April 14, 2012
Some 30 months ago, when Bruce Springsteen last played in Buffalo and wrapped up his latest tour, some were pondering the end of the E Street Band. And that was before Clarence Clemons, the much-beloved "Big Man", passed away, only adding to the sense of possible finality.
Alas, there we all were again Friday night, at First Niagara Center, singing along and dancing and screaming Bruuuuuuuce as if nothing had ever changed.
True, Bruce has a larger band now - more horns, mostly. Also, unlike so many older rock stars, he isn't afraid to integrate large chunks of his new material into the program, as half the Wrecking Ball tracks get an airing. They're such memorable songs, though, and belong in the canon.
Still, it was impossible to ignore the one who wasn't there. During the prolonged "My City of Ruins", Bruce called out his band members, and notes that some are missing. He let us know, though, that "if we're here, and you're here, then they're here". So true.
No doubt, you wonder how Clarence's nephew, Jake Clemons, handles the sax. Beautifully, my friend, nailing all the key notes on all the key songs and taking an active role in the mid-show soul medley where the Temptations and Wilson Pickett get their just due and, yes, Bruce crowd-surfed.
He's 62, folks. Think about that. At a time when it's so easy and understandable to coast, Bruce lives, and performs, like he's afraid he'll go back to Asbury Park and work the factories like his daddy done. The passion, the emotion, the urgency - he brings it, you feel it, and you can't help but smile, laugh, maybe cry, and yes, yell Bruuuuuuuuce again.
It never lets up, right through the multiple encores. There's the newer and poignant "Rocky Ground", a trip to the past with the super-funky "Ramrod". Then birthday boy Max Weinberg strikes up the drums for "Born to Run", the house lights go up and the place is absolutely up for grabs for the national anthem, and stays that way through "Dancing In the Dark", which sounds better now than it did half a Bruce lifetime ago.
One more song, though, one more trip through the crowd, and this is the important part - when the change was made uptown and the Big Man joined the band. The music stops, the roar goes on for two full minutes. It was a perfect end to a perfect night.