New Jersey legend and American icon Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band brought the River tour through Portland last night in a 33-song, three hour and 15 minute concert at the Moda Center.
In recent years, Springsteen has gone through his archives to formally release previously unissued material. The Ties That Bind boxset provided a chance for fans to hear the original single-disc version of what would become Springsteen’s epic 1980 double album, The River. It also gave Springsteen the chance to closely reexamine his entire body of work from that era. For this tour, the E Street Band has played The River in full at every show.
Calmly taking the stage as a ten-piece band at approximately 8 p.m. with all of the arena’s lights on, E Street opened with an energetic take of “Meet Me In The City,” an outtake from The River. Fans in the floor section were able to shake off any remaining rain drops collected while waiting in line for hours in the stop-and-start rain.
Before beginning the River sequence, Springsteen took a moment to explain to the crowd that The River was his coming-of-age album. When he wrote it, he believed in a type of nonexistent love that required no effort and was solely based on fun. A nearly two-hour performance of the album followed.
Right off the bat, “The Ties That Bind” set a high standard for the rest of the album performance, and songs like “The River,” “Out In The Street,” “Drive All Night” and “Stolen Car” easily exceeded expectations.
Saxophonist Jake Clemons has become a focal point in the band, much like his uncle Clarence “Big Man” Clemons once was. Since the Wrecking Ball tour, Jake has gained a newfound swagger and his interactions with Springsteen feel entirely natural. Whether they’re trading solos or hopping across the stage towards each other in unison, the genuine appreciation they share for each other is obvious. Clemons has also become a stronger and more confident saxophone player, with every solo generally verging on being any song’s highlight.
For “Hungry Heart,” Springsteen let the crowd sing the entire first verse before jumping in. With a smile on his face, he walked across the arena onto a smaller stage where he sang the latter half of the song, shaking hands with as many eager fans as he could. Instead of walking around the other side of the stage and taking the stairs back up, Springsteen fell back and crowdsurfed his way back to the main stage. Arriving at an awkward angle, Clemons and guitarist Nils Lofren had to help him up, interrupting Clemons’s solo.
Towards the end of “Ramrod,” the band lined up at center stage and collectively shook their booties at the crowd. In band introductions at the end of the night, Springsteen declared them the “heart-stopping, pants-dropping, booty-shaking, Viagra-taking, legendary E Street Band” (more superlatives were tossed around, but we only needed proof of the booty shaking part).
There’s no denying The River’s greatness, but it is safe to say that most people would trade “Crush On You” for “Jungleland.” The River material allows the band a chance to take a different approach to a live show, playing songs that don’t often fit in a live performance.
The show reached a new plane of energy that never let up once Max Weinberg played the drum intro to “Badlands.” The energy stayed constant through “Thunder Road,” “Because The Night,” “Dancing In The Dark” and all the way until the show ended with a high energy cover of “Shout” that had Springsteen asking the audience, “Do you have anything left?”
The E Street band is a rare entity. On any given night, it will make you giddy; it will make you think; it will make you laugh, but most importantly, it understands the single word definition of why we go to concerts in the first place: entertainment. And entertain they do, for every moment of a three-and-a-quarter-hour concert.
“Meet Me In The City”
(The River double album played in full)
“The Promised Land”
“Because The Night”
“Born To Run”
“Dancing In The Dark”
“Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)”
“Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out”