RED BANK, N.J. -- Bruce Springsteen may be the Boss. But he's also clearly the King to many rock fans today.
Consider this: At one point between songs at Saturday night's benefit concert for a slain Long Branch, N.J., police sergeant, a technician appeared from behind stage and placed a red robe on Springsteen's back. But the Boss wasn't ready to wear the cape, not yet at least.
Instead, the folk-rock legend took it off and playfully placed it on his original guitarist and band leader, Little Steven Van Zandt who then placed it on local rocker and event co-organizer Jon Bon Jovi, each deeming the next more worthy to wear the "king of rock 'n' roll" garb. Eventually, locally raised actor/comedian Danny DeVito, who emceed the evening, tried to wear it offstage, only to be stopped by the towering E Street Band saxophonist Clarence Clemons, who wore it as he strode offstage.
But there was no escaping it. Within seconds, Springsteen had the cape back on, darting across stage with the rest of the stars following in fast pursuit. In the world of New Jersey rock, or any rock for that matter, the moment seemed strangely symbolic.
"Jon Bon Jovi and Friends Come Together," a benefit concert that raised $112,000 for the family of slain Long Branch Police Sergeant Patrick King, was held at the Count Basie Theater. It is a date that instantly became legendary for the New Jersey Shore music scene and the die-hard fans that follow it.
Organized by Bon Jovi in conjunction with the Long Branch Police Department, the Asbury Park Press and FPI Concerts, the bulk of the audience was composed of Springsteen fans lucky enough to land highly sought-after tickets.
Although the Boss has popped up occasionally to play in local bars, most
recently a few weeks ago at the nearby "Cheers" with rocker Joe Grushecky, it has been more than two years since he has done a full-length, electric-guitar set.
Last May, Springsteen finished up his successful but somber Ghost of Tom Joad tour, on which he mostly played acoustically and solo.
This night, however, featured a joyous reunion with key members of Springsteen's E Street Band -- including guitarist Van Zandt, saxophonist Clemons, keyboardist Danny Federici and drummer Max Weinberg, joining Springsteen onstage for some of his most memorable songs -- including "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out," "Promised Land," "Two Hearts," "Bobby Jean," "Backstreets" and "Badlands."
At 8 p.m., the house lights dimmed and the audience was greeted by the master of ceremonies, DeVito, who asked, "Are you ready? What's coming on tonight will knock your socks off." The all-star band then began the show with a Southside Johnny tune, "This Time It's For Real," and was met with thunderous applause and cheers. It was the first of many ovations on this evening of blue-collar, Jersey Shore rock 'n' roll at its best.
Longtime Springsteen fan and video-archivist Rich Russo, 30, of Winfield
Park, N.J., noted that during the entire Ghost of Tom Joad tour, Springsteen played nothing off his classic Born to Run album. On Saturday, fans feasted their ears on some of the album's best cuts, including the classic "Born To Run" (RealAudio excerpt) and "Thunder Road." "Initially [Springsteen] didn't want to be the focal point of the evening, which was held to benefit King's family, but as the night wore on he loosened up and put on a vintage performance, drawing on the crowd's energy," Russo said. "He was clearly having a great time up there."
Springsteen -- who over the years has changed his look from skinny greaser
to blue jeans/T-shirt-wearing, muscled mid-'80s rock icon to most recently a
goateed farmer-character straight out of author John Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath" -- again surprised his fans by wearing a raspberry beret, dark,
pinstriped dress pants and a black T-shirt. His goatee was gone, too,
leaving only a patch of hair under his lip.
Regardless of what he looked like, the Boss gave the audience what it has been
craving for years: a full-blown rock 'n' roll show with attitude, reminiscent of the old Jersey Shore scene of the '70s and early '80s. "I don't think anyone before tonight could have dreamed up this incredible lineup of Jersey musicians," said Sheila Myers, 37, of Long Branch.
ARTISTS SHARE SONGS
At any given time, audience members were treated to Bon Jovi sharing a
microphone with Springsteen, DeVito banging a tambourine, Bon Jovi guitarist Richie Sambora trading guitar licks with Van Zandt or Clemons blowing his saxophone with abandon. While the artists performed their own songs, many tunes were shared among the singers, as was the case when Bon Jovi joined Springsteen for "10th Avenue Freezeout," and the Boss returned the favor on Bon Jovi's "Wanted Dead or Alive" and "You Give Love a Bad Name."
Priced at $125 each, tickets for the event sold out almost instantly, creating an
added feeling of exclusivity in the 1,400-seat theater. Many area
radio-stations had acquired tickets and auctioned them off during the week
leading up to the concert, with proceeds going to the memorial fund. Right
before showtime, Matt Peters, 32, of Clifton, N.J., laid down $500 to get in the door in time for the fourth song of the night. "That was as high as I could go, and even though I'll be paying it off for months it was worth every cent."
In addition to a reunion of the E Street boys, Bon Jovi reunited with drummer Tico Torres, guitarist Sambora and keyboardist Dave Bryan after having recently completed a solo mini-tour along with Bobby Bandiera, an accomplished Jersey Shore songwriter/guitarist also on the bill that night. Bon Jovi thrilled the crowd with hits such as "Bad Medicine," "Living on a Prayer," "Someday I'll Be Saturday Night" and "You Give Love a Bad Name."
Sambora also debuted a new song called "Hard Times Come Easy" off his
upcoming solo album.
LOCAL CAUSES BENEFIT
Having made the cause of the common man as much a part of their music as youth and rebellion, Springsteen and Bon Jovi proved once again that they have not forgotten their roots. Much of their work to help fight disease, poverty and misfortune has benefited local causes. During Springsteen's Ghost of Tom Joad tour, all the proceeds from souvenir merchandise in each city went to local food banks or shelters.
Jon Cavanna, 39, of Freehold, N.J., said he hopes this combined effort from Springsteen and Bon Jovi leads to bigger things. "I'd like this to lead to a tour, like something similar to the Elton John and Billy Joel tour a few years back. Their voices meshed really well tonight and I'd love to see them explore this further."
Springsteen, who has penned several songs for Southside Johnny, joined
him for a burning version of his song, "The Fever," one of Southside's more popular
tunes, also recorded but never officially released by the Boss. Other musicians taking part in the night's music were Everett Bradley, Jerry Cohen, Richie LaBamba, Eddie Manion, Hugh McDonald, Shawn Pelton, Mark Pendern and Joey Stann.
But as the show headed near its third hour, it was Springsteen who almost
brought the house down, literally, with a rocking rendition of perhaps his most popular classic, "Born To Run," that seemed to cause paint chips from the old theater to flutter down from the ceiling.
'WORTH' ADMISSION PRICE
Soon after the band finished a cover of John Fogerty's "Rockin' All Over the World,"
Springsteen began the famous harmonica-intro to "Thunder Road,"
later handing the harmonica to a fan in the front row. The crowd sang the first verse of the song before the Boss and Southside Johnny; Bon Jovi and Springsteen shared the remainder. The rockers then gathered at the lip of the stage for a farewell bow. "Not only am I sure this is worth the price of admission, but you guys are really doing a good deed tonight," Bon Jovi said.
Officer King was slain Nov. 20 by a fugitive wanted in connection with a stabbing in Massachusetts. A 45-year-old father of two young boys, King was
the most highly decorated officer in the history of the Long Branch Police Department. He served with the department for more than 21 years.
Donations to the Pat King Memorial Family Fund may be sent to the Long Branch Police Department, c/o Capt. Kenneth Walker, 344 Broadway, Long Branch, N.J. 07740. [Mon., Feb. 2, 1998, 5:30 p.m.