, Springsteen picked out signs in the crowd and honored some fan requests, including a moving, even slower rendition of “Racing in the Street” from Darkness on the Edge of Town. I was more surprised, however, that the set, especially the first half, contained so many tracks from Springsteen’s earliest albums, Greetings from Asbury Park and The Wild, the Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle. His last few albums, Magic, Wrecking Ball, and Working on a Dream, got no love in the set, even though they are rockers, especially Magic and Wrecking Ball. I would have liked to hear a few tracks from them. However, they are albums so rooted in the times in which they were written. Magic is a response to the Bush years, and Wrecking Ball plays like a 45-minute anthem for Occupy Wall Street.
Later this month, Springsteen’s memoir, Born to Run, will be released. Perhaps his set was so loaded with early tracks because he’s been reflecting on where he’s been and what remains of his career. Maybe, while playing two shows in Philly last week, he recalled playing those small dive bars in Asbury Park and other seaside towns nearby.
I was also struck by the fact that in an election year, Springsteen avoided political stage banter. He didn’t tell anyone who to vote for, though anyone who has followed him knows about his liberal politics. To his credit, he did have an organization on hand collecting donations to fight poverty and hunger in Philly. However, about mid-way through the set, Springsteen played a quiet, subdued version of “American Skin,” a song he wrote in the early 2000s in response to the police shooting of Amadou Diallo in NYC. The constant refrain of “41 shots” and “No secret my friend/You can get killed just for living in your American skin” was the most haunting part of the concert, considering we’re living in a post-Ferguson America. Springsteen followed that with “The Promised Land” and “My City of Ruins,” a three-song part of the set that contained some of the Boss’ most socially conscious tracks. We didn’t need any political banter. The music spoke for itself, organized the way it was in the set.
Since the concert, I keep thinking of Springsteen’s long career and how much energy he has, nearing 70. I have Jersey on my mind too, since I’ll be reading from my new book of poems at the Belmar Arts Center, right outside Asbury Park on Sunday, Sept. 25. I’m sure I’ll hang out in Asbury for a while, walk the board walk across from the Stone Pony, a bar Springsteen owns, and the Wonder Bar. I’ll think of the places where he got his start and all of those tracks from the first two albums that he played in the early 70s, before Born to Run hit.
Springsteen’s set in Philly last week was very much a reflection of his long and storied career, a tale of two sets that contained deeper tracks, early tracks, and a barrage of hits that has made him a staple of rock radio all of these years. I am eager to walk the streets of Asbury Park in a few weeks, and maybe, I’ll read my poem “Listening to Springsteen on I-81” at the Belmar Arts Center.