Posts Tagged ‘Wells Fargo Center’

On Monday Sept. 25th, 1999, less than 24 hours after blowing the proverbial roof off the hallowed hall known as the Spectrum, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band wrapped a six-night stand in the City of Brotherly Love with a concert for the ages at the oversized barn known at the time as the First Union Center – aka the F.U. Center. (It’s since been re-named the Wells Fargo Center.)

After the Sunday extravaganza, which opened with “Growin’ Up” and closed with “Blinded by the Light,” Diane developed some health issues that briefly caused us to consider canceling this night’s foray to South Philly. I say “briefly” because, of course, seeing Bruce and band is an elixir for just about anything that ails you. (in that sense, it’s a far more potent tonic than the so-called “miracle water” pushed by snake-oil preachers the world over.) Which is to say, as planned, we met up with friends in the parking lot prior to the show…and, thanks to someone’s relative who worked in the building, the lot of us were soon ushered inside so that we could eavesdrop on the soundcheck from the concourse. 

As we entered the building, “Incident on 57th Street” – Diane’s longtime holy grail, which she only saw once in the ‘70s – echoed throughout the cavernous arena. She all but swooned into my arms, ecstatic. According to Brucebase, the pre-show set in full was “If I Should Fall Behind,” “Incident on 57th Street” (times four), “Crush on You,” “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)” and “New York City Serenade.” Given the passage of time, however, I can’t confirm anything beyond “Incident” and “Crush on You” – and that Diane, to borrow a lyric from Van Morrison, was “higher than a cloud and living in the sound.”

A song performed at soundcheck doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll make the same night’s concert, of course, so we crossed our fingers. Once the doors officially opened, we parted ways with our friends and made a long trek to the worst seats we’ve ever had for a concert: Directly opposite the stage in the second level. My memory has us in the last row of the section; Diane, however, remembers us being in the second or third row. Whichever it was, this we agree on: When Bruce and band filed onto the stage, they looked like ants scrambling across a sidewalk. 

But no matter. The first notes of “Incident” swept through the sold-out arena and ushered Diane to heaven yet again…

…and the set that followed was filled with moments that, for me, were just plain nirvana (though others, I’m sure, would find them perfunctory). Nils Lofgren’s guitar histrionics on “Youngstown,” for instance, take me places no matter how often I hear them, just as the anthemic “Badlands” lifts me toward the sky. And with “Murder Incorporated” sandwiched between them? It doesn’t get much better for me, save for the 1975 trifecta of “Jungleland,” “Born to Run” and “Thunder Road.” Those songs stop time, just about.

I won’t lie and say that the lousy seats didn’t cause a disconnect on occasion, yet it was an incredible sight when the house lights came on to reveal the 20,000+ fans raising their arms and singing along as one. In that sense, this night was more than just an opera off I-95; it was a revival meeting that provided sustenance for all who sought it, be they saints or sinners, losers or winners, whores or gamblers, or lost souls…

These past few days, I’ve been re-living the concert again (and again and again) thanks to its release via the Live Bruce Springsteen/nugs.net store. Whether or not one was at the show, it’s well worth the download: The sound quality is excellent and performance beyond reproach. And let’s hope that the other five Philly shows eventually see the “Light of Day,” as well…

The set:

 

 

In 1999, after a decade apart, Bruce Springsteen reformed the E Street Band. March saw the band engaged in private and public rehearsals at Atlantic City’s famed Convention Hall, where the Beatles played in 1964, with the practice interrupted only by Bruce being inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. The 15-month tour began in Spain on April 8th, and remained in Europe for the next two-and-a-half months – a smart plan, really, as it guaranteed the band was in peak form by the time they hit the States.

And hit the States they did: On July 15th, Bruce and band kicked off a sold-out 15-night run at the Continental Airlines (aka Meadowlands) Arena in East Rutherford, N.J., followed by five nights in Boston, three in D.C., two in Michigan, and a half dozen in the city that championed him first, Philadelphia. (In total, including Europe and Canada, Bruce and the band played 133 concerts in 62 cities; as the tour wore on, there were more one-and-dones.) Most tickets cost $67.50 (or $103.76 in 2019 dollars) prior to the TicketMaster charges.

That six-night residence in the City of Brotherly Love, I should mention, saw him play five nights at the home of the Flyers and 76ers, the F.U. (aka First Union) Center, and one at the former home of the same sports teams, the hallowed Spectrum, the site of his first headlining arena show in 1976. I had tickets for three (Diane had five) and, in fact, my first night of the fun was slated to occur on the 16th at the Spectrum, but Hurricane Floyd caused the concert to be pushed back to the day after Bruce’s birthday, the 24th. As a result, this night – our 18th wedding anniversary, no less – turned out to be the first that I took in.

Though the ticket stubs have been long lost, memories of each concert remain, including one (the 25th) where Diane I sat exactly opposite the stage in the last row of the second level; and the Spectrum gig (which has gone down in Bruce lore as one of his best – I plan to write about it in the future). This night, however, is the first that springs to mind – and not because of the music, but a little girl.

Diane and I were accompanied by our good friend (and Diane’s longtime Bruce buddy) Luanne and Luanne’s 6-year-old daughter Loren, with the four of us sitting in the first level – section 102 or 103, I believe, somewhere in the 8 o’clock range. Good seats, in other words, but far from great. On that tour, however, Bruce had a member of his crew roaming the hall to offer instant upgrades to the front row; while running into this person was akin to hitting the lottery, it happened, and not just for folks in the nose-bleed sections.

I know that last part for a fact, as it happened to us this very night – almost, that is. 

Let me set the stage: We arrived somewhat early, found our seats, ran to and from the bathrooms and food vendors, and sat back and watched the arena slowly fill while talking about what we hoped for from the night. I wanted “Candy’s Room,” and a set anchored by Darkness on the Edge of Town; Diane, who’d studied the set lists up until that point, thought that unlikely. Somewhere in there, we noticed the crew member navigating through our section toward us. (The backstage pass dangling around his neck was the tell.) Words were quickly exchanged. “I can’t,” he said once he realized Loren was with us. “She’d get crushed.” People rushed the stage, he explained, and little kids could get hurt.

He moved on.   

Still, it was a great show. “Candy’s Room” led into “Adam Raised a Cain,” and three more Darkness songs were sprinkled throughout the set (though not “Promised Land,” the lack of which always disappoints me). As with every night of the tour, though some sections of the set changed, others did not. So, as on all other nights, an electric “Youngstown” – one of my favorite live songs by Springsteen with the E Street Band, as it melds the folk and rock traditions (and also features a mesmerizing solo from Nils Lofgren) – gave way to “Murder Incorporated,” “Badlands,” “Out in the Street” and “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out.” Everyone was on their feet, dancing and singing along, fists pumping the air.

Everyone, that is, except for Loren. At some juncture, as only little kids can, she sacked out. Her eyes closed and head drooped, and despite the joyous din she found herself in, she fell fast asleep. (To this day, it’s one of the sweetest things I’ve witnessed.) By the time Bruce and the E Street Band lit up the arena with “Light of Day” and “Ramrod,” wave upon wave of bodies crashed upon the stage as if it was a seawall; she heard and saw it not, but she was safe while her mother, Diane and I were thoroughly enjoying ourselves, our so-so seats notwithstanding.

Anyway, since no video of this night exists on YouTube, here’s “Youngstown” from Live in New York City, which was filmed in April of 2000:

And, from the fifth night (7/26) of the Meadowlands stand, here’s “Light of Day”:

And, last, since it was a highlight for Diane then and now (“I’ve got goosebumps,” she just said), here’s “Back in Your Arms” from the 14th night (8/4) at the Meadowlands:

The set:

  1. Candy’s Room
  2. Adam Raised a Cain
  3. The Ties That Bund
  4. Prove It All Night
  5. Two Hearts
  6. Darlington County
  7. Something in the Night
  8. Mansion on the Hill
  9. Independence Day
  10. Youngstown
  11. Murder Incorporated
  12. Badlands
  13. Out in the Street
  14. Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
  15. Working on the Highway
  16. The Ghost of Tom Joad
  17. Back in Your Arms
  18. Backstreets
  19. Light of Day
  20. Ramrod
  21. Bobby Jean
  22. Born to Run
  23. Thunder Road
  24. If I Should Fall Behind
  25. Land of Hope and Dreams

IMG_0656

An Arctic chill spilled into Philadelphia late Friday afternoon. Grains of snow splattered against the car windshield on the way into the parking lot of the Wells Fargo Center, where wind gusts sliced our exposed skin once we started the (thankfully short) trek to the North Broad entrance; and those aforementioned snow pellets worked akin to salt in the newly opened wounds.

I’m exaggerating a bit, of course, but it was so cold that the concert promoters had their hands in their own pockets for a change.

Ba-rum-bump.

The last time I saw Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band in concert, in early 2012, the show – tied to his then-recent Wrecking Ball album – played like a Steinbeck novel, with the setlist of new and old songs chronicling life during the Great Recession. This night, however, the show unfurled like a collection of interconnected short stories. The reason: The tour is tied to The Ties That Bind, his 2015 box set that presents his 1980 double album, The River, plus copious amounts of outtakes; and, each night, he’s playing the album proper from start to finish.

The River, for those unfamiliar with it, is a sprawling set that’s home to both frivolous songs and sober treatises; and, like most great works, reflects and transcends its time. As I noted a while back, a malaise blanketed America during the latter 1970s that was deeper than just “the Carter recession” (as Springsteen, in his introduction to the title song, called the era’s tough times). A generation of young adults came to realize, during those years, that the complexities of life and love were more complex than they’d assumed, and – like a deer frozen by oncoming headlights – weren’t sure how to proceed. Springsteen was no different. The River, more than anything, marks his coming to grips with the paradoxes that are part and parcel of adulthood.

That recognition is something every generation grapples with, I hasten to add. It’s why The River still resonates.

The show opened with one of The River’s outcasts: “Meet Me in the City” – a rockin’ declaration that condenses the double album’s yin-yang themes into three-and-a-half minutes. “Everybody’s lost in romance/Do you feel the way I feel/I’m just searching, girl/For the blood, for the bone, for the muscle, for what’s real…”

And, then: The River in full. If you know the album, you won’t be surprised by the set’s highs – whatever your favorites are, those are them. Springsteen tackled the songs with reverence and affection, and even shared vocal duties with the audience on “Hungry Heart” and “The River.” That said, one highlight for me was a song that – as he says in the introduction – only a young person could write: “Independence Day.”

Another: “Hungry Heart,” which featured the Boss “crowd-surfing” (though it was more like “crowd-crawling”) his way back to the stage.

As The River flowed on, however, I realized that not everyone in attendance was aware of the concert’s design; and some had no knowledge of The River as a whole, just the songs from it that are played on whatever Classic Rock radio station is currently in vogue. Too many people yakked their way through the lesser-known numbers; you can hear them on my “Independence Day” clip, in fact. (Proper concert etiquette is a planned topic for a future post.)

The River closes with the haunting “Wreck on the Highway,” in which the narrator comes upon the aftermath of a car accident and, for the first time, recognizes the fragility of life. Such realizations, and they come at no set age, generally mark the final ascent into adulthood, I think. The diversions of youth remain with us to one extent or another for all our lives, true, but sans the same sense as importance and urgency. Life concerns, like love and death, take precedence.

Anyway, that is where most acts would have closed the main portion of the show, leaving the stage for a few minutes before roaring back for a two- or three-song encore. Not Springsteen. He kicked off a mini-greatest hits review with “Atlantic City,” quelling the boredom (I’m sure) of even the most casual of fans.

“Prove It All Night” rocked, too.

And “Jungleland” came close to blowing the roof off the Wells Fargo Center.

When the house lights came up for “Born to Run,” as they always do, it occurred to me – and not for the first time – that the soundtracks to many lives have been written by this street poet. He still shares the romantic dreams and visions of his fans, and recognizes the hard realities many of them face. It’s why he gives each show his all. Like Neil Young or Paul McCartney, he’s at an age (66) and stage in his career where he could easily cut the length of his shows in half and few would complain – yet, this concert clocked in at almost three-and-a-half hours.

The young 30-something who released The River and the young fans who first embraced it would likely laugh at the idea that, 35 years on, they’re still spirits in the night, albeit just for the night. And, on the flip side, Springsteen and some older fans may cringe when singing some of the album’s frivolous numbers – “Crush on You,” perhaps, or “I’m a Rocker” – but have enough faith in our younger selves to give it their all, anyway.

To twist a phrase from the old Pogo cartoon, “we have met the future and it is us.”

The setlist: Meet Me in the City/The Ties That Bind/Sherry Darling/Jackson Cage/Two Hearts/Independence Day/Hungry Heart/Out in the Street/Crush on You/You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)/I Wanna Marry You/The River/Point Blank/Cadillac Ranch/I’m a Rocker/Fade Away/Stolen Car /Ramrod/The Price You Pay/Drive All Night/Wreck on the Highway//Atlantic City/Prove It All Night/My Love Will Not Let You Down/Wrecking Ball/Human Touch/Jungleland/The Rising/Thunder Road///Born to Run/Dancing in the Dark/Rosalita/Shout

Here are a few (more traditional) Additional reviews:

Dan DeLuca in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Michele Amabile Angermiller in Billboard.

 

Dixie_Chicks

Last week, I picked up tix to see the Dixie Chicks – on June 18, 2016. Which means, when the date finally rolls around, it will have been almost a decade since the first, and only, time Diane and I saw them in concert. That was July 25, 2006, at the Wachovia (now Wells Fargo) Center in Philadelphia, on their “Accidents & Accusations” tour, which found them still facing fallout (i.e., cancellations and poor sales in some parts of the country) from 12 words uttered by lead singer Natalie Maines on the eve of the Iraq War in 2003.

Oddly enough, it was the overwrought reaction to that comment that led me to give the Chicks a serious listen. I owe a big thank you to all the jingoistic burn-the-book Reich types, in other words; if not for them, I’d have missed out on some damn good music. (I should mention, I have no issue with folks who stop supporting acts for any reason, be it political, personal or artistic. But there’s a big difference between jumping off the bandwagon and threatening the driver of said wagon with bodily harm.)

Anyway, prior, I knew of them because they’d covered Maria McKee’s “Am I the Only One (Who’s Ever Felt This Way)” on their mega-selling Wide Open Spaces album, a move that meant the Little Diva could – as she said at the 1998 show we saw – do what she wanted for a little while, thanks to the royalty checks.

I’d also heard them because Diane played them on occasion; we owned their first two albums. But I didn’t pay them much mind – there’s only so much listening time in the day, after all, and in 2002 most of mine was spent on Neil Young’s seriously underrated Are You Passionate?, which was my Album of the Year that year. If I’d heard it at the time, however, Home likely would’ve displaced it; their feisty cover of Patty Griffin’s “Truth No. 2,” which foretold the controversy that followed, and the heartfelt rendition of Bruce Robison’s “Travelin’ Soldier” are worth the price of admission alone, but the entire album is excellent.

As was their 2006 effort, Taking the Long Way, which featured a streamlined, SoCal/Eagles-like veneer. By the time of their Wachovia barn shindig, I was primed. We had good seats – first level to the left of the stage with an excellent view – when the lights weren’t blinding us, that is. (The lighting was apparently designed without a sideview in mind.)

They opened with the rollicking kiss off to small-mindedness, “Lubbock or Leave It,” followed with a stellar “Truth No. 2.”

But my main memory of the show is one song from the middle of the set: “Not Ready to Make Nice,” which was Natalie’s defiant response to the threats she faced a few years before. Simply put, it’s jaw-dropping performance.

The video cuts off immediately after the song ends, but – those explosive cheers you hear at the end? They continued for near 10 minutes (at least, it felt that long), with everyone on their feet and clapping, clapping, and clapping some more. It’s the longest mid-show ovation I’ve witnessed, I think, aside from – and Diane’s chiming in here – at a Bruce Springsteen concert.

The first song of the encores was another highpoint: “Travelin’ Soldier.”

And another one followed: Bob Dylan’s “Mississippi.”

The only slight gripe I had with the night: no “Am I the Only One” – but, then again, this night, it’s safe to say I wasn’t. Everyone in the building left feeling the same way. It was a great show.

The set: “Lubbock or Leave It”/”Truth No. 2″/”Goodbye Earl”/”The Long Way Around”/”Landslide”/”Everybody Knows”/”I Like It”/”Cowboy Take Me Away”/”Lullaby”/”White Trash Wedding”/”Lil’ Jack Slade”/”Not Ready to Make Nice”/”Easy Silence”/”Long Time Gone”/”Some Days You Gotta Dance”/”So Hard”/”Top of the World”/”Wide Open Spaces”/”Sin Wagon”//”Travelin’ Soldier”/”Mississippi”/”Ready to Run”