It’s safe to say that Bruce Springsteen has full command of an audience’s attention from the moment he hits the stage through the point he decides to leave, usually about three hours later. But at The Izod Center in East Rutherford, New Jersey last night, if there was anyone else drawing the attention of the crowd at Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band’s first New Jersey concert since the death of Clarence Clemons, it was Mr. C’s nephew, sax player Jake Clemons. It’s also safe to say that having to play the solos made iconic by his late uncle, was a rather high pressure gig.
With the latest version of The E Street Band, Springsteen seems to be saying that you can’t replace “The Big Man” with just one horn player. So, the band is now accompanied by a full horn section, including two sax players: Jake Clemons and Ed Manion (who played with Springsteen in his Seeger Sessions Band, and is a former member of Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes). But it was Clemons who got the spotlight and the audience applause several times throughout the night, starting early on, when he took his uncle’s solo on the classic “Badlands.” Throughout the night, he knocked out solo after solo, including on “The Promised Land,” “American Skin,” “Out In The Street” and “Dancing In The Dark.” Every time he stepped out from the horn section to take a lead, the audience roared.
The elder Clemons was referenced during the show in other ways. During “My City Of Ruins” (off 2002’s The Rising), Springsteen had a “band roll call,” and then asked if anyone was missing. Spotlights then pointed on the right side of the stage: both where Clemons used to stand, and also behind him, on the late Danny Federici’s organ. Springsteen told the audience, “If we’re here and you’re here, they’re here.”
The very last song of the night was “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out,” the song which tells the story of the group. When Springsteen sang the line “When the change was made uptown, and The Big Man joined the band,” the band went silent for a minute while the crowd roared.
Clemons wasn’t the only thing Springsteen focused on; his mind was clearly on his latest album, Wrecking Ball, which he joked was the number one album on Billboard‘s charts “for one consecutive week!” He performed eight songs from the album, including “We Take Care Of Our Own,” “Wrecking Ball” (which he wrote before playing the final concert at New Jersey’s Giants Stadium in 2009), “Death To My Hometown,” “Rocky Ground” (featuring guest vocals from gospel singer Michelle Moore, reprising her role from the album) and “Land Of Hope And Dreams,” a song the group started playing 1999.
Of course, Springsteen didn’t neglect his catalog, going deep for rarities including “Seaside Bar Song,” “The E Street Shuffle” and “Seeds,” and raising the roof with classics like “Prove It All Night,” “The Rising,” “Thunder Road” and “Born To Run.”
Springsteen, known to change his setlists and to call “audibles” (last minute changes to his planned set lists) plays The Izod Center again tonight and then Madison Square Garden on Friday and Monday; the U.S. tour goes through May 2.
– Brian Ives, CBS Local