Article 2012-03-09 Apollo Theater, New York City, NY

The Boss Pays Tribute to Soul, and Rocks the Apollo, Too

Bruce Springsteen thrilled a crowd of V.I.P.’s at the Apollo Theater in Harlem on Friday night, stomping through the angry folk-rock tunes from his new album, giving the crowd muscular versions of hits from his early career and doing a few soul tunes to honor the place where he was standing.

It was a powerhouse two-and-a-half hour performance during which Mr. Springsteen played myriad roles: sometimes he seemed like a gospel preacher trying to raise up his audience in spirit, other times he slipped into an oddly compelling imitation of a 1960s soul singer and at other moments he adopted his hard-bitten folk-singer persona, singing about the plight of the working class.

And yet when he played oldies from his early years — like “Thunder Road,” “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out,” “Badlands” and “The E Street Shuffle” — it was possible to forget all those later Springsteens, and remember the scruffy youth in a T-shirt who invented a shuffling, soul-soaked, rebellious rock on the Jersey Shore in the 1970s. During these songs, the crowd – which seemed heavily weighted toward people who were young in the 1970s and 1980s – responded with cheers, sang the lyrics and filled the aisles to dance.

The concert was sponsored by Sirius XM, the satellite radio network, to commemorate its 10th anniversary and was broadcast on a channel devoted to Mr. Springsteen’s oeuvre. Some of the people in the audience won tickets through a promotion on the radio network, but others were invited guests. The celebrities in attendance included Harry Belafonte, Elvis Costello, Michael J. Fox, Michael Douglas and John McEnroe.

The show was the first time Mr. Springsteen and the E Street Band had played a full concert at the Apollo, though Mr. Springsteen appeared there alone to tape a television show with Mr. Costello.

“When we played here, neither of us wanted to stand in the center of the stage,” Mr. Costello recalled just before the show. “Right in the center, that’s hallowed ground.”

Mr. Springsteen stood squarely in that hallowed place when he took the stage minutes later. He started off by delivering a comic introduction for himself, imitating the hyperbole of announcers at the Apollo while the 16-member band behind him vamped on a soul riff. “Welcome to the Apollo,” he said. “I would like to introduce to you a young man who was born in the U.S.A.” Then he called himself “the hardest working white man in show business.”

The band launched into “We Take Care of Our Own,” a hard-rocking protest song about what he sees as the lack of compassion in America. It is the lead-off track on Mr. Springsteen’s new album – “Wrecking Ball” — released last Tuesday on Columbia Records.

But only about half the set – 8 of the 19 songs he performed – was from the new album. He also played three songs from his 2002 album “The Rising” and one song off his acoustic 1982 album “Nebraska.” The rest were soul covers or his famous hits from the mid-1970s.

While introducing the band during “My City of Ruins,” Mr. Springsteen coaxed the crowd to applaud for several minutes for a missing member: Clarence Clemons, the saxophonist who died last summer. Replacing him was his nephew Jake Clemons, who acquitted himself well on several solos.

About halfway through the show, Mr. Springsteen paid homage to the Apollo, a 1,526-seat mecca where every major R&B and soul singer has come to prove themselves since the 1930s. The Boss assembled the singers in his band at center stage to start up a rich a cappella intro to Smokey Robinson’s “The Way You Do the Things You Do” while he rhapsodized about what soul music meant to him.

“If you played in a bar on the central New Jersey shore in the ’60s and ’70s, you played soul music,” he began. “Motown. Atlantic. Stax. These are the labels whose very names held power and mystery for us when we were young.”

“We knew that way off in some never-never land of rhythm and blues there was a place called the Apollo,” he went on. “It was the home of the gods and the true temple of soul.”

He said while he and his band mates were learning their craft in VFW halls and high school gyms in New Jersey “all the men and women who worked on this stage were our teachers and our masters and they schooled us.”

He said he had learned about religion from Aretha Franklin and got his sex education from Marvin Gaye. “And of course there was the poetry, the poetry, the poetry of Smokey Robinson,” he concluded before segueing into the song. Not only did the E Street Band do a stirring version of “The Way You Do the Things You Do” (with six voices singing close harmony) but they capped it with “634-5789,” the tune made famous by Wilson Pickett 1966.

Mr. Springsteen, who is 62, sang the lead parts of those songs while wading into the audience, climbing up on a balcony and dancing on a lighting truss protruding from the mezzanine above the crowd. He climbed down another lighting truss to clamber back to the stage.

The exuberance of the soul medley contrasted sharply with the heavy folk beat, gloomy lyrics and gallows humor of some of the new songs. “Death to My Hometown,” which sounds like a drinking song at an Irish wake, describes the destruction unscrupulous bankers and business leaders can visit on a community. “Shackled and Drawn” is a thumping work song about income inequality.

But Mr. Springsteen is nothing if not an energetic performer, and he rocked the house into a frenzy even when his message was grim.

Mr. Springsteen kept his political comments to a minimum, letting the protest songs speak for themselves. But introducing “Mansion on the Hill,” he talked about writing it during the “Carter recession” and added that the gap between rich and poor had only widened since then. ““On our new records our motto is dancing and crying,” he said. “This one is just crying.”

Then he sang the plaintive verses about a working-class man living in the shadow of “that mansion on the hill.” Patti Scialfa, his wife, sang an upper harmony while he finger-picked an acoustic guitar. The harmonies were shaky at first but as the song progressed they fell in tune, face to face, inches apart. At the end he kissed her.

“And that’s how the whole (expletive) thing started,” he said.


For Bruce Springsteen fans, here is the setlist:

1. We Take Care of Our Own (2012)
2. Wrecking Ball (2012)
3. Badlands (1978)
4. Death to My Hometown (2012)
5. My City of Ruins (2002)
6. The E Street Shuffle (1973)
7. Jack of All Trades (2012)
8. Shackled and Drawn (2012)
9. Waiting on a Sunny Day (2002)
10. Promised Land (1978)
11. Mansion on the Hill (1982)
12. The Way You Do the Things You Do (1964) by Smokey Robinson and Bobby Rogers, recorded by The Temptations.
13. 634-5789 (1966) by Eddie Floyd and Steve Cropper, recorded by Wilson Pickett.
14. The Rising (2002)
15. We Are Alive (2012)
16. Thunder Road (1975)
17. Rocky Ground (2012)
18. Land of Hope and Dreams (2012)
19. Tenth Avenue Freeze Out (1975)

By James C. McKinley Jr. via The New York Times.

Bruce Springsteen Kicks Off 2012 Tour at New York’s Apollo Theater

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band’s concert at New York’s Apollo Theater was an evening of firsts. It was the first show they’ve played in support of Springsteen’s new LP Wrecking Ball, their first show in well over two years, their first show with a newly assembled five-piece horn section, their first show since adding an extra percussionist to the band and their first show at the legendary soul venue. But one first hovered above all the rest: it was their first ever show without Clarence Clemons. “We’re missing a few people tonight,” Springsteen said early on. “But if you’re here, and we are here, they are here.”

The concert was also the first opportunity for Springsteen fans to check out Clarence’s nephew Jake Clemons, who now splits sax duties with Ed Manion. Jake (destined to be known as the Little Big Man) stayed in the back with the horn section during the first two songs, but when the group kicked into “Badlands,” he moved his way up to play his uncle’s famous solo. It was a big moment, a real passing of the torch, and he absolutely nailed it.

The concert was held to celebrate the 10th anniversary of SiriusXM satellite radio. Only a fraction of the tickets were distributed to the public, and it was a mob scene outside. Die-hard fans held up signs desperately seeking tickets, and paparazzi and autograph seekers aggressively chased down the celebrity guests. The lucky few inside took advantage of the open bar and hors d’oeuvres and gawked at Ben Stiller, Christine Taylor, Elvis Costello, Paul Rudd, John McEnroe, Chad Smith, Steve Earle, Gary “Baba Booey” Dell’Abate and many other big names as they waited for the show (which was broadcast live on SiriusXM) to begin.

The concert started with each member of the E Street Band taking the stage one by one as they touched the famous Apollo Theater tree stump for good luck. They opened up with new tracks “We Take Care Of Our Own” and “Wrecking Ball.” The group has been rehearsing in New Jersey for a couple of months, and their hard work has clearly paid off. Nobody sounded rusty, even though this was the first time many of the songs have been played in public.

When Springsteen began calling his backing group the E Street Band in 1974, it consisted of a mere five people. That number has now swelled to sixteen, and at times it sounds like a cross between the old E Street Band, the Seeger Sessions Band and, to a slightly lesser extent, Arcade Fire. This new iteration of the group allows Springsteen to create lush new arrangements of old material, such as the gospel-infused “My City of Ruins” he played early on at this show, or a cover of the Temptations’ “The Way You Do The Thing You Do” featuring a chorus of backup singers. Some Springsteen purists may bemoan all the changes, but the last couple of albums have made it quite clear that Bruce has moved far from the sound of his Greetings From Asbury Park days.

For the first time in memory at an E Street Band show, Springsteen did not perform “Born To Run.” In fact, the only real hits he brought out were “Thunder Road,” “Badlands” and “The Promised Land.” The rest of the show set mixed in new songs (“Jack of All Trades,” “Shackled And Drawn”) with soul covers (“Hold On, I’m Comin'”), deep cuts (a mind-blowing “E Street Shuffle” and a tender “Mansion On The Hill”) and concert staples (“Waiting On A Sunny Day,” “The Rising”). For “Rocky Ground,” he brought out gospel singer Michelle Moore to reprise her rap from the album. It was a risky move for Springsteen to include such a thing on the disc, but Moore made it work – and it sounded almost better live.

The MVP of the evening was Jake Clemons. He’s filling very, very large shoes, but he didn’t seem to have any opening night jitters. He pitched in on back-up vocals during the soul covers, and even played a large drum during “We Are Alive.” It’ll be interesting to see how his role in the band evolves as the tour goes on – but it’s quite clear that Springsteen made a very wise choice in keeping the sax in the Clemons family.

The second to last song of the night was “10th Avenue Freeze Out.” The song is (at least loosely) about the formation of the E Street Band. When it came time for Bruce to sing “the change was made uptown and the Big Man joined the band,” the music stopped cold. Springsteen held the mic out to the audience and let us sing it, encouraging everyone to yell out Clarence’s name over and over. This could have been a very sad moment, but Springsteen made it absolutely exuberant – which is exactly how Clarence would have wanted it.

By Andy Greene via Rolling Stone.
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