A View From The Bench: Bruce Springsteen's Legacy On Wrecking Ball And Jimmy Fallon

You don't expect a legacy artist to still be able to surprise you, to put out music 40 years later that is genuinely interesting and expansive and making a good honest attempt at being relevant. Not in the "Mick Jagger getting his young minions to curate the hottest young live music acts for the Stones opening slots" kind of relevant, but in the way of giving you a record you want to listen to over and over again because it's great, not out of obligation or so that you know all the songs for when you go to see them live.

Bruce Springsteen's Wrecking Ball is surprising, innovative, and vital in a way that is both a blessing and a relief. The record is far from perfect—the production suffers in spots, which hurts a few tracks—but it's strong, with a few older songs that get remade in remarkable fashion. It's easy to pigeonhole the record as being some kind of bold new step for Springsteen when in reality all of the themes and elements brought to the forefront on Wrecking Ball have been around for years, if not decades.

But what about the live show? Even The Boss can put on a lackluster show without the right amount of rehearsal time, or put together a setlist so uninspiring that frequent fliers (like myself) decide to see the local shows and peacefully call it a day. And last year's passing of Clarence Clemons adds a mountain-sized hole to the left side of the stage.

Last Monday and Friday, with a mixture of excitement and trepidation, I attended the two shows of Late Night With Jimmy Fallon's Springsteen Week to actually feature the man himself. I had tickets for the "band bench," which surrounds the musical guest on three sides. It was a little surreal to be standing right above Roy Bittan ("Hey, Roy," I said, as though I saw him every day of my life) and to correct some idiots behind me who kept yelling "HEY MRS. SPRINGSTEEN" at Patti Scialfa, only to have her hear me, and laugh.

I am used to the E Street Band being rusty and out of practice early in the tour; many local Springsteen fans make the trek down to Convention Hall in Asbury Park to watch rehearsals. The profits go to charity, so you can forgive the shaky performance, occasional error, wrong note or missed key change. What I didn't expect to see last week, though, was a band in mid-tour form. Wrecking Ball's gospel edges gives newly expanded roles to backup singers; there is a five-piece horn section; and on Friday night they turned up with Tommy Morello in tow, and added the Roots for good measure.

This is not your mother's E Street Band. But then again, it absolutely is.

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