Bruce Springsteen &The E Street Band – Phillips Arena; Atlanta, GA 03.18,12

“Are we missing anybody?!”

When Bruce Springsteen announced in January that he and his E Street Band were going to launch a world tour with a show in Atlanta (my favorite city), I immediately felt compelled to attend.

Something told me I had to be there to witness the first arena show by the band since saxophonist/percussionist/Secretary of the Brotherhood Clarence Clemmons died in July. Part of me was happy the band was releasing a new album (“Wrecking Ball”) and touring. But I also couldn’t fathom an “E Street Show” without The Big Man standing stage left, beside Bruce.

The only thing I wasn’t conflicted about was that I had to be there.

As excited as I was to be seeing this show, I really didn’t know what to expect. Why am I typing this on my iPad in my Atlanta hotel room just two hours after it’s concluded?

Because I have to get this down, just to process all of it. I’ll flesh this out and post the entire set list later this week, but these are some immediate thoughts:

Bruce and the band opened with two songs from the new record, and they sounded great. The third song in the set was “Badlands”. The song has an iconic saxophone solo. I knew it was coming, and even still, about halfway through that solo, I started to cry. It suddenly hit me. Hard. The audience wildly cheered every sax solo throughout the night, partially to reassure and welcome the multiple horn players now in The E Street Band (I won’t say they are “filling Clarence’s shoes”, because they would be the first to admit that cannot be done), and they cheered in part to honor The Big Man.

As the night progressed, the magnitude of the loss became more and more apparent.

After “Badlands” came the song “My City Of Ruins” from The Rising album. In the middle of this song, Bruce said “Roll call Max!”, and began to introduce the many members of The E Street Band.

“Damn, this wont be easy,” I said out loud After he said the names of everyone present, he then said “Are we missing anybody?”

Then again, “Are we MISSING ANYBODY?!”

[Side note: Original E Street organist Danny “The Phantom” Federici died of skin cancer in 2008, so now there are two ‘missing members’ of The E Street Band.]

Pacing the front of the stage, Bruce bellowed again “Are we MISSING ANYBODY?!!” he then stopped center stage, leaned on a mic stand and spoke as the band continued to play “My City Of Ruins” quietly.

“There is…there’s a void here tonight. The only thing I can guarantee is that…if you’re here…and we’re here, they’re here.”

True enough, Bruce.

Clarence’s nephew Jake handled the solo from “Born to Run” beautifully, and with the houselights up full blast, the moment had a very cathartic effect.

As “American Land” roared toward it’s conclusion, I thought the show was over, I sighed heavily and awaited the cue to head toward the door.

But Bruce wasn’t done. With his classic count-off, the piano intro to “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out” filled the arena. Since the lyric mentions The Big Man by name, I really thought the song would not be part of the set. And then I saw a moment I will cherish forever.

As the song moved toward that lyric, Bruce said the customary “Now, this is the important part!”, and sang “When the change was made uptown and The Big Man joined the band!”

Then the music stopped. Cold. Bruce, Steven, Max, Roy, Nils and everyone else on stage looked skyward in tribute as the entire crowd screamed, cried…whatever cathartic gesture worked for them.

After what seemed like five minutes (but it was probably only 60 seconds), Jake Clemmons took his solo moment and the song rode a wave of emotion until the final lyrical declaration:

“Oh yeah…it’s all right!”

I wasn’t sure at the outset, but by night’s end, I knew that The E Street Band will roll on, celebrating the new record and honoring the ones who are missing…but not forgotten.

Thanks for reading,