After his last trip to Indianapolis in 2008, and only drawing 12,000 or so fans to his show at Conseco Fieldhouse on his “Magic” tour, it was pretty clear Bruce Springsteen would not be making a return appearance in Indy.
And that has, sadly, been the case.
While he’s playing nearby Midwest cities (Chicago, Cincinnati, Kansas City, Detroit, Omaha, Neb.) on the current tour promoting the Wrecking Ball album, Indiana fans of the Boss found Louisville to be the closest stop.
On Saturday night, he brought his 17-piece E Street Band to Kentucky’s largest city, and was met by a full house, and gave back with a 26-song, three-hour performance equal parts gospel music, bone-crunching rock and loose-limbed rock and soul. In his first six songs, he and the band played four songs from the new album, including an explosive “Shackled and Drawn” as the opener.
Making his first appearance at the new downtown KFC Yum Center, Bruce was greeted by a boisterous, ready-to-participate crowd. He and the band rewarded them with no less than five tunes not on the printed setlist, and invited fans on four different occasions to jump, sing, dance on stage and bask in the once-in-a-lifetime thrill of being under the lights with the band.
It was those moments of unscripted joy and the inherent danger that comes with pulling people out of the crowd to share the moment in front of 20,000 people that set this show apart from others on the tour. He had a pack of pink cowboy hat-adorned young women on stage to dance during “Darlington County”, honored a request to perform “Growin’ Up”, and allowed the 20-year old birthday boy to maniacally duet on the final verse and chorus. He invited three young brothers up, and they nailed the chorus harmonies during “Waitin’ on a Sunny Day” , and allowed a pair of women get up and shake it during “Dancing in the Dark”
Smiling broadly when each group left the stage, Springsteen showed he has mastered the art of keeping a scripted show loose, while reveling in the places that don’t go as planned. Late in the concert, he and the band lost their place during a song for a moment, and he bellowed “We fucked that part up! But the E Street Band is at it’s best when we are fucking up!”
In between the audibles, the brought forth a modern-day version of a rock and roll review.
He crowd surfed during “Hungry Heart” to the front of the stage from a small riser midway back on the no-chairs, general admission floor. He and sax man Jake Clemons (who joined the band after his uncle Clarence’s death last year) faced the large contingent of people in the seats behind the stage during “Spirit in the Night”. Bruce played preacher during “My City of Ruins”, talking about New Jersey, the hurricane and how we are all connected.
Midway through the set, the show turned from really good to transcendent with an eight-song flurry, beginning with a rarely played “Street of Philadelphia” (never outside of Philly in the past 13 years). “Because the Night was the hardest rocking song of the night, lit by a Nils Lofgren guitar solo, and followed by a roof-raising version of “She’s the One” from his Born to Run album.
By the time he turned in a heartfelt version of “The River” to close this mini-run, the show was already a winner. And this was before he had let loose with crowd favorites “Badlands, Born to Run”, and spirited version of “Rosalita”, the aforementioned “Dancing in the Dark and encore-closing “10th Avenue Freeze-out.”
The show concluded a four shows in four days run, necessitated by a date change of a New York show because of Hurricane Sandy, and the addition of a performance in New York City the previous night as part of an NBC benefit. It’s simply amazing the stamina, sweat and passion Springsteen delivers, 40 years after releasing his debut Greetings from Asbury Park” album.
Why doesn’t Indianapolis embrace Bruce as it does other rockers like Bob Seger, Tom Petty and John Mellencamp? Politics? Anti-East Coast bias?
It is odd. It is sad. But who did I stand beside on the floor of the arena? Two people I had never met. One guy from Indianapolis, and the other from Fort Wayne.
It is our city’s loss, because many Indy fans don’t get to experience the joy of watching one of the greatest rock and roll performers bring the power to Indiana.
So we drive 100 miles to get it.
Shackled and Drawn
We Take Care of Our Own
Death to My Hometown
My City of Ruins
Spirit in the Night
The E Street Shuffle
Streets of Philadelphia
Because the Night
She’s the One
Open All Night
Waitin’ on a Sunny Day
Land of Hope and Dreams
* * *
Born to Run
Dancing in the Dark
Tenth Avenue Freeze-out