“New York City Serenade” with strings. “Jersey Girl” with fireworks. “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” in August.
Five decades or so into his career, and more than three decades since I started attending his shows regularly, Bruce Springsteen is still giving me stuff I’ve never heard before in concert.
Tuesday night, at the first of his three shows at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford this month — a three-hour, 53-minute marathon — he did it without a new album, or even any new songs.
For both “New York City Serenade” and “Jack of All Trades,” he brought out a small string section that added vital texture and flavor. According to a Facebook post by one of the players, violinist Joe Deninzon (of the band Stratospheerius and other groups), they didn’t know they would also play “Jack of All Trades” until two hours before showtime.
“Jersey Girl,” the evening’s closing ballad, was accompanied by so many fireworks Springsteen and the E Street Band were temporarily obscured by smoke.
“Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” was a sign request (as was “Growin’ Up,” later in the evening), and featured an audience member on backing vocals — just like “Dancing in the Dark” did during the encores, with two audience members, though, on backing vocals and one of them on guitar, too.
Of course, as with any Springsteen show, it’s not so much the songs he performed as the way he performed them, and this show proved that at 66, he’s still able to draw on superhuman resources of energy, running around the stage and belting out song after song for nearly four hours, and even racing into the crowd to sing at mid-stadium during “Hungry Heart” and “10th Avenue Freeze-out.”
This show is part of Springsteen The River Tour, which followed the release of a deluxe edition of the 1980 album late last year. During the first U.S. leg of the tour, Springsteen and the band performed the double album in its entirety each night; they are no longer doing that, though seven River songs did make it into the show, ranging from the party anthem, “Sherry Darling,” to the dark and intensely personal “Independence Day.”
For me, though, the absolute highlight of the show was a non-River song: “Something in the Night.” Just a passionate, perfect rendition of a song you don’t hear Springsteen play very often, set up with a spoken intro about how back in his 20s, Jersey bars would stay open until 3 a.m., and he’d stay until closing time, then go to a diner afterwards, and when you were finally through at the diner at 4 or 4:30 the hot summer air would be so heavy you’d feel like nothing could move, and everything was quiet, and you’d feel “like the apocalypse is just around the corner.” (The weather on Tuesday was pretty much ideal, though, cool and not humid at all).
There were a lot of stories, throughout the night, about Springsteen’s family, and growing up in New Jersey. Also, it happened to be a big night for Jake Clemons: I can’t remember a Springsteen show with more sax solos, and fewer guitar solos. And Clemons nailed every one.
The guitarists did have a few good moments, too, though, with Nils Lofgren making the biggest impact with his howling leads on “41 Shots (American Skin)” and a wild solo on “Because the Night” during which he careened around the stage as if pulled by the power of his guitar, then continued to play as he spun around in circles.
Springsteen’s other two shows at MetLife Stadium take place Aug. 25 and 30; visit metlifestadium.com.
Here is the setlist, with a video taken by Mitch Slater, of “New York City Serenade” below it, as well as a few other videos from the show:
“New York City Serenade”
“Something in the Night”
“The Ties That Bind”
“Spirit in the Night”
“Santa Claus Is Coming to Town”
“Out in the Street”
“You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)”
“Death to My Hometown”
“Mansion on the Hill”
“Jack of All Trades”
“American Skin (41 Shots)”
“The Promised Land”
“Working on the Highway”
“Because the Night”
“She’s the One”
“Land of Hope and Dreams”
“Born to Run”
“Dancing in the Dark”
“Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)”
“Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out”