As soon as Springsteen took the stage, it was clear that this would be no ordinary show. Motioning a stagehand to take away a microphone stand that had been placed on a platform in the audience, Springsteen huddled with his band for the evening’s first audible. Not surprisingly, the E Street Band launched into “Seeds” as the opening song. The tale of an unemployed father in Houston set the tone for the evening with Springsteen looking determined as he performed two blistering guitar solos during the song. The intensity carried over into “High Hopes,” with Tom Morello delivering a ferocious guitar solo with his teeth. The raging blue-collar anthems continued with “Badlands” as Jake Clemons received a huge roar from the crowd for his saxophone solo.
Springsteen then collected song request signs from the pit….and boy, did Houston fans know what to suggest. First up, was a scorching version of “Adam Raised a Cain,” which had Springsteen again delivering a fierce guitar solo. Next was “She’s the One” which had Springsteen thrusting his hips into his guitar for added sensual emphasis.
Then came the first surprise of the evening…make that shocker of the evening. Springsteen held up a sign for “One Step Up.” The poster featured a huge black and white photo of Bruce and Patti Scialfa from the Tunnel of Love tour. “This song hasn’t been played since June 21, 1988,” Springsteen read. What followed was a hauntingly beautiful version of the song that worked on so many levels. Taking a break from the “man against the world” themes, this song presented the ultimate struggle of all…man against his own heart. On the Tunnel of Love tour, Springsteen and Scialfa would slowly walk away from one another at the end of the song to add emphasis to the despair being felt by the characters. On this night, however, Springsteen motioned Scialfa to join him center stage where the two stayed intimately close to one another for the ending of the song. It was a truly tender moment.
Springsteen and the E Street Band then treated fans to a taste of their New Orleans jazz party with “Jesse James.” The song featured frolicking banjo work by Nils Lofgren, and wonderful solos by the horn section. The tune was followed by “How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live,” another song from Springsteen’s Pete Seeger sessions.
Following “Wrecking Ball,””Death to My Hometown” and “Night,” Springsteen spotted a sign in the pit that he couldn’t ignore. Ordering fans to bring it his way, Springsteen revealed the sign for all to see…”I busted my little brother out of class to sing ‘No Surrender’ tonight.” Before launching into the song, Springsteen invited the teenaged brothers onto the stage for what has to be one of the best all-time kid moments at a Springsteen concert. The boys were in such awe of the moment that they went across the entire stage shaking hands with band members. They weren’t doing it in a cheesy way, but in a genuine all-out admirable way. As the band performed “No Surrender,” the boys sang along to every note, pumping their fists and encouraging the crowd to join in. As the crowd roared with delight, the boys obviously enjoyed their five minutes of fame, and then some.
The sign requests continued, and Bruce played a lot more than usual including “Backstreets” and “Downbound Train.” Then came a song that Springsteen said they had never played live before because nobody liked it…”All or Nothin’ at All” from the critically panned album Human Touch. Contrary to Springsteen’s belief, the crowd appeared to love the song. Afterwards, Springsteen repeated, “It’s a sleeper! It’s a sleeper!”
Closing out the main set was a blistering version of “Light of Day” which featured a crowd pleasing solo battle between Lofgren on guitar and Max Weinberg on drums.
Just when you thought the energy level had reached maximum intensity, Springsteen brought out Texas singer Joe Ely for rockin’ versions of “Great Balls of Fire” and “Lucille.” But the show was far from over. Following “Born to Run” was “Rosalita” and an electrifying version of “Dancing in the Dark.” By the time the band had finished “Shout,” the only people not standing were probably the ones who had collapsed from sheer exhaustion.
As the E Street Band left the stage, Springsteen returned with an acoustic guitar. Thanking the Houston fans for their loyalty over the last forty years, Springsteen performed a captivating, acoustic version of “Thunder Road.” Aside from the sing along parts, you could practically hear a pin drop.
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band’s performance Tuesday night in The Woodlands was captivating, enthralling and exhausting. For three hours, The Boss displayed the everlasting, eternal power of ass-kicking rock ‘n’ roll.
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