Saturday, March 08, 2008

The Boss in Buffalo

It seemed only fair that Bruce Springsteen opened his Buffalo show on on March 7 with "The Ties That Bind," and not just because he played the same song to open the show in HSBC Arena in 1999. Springsteen has plenty of connections to Buffalo that date back decades.

In the early 1970's, Springsteen made a few appearances in the Buffalo area. He made a connection to the late Jerry Nathan, who promoted concerts under the name of "Festival East" back then. Springsteen was starting to bust out of being a New York City favorite at that point, and Springsteen never forgot Nathan's generosity. So he always tried, and tries, to come back here when he's touring.

Springsteen's most memorable appearance might have been in 1977. He played Kleinhans Music Hall in February, 1977 -- right after the famous Blizzard of '77. In fact, it was the night the driving ban was lifted. The Boss said this trip that he remembered how stir crazy everyone was after a couple of weeks of being locked up in the house.

More than a year later, Springsteen made his most important visit to Buffalo in a sense. His legal troubles with Mike Appel were settled, and he had finally been able to release a sequel to "Born to Run" called "Darkness on the Edge of Town." Under the circumstances, it might have been his biggest show since he played before music company executives in New York a few years before that to justify his contract. America's top music critics came to Shea's Buffalo Theater to see how rock and roll future would do in the present. The verdict: just fine ... even if Springsteen did need to bring the lyrics to "Tenth Avenue Freezeout" out on stage during the encore.

Springsteen played Memorial Auditorium a couple of times after that, including one September night that was so hot in the building (no air conditioning, of course) that the handrails on the stairs seemed to be perspiring. He also celebrated a birthday here, as the touring group took over a skating rink in Cheektowaga for the party. An eyewitness said Bruce mostly stayed in the corner with a female accomplice.

Bruce's current accomplice was back in New Jersey this time watching their three teenagers, but the band still put on a fine show -- the best, according to an informal poll of three veterans sitting in a bar afterwards, since the group returned in 1999. A few other notes about the 2008 performance:

* Clarence Clemons is said to be having a few health problems, and he didn't have much byplay with the rest of the band. The Big Man certainly came through on sax as usual though.

* Garry Tallent was placed on risers near drummer Max Weinberg, which was unexpected. He's always been down with the guitars. Might have been getting crowded down there.

* Nicest surprise of the night was hearing the "Detroit Medley" for the first time in 25 years or so.

Springsteen acted like he was having a great time in Buffalo again. Or else he just didn't want to go outside into the snow anytime soon. A near-sellout crowd knew the feeling.

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