April 26, 2008

Blood Brothers To The End: Springsteen Honors Federici in Emotional Concert

An accordion lay beneath a lone spotlight. Meanwhile, nine musicians stood onstage in solemn tribute, their backs turned from the audience as they looked up at a giant screen. To the soundtrack of “Blood Brothers” playing over the PA system, a video montage memorialized Danny Federici – founding member of the E Street Band – who’d died from cancer only six days earlier and whose funeral took place the day before.

With the late musician’s usual station at the organ riser left vacant, Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band commenced with “Backstreets,” its signature prelude – on this night – sounding ever like an elegy. “We swore we’d live forever,” Springsteen sang, wrenching in his delivery, as the song rumbled through its second refrain.

Afterwards, Charles Giordano, who has stood in for Federici since his final full performance last November, gracefully took the stage to round out the band. As well, Patti Scialfa was on hand for the first time on this leg of the tour.

His grief palpable, Springsteen summoned unwavering resolve and spirit to deliver a rock ‘n’ roll show for the ages. He revisited old haunts and old flames, nights on the neighborhood boardwalk, and souped-up cars that race in the streets. The ecstatic audience, which numbered over 16,000 strong, offered its collective empathy, condolence, and encouragement along the way.

After barreling through the nostalgic rebellion of “No Surrender,” he dusted off “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy),” as pianist Roy Bittan played Federici’s iconic accordion part. “We better get this one right,” Springsteen said beforehand, smiling. “Someone’s watching.” He sustained the wistful mood with “Growin’ Up,” which he prefaced with the concession, “All right, one more fairy tale.”

Wild and innocent sagas aside for a while, Springsteen tore into some of his darker, more intensive tracks, beginning with “Atlantic City,” its line that “Everything dies, baby, that’s a fact” feeling prescient under the circumstances. He yielded the focus on “Because The Night” to Nils Lofgren, who commandeered a blazing guitar solo. Not stopping between songs, Springsteen descended into “Darkness On The Edge Of Town” before the erotic throb of “She’s The One” raised the proverbial roof.

In the midst of reminiscence and revival, Springsteen made room for some Magic in the night. “Is there anybody alive out there?” he howled as he ripped into “Radio Nowhere” with a vengeance and a shredding guitar. He plowed through “Gypsy Biker” with stark venom in his voice while, on “Long Walk Home,” he led the audience in echoing its poignant chorus.

Harmonica at the ready, he ushered in “The Promised Land” – as Clarence Clemons consummately wailed on the saxophone – setting the pace for a solid conclusion to the main set. With his wife by his side, he played a particularly touching version of “Brilliant Disguise,” a song seldom performed yet beautifully done so here. And in one of the most thrilling selections of the show, he sang “Racing In The Street,” his voice weary yet resilient as the music ascended from a solo piano to a full-band arrangement. With “Badlands” and “Out In The Street,” both anthemic as always, the Boss brought the set to its vigorous climax.

“Thanks for helpin’ us through,” he said appreciatively to the audience upon his and the band’s return to the stage. With everyone reconvened for the encore, they played a lively, bluegrass version of the inspirational chestnut, “I’ll Fly Away,” in special honor of Federici.

To a seismic response from the crowd, Springsteen then directed the band to play “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight),” which a fan had requested with a sign near the stage (that he later autographed and returned to its joyful owner). From there, he powered through “Born To Run” with the house lights on, rocking that classic like it was his latest smash. He kept the momentum going with “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out” before shuffling into “American Land,” which brought this emotional and triumphant concert to a close in grand style. This, ladies and gentlemen, is how they send off a friend on E Street.