A big-time Bruce Springsteen Baltimore performance

Bruce Baltimore collage

Review and photos by Stuart Zolotorow

Bruce Springsteen, Royal Farms Arena, Baltimore, MD — April 20, 2016

“Are you ready to be entertained? Do you want to be transformed?” With that, Bruce Springsteen and his E Street Band launched into “Meet Me in the City” and kicked off their concert in Baltimore last week and proceeded to put on a big-time show.

The Boss was holding court in what many of us older guys still refer to as the Baltimore Civic Center. A building way past it’s prime; today’s younger fans now refer to it as “The Chicken Barn.” But it’s real name is the Royal Farms Arena, a place that I grew up in as my brother, who passed away two years ago, known as “Mike Z” was the Blast and Baltimore Orioles equipment manager for 15 years. I would fill in whenever the two overlapped.

At this concert, Bruce started things by stepping up to the mike and telling the audience that “’The River’ was my coming of age album. Before ‘The River,’ I made several outsider records. I wanted to make a record that was rock ‘n’ roll, full of love, laughter and fun.”

Bruce then got into his first concept album. An album that John Lennon was quoted as saying in Jonathan Cott’s book “Days that I’ll Remember” (as he referred to his last interviews right before he died): “God help Bruce Springsteen when they decide when they (his fans) decide that he is no longer God. I haven’t seen him — I’m not a great in-person watcher. But I’ve heard such good things about him. (Referring to “The River”) Right now his fans are happy. He’s told them about being drunk and chasing girls and cars and everything and that’s the level they enjoy. But when he gets down to facing his own success and growing older and having to produce it again and again, they’ll turn on him and I hope he survives it. All he has to do is look at me and Mick. ‘Hungry Heart’ (the single, released at the same time as “Starting Over”), which I think is a great record, it’s the same kind of period sound as ‘Starting Over’ with all that ‘Oh Uh Oh.'”

Starting with “The Ties That Bind” with beautiful harmonies from Jake Clemons (Clarence’s nephew) and Steve Van Zandt, Bruce got into “Sherry Darling” and began to interact with the crowd and really putting himself in there as no one else ever does.

Song after song, played faithfully to the recordings, complete with the jangling guitar sound that was almost 60’s-ish. Each song getting a better hand, he continued to interact with the rock ‘n’ roll starved-audience and building up to “Hungry Heart.” At that point he ran through the crowd, drank a woman’s beer, stood in the middle and leaned back and “surfed the crowd.”

The whole Baltimore crowd jubilantly sang almost the whole song before he stepped back to the mike. The fans here seemed to have always adopted the tune, even though as my son Scott pointed out, it’s about getting away from Baltimore.

Next, it was Van Zandt’s solo on “You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)” that caused the fans to go crazy. Bruce looked into the crowd and read a sign. “You wanna come up? This is a marrying song.” With that, he brought a couple onstage and the young man got down on one leg and popped “the question.” Bruce took the mike back and said “In the name of rock ‘n’ roll, I pronounce you man and wife!” Without a pause, he whipped out a harp and started to play “The River,” hanging on the last note until he just couldn’t inhale any longer.

After psyching himself up, he did a sad and poignant “Point Blank,” almost a “saloon song,” his face in half shadow, his hands moving, gesturing, a la Sinatra — the only things missing were the hat and cigarette that Frank used to set this slow and easy, moody song. adding the most emotion and hurt we’d hear all night. It was the most quiet the audience would be all night.

Another great guitar solo from Van Zandt in “Cadillac Ranch” followed — tearing up the strings. Then, it was on to “Ramrod” with a blazing solo from Clemons — the more than capable nephew of Clarence. Bruce wrapped up “The River” portion of the show with “Drive All Night” and “Wreck On the Highway” and an emotional sax solo from Clemons. Bruce then yelled that they were done with “The River” and without missing a beat screamed “1! 2! 3! 4!” and launched into a thunderous “Prove It All Night” complete with another screeching solo, this time from Nils Lofgren, who whaled on his Strat like a “Madman Across the Water.” It was like Nils was a bull just waiting to burst into the ring complete with him going round in circles. I was getting dizzy just watching him! Next, they moved on to “Thunder Road,” the crowd yelling “BRUUUUUCE” getting more sustained and louder than before. They sang the loudest they’d be all night long.

Which brought us up to “Dancing in the Dark,” a song known for bringing ladies onstage to dance. But this time Bruce went above and beyond. I’ve never quite seen anybody do this ever in the hundreds of shows I’ve seen. He started by bringing up one fan and dancing with her. At that point I figured that was it, but he pulls up an eight-year old and they just start boogieing to the crowd’s delight. He then pointed to another and another and another. He pulled all the girls up to the main stage and they all did air guitar with him! He then smiled and did selfies with each before motioning for them to leave the stage.

Continuing with “Rosalita,” “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out and encoring with the old Isley Brothers tune “Shout,” the E Street Band then did the traditional wave to the crowd, which was still yelling “BRUUUUCE.” He yelled back to us “Bal-tee-more, Bal-tee-more.” One by one, he ushered out each band member. Before turning around once more holding up his Telecaster – it looked to me that he just didn’t want to leave the stage.

Wow, what a night. Bruce and his ”Viagra-taking, earth-shattering, hard-rocking, love-making“ E Street Band really left it all on stage. And we were all so glad he did.

Set list:

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 (with Here She Comes intro; fan proposal beforehand)
The River
Point Blank
Cadillac Ranch
I’m a Rocker
Fade Away
Stolen Car
Ramrod
The Price You Pay
Drive All Night (with Dream Baby Dream interlude)
Wreck on the Highway
Prove It All Night
My Love Will Not Let You Down
Badlands
Backstreets
Because the Night (Patti Smith Group cover)
The Rising
Thunder Road

Encore:
Born to Run
Dancing in the Dark
Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)
Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
Shout (The Isley Brothers cover)

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