It's Boss Time!

Over the Limit, 2003-07-22, by: anonymous
After 18 years, Bruce Springsteen, Clarence Clemons, and the E-street band return to Giants Stadium to prove why they're still the best live act on earth
The last time Bruce Springsteen played Giants Stadium, Michael Jackson was still black, the Berlin Wall was still standing, and trickle-down economics sounded like it might actually work. That was in 1985, since then, the world has come a long way, but oddly enough seeing a Springsteen show is much the same.

It's taken a week to get this review together, partly because I attended the first three shows and they all sort of molded together, and partly because it's taken a week to put things into more meaningful words than... "What a great fucking show!" It's not that the experience is new, I am a veteran by concert standards, and even in the obsessive world of Boss-fans, I feel like I hold my own after seeing nearly 15 of his shows. But how does one put a truly religious experience into words?

The shows all begin innocently enough with the legendary E-Street band strolling the stage either in pairs or one-by-one, although opening night began with Bruce doing a solo-acoustic version of Born in the U.S.A. From there, the next three hours are all "Boss Time" as Little Steven announces during one mid-song moment. And when I say three hours, I mean a full three hours, Bruce himself leaves the stage for all of 30 seconds in between the main set and the encores.

The first hour is a healthy mix of new and old, featuring choice cuts off his latest album including The Rising, Lonesome Day, World's Apart, Empty Sky, and Waitin' on a Sunny Day. Casual observer fans will be satisfied, because unlike so many long-lasting acts, Springsteen still plays his hits. You will hear Born to Run, Badlands, Thunder Road, Dancin' in the Dark, etc., and a mix of the radio-friendly songs off earlier albums.

But for the true fans, the diehard magic Jersey rats, the real experience lays in hearing the rarities... each night the 25-plus song setlist changes, so no two shows are identical, and each night a handful of gems makes their way to the stage. These are the b-sides, the mid-album hidden jewels, and the beloved songs that never get airplay... Something in the Night, Jackson Cage, She's the One, Candy's Room, Growin' Up, Sherry Darlin', Racin' in the Streets, Night, etc. The unbelievable things it that people go back night after night for no other reason than to hear these few rarely played tracks. And then there's the closing number... the rarely played, but most beloved of all... Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)... the excitement that runs through the crowd when the first notes are played is electric.

What makes the show so special? For one, the audience is a part of the show. Of the 70,000 people at the show, everyone left with a hoarse voice from singing, sore hands from clapping, and a dislocated shoulder from throwing their fists in the air. Then there's the E-Street Band... a cast of characters with nicknames that you'd more likely find in a comic book.... "Phantom" Danny Federici, "Mighty" Max Weinberg, "Little" Steven Van Zandt, "The Professor" Roy Bittan, and of course.... "The Big Man" Clarence Clemons... who Springsteen has dubbed The Emperor of New Jersey... and what Jersey native would argue? Each time Clarence is announced, steps to the stage, or plays his sax in the middle of a song, the crowd goes wild. Springsteen and the band provide antics on stage, joke back and forth, and spend a full night keeping the crowd going up and down like it was a roller coaster instead of a rock concert.

It's hard to put into words the feeling of being at a Springsteen show like these stadium gigs. It's not just seeing a show, it's an experience, and the plain truth is that you will not find a better live act in the world. There's no frills... no stage shows... no lasers... no special lights... just a man and his band playing hard and pouring themselves out on stage hour after hour, leaving the crowd almost exhausted as they must be.

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2003-07-15 Giants Stadium, East Rutherford, NJ