Bruce Springsteen Plays Surprise Set at New Jersey Benefit Concert
To someone passing by the Paramount Theater in Asbury Park last night, the sight of fans standing in the freezing cold, desperately pleading with complete strangers for extra tickets probably seemed a little odd. After all, the biggest names on the bill for the Light of Day Parkinson's benefit were David Bromberg, Garland Jeffreys and Southside Johnny. They'd probably be even more shocked to learn that the face value of tickets ranged from $47 to $381, and the show sold out in seconds.
The vintage Bruce Springsteen shirts that some of the fans were wearing would be a good clue as to what was going on. Anyone who lives in New Jersey knows that anytime any artist plays anywhere near Asbury Park rumors start flying that Bruce might show up. Usually he doesn't - but the Light of Day is a different story. He's been to nearly every one since the benefit shows began in 2000, and since the concerts got upgraded from tiny clubs to the Paramount Theater a few years ago, Springsteen's presence has pretty much been a guarantee. Some fans actually travel in from Europe for the show. I imagine that they did not leave disappointed.
The night began with sets by local acts RockNRoll Chorus and Lisa Bouchelle, though I didn't get to my seat until shortly before Joe D'Urso & Stone Caravan began to play around 7:45 PM. Like many acts on the bill, D'Urso is a regional artist with a long history of playing on the Jersey Shore, but not a lot of national recognition. His energetic set featured his original composition "Noisy Guitars," which he mashed up with The Ramones' "I Wanna Be Sedated." He wrapped it up with a lovely rendition of the Steve Van Zandt-penned "All I Needed Was You," which Southside Johnny recorded on his 1991 disc Better Days.
Next up was Garland Jeffreys, a New York songwriter who cut a series of acclaimed albums in the 1970s, but never moved beyond a cult audience. His set focused on material from his new LP The King of In Between, though at the end he did break out a great cover of "96 Tears" by Question Mark & The Mysterians. "I have a special guest in from the country," Jeffreys said shortly before wrapping up his thirty minute set. "I'd like to invite him onstage…Mr. Bruce Springsteen!" The crowd instantly jumped from their seats like they'd been electrocuted, and out came a ludicrous number of cellphone cameras. Springsteen added some tasty guitar licks to Jeffreys' most famous song "Wild In The Streets," which was memorably covered by the Circle Jerks in the early 1980s. You could feel the collective sigh of relief from everyone who dropped $381 on a ticket with the (well-placed) hope that Springsteen was going to show up.
John Eddie - yet another longtime Jersey Shore rocker who never quite made it big - had the difficult task of following that up. Eddie started in the 1980s recording Springsteen-like songs (even working with the E Street Band at the behest of his label), but his recent work has shifted more toward country rock. Kid Rock covered his song "Lowlife" on his mega-hit album Rock N Roll Jesus in 2007. "For the first time in my life, my rent was paid on time," Eddie said to the crowd before playing his own rendition of the tune. Eddie deserved that windfall. He's a great performer, and his ode to alcohol "I'm Gonna Drink You Pretty" had the entire crowd laughing and singing along.
Folk icon David Bromberg was originally billed as the headliner of the show, but after the schedule was laid out he wound up playing fourth to last. He had the challenge of doing a quiet acoustic set accompanied only by a poorly-amplified trombone player to a crowd growing increasingly impatient to see Springsteen come back out. He won them over with his incredible fingerpicking, and his mash-up of "Bring It With Me When You Come" with "Wooly Bully."
After some filibustering by by the show's host, Vincent "Big Pussy" Pastore, the curtain lifted and Willie Nile and his band began a blistering set. At the risk of sounding repetitive, Nile is another critically acclaimed New York rocker who released a series of well-regarded albums in the early 1980s but never managed to reach a wide audience. His original song "Cell Phones Ringing In The Pockets of the Dead" and a great punk medley of "Blitzkrieg Bop/California Sun/Sheena Is A Punk Rocker" had the entire crowd on their feet, and just when they were about to sit down, his close friend Bruce Springsteen came out to play guitar and sing background vocals on the Nile-original "One Guitar." Nile often comes onstage at the end of Springsteen concerts, so it was nice to see Bruce return the favor.