“People need to miss Clarence,” Bruce Springsteen told Rolling Stone magazine recently about his decision to keep the long-running E Street Band going despite the loss of saxophonist Clarence Clemons, one of its most popular members.
When Springsteen brought his Wrecking Ball tour and expanded E Street Band (with a new five-piece horn section) to the sold-out Times Union Center in Albany on Monday night, it was clear he was walking a line between carrying on without Clemons and late keyboardist Danny Federici while also honoring their memory.
The most visible testament to fallen bandmates came at the end of the three-hour show during “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out,” when Springsteen paused at the line referencing his former sideman: “And the Big Man joined the band.”
The video screen flashed a montage of the saxman to cheers from the crowd, while Clemons’ horn-playing nephew Jake – who’s taken over in part for his uncle – looked up reverently at the rafters.
The emotional tenor was just right: part eulogy, part celebration. For every downside with Springsteen, you could say there’s an upside, too.
During “We Take Care of Our Own,” the second song after set-opener “Badlands,” anger at the erosion of the safety net was turned into an anthem of patriotic pride that reclaims the flag and flips “America the Beautiful” on its head.
On recession-era tune “Wrecking Ball,” another song from the new album, Springsteen softly repeated its chorus of “hard times come and hard times go” like a mantra: a reminder that economic downturns inevitably turn back around.
And during “My City of Ruins,” a song that took on new meaning after its inclusion on his 9/11-themed album, “The Rising,” Springsteen led the crowd in a near-defiant chant of “Come on, rise up,” after referencing his missing band members and saying, “If you’re here and we’re here, then they’re here.”
There was weightiness to the show, as feelings of loss hung heavy. With the spotlight shining solely on him, Springsteen performed a riveting version of hard-luck tune “Downbound Train” that sounded downright harrowing.
He magnanimously played a rare acoustic version of “Janey, Don’t You Lose Heart” by request from a fan in honor of her recently departed mother, Jane – pointing to her at song’s end and looking like he wiped away a tear.
And much of the new material – including Celtic-inflected tunes “Death to My Hometown” and “Shackled and Drawn” and the heavily populist “Jack of All Trades” – had somber, height-of-the-recession messages about economic justice.
But that doesn’t mean there wasn’t plenty of levity and joy to be had, too. Soaked with sweat, bottled water and a fan’s beer by the end of the typically marathon performance, Springsteen once again seemingly defied all signs of aging.
He traded frenzied guitar solos with Steven Van Zandt during “Murder Incorporated,” hopped up and down with an overly exuberant young man out on the floor during “Waiting on a Sunny Day” and cheered on Jake Clemons as he nailed his uncle’s solo on “The Promised Land.”
During a medley of Motown tunes that he first performed at Harlem’s Apollo Theater back in March – the E Street Band’s first full concert after Clemons’ passing – Springsteen stormed out onto the floor, chugged a fan’s beer and then lay on top of the crowd, letting them inch him gently back toward the stage.
He boogied with a fan sporting punk-rock-red hair during “Dancing in the Dark,” contorted himself into an impossibly limber backbend off the microphone before “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out,” and then fell to his knees on the stage at show’s end.
Story and photographs by KIRSTEN FERGUSON
Published on www.nippertown.com, 4/19/12