A fairly edited version of this post originally appeared on Backstreets.com, which you can read here.
Those setlist-watching from home may have expressed the above sentiment many a time throughout Saturday night’s barnburner of a concert at Rochester’s Blue Cross Arena, but they would have forgotten one of the cardinal rules of E Street Nation: expect the greatest shows in the most unexpected of cities. Though many just assume Bruce and the Band will deliver their best performances in the biggest markets, the smallest, most rundown dumps of venues located in oft-forgotten cities commonly bring out their absolute A game. And that’s exactly what the electric fans squished into Rochester’s tiny arena were treated to over and over and over again in yet another 34-song, three-hour and 15-minute set that included three (3!) tour premieres, including one rare outtake, one gem off their most popular album, and the return of perhaps one of the most seminal songs in their entire catalogue, ultimately rivaling Philadelphia to take the title of top show of the tour thus far.
Bruce and the band (sans Patti) took the stage in a particularly celebratory mood, and Bruce soon explained why in his introduction to The River: “Two big occasions tonight! One – Jake Clemons’ birthday. He was born in the year The River came out. So him and The River are exactly the same age.” This received a wave of laughter from the crowd and was the perfect primer for yet another fantastic performance of The River, with the band impressively locked-in given the fact that this was their fourth show in seven nights.
Though Jake has looked increasingly loose at every stop on this tour, he seemed to REALLY let it go on this his special night. The River obviously prominently features the sax, and Jake put a little extra oomph into his playing, from providing the saxual party noises for an especially rambunctious “Sherry Darling” to miming cruising in a Cadillac from his spot at the back of the stage to the front for his “Cadillac Ranch” solo. From every conceivable position – including on top of the speaker in front of Max’s drums AND on the front platform with a leg perched on the speaker in the faces of the dazzled front row crowds – the birthday boy showed why there’s only one letter separating sax and sex.
Yet he wasn’t only in the spotlight during The River; it was clear from the first song after the album that this would be a night partially dedicated to Jake when the sax-heavy, soundchecked “Night” made a welcome, jolting return to the setlist, previously being played only at the second show of the tour in Chicago. The exact shot in the arm the crowd needed after yet another morose (yet beautiful) “Wreck on the Highway,” Bruce followed that up with an equally energetic Born in the U.S.A. favorite “No Surrender.” Then things got reeeeeeeally interesting.
Feeling the crowd 100% with him, Bruce immediately grabbed a sign that caught his eye. After having been soundchecked at the previous show in Buffalo, the rare and rollicking River outtake “I Wanna Be with You” stunned the crowd in what was only the third (3rd!) performance of the song in the 21st century. Minus a mini rough start, the top-notch performance of this wholly underappreciated pop-rock tune made it feel like the song has been a tour staple. And though it may have fell on uninformed deaf ears in most cities, the faithful hordes packed into Rochester’s Blue Cross Arena greeted the song with as much enthusiasm and noise as any of the classics that preceded it.
That alone probably would have appeased the die-hard fans in attendance (and setlist watching at home), but the surprises didn’t stop there. Simply flipping the sign around, Bruce and the band returned to Born in the U.S.A. by launching into an uproarious rendition of “I’m Goin’ Down.” If “I Wanna Be with You” had a slight false start, this one had a BIG false start with Bruce incorrectly counting it off instead of correctly starting the song with the guitar riff…but they quickly ironed out the kinks and delivered an equally fantastic performance of such a rarely played jam. A dynamite performance of “Badlands” followed that put the crowd in state of euphoria, powering them through the usual stretch of “Because the Night” to “Rosalita.”
Before I get to what came next, I want to point out one thing first: remember how Bruce said that there were two big occasions worth celebrating? Well he never specified the second. Since Bruce has always shown preternatural knowledge, I’m going to say that the second occasion worth celebrating were the faithful members of E Street Nation in attendance.
It was clear from the start that this was a big home crowd for Bruce, full of masses of true die-hard fans who had made the trip to Rochester knowing how much Bruce loves playing in such an intimate room. He said as much in the encores, declaring, “This is a great building to play, actually. It’s the perfect size.” Simply put, they were with him every step of the way, from being more than happy to once again go down to The River to singing the “Badlands” chant so loudly that Bruce even had the band play a little softer just to hear the “ooooooh-oh-oh-oh-ohs” beautifully echoing off the old walls of the arena.
More than just being engaged, they were a very E Street-literate audience, always seeming to partake in the crowd participation sections without Bruce needing to ask. They even knew the right times to hold up and put down their creative “Dancing in the Dark (with Bruce)” sign requests – which he visibly enjoys reading every night – without disturbing the experience of those behind them. Tonight’s honors went to a woman who got to celebrate her 65th birthday – another birthday! – by dancing, “hey baby”-ing, guitaring, and jumping with Bruce. This was very evidently not the first show of the tour for a majority of the audience, and they were more than ready to celebrate the multiple special occasions that the night stood for. And there was still a BIG one to come…
After leaving “Rosalita” in a little café down San Diego way, Bruce made a signal to the band that’s always met with a rapturous response from a crowd: he held up ten fingers. Yes, he ended up finding a sign in the crowd afterwards that requested the tour premiere of “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out,” but given the aforementioned signal and the fact that it was soundchecked, you have to assume that he was planning to play it all along. And why wouldn’t he have? The song celebrates the event that ultimately led to Jake being able to celebrate his 36th birthday surrounded by 13,000 of his biggest fans in the most intimate arena on the tour: the creation of the E Street Band.
Though Roy massively messed up the introduction, it was everything that you could possibly want in a performance of “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out:” an extra long rev up, Bruce in full on preacher/James Brown mode, a crowd that knew every single joyous word. Tonight’s version fell somewhere between the ecstatic, congregational style of the Reunion tour performances and the reflective, memorial style of the Wrecking Ball tour performances. And given what this tour seems to be about, that feels exactly right.
Near the end of The River performance every night, Bruce says that the album is about the finite nature of time, and how throughout your life you become aware that “you walk alongside of your own morality.” In a way, “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” may be the biggest reminder of the band’s mortality in their entire catalogue of songs. Though it wasn’t accompanied by the Wrecking Ball tour’s customary pregnant pause in the show to let the crowd watch, an abbreviated version of the memorial montage from that tour was played tonight on the big screens as he sang the final verse, beginning with, “When the change was made uptown and the Big Man joined the band…”
Yet the montage was also superimposed over live shots of Bruce, who had made his way to the center platform to be surrounded by his adoring fans. Yes, this tour is very much about reflecting on the past – with Bruce reflecting throughout on the differences in perspective between his youthful River self and his current self – but this was a striking visual and musical declaration that as long as the band’s up there and we’re down here, the show will go on. Though many wondered how the E Street Band could survive after Clarence’s death, here we were still rocking three tours later. And Jake is hugely responsible for that; he’s a nightly reminder that this music will persist into the future, past the mortality of the original E Street Band members. The younger members of E Street Nation – there seemed to be an inordinate number of family’s in attendance, including multiple signs exclaiming it was their first show together – will inherit the legend of the E Street Band from crowds like Rochester’s and shows like Saturday night’s.
In a way, Bruce is in fact playing alongside of and in front of his own immortality every night in the form of Jake and these more diversely aged crowds. With the birthday boy on stage, Bruce on the center platform, and the crowd in between and all around, there were a literal lifetime’s worth of memories and songs and stories and shows contained within the room that span from now all the way back to the origins of both The River and Jake himself, some of which were captured in the montage playing on the screens. It’s safe to say that the legend of the E Street Band put forth in “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” will not fade away anytime soon.
As expected, yet still always fabulous to hear – much like this tour – the song culminated in Bruce’s usual “OOOOH YEAH…OOOOOH YEAH…OOOOOH YEAH…”
Finally, he took a pregnant pause. Everyone knew what was coming, but it didn’t matter because we knew how true the sentiment would feel on this most special and memorable of evenings. Everyone was simply reveling in the moment.
Yes it has been, yes it is, and yes it will be.
After a victory-lap performance of “Shout,” the night of celebration had to come to an end, but not before Bruce took an extra few seconds alone on stage after the band had already left to soak in the crowd’s deafening, joyful cheers one more time.
 I write that with the utmost endearment.
 With a capacity of just 13,000, it must be one of the smallest of the tour.
 Another fun anecdote that Bruce didn’t mention: Clarence was also around the same age as Jake during the original River tour.
 Perhaps to mask how old they may have felt?
 Party vibes were definitely in the air all night long – come Saturday night we let our ramrods rock, indeed!
 To the person who made that sign: Rochester loves you.
 Which featured Nils flying around the stage like a madman during his solo, potentially his best of the tour so far.
 He followed up the quote above with his usual “we want you to all come along with us down to The River tonight to see what we might find” concluding introductory remark, with the implication being this tour has been one giant occasion to celebrate its namesake album.
 Note to sign-makers: your song request is more likely to get played if the band has recently soundchecked it.
 Perhaps because it wasn’t a school night?
- Meet Me in the City
- The Ties That Bind
- Sherry Darling
- Jackson Cage
- Two Hearts
- Independence Day
- Hungry Heart
- Out in the Street
- Crush On You
- You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)
- I Wanna Marry You
- The River
- Point Blank
- Cadillac Ranch
- I’m a Rocker
- Fade Away
- Stolen Car
- The Price You Pay
- Drive All Night
- Wreck on the Highway
- No Surrender
- I Wanna Be With You
- I’m Goin’ Down
- Because the Night
- The Rising
- Thunder Road
- Born to Run
- Dancing in the Dark
- Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)
- Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out