After seven years, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band begin their world tour tonight in Tampa. It’s been a short eternity for die-hard fans, prompting a little reminiscing about prior concerts, the good, the bad, and the ugly, and the magic inherent in the live performance of rock and roll.
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band will take the stage in Tampa this evening to officially kick off their first world tour in seven years. The Boss himself has not been idle during this period, releasing three albums, one with the aforementioned band that is almost universally known as their best since 2002’s The Rising, another solo effort that represents some of his finest overall songwriting in any era, and, most recently, an album of soul covers that clearly demonstrated his voice remains strong despite being in his eighth decade on this planet. The busy artist also transformed his memoir into a hit Broadway show, playing for over a year straight prior to the pandemic and then a special run after, what he’s described as the only real job he’s ever had in his entire life. On the business front, Mr. Springteen completed the sale of his song catalog for well over $500 million, placing his net worth close to one billion dollars, not bad for a boy from New Jersey who grew up in a house with a hole in the floor of his bedroom. He even managed to have a run in with law enforcement, having been arrested for driving while intoxicated for having the temerity to enjoy a shot of tequila with a fan before hopping on his motorcycle at Sandy Hook because apparently even rockstars can’t do that anymore in our over-policed age. At the same time, seven years without a real rock concert is an eternity for a fanatic such as myself, who has attended something on the order of 30 shows, especially after the band’s near constant touring since their reunion in the late 1990s. Anticipation is an understatement, when he will not arrive in the New York metropolitan area until April, meaning I have two more months left to wait.
Some, of course, may wonder at this level of fandom, bordering on and exceeding hero worship. After 30-some odd shows, many when he was younger and more athletic, what else is there left to see as he approaches his 74th birthday and he’s not even the oldest person in the band? I cannot answer that question directly. Given a catalog of hundreds of songs, I have no idea what he will perform outside the obvious necessities like “Born to Run,” “Thunder Road,” and “Dancing in the Dark.” A part of me hopes he will revisit the often overlooked gems from Human Touch and Lucky Town, and do a big band rework of a few songs from the more recent and acclaimed Western Stars, but ultimately it really doesn’t matter. He could pick randomly from the archive and take a few requests, as he often did during the Working on a Dream tour, and I would be satisfied. Nor am I sure what shape these senior citizens pretending to be vibrant rockstars will actually be in or whether they can live up to the legacy of marathon three and four hour shows. This is more important than the song selection, but I believe we can safely give them the benefit of the doubt. I don’t think Springsteen would be touring if he was not able to be Springsteen anymore or something reasonably close it, and I’m fairly certain the shows will be approaching at least the three hour mark, if not longer. What I care about most is magic, and the potential for magic is why these shows are so important to me and millions of other fans around the world. Simply put, you never know what might happen when thousands gather to hear their favorite artist, but you do know something will happen and, if you’re lucky, it will be a memory you carry with you for the rest of your life.
The memories themselves may be good, bad, or ugly, sometimes all three at once. There was the evening at MetLife Stadium that began on September 22, 2012 and ended at almost 2:00 in the morning on the 23rd, his 63rd birthday after a lengthy rain delay. No one was expecting anything like it. The weather throughout most of the afternoon was perfect for the last day of summer, but as we were filing into the stadium after a successful tailgate, the heavens opened up and it poured for a full hour. Tens of thousands of water-logged fans huddled anywhere they could undercover, wondering whether the show would go on in the first place, when it would go on if it did, and what a late start meant for a performance that was expected to run well over three hours. Lastly, would they keep serving beer the entire time? I can handle waiting, provided I am properly lubricated. After all, this was not the anything goes era of the 1970s or 1980s where bands did what they wanted when they wanted. MetLife Stadium is a highly regulated affair, and concerts there operate on strict schedules. Mr. Springsteen and the band finally took the stage at 10.27 PM, when most concerts are winding down already. The skies had cleared and fine weather returned, but no one had any idea whether this meant a shortened show or what might happen as we approached the midnight hour. We did know that he would celebrate a birthday and I am sure more than a few of us imagined he would be promptly chased off the stage by the staff. The first hour of the show featured a tour premiere, the unreleased “Cynthia” about a construction worker in love with a woman he’s never met, a cover of “Who’ll Stop the Rain,” the timely “Cover Me,” and a special appearance by Gary “US” Bonds, but Bruce was just warming up. Shortly after the clock struck midnight, the audience sang happy birthday and the band launched into a cover of “In the Midnight Hour,” which hadn’t been performed since 1980. More tour premieres, an epic “Jungleand,” and a birthday party continued until 1:55 AM complete with Mr. Springsteen’s aging mother on stage to sing with him.
This was not the only late Springsteen show I’ve had the pleasure of attending. There was another concert at the now defunct IZOD Center located at the same facility as Giants Stadium. For this particular show, my friends and I had the wise idea of setting up our tailgate before they started charging for parking, meaning we were in the lot around 2 PM, when it was completely empty. Little did we know that there would be a massive wreck on the New Jersey Turnpike later that evening and Springsteen himself would be stuck in traffic, because you know what rockstar doesn’t drive themselves to their own concerts? We finally stumbled into the show, and I mean stumbled badly at that point. It’s a wonder we didn’t lose anyone, though it was a close call when the youngest of our group passed out in a lawn chair for at least an hour. The Boss finally took the stage around 10.00 PM and he played as late and hard as ever. We didn’t lose anyone, but we did manage to lose the car on the way out and spent about an hour searching for it. Magic sometimes happens in the parking lot as well. In the summer of 2004, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band set up shop at Giants Stadium for 10 shows over the course of two months. I had tickets for three, the first, the last, and one in the middle. At the first show, there was a husband and wife parked nearby with a dark brown Dodge Caravan. I cannot tell you what they looked like, but they said hello to our little group and I remembered the car. What can I say, cars stand out more to me than faces?
I did not think anything of it until the last show of the stand. It was another fine night toward the end of the summer, and much to my surprise, what appears to be the very same vehicle pulls up and parks across the way while we were tailgating. Of course, alcohol was involved and I couldn’t be sure, so there I am in my lawn chair clocking this car and the couple, thinking it might well be the same husband and wife from the first show. I wouldn’t have said anything myself, but the gentleman noticed me staring and approached about fifteen minutes later, politely enough asking me what the fuck I was looking at. This being Jersey, fights have certainly started for much less, so I promptly apologized, but then explained the situation. Were they at the first show in the same car? Yes, that was us, what an amazing coincidence in a lot of upwards of 10,000 cars. Why don’t you join us then? We’re about ready to fire up the barbeque and have plenty of food. About an hour later he informs us that he receives special shipments of magic mushrooms delivered in Japanese soup straight from Amsterdam. If you are at all familiar with these fungi in the United States, you are likely aware that they grow under cow manure and certainly look like it. Pretty, they are not, dried out, gray, barely edible. Things are apparently different overseas because this guy whipped out something worthy of a gourmet restaurant. It was huge. There was color and texture, the shape of an actual cap. Would we like some, he asked?
Of course, not all Springsteen fans are as amenable too such things. It is a common refrain between me and my wife that the only fan base that welcomes the level of excitement and energy I bring to a concert is Dave Mathews. There, the louder you can scream “Daaaaaaaave” and the more substances you can consume, the bigger a hero you are. For every other artist, however, I will find a way to piss someone off given a large enough sample size of shows. Therefore, it was no surprise that towards the end of another Giants Stadium concert someone behind me was not happy as I lit up a cigarette and other prohibited substances. It was a surprise, however, that he was on crutches, and in addition to calling me a “loser” had taken to poking me with one of them. He was not directly behind me, but rather a few seats away, meaning he was leaning over unsteadily on a cast and stretching a row down simply to vent his ire at me with his crutch. Under normal circumstances, this might have prompted an angry reaction given this is Jersey and there was a large quantity of alcohol consumed by that point of the evening, but at a Springsteen concert with who would be my future wife, I promptly informed him that I don’t give the slightest shit what he thinks and went about my business. This turned out to be a positive thing because later in the evening I remember falling off the bed, and not much else, barely the ride home. I awoke around 4.30 AM in something of a panic that I’d upset the aforementioned future wife, but instead she sent me a text message informing me that she in fact had a wonderful time. I believe it was at some point around these shows, at an actual show in fact, when I told her that I loved her. Interestingly, love, or lack of it, must’ve been in the air that summer because a couple that we went to a concert with disappeared midway through and then shortly after announced that they were calling off their engagement. I guess the magic wasn’t there for them that night, nor was it for me on another occasion, back in 2000 when I was forcibly ejected from Madison Square Garden during “Secret Garden” of all songs for usage of a marijuana pipe. One would have sworn I had a gun, the way security in bright yellow swarmed and escorted me to a secret elevator. Interestingly, I met my friends afterward at Penn Station, where a drunken man saw the train schedule and spit on the sign in disgust. There was also an occasion when I attempted to pass a joint directly to cop at the Prudential Center in Newark, NJ, only to be asked what the fuck I thought I was doing with no ability to meaningfully reply.
As I said, sometimes the memories are good, bad, or ugly. Given the explosion in marijuana legalization in the two decades since, I like to tell my wife that I was a trailblazer in that regard. I could go on: There was the Shea Stadium show where I broke my glasses before taking a limo ride home. Another show at Shea where my buddy and I skipped out on a cab fare for no apparent reason, and then promptly fell over a metal barrier in New York City, then ran some more. There were road trips to Boston and Hershey, PA, but I think you get the idea: At a Springsteen show, there is the feeling that anything can happen, and this is by design. There are generally two types of artists, one who play the same setlist every night, sometimes with energy or sometimes just going through the motions. There are others, like Dave Mathews and Phish, that play an entirely different setlist every night and effectively jam through their shows, making it up as they go along. Mr. Springsteen takes a middle road. There are sequences he will perform every night with changes and adjustments throughout the tour, and then there are sequences where he and the band will improvise, playing something entirely different, even taking requests. If you go to three Bruce Springsteen concerts in a row, you are almost guaranteed to hear 15 or so completely different songs. The balance creates a tension where you have some expectation of what will come next, but cannot say for sure. This tension, along with an incredible attention to craft and musical skill, makes for a magical performance each and every time, enough that I like to joke that I invented the staycation prior to the financial crash of 2009 simply to see Bruce Springsteen. I’ve got tickets to one show so far this time around, but it will undoubtedly be three or more before the tour is done, one of which will be in Europe. Bruce is back, and as I said to my wife: If he’s playing Jersey less than an hour from us on a Friday night, do you really think we’re gonna sit around the house, doing nothing? As he sang, “There’s something happening somewhere, I just know that there is.” For the next six months anyway, there will be something happening around the United States and Europe. Get your tickets now.