Bruce Springsteen - Live in Philadelphia (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Bruce Springsteen

Live in Philadelphia (2012)

live show

With a stellar new record and a rearranged E Street Band, Bruce Springsteen pulled into Philadelphia for the first of two concerts at Citizens Bank Park Sep. 2. While the Bush years found him getting increasingly political live, the Obama administration has lead Springsteen to look inward in concert. While his new record, Wrecking Ball, still has a thing or two to say about corporations, this show had different themes in store: the impact loved ones have on us after they leave, how all things end, summer giving way to fall.

Basically, this tour was designed to pay tribute to saxophonist Clarence "Big Man" Clemons, who passed away last year at the age of 69. Clemons was such an integral part of the E Street Band that even his failing health and declining participation in live shows near the end can't dull his shadow. Appropriately, he couldn't be replaced by just one person, but rather an entire horn ensemble, led by his nephew Jake. And man can the new guy play.

While Clemons' specter hung over the proceedings, the show assuredly had more of a fun, celebratory atmosphere. The setlist steered towards Springsteen's poppier compositions ("Cherie Darling," "Hungry Heart," "I'm on Fire," "Dancing in the Dark"), not to mention a healthy heaping of soul ("Land of Hope and Dreams," "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out"). Most of the material stayed mid tempo, although "Badlands" near the end of the main set still rocked faces. The Boss was as jovial as ever, running around the stage and slapping high-fives aplenty. Always a showman, he pulled up a boy to sing the chorus of "Waitin' on a Sunny Day," slowdanced with a woman during "Dancing in the Dark" and even fulfilled quite a few fans' wishes when he busted out his reworked version of "Jersey Girl" by Tom Waits. While he pulled from Wrecking Ball considerably, Springsteen still stuck to the "love life" message, going on extended speeches about living during "My City of Ruins" and "We Are Alive." The first one was inspirational; the second one meandered way too long and talked about trains, freedom, freedom, trains some more and also ghosts.

These two speeches represent the show in general. While the bulk of the set was amazing, the show's second half faltered a bit. Mic feedback occasionally flared up; instruments sometimes came out muddled. Springsteen chose a few tunes that fit his themes but few people really needed to hear, like "Human Touch" (perhaps the best song from one of his worst albums), "Working on the Highway" and a surprisingly limp version of "Jack of All Trades." It was still a great concert, and the E Street Band is rightfully renowned for their three-hour shows, but of the four times I've seen Springsteen live, this was the only occasion I found myself wanting fewer rarities ("Jersey Girl" obviously being the exception).

That said, the encore was undeniable. "Thunder Road" into "Born to Run." A stretched out intro to the mighty party starter "Rosalita." A sax-soaked update of "Dancing in the Dark" that beats the original. A soulful take on "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out" that sounded straight out of Innervisions and paused for an epic Clarence video tribute. Yeah, the band's take on "Twist and Shout" was a little cheesy, but c'mon. It's still one of the greatest songs ever written. Elsewhere in the city, Pearl Jam and X were playing Jay-Z's Made in America festival, but this was still the show to see.

Summertime Blues
Out in the Street
Cherie Darling
Hungry Heart
We Take Care of Our Own
Wrecking Ball
Death to My Hometown
Lost in the Flood
My City of Ruins
Spirit in the Night
Good Rocking Tonight
Cadillac Ranch
I'm On Fire
Candy's Room
She's the One
Jack of All Trades
Human Touch
Working on the Highway
Shackled and Drawn
Waitin' on a Sunny Day
Jersey Girl
The Rising
Land of Hope and Dreams

We Are Alive
Thunder Road
Born to Run
Dancing in the Dark
Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
You Can't Sit Down
Twist and Shout