Saturday, October 10, 2009

For Springsteen And Giants Stadium, A Last Dance

Giants Stadium heard its last sha-la-las — at least, the amplified kind with tens of thousands of voices singing along — on Friday night (October 10), when Bruce Springsteen played the final concert before the stadium is demolished.

During the three-hour set, sha-la-las filled this year’s “Working on a Dream,” the 1984 song “Darlington County” and Tom Waits’ “Jersey Girl,” the finale that Springsteen called the stadium’s “last dance.” It was his 24th performance, dating back to 1985, at Giants Stadium, where the audiences are his most fervent fans: fellow New Jerseyans.

So in a way, the Boss could identify with the place, and he did — at least half-seriously — in “Wrecking Ball,” a robust, guitar-strumming song he wrote to start off each of his five final concerts at the stadium.

It may be the only song ever to make Giants Stadium itself the narrator, “raised out of steel in the swamps of Jersey.” It remembers games played and blood spilled, and envisions the stadium’s fate, when “all this steel and these stories, they drift away to rust/and all our youth and beauty’s been given to the dust.” Typically, Springsteen was thinking about work, mortality, and a sense of place, on his way to a chorus where everyone could join in.

He wasn’t overly sentimental. Later, he pointedly called Giants Stadium “the last bastion of affordable sports seating.”

At each of the Giants Stadium concerts, Springsteen played one of his albums all the way through, and the one he chose for Friday was his 1984 blockbuster, “Born in the U.S.A.” Before he started the title track, he said it was “the song we started out with the first time we entered this arena.”

The album inaugurated Springsteen’s stadium era, when he strove to draw mass audiences, though still on his own terms. Born In The U.S.A. is an album of big riffs and broad strokes. It was also an album about home: a country (the U.S.A.), a hometown (“My Hometown”), and houses holding personal memories. And it was a paradox.

The lyrics, by and large, are about hard times and irreparable losses. Springsteen had hits with “Born In The U.S.A.,” about a neglected Vietnam veteran, and “Dancing In The Dark,” about depression with the barest glimmer of hope. Yet most of the music is celebratory, brazening through setbacks with rock and roll: theRolling Stones twang of “Darlington County,” the merry carousel-organ chords of “Glory Days,” or the rockabilly boogie of “Working on the Highway,” which ends with its narrator in prison.

The musicians who made “Born in the U.S.A.” are all still in Springsteen’s E Street Band except for keyboardist Danny Federici, who died last year. The concert had no celebrity guest performers; this was the home team.

Performing the album 25 years later, Springsteen sang with deeper nuance; he was more desperate in “Born in the U.S.A.,” angrier in “I’m Goin’ Down.” And the band has slightly bulked up the music without cluttering it. There was a seismic drum interlude by Max Weinberg in “Born in the U.S.A.,” and Nils Lofgren played frantic, searing guitar solos in “Cover Me.” The songs have not faded.

The rest of the concert spanned Springsteen’s major-label career, reaching back to “Spirit in the Night” from his 1973 debut album. It reaffirmed the band’s camaraderie; Springsteen kissed both Patti Scialfa, his wife and E Street backup singer, and Clarence Clemons, the band’s saxophonist. The set riffled through styles, from the swinging “Kitty’s Back” (with Roy Bittan splashing jazzy piano chords and Mr. Springsteen playing barbed, bluesy lead guitar), to

the Irish jig of “American Land,” to chiming anthems like “Badlands.”

There was a glimpse of politics, in “Last To Die,” and a rush of redemption in “The Rising” and “Born To Run” (which had Jay Weinberg, Max’s son and occasional E Street Band replacement, on drums.) And there was the constantly renewed bond between Mr. Springsteen and his audience. He strolled walkways where fans grabbed his legs, he picked up signs with requests — choosing “the perfect request for this evening,” the Rolling Stones song “The Last Time” — and he crowd-surfed in “Hungry Heart.” The video screens kept intercutting Springsteen and the musicians with fans singing, verses and choruses, as if to say the songs were theirs now, too.

They were songs full of hardworking people, and Springsteen’s last goodbye to his home stadium was to them: he dedicated “Jersey Girl” to “all the crew and staff that’s worked all these years at Giants Stadium.” Some had probably been singing “sha-la-la” too.