Notably missing from Bruce Springsteen's Jazz Fest set in 2012 was "Thunder Road," the Born to Run album opener and a fan favorite live. But after leading a massive, New Orleans jazz-inspired horn explosion conclusion — with "When the Saints Go Marching In" and "Pay Me My Money Down" — to the E Street Band's two and a half hour set on Saturday, Springsteen and keyboardist Roy Bittan hit the familiar notes on their respective harmonica and piano. But the spectacular finale was a close mirror to 2012, which itself called back to 2006, when Springsteen and Co. headlined the first Fest after the federal floods, a performance Springsteen called one of the most memorable of his career.
Springsteen also did a lot less talking this year than in 2012. He replaced his speeches on ghosts and spirits with above-mentioned horns and guitar — particularly from the brilliant, explosive Tom Morello shredding solos into millions of pieces on stage. The Rage Against the Machine guitarist was in for longtime sideman Steven Van Zandt.
Whether it was his absence or Morello's presence, the E Street Band sounded familiar only in song choices than in its sonic force than in 2012. Morello certainly "learned how to make it talk" (sorry, had to) on "The Ghost of Tom Joad," on which he also shared vocals, with an extended searing guitar solo — affected with unplugged guitar cable, banging against his hands while still amplified, and his signature "turntable scratch" — that gave goosebumps across the Fairgrounds. It was clear Morello was going to stick around, loudly, when the band opened with the title track to Springsteen's odd-and-sods collection High Hopes, on which Morello's piercing harmonics rang out over Max Weinberg's thunderous toms in the song's opening seconds. From there, Morello largely played background to Springsteen's also excellent shredding, but when Morello stepped up to play, he turned into a giant outsizing himself as just another member of a backing band. Also, his choice of guitar art included phrases like "ARM THE HOMELESS," "SOUL POWER" and "BLACK SPARTACUS," all prominently displayed on the Acura stage's jumbotron screens.
Morello was among other special guests, including singer-songwriter Rickie Lee Jones, who sat in with Patti Scialfa on backing vocals, and Creedence Clearwater Revival's John Fogerty, who joined the band for killer takes on "Green River" and "Proud Mary." Upping the ante to 2012's Dr. John visit (which included a cover of Chris Kenner's "Something You Got"), Fogerty and Spingsteen traded licks and vocals — possibly (hopefully) a preview to Fogerty's Sunday set?
The Boss climbed through crowds to perform in the thick middle of the thousands, danced with an audience member to "Dancing in the Dark," chugged a beer, turned into James Brown for "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out" — the nearly three-hour set secured his place among one of the hardest-working, sweat-soaked performers at the Fest and beyond. Not bad for 64.
As I left the gates at Sauvage Street, I passed a sidewalk crew selling homemade "Hurricanes" while one man scribbled a quick cardboard sign for the stand — "Bruce Juice $5" — to celebrate the set.
Here's a Spotify playlist of the set (note: "Wrecking Ball" is currently unavailable on the platform).
"High Hopes," High Hopes, 2014
"Johnny 99," Nebraska, 1982
"Badlands," Darkness on the Edge of Town, 1978
"No Surrender," Born in the U.S.A., 1984
"Hungry Heart," The River, 1980
"Jesse James," We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions, 2006
"The River," The River, 1980
"How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live," We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions, 2006
"Wrecking Ball," Wrecking Ball, 2012
"Death to My Hometown," Wrecking Ball, 2012
"The Promised Land," Darkness on the Edge of Town, 1978
"O Mary Don't You Weep," We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions, 2006
"Shackled and Drawn," Wrecking Ball, 2012
"The Ghost of Tom Joad," The Ghost of Tom Joad, 1995; High Hopes, 2014
"The Rising," The Rising, 2002
"Land of Hope and Dreams," Wrecking Ball, 2012
"Green River / Proud Mary (feat. John Fogerty)"
"Born to Run," Born to Run, 1975
"Dancing in the Dark," Born in the U.S.A., 1984
"Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out," Born to Run, 1975
"When the Saints Go Marching In"
"Pay Me My Money Down," We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions, 2006
"Thunder Road," Born to Run, 1975