March 20, 2008
When I see a concert, I hope that the artist resonates in a way that moves you beyond the two or three hour performance. There are nights where you want to be entertained and other nights where you NEED to be taken to a higher plane. As the E Street Band descended on stage at the Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, I knew on this particular night I needed to touch that higher plane and reach an emotional apex that may be tough for the band to reach. Despite my reservations, I found myself absorbed towards the end of the main set where Steve Van Zandt took over vocals for “Long Walk Home,” the defining moment on Magic — and even though the performances of this number last year were nothing to sneer at, the song has evolved into an epic along the lines of the performances of “Backstreets” from 1978. The performance revealed untold affecting emotions through the sheer power of guitar rock, without relying on sentimentality. Even the uninitiated around me found this to be a seismic watershed moment of the E Street Band at their finest, reminding us that it ain’t so sin to be glad you’re alive; let me tell you, this was just one of many goosebump moments of the night.
Opening the show with a spot-on penetrating performance was the triple guitar attack of “Night.” For the next 150 minutes, the band proved to be fixating and focused, even if they never quite reached the emotional and pulverizing highs of the show in Milwaukee three nights earlier. Springsteen’s connection to the crowd and recognition of signs from the pit made the intimacy of the show much more palpable even from back in the arena. This is sadly something that will be lost when he moves to stadiums in the summer. Right before the fourth song, Bruce asked for a sign to be sent to him, which showed the band and revealed to the crowd; “Please play ‘Prove It.’” I won’t mince words; I personally felt that anyone who had taken the time to make a sign like that should been banned from the pit for life. However, as I began to watch the always fervent and impassioned performance, it struck me that since I had been catching Springsteen shows in Indianapolis, I never recalled seeing “Prove It All Night” live. When I got home, I did a little research and found out that the last time “Prove It All Night” had been performed in Indianapolis was January 8, 1985. So if it was a longtime resident of Indy who requested that song, I forgive them.
The next audible (replacing “Growing Up” on the handwritten set list) was “Rendezvous” — a welcome switch, as the band immediately found its groove on this underappreciated and underperformed gem. The thunder clapping hysterics of “Reason To Believe” and “She’s The One” left the Hoosier crowd’s mouths agape once again. The whole evening flew into overdrive.
Right before “The Promised Land”, Bruce walked up to the microphone and introduced Danny Federici, a most welcomed surprise. For those who are reading this review and are unaware, Federici took a leave of absence from the band last fall for treatment to melanoma. He apparently is doing very well and it showed. His invigorated playing defied expectations on “Spirit in the Night”. I’ve seen the song performed a number of times over the years, but tonight’s version was bluesy and boisterous with an extended organ intro. It even got the nosebleeds on their feet. “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)” was sweet, soulful and evocative. As Danny was front and center on stage with his accordion, the scoring on his face spoke volumes. This isn’t just a musician or a face in the crowd, but a long standing friend of Springsteen’s who has been with him since the beginning. When people look up at Federici, they don’t just see an A-grade musician; they see a tale of friendship they relates to their lives as well. We all face mortality sooner or later and to those of us who have lost loved ones too son, this is a reminder of how short and precious life truly is. Watching the ethereal performance of “Sandy” made me think of those I know who have lost loved ones in the last few years and how lucky we all are, including Danny, to be here in the moment and experiencing not just music, but life.
Danny retreated from the stage for the remainder of the main set, but returned for the entire encore which opened with “Backstreets” making the epic song a tad more emotional on this particular evening. Following in quick succession was the smoky-sweet “Kitty’s Back” which found Federici stealing the show. One thing Danny never gets enough credit for is what an intuitive musician he truly is. I despise the song “Your Own Worse Enemy” from ‘Magic” yet I’ll occasionally listen to it to hear the alluring organ which almost (but not quite) redeems the song. “Kitty’s Back” is a song I’ve amazingly seen many times in concert from small theaters to stadiums and aside from a few Convention Hall performances, tonight’s was about as good as it gets. Danny’s masterful fills were full of grandeur and remind us of what an integral part he is to the E Street Band, who fed off his energy and found themselves clearly in the zone not just on this particular song but throughout the whole night.
As the band reached the climactic end, Springsteen took changed the channel from “The 70’s Show” (eleven of the twelve pre-2000 songs were from this decade) for a fierce full throttle “Dancing In The Dark” which found a childlike Springsteen taking a young girl from the crowd to dance with not just once, but multiple times. As the band hit the spot with the “American Land” finale, I couldn’t help but sit back in amazement at the indefinable quality Springsteen and the E Street Band bring to their shows nightly. I’ll be the first to admit, that over the last year I have lost faith in this band. However the band reminded the crowd in Indianapolis a fundamental lesson; that when you need it, rock n’ roll will enthuse and transform. On this particular night the band proved to me they still have the goods and that they can indeed prove it every night when they want to.
After the final note had been performed Danny Federici made his final public bows to the Indianapolis crowd and at the time, I was hoping I would see him again. Sadly this was not meant to be. While he will physically never grace the stage with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band ever again, I’ll never forget the intensity, charm, wit and instinctive talents he brought to Springsteen’s music. He may be gone, but will never be forgotten. Whenever Bruce and the band hit the stage for a live performance, the Phantom will look over them like a spirit in the night that will hopefully always inspire them to greater heights.