APRIL 22, TAMPA: “BETTER GET THIS RIGHT…. SOMEBODY’S WATCHING”
And the show goes on. Eight days after their last performance, five days after the passing of Danny Federici, and just one day after the funeral service, Bruce and the E Street Band took the stage in Tampa. There was no question that they’d be honoring Danny’s memory tonight. The real question might have been, how would they do it? The answer: by acknowledging the magnitude of the loss, by embracing Danny’s contributions to the band, by tapping a deep well of emotion and playing their hearts out all night.
The night began with a film montage. Bruce and the E Streeters came out and turned to watch the screen behind Max’s drums, standing stone-still as archival footage and stills from Danny’s life (remember that long, flowing hair?) played out across it, set to “Blood Brothers.” Patti was there, too, for her first show of 2008 — the E Street Band out in full force. A spotlight, meanwhile, lit up Danny’s organ riser (where his accordion was propped, too), and remained shining on the empty station for the band’s first song of the night, “Backstreets.” Bruce gave a raw and emotional howl at the end, and as he pointed to the organ, the light faded.
After the poignant opening, Charlie Giordano came out to join the band from “Radio Nowhere” on, remaining as subtle and discreet as you could possibly imagine on this night, while doing his job and doing it well. But emotional — even emotionally draining — as it was, it wasn’t a somber occasion. This was an intense performance, with each member of the band electrified. Solos — Max on “Badlands,” Steve on “Gypsy Biker,” Roy on “Racing in the Street” (yes, they did “Racing,”) Nils on “Because the Night” — burned even brighter. And Bruce himself put it all out there, starting with a thematic setlist clearly tailored to recall Federici’s place in this band of brothers and the impact of his musicianship on Springsteen’s work.
After “Gypsy Biker,” Charlie moved over to the piano as Roy strapped on the accordion for “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy).” “We want to thank you for all your prayers and condolences,” Springseen told the crowd. “Roy, you better get this right — somebody’s watching.” Soozie and Patti offered beautiful harmonies, and it was a magical performance of “Sandy.” Bruce wiped away tears and gave Roy a kiss. “One more fairy tale,” he said, leading the band into “Growin’ Up.” That song recalled the old days in more ways than one, as Bruce began a little story during the instrumental break with that familiar phrase, “There we were…”
“There we were, on the highest hill in Flemington, New Jersey… It was a sunny, hot summer morning… and the preacher said… ‘I took month-long vacations in the stratosphere…'”
“Thank you so much for coming out tonight and helping us through,” Bruce said as they came out for the encore. And he wasn’t just talkin’: the crowd — unusually full for a postponed show — was there at every turn, giving the energy back on sing-alongs like “Badlands,” “Out in the Street,” and “Waitin’ on a Sunny Day.” For the first encore song, Bruce pulled out the premiere of an old gospel standby, “I’ll Fly Away.” This one went out to Danny, of course, and everyone came down front — even Max, on tambourine — for a rousing rendition with a Seeger Sessions feel. Bruce called it “New Jersey bluegrass.”
A few songs later, “Spirit in the Night” was setlisted, but Bruce chose to replace it with one of the only unplanned songs of the night — “Tenth Avenue Freeze-out.” It was a fine choice, recalling the formation of the legendary band that Danny Federici was a part of from the beginning, its lyrics equal parts exasperation, determination, and celebration. Teardrops on the city, yes… and tonight they busted it in half for Danny.