Bruce Springsteen | 9.20 | Chicago

Words by: Cal Roach | Images by: Chad Smith

Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band :: 09.20.09 :: United Center:: Chicago, IL

Bruce :: 09.20.09 :: Chicago
I swear, when I first started going to concerts they never, ever started on time. But over the past decade or so, it seems like everybody (excluding Phish) seems to have become oddly punctual. So it was a bit of a surprise that 45 minutes after ticket time on a Sunday night, still no sign of Bruce Springsteen. Even the "Bruuuuuuce" chants in between every track were getting lethargic. He kept the delay under an hour, though, with The E Street Band entering the stage in darkness and charging out of the gates with surprise opener "Seeds," a non-album track which set the times-are-tough tone for the show. What better time than a recession (er, recovery, depending on who you ask) for the working man's champion to lift our spirits?

The crowd was in rapt anticipation of the announced performance of 1975's Born To Run album in its entirety, but the opening stretch of the show was a bit grim, featuring tearjerkers "Johnny 99," "Cover Me" and "Outlaw Pete." This last tune, from Springsteen's latest album, Working On A Dream, is little more than a caricature of the Bruce character-study idiom, and it just doesn't resonate. This opening might have been a snooze if it hadn't been for Max Weinberg's dynamic finesse on drums. When the rest of the band threatened to fall apart in the transitions, he kept the train rolling all by himself.

"Hungry Heart" rescued the early goings; only the most jaded anti-popster could've been bored by this, and the band finally gelled into cohesion…until Bruce lost his place during "Working On A Dream," first proclaiming, "I hear the SOUND…of the E Street Band fuckin' up!" but sheepishly admitting it was his mistake at the end of the song.

Bruce then introduced the night's main event, calling Born To Run "our last chance" after his first two albums had flopped. Few songs evoke passionate longing so palpably as "Thunder Road," and the celebratory "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out," featuring guest trumpeter Curt Ramm (from Springsteen's Seeger Sessions band), drove the energy in the United Center through the roof. Naturally, the title track was a highlight of the night, the house lights and the crowd ablaze. The breakdown following the bridge was one of the most climactic musical wallops I can remember experiencing, one of those moments that set the collision of certain songwriters and bands above the rest.

Nils, Max, Bruce :: 09.20.09 :: Chicago
Even though there were moments when the 11-member group seemed to crowd the music, Springsteen himself was riveting through the whole album section and for the rest of the night. It's not like any member of the band is a glaring weak link, but at times, I couldn't help wanting to experience this with just Bruce, Little Steven Van Zandt (guitar), the Big Man (Clarence Clemons, sax), Garry Tallent (bass) and Max. How many bald keyboardists does one band need, after all? Part of the problem was the stale acoustics of the United Center, which mashed all the instruments together somewhat. Still, when it all came together, as on album-closer "Jungleland," everybody had a reason to be up there.

Putting the album right in the middle of the set was the perfect choice. This whole play-your-classic-album trend usually plays out as constricting, but tonight's set flowed, start to finish. Bruce brought a young fan up to sing a few shaky lines from "Waitin' On A Sunny Day," then blazed through "The Promised Land" like a preacher in the grips of a prophetic vision, with Clemens' solo shining a beacon of rock and roll truth. But overall, other than Bruce, Weinberg was the star of this show. His playing was rock solid, featuring an abundance of creative fills, at times overshadowing the rest of the band entirely.

Then there were moments, like set-closer "Badlands," when the iconic image of Bruce and Little Steven sharing a mic just set everything right with the world. "Hard Times" featured vocal harmonies ringing out like Phil Spector's heyday, with Bruce pushing himself to maximum capacity to sing this one out for the downtrodden. This may have been the peak of the whole show, although "Dancing In The Dark" (but, um, with all the lights on?) had the whole crowd in a frenzy, even after nearly three hours of music. The finale of "Rosalita" left nobody unsatisfied. It encapsulated the whole show - ebullience with a somber undercurrent, loose almost to the point of coming unglued - but if you couldn't feel the benevolence radiating from The Boss, you just don't know how to have a good time.

Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band :: 09.20.09 :: United Center:: Chicago, IL
Seeds, No Surrender, Johnny 99, Cover Me, Outlaw Pete, Hungry Heart, Working On A Dream, Thunder Road, Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, Night, Backstreets, Born To Run, She's The One, Meeting Across The River, Jungleland, Waiting On A Sunny Day, The Promised Land, Radio Nowhere, Lonesome Day, The Rising, Badlands
E: Hard Times, Da Do Ron Ron, Rockin' Robin, I'm Going Down, American Land, Dancin' In The Dark, Rosalita

Continue reading for more of Chad Smith's fabulous pics...

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