Live Review: The 12th Annual Stand Up For Heroes With Bruce Springsteen, Eric Church, Seth Meyers, Jon Stewart

Stand Up For Heroes
Brad Barket / Invision / AP
– Stand Up For Heroes
Patti Scialfa and Bruce Springsteen play the Hulu Theatre at Madison Square Garden in New York.

The 12th Annual Stand Up For Heroes 
The Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden
Featuring Jimmy Carr, Eric Church, Seth Meyers, Jim Gaffigan, Bruce Springsteen, Jon Stewart and Special Guests
November 5, 2018
At most benefit performances, the shout outs from the stage are at celebrities, actors, models, musicians — but at Stand Up For Heroes, the props are given to veterans, active duty military, and a former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  
This year, the yearly fundraiser for the Bob Woodruff Foundation, the charitable organization that supports post-9/11 impacted veterans, service members, their families and caregivers, featured a mix of comedy and music, with the return of Bruce Springsteen, who’s been a regular at the event since 2007, as well as Eric Church, who wrapped up his summer tour in mid-August.
The quartet of comedians offered a variety of sets around a range of subjects: Seth Meyers discussed the birth of his children; Jim Gaffigan told tales about having appendicitis while on vacation in Alaska and encounters with a bear; Jimmy Carr offered a series of fairly blue riffs on his sex life; and Jon Stewart managed to be the most topical without completely alienating an evening that firmly declared itself blue and red. 
But most of the audience shows up for the musical guests, and tonight, the screams for Eric Church out-ranked the traditional calls of “Brooooooccceeee” that usually echo through the hall. Church, sharply dressed in a brown leather jacket and matching Ray-bans, strode onstage with an acoustic guitar in hand. Responding calmly to the screams of “I love you!” with “I love you too,” he kicked off his three-song set with an energetic “Desperate Man” (from the 2018 eponymous album), pockets of the audience trying to engage in call-and-response. 
Church tried to introduce the next song by talking about a Pontiac his father owned as a child, before being interrupted by screams of approval from fans who obviously recognized the reference. 
“I grew up in a car that played hippie radio,” he said, leading into the song with the same name, also from the Desperate Man record. Despite some equipment problems, Church’s performance was warm and strong, and easily commanded the small theater. For the final number in his set, Church noted that this was a song he’d last played at a benefit for a fallen police officer, and offered a solemn version of the unreleased song “Standing Their Ground.” 
Jon Stewart came back out to vamp between sets to kill time, mostly because he wanted to introduce Bruce Springsteen — the audience was absolutely fine with waiting and the electricity was palpable as the Boss took the stage. Looking tan and rested, and not at all like a man who’s been performing on Broadway for the last year, the denim-clad Springsteen opened his set with the gently rollicking “This Hard Land,” a mildly deep cut from the mid-90’s, a beautiful tale of the American Southwest.  

Jon Stewart
Brad Barket / Invision / AP
– Jon Stewart
Stand Up For Heroes at Hulu Theatre in New York Nov. 5.
Springsteen has been appearing at the benefit since 2007, and at some point in the early years, Bruce felt the need to add some jokes to his set, given that the event is part of the New York Comedy Festival and the audience is servicemen (and women) and various veterans of the armed forces, that someone should tell a dirty joke. Tonight’s two jokes focused on a pianist whose compositions had questionable titles, and a gypsy lady with a voodoo penis. “I’m not a comedian, but I’m going to tell a joke,” Springsteen noted before delivering the first bit. “My jokes are not comedian jokes, so you’ve got to cut them a little slack.”
No sooner did we finish hearing about the pianist than Bruce introduced his wife, and Patti Scialfa joined Springsteen for his second number, their duet of “If I Should Fall Behind.” The interaction between the two was visibly warm and genuine, and they always create a lovely moment when they perform this song together. Miss Scialfa exited the stage as Bruce beckoned to the wings on the other side, and Eric Church reappeared, acoustic guitar in hand, to join Springsteen on a fantastic version of “Workin’ On The Highway” from Born In The USA. It was the perfect song to showcase Church’s country-soul voice, and brought the number back to its roots. The two clearly enjoyed every moment of the duet, trading verses, choruses, and blending harmonies with ease. 
The final number of Springsteen’s set would be a reworked version of one of his greatest hits: “Dancing In The Dark,” offered in a deconstructed, slightly dark rendition, similar to how it’s being offered in Springsteen’s nightly Broadway performances. “You can’t start a fire without a spark,” Springsteen reminded the audience, still optimistic, before waving goodbye and bringing the evening to an end.