Television appearances are one thing, but last night we got the first real impression of what Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band will be about post-Clarence. In a 2½ hour show last night at The Apollo Theater in New York City, they went through what will probably to a large degree be the core show on the upcoming tour. The show was a special event to celebrate the 10-year-anniversary of SiriusXM Radio - the satellite-based radio syndicate that includes the all-Bruce channel, E Street Radio. Only subscribers to Sirius had access along with special invitees and the usual celebrities. In return, the whole thing was broadcast live on E Street Radio and has already found its way to public consumption through the magic of bootlegging.
The show was a mix of new material, classic Bruce songs and soul-review. The Apollo Theater being a landmark to black music, Bruce dedicated part of the show to paying tribute to some of the great names that had appeared at the theater in times past, including ending the evening with Sam Moore's "Hold On, I'm Coming".
But for many fans it was probably the new songs and how the old Bruce war horses would be treated without the presence of the Big Man that had spurred the most questions and head-scratching beforehand. Of course, Clarence Clemons' absence was not ignored. Bruce was only five songs into the show - a revived horn-driven "My City of Ruins" - when he introduced the band. The introduction ended with a call-and-response segment with Bruce asking "Who's missing?" and the crowd shouting back "Clarence!" ... and probably intertwined with a few "Danny!"'s too. As if that weren't touching enough, Bruce introduced what could become the new motto of the band: "If you are here and we are here, they are here!" and repeated the line over and over as the song reached its crescendo. Finally, towards the end of the show as "Tenth Avenue" came blasting from the stage in all its horned glory, Bruce reached the line "When the change was made uptown and the Big Man joined the band"... and then halted.... only to let the crowd erupt in cheering for a full minute.... before kicking back into the song and ending it on its usual high note. An amazing moment that one can only hope will be shared with audiences in other places during the next several months.
In place of Clarence was of course the new horn section that included Clarence's nephew Jake Clemons. He's a cool-looking young dude, dressed in leather and wearing shades, who doesn't resemble his famous uncle too much, but who nevertheless does have potential in the charisma department. His playing was excellent, and if you closed your eyes, you may not have noticed too much difference in some of those signature solos, like "Badlands" and "Waitin' on a Sunny Day".
As for the new songs from the Wrecking Ball album, they will be no exception to the rule that Bruce songs just sound better live. "Death to My Hometown" is already a highlight in many fans' minds, and "Rocky Ground", which some might predict would be difficult to recreate in a live setting, came across as a powerful manifestation of the new times on E Street, as it merged into a fresh-sounding "Land of Hope and Dreams".
Bruce himself was in fine shape and good voice. He dove into the audience during "Waitin' on a Sunny Day" and even climbed the balcony at one point in what looked like a somewhat risky endeavor. But both Bruce and balcony survived, and Bruce went on for another couple of hours blowing the roof off the place and the minds of the 1500 lucky people who were present.
See the complete setlist and check out some videos too.