By Melissa Ruggieri
The Charlottesville Daily Progress
Published: May 1, 2008
Drummer Max Weinberg looks on as Bruce Springsteen and guitarist Steve Van Zandt share the microphone during a performance at the John Paul Jones Arena.
The reliability of a Bruce Springsteen show is a comforting thing.
There are no off nights with the E Street Band. And now, coming off the death of band member Danny Federici a couple of weeks ago, the band sounds as if it has a new purpose – to memorialize its friend and channel its grief through its music.
Last night’s John Paul Jones Arena stop began with a hushed vibe as Springsteen and the E Streeters filed on stage in the dark, turned their backs to the crowd and watched a video of Federici, set to the recorded version of “Blood Brothers.”
With that, Springsteen faced the audience, barked out a “1, 2, 3” and slammed into “Loose Ends.”
It was quickly apparent as the band segued into an aggressive “Radio Nowhere” that the playing was an emotional release. Spit flew from Springsteen’s mouth, sweat already dripped down his forearms – on only the second song – and even the unflappable Max Weinberg drew thunder from his tom-toms with unusual insistence.
For more than two hours, Springsteen and the crew tore through a meaty catalog – most of it directed at hardcore followers.
“Promised Land” featured a ring of white lights that flared whenever Springsteen raised his arms overhead in preacher mode, while “No Surrender,” called as an audible, inspired a humorous moment when the band couldn’t figure out what song it was supposed to be playing (“Hang on, we’re getting there!” Springsteen shouted with a grin).
So yes, despite the undercurrent of loss, there were plenty of those spirited, magical moments that only Springsteen can provide – and with the rocker in his 58th year, best to enjoy them while you can.
Even with his slight gimp, Springsteen, looking taut and muscled in his usual uniform of jeans, black T-shirt and work boots, exhausted himself by constantly pacing the stage, trading some fierce guitar licks with Steve Van Zandt on “Gypsy Biker” and, after splashing his legs with bottled water, sliding the length of the stage during “Mary’s Place.”
His anthems of loyalty and friendship, blue-collar daydreams and everlasting love never seem to wither and still resonate through the generations.
There were several of them present last night in the sold-out crowd of more than 14,000, which also included celebs Howie Long, his newly NFL-drafted son, Chris, singer Mary Chapin Carpenter and Pat Riley, the Miami Heat head coach who quit his post earlier this week.
But no matter age or level of celebrity, it’s impossible not to get caught up in the fervor of Springsteen staples.
“Prove it All Night” featured a Nils Lofgren solo so intense, the little guy almost knocked himself off his feet while playing, while “Jungleland” and the ultimate live concert moment, “Born to Run,” were as chill-inducing as ever, Springsteen’s raspy voice still hitting every note.
On the latter, performed in the traditional Springsteen manner – houselights up, everybody “Whoa-oh-ah-oh!”-ing – Clarence “Big Man’ Clemons, who was oddly stiff and sedate most of the show, churned out a blazing sax solo that put to ease any concerns about his wellbeing.
Springsteen’s vigor refused to wane during an encore of the brisk “10th Avenue Freeze Out,” which began with the man demonstrating his flexibility with an impressive backbend on the stage floor.
But really, would you expect anything less from the master?
The Promised Land
Adam Raised a Cain
Prove It All Night
She's the One
Livin' in the Future
Last to Die
Long Walk Home
* * *
Meeting Across the River
Born to Run
Tenth Avenue Freeze-out