Photo by Matthew Shelter
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Consol Energy Center, Pittsburgh, PA- 9/11
Playing on the 15th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on 9/11 Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band honored the victims and survivors of that day’s tragic events by referencing them in song while reminding everyone of the need to carry on and move forward.
At the same time the packed crowd at Pittsburgh’s Consol Energy Center was treated to his reflections on adulthood, the work that still needs done to make the idealized American Dream a reality in the future and a celebration of life in the present moment.
During a career-spanning three-hour-forty five-minute performance, Springsteen didn’t proselytize but allowed the connection between setlist, lyrics and arrangements fill in the story of where we’ve been, who we are and where we ought to be. The closest he came was when fulfilling a song request that was accompanied with a copy of the U.S. Constitution, he gleefully said it was inscribed, “Fuck Trump!” That was followed by a solo acoustic “Long Walk Home,” which chronicles the extended work needed to make our world a better place for everyone. Earlier, “American Skin (41 Shots)” found saxophonist Jake Clemons and pockets of the audience in the “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” pose.
With his crack eight-piece E Street Band he touched upon five decades of music – folk, rock, soul, jazz, ballads and garage rock party anthems.
Referencing last January’s concert here, Springsteen immediately addressed the crowd. “Pittsburgh! We’re back where we started!”
Although, the t-shirts proclaimed this to be part of The River tour, unlike the first American leg, tonight’s setlist didn’t cover the entirety of that 1980 double album. Like all the other recent dates, the night opened with “New York City Serenade,” augmented by a string section of local musicians.
Without mentioning the date, the band played four songs from 2002’s The Rising, which dealt with 9/11 from multiple perspectives – the brotherhood and duty of first responders (“Into the Fire”) to their lives lost (“Lonesome Day” and “You’re Missing”) and the thoughts of happier times in the past and future (“Mary’s Place”).
Later, the E Street Band took us to church, with fans providing cellphone lights around the arena instead of altar candles, and the repeated chant of “Come on, rise up” during “My City of Ruins.” It gave “The Rising,” which followed, a heightened potency.
Although Springsteen reminded those in attendance of some of life’s more essential moments, the night was far from a maudlin affair.
He dove deep into his first two albums, which including stirring renditions of “Kitty’s Back,” “Spirit in the Night,” “Rosalita,” “Growin’ Up,” “Lost in the Flood” and “Incident on 57th Street.”
A sign request for “Light of Day” brought out Pittsburgh legend and longtime Springsteen friend Joe Grushecky and his son Johnny.
The emotional and still timely content of “American Skin” was then supported by the hope supplied by longtime favorite “The Promised Land.”
Much of the rest of the evening gave way to the type of cathartic party atmosphere one would find at Mary’s Place.
The only numbers from The River – “Cadillac Ranch” and “I’m a Rocker” – gave raucous reference to Springsteen’s bar band days. That exuberant approach led to the houselights up for “Born to Run,” “Dancing the Dark,” “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out (with the requisite video tribute to original saxophonist Clarence Clemons).
The cover of the Isley Brothers’ “Shout” found Springsteen and Little Steven Van Zandt taking a page from the James Brown playbook. Steven put a cape, emblazoned with THE BOSS, on the “exhausted” frontman who slowly left the stage until enough cheering brought him back for another few minutes to “SHOUT!”
“Bobby Jean” then ended the night in a pensive, sentimental mode; another reminder of what once was, what is and what may be.
As they took their bow, Springsteen exclaimed, “The E Street Band loves you.” The feeling’s mutual.