Three songs into Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band’s blazing set at 1st Mariner Arena, Baltimore, a city that had not had a tour stop from the band in over three decades, got its catharsis. It’s customary for the crowd to sing the first verse of “Hungry Heart” at a Bruce show, but it felt especially poignant to hear this crowd, which had been passed over for so many years, sing “Got a wife and kids in Baltimore, Jack [emphasis added].”
The next line, of course: “I went out for a ride, and I never went back.” Well, the long lost father finally returned on Friday night and offered up an incredible nearly-three-and-a-half-hour show as his penance. It was during “Hungry Heart” that Springsteen wandered out amongst his abandoned children and shook hands, took a big swig of a Miller Lite offered by a fan and belted out part of the song while walking on a partition about a third of the way into the packed crowd on the floor. He then triumphantly crowd surfed– yes, crowd surfed –back to the stage.
All was quickly forgiven.
Fittingly, the song before that was “Prove It All Night,” and as hokey as it sounds, that’s exactly what Springsteen did from opening to close. The band brought out songs from almost every point in their career spectrum, ranging from party rockers like “Rosalita” to the uplifting “The Rising,” and played them with the kind of energy and bravado that has been a part of their shows since the 1970s.
Somewhere near the middle of the set was the entirety of Born to Run, “an album that started a lifelong conversation between you and me,” as Springsteen put it. Though rockers like “Thunder Road,” “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” and the title track, usually reserved for the end of a set or encore, were jubilant crowd pleasers, it was the album’s darker portions that were the highlights, fully demonstrating the band’s emotional depth and range.
Bruce brought the end of the last verse on “Backstreets” to almost a hush, and then, slowly built the energy back up with a softly ascending refrain of “Hiding on the backstreets, hiding on the backstreets.” Hearing “Meeting Across the River” and “Jungleland,” two of his greatest tales of working class desperation and despair, back to back was, if nothing else, the most moving moment of the show.
And just as soon as he had sent us to the darkest depths, he reached out a hand and pulled us back with “Waitin’ On A Sunny Day,” a joyful song about searching for optimism. As he has done at most shows on this tour, he pulled a young girl on stage with him to sing the second chorus, and you couldn’t help but have a smile on your face.
Soon after, the band started pulling signs from the crowd with song requests, and the party was back in full gear.
What never ceases to amaze at a Springsteen show is how much the band gives and gives to its fans, somehow summoning the energy to continually put on marathon concerts despite their advanced age. Many of the members, whether it be Nils Lofgren, Clarence Clemons, Steven Van Zandt or Patti Scialfa, frequently wandered to sides of the stage to work up the crowd.
But it is Bruce’s zeal and charisma that drove the band to the incredible heights they reach. He puts all of his soul into the heartfelt tracks from his catalogue, and he seems to be having as much fun as the audience during the fist-pumping anthems.
The set appeared to end with “Badlands,” but as the band all went to the front of the stage to raise each other’s hands and bathe in applause, Springsteen saw a sign request for “Ramrod,” and decided to eschew the conventional encore rules of having the crowd cheer in the dark. Close to an hour later, the band again accepted the adulation of the audience and began to leave the stage. All of the E Streeters were just about gone when Bruce caught himself in the giant monitor behind the stage. He stopped, and started gesturing to the crowd, waving his hands as if to say “C’mon, give me some more!”
The crowd did, and the band came out one more time to finish the show with a rousing rendition of “Glory Days.” It was clear throughout the night that he was having the time of his life and didn’t want it to end. I would venture to guess there wasn’t a soul in 1st Mariner who felt differently.
Prove It All Night
Working On A Dream
Born to Run
Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
Born to Run
She’s The One
Meeting Across The River
Waiting On A Sunny Day
Spirit In The Night
Green Onions (cover played during sign requests)
Santa Claus Is Coming To Town
The E Street Shuffle
My Love Will Not Let You Down
Long Walk Home
Hard Times Come Again No More (cover from 1854)
Land Of Hope And Dreams
Dancing In The Dark
Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)
(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher (Jackie Wilson cover)
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