Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band: The Shamrock Shuffle E Street Style
The Bradley Center-Milwaukee, WI
March 17, 2008
Three songs into Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band’s St. Patrick’s Day show in Milwaukee, I found myself nervous I would see a solid show, albeit one where the band coasted on material they knew like the back of their hand. As the ever conventional “Lonesome Day” ended, Springsteen stood front and center and the E Street Band manically tore through the opening to “Streets of Fire”, a forgotten gem from ‘Darkness on the Edge of Town’. However, unlike some performances of the song in 2003, this time an angry jolt paired with manic hydraulics from the band made the performance not just incendiary but flat out devastating. This was one of these songs I never imaged ever seeing live, let alone having it be so unyielding and definitive. Ladies and gentlemen, this is why legions of fans travel far and wide to see Bruce Springsteen, because one never knows what magic may occur on any given night at any city in the world.
Milwaukee has always had a rich history with Bruce Springsteen from the infamous “Bomb Scare” show back in 1975 to being the second region where he played an outdoor show (Alpine Valley in 1984) to the bands explosive penultimate finale of their 2003 tour to the wondrous ‘Devils and Dust’ tour where he aired five songs from ‘Nebraska’. Milwaukee has always been the Midwest version of Philadelphia to Springsteen. I’m not sure why, but the performances always seem to be a step above the rest and the St. Patrick’s Day special was no exception. On “Streets of Fire”, Springsteen’s guitar work lit up the sky as the band oozed with determination and defiance. “Gypsy Biker”, feeding off of the energy from “Streets”, ventured into another realm on this evening with some searing guitar work by Van Zandt and Springsteen. The performance of this particular song was elevated because of what had preceded it proving that shaking things up and challenging yourselves can reap huge rewards.
The revelations continued to unfurl all night with “It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City” which found Van Zandt and Springsteen dueling once again, like gun fighters from the Wild West who faced off trading licks and riffs that congealed into a walloping crescendo. I somehow doubt this particular song was well known by more than half of those in attendance, yet somehow the crowd was there every moment of the way because of the band’s chemistry and ability to raise their game. They didn’t just persuade the crowd to life…they willed it. Even the warhorses that appeared sturdy, yet tired a few nights earlier in Omaha were more fluid and free in Milwaukee; the faithful and fervent “Prove It All Night”, the blues drenched “Reason To Believe” and the virtuosic and victory lap of “She’s The One” all hit the mark.
If this wasn’t enough, you should have felt the walls of the arena shake when the band’s burbling hydraulics took the crowd to new heights during “Cadillac Ranch”. Springsteen didn’t even need to sing as the crowd’s voices soared beyond the walls of the arena onto the chilly Milwaukee streets. The adrenaline rush was similar to the one I felt in Convention Hall back in December 2000 when my friend Paul and I witnessed the band tear into “Rosalita”, it’s one of those perfect moments you wish you could bottle for all eternity. “My Hometown” followed and was executed with a steady and sweet resonance that connected with the crowd. Springsteen was upfront where all eyes were on him as he worked hard for his money as he really tried to ensure there was continual interaction between the band and the crowd. This is something I found missing from most of the previous shows I had witnessed until the encores. Alas, tonight, he went the extra mile and was rewarded with one of the most engaging crowds I’ve ever witnessed at a Springsteen concert.
The encores found the band “loose” as they made a last minute substitution of “Loose Ends” and unlike some previous performances of this song, it was stoic and seditious tonight without any missed cues or notes. It was always how I imagined the song would sound live. Even better, the crowd stood in rapt attention and did not sit or head to the concession stands as they have in previous encores. By switching things up, Springsteen has found a more heartfelt and turbocharged set that resonates stronger with fewer ‘Magic’ songs and better overall pacing. The one-two feverish punch of “Meeting Across The River”(with a special appearance by bassist Richard Davies who played on the track) followed by the epic and exploding "Jungleland" was a sight to see. As Roy played those opening notes, Springsteen walked to the microphone with his guitar over his head in a classic pose before he delivered a classic performance that was flat out flawless.
After witnessing a few firm yet irregular shows on the tour, I will confess to being less than excited when I entered the Bradley Center. I was all too afraid I was watching the decline of a once mighty band whose better days were behind them. Alas, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band proved me wrong and liberated us from the daily grind with a show for the ages. There was more to it than just the luck of the Irish, it verified that truly great bands challenge their audiences, but also simultaneously reward them. The Milwaukee crowd ate up every serving the E Street Band delivered and screamed for more. Madison Square Garden had nothing on Milwaukee tonight and more importantly, they reaffirmed my belief in the band and gave me a reason to believe that there are still defining performances further on up the road.
Anthony Kuzminski is a Chicago based writer and his daily writings can be read at The Screen Door and can be contacted at thescreendoor AT gmail DOT com.