February 1, 2016 at 1:16 PM
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band invited fans in Washington to go down to "The River" on Friday, and into the river they dived. Here are five observations from the marathon concert at Verizon Center, which featured a performance of the 1980 double album in its entirety.
1. 'The River' is a deep, deep dive.
The show began just after 8:15 p.m. with the familiar-sounding "River" outtake "Meet Me in the City," played with the house lights still on. Then, the lights dimmed and Springsteen revealed his intentions for "The River." "I wanted to make a big record that felt like life," Springsteen said. "Or like an E Street Band show." A sprawling tour de force, the 20-song album is perhaps the best representative of Springsteen's range, with pop songs, rockers and ballads in equal measure. And for the most part, it worked in concert. The first hour was more successful, thanks to the anthems "The Ties That Bind," "Out in the Street" and "Hungry Heart," the latter of which found Springsteen crowd-surfing through the general admission pit. It was in the second hour that things dragged, with ballads "Stolen Car," "Drive All Night" and "Wreck on the Highway" slowing the pace.
2. There wasn't much time to go exploring.
Because "The River" ate up nearly two-thirds of the concert, there wasn't much room left for surprises. So the song choices after the album — and before the greatest hits encore — were crucial. Up first was a quartet of tour debuts. "Darlington County" featured some nice interplay with the audience but sounded too much like "The River's" "Cadillac Ranch." The powerful anthems "Prove It All Night" and "The Promised Land," a duo of songs from 1978's "Darkness on the Edge of Town," were among the evening's highlights. Then the "Tunnel of Love" ballad "Tougher Than the Rest," sung as a duet by Springsteen and his wife, Patti Scialfa, brought the energy down late in the performance. "Wrecking Ball," the evening's only modern-day song, felt strange juxtaposed by so many older tracks. The rest of the show featured Springsteen standards — all sung with a little help from the crowd — "The Rising," "Thunder Road," "Born to Run," "Dancing in the Dark" and "Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)." The latter three were performed with the house lights up, making those moments as much about the fans as the performers. A cover of the Isley Brother's "Shout" sent the crowd home in high spirits.
3. Springsteen still doesn't act his age.
It's hard to believe that Springsteen is 66 years old. There are few performers half his age who can do what he does every night. He played for three hours and 15 minutes with no breaks, ran around the stage all night and never once looked tired. Sure, he took the occasional breather and let the fans sing some iconic lines, but can you blame him?
4. Jake Clemons for president.
Springsteen got the bulk of the applause throughout the night but a close runner-up was saxophone player Jake Clemons, the lone horn player on this tour. Clemons — whose uncle, E Street Band legend Clarence Clemons, died in 2011 — earned a huge ovation each time he moved center stage for a solo, which was often, and when he wasn't playing sax, he was adding harmonica, tambourine and backup vocals. The saxophone is such a critical component of the E Street Band sound that even though Clemons is still the newest member of the group, he has already positioned himself as its MVP.
5. Less is sometimes more.
The E Street Band scaled down to nine members for this tour (not including Springsteen) without sacrificing anything. In fact, after tours that featured a full horn section, backup singers and the occasional addition of guitarist Tom Morello, it was refreshing to hear the group at a size closer to that of the band that recorded "The River." Even having 10 people onstage was sometimes too much. "Two Hearts," for example, featured five different guitars for seemingly no reason. During the bigger, louder songs, the sound in the sports arena was muddled. Quieter songs like "Point Blank" — where you could actually hear everything clearly — left me wondering what it would be like to hear an even smaller E Street Band in a medium-sized club or theater.
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band will return to the area on April 20 to perform "The River" in concert — this time at Royal Farms Arena in Baltimore. Tickets go on-sale Friday, Feb. 5 at 10 a.m. through Live Nation.
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