I was lucky enough to get tickets for Smart Wife and myself to see Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band in Charleston last night. She'd never seen Bruce play, and we had an opportunity to leave the young'uns with her cousins, so I lobbied hard for two tickets and was able to get them. SW and I don't get a lot of one-on-one time these days, with me being on the road for the last two months. Suffice it to say, she was very excited for this chance to go out for some music with me.
We got to our seats, which were about twenty feet from stage left and set about watching the people around us. Obviously a high concentration of every vintage Springsteen tour shirts on folks in the crowd were evident, along with some interesting homemade ones (a pink tank top on an older woman proclaiming incompletely "Tramps Like Us"--or maybe the thought was complete at that). The average age was probably around forty; lots of greying balding guys and their wives, with a few families with kids thrown in.
Makes sense considering Bruce has been making records since 1973--I was envsioning Mom and Dad telling Junior that he was coming to the show, that it would be a coming-of-age event for him, that his life would change like theirs did when they discovered Bruce Springsteen themselves decades ago. Junior, who'd probably rather have been playing GuitarHero with his friends, sighs, agrees to don the ancient shirt and accompany them grudgingly.
Well, Junior got his ears opened last night. Whether he takes it to heart will depend on his own character development, but it was not from the artist's lack of effort towards that end.
Starting with an amazing version of the Swingin' Medallions' "Double Shot of My Baby's Love" as a tribute to Carolina beach music, Bruce and the band roared through about three hours' worth of songs with nary a dip in the energy level. From "Spirit in the Night" to "Radio Nowhere" we were given ample proof of Springsteen's depth and his massive catalog's staying power. Songs I'd plum forgotten about, like "She's the One", and ones I barely knew, like "Mary's Place", stormed through the Coliseum intermingled with hits like "Badlands" and "Hungry Heart" with most everyone singing along to at least parts of each song.
The E Street Band is what a rock band is supposed to be like, I think. They have played together for so long, that even when it looked like Max Weinberg kept one song going longer than planned, the rest of the musicians rolled with it, they didn't panic and the song didn't fall apart. It's a huge glorious racket coming from the PA when the whole ensemble is playing, which is for most of the set's length. Two keyboards (both bald and bespectacled, how interesting). Four guitars. Lots of singers behind Bruce. Big bass from Gary Tallent, and of course, the enormity of the Weinberg kit in action.
My favorite moment was probably Nils Lofgren's rhapsodic and gymnastic solo on "Because the Night". I've loved Nils since I heard "White Lies" by Grin on a Columbia Records sampler sometime in the early 1970's. From there, I obsessed over his first solo album on A&M and "Beggar's Day" on the first Crazy Horse album. When I saw the E Street Band in New Jersey during the Born in the U.S.A. tour, Nils was still doing flips on his mini-trampoline. Tonight, he looked slim and fit, moving between rhythm parts and harmonic leads, but the mini-tramp was nowhere to be found (there was a pedal steel lurking behind him, but he only played slide on his Stratocaster on "The Rising" best as I could tell). Nils is a treasure, and his playing stands out among his virtuosi bandmates. He helped erase for me whatever memories of damage done to the song in a subsequent cover version (and I don't mean Patti's.)
Charlie Giordano has filled the position left by the death of Danny Federici who died in April. Charlie played with Pat Benatar for many years, and he'd done the Seeger Sessions with Bruce before the E Street Band reconvened. It's got to be the toughest job in the band to try to blend in as well as Danny, who was a charter member, but Charlie's a fine player and his solos were confident and in the right zone. I was rooting for him all night long.
It was cool to watch Bruce and Steve Van Zandt share a microphone, and when it flashed on the big screen above the band, you could see the two old friends, matched like a pair of shoes, still harmonizing perfectly after so many years.
Bruce Springsteen is so comfortable onstage. He and the band look happy to be there. He's down at the front apron of the stage, holding hands, singing into kids' eyes, generally connecting on a very personal level throughout the show. I suspect that there are a lot of performers who'd be wiping themselves down with antibacterial soap between songs if they ever had to touch a member of the great unwashed before them. The closest Bruce came to that was 'baptising' the standees in the orchestra with water in the name of the Garden State during the Isley Brothers' "Twist and Shout". He's fearless, he's amusing, he's amused, he swings round and round on a very strong, floor mounted microphone stand. He was in your face, and he was a face in the crowd. He has never not seemed like the guy you'd like to hang out with at the bar or a softball game. His zeal is overriding and contagious.
We all felt it, I daresay. SW was completely into it, but as the show went on, I found myself drawn to watching a couple on the floor and another guy near them. The man in the couple was wearing a "Dancing In the Dark"-style black muscle shirt and jeans, pretty de rigueur for the night. He had enough muscles to make the shirt convincing. He was singing every line, pantomiming some of them for his companion's benefit, singing "Born to Run" to her sweetly at the top of his lungs. He danced and danced, throwing his hands in the air to testify along with Bruce, punching out accents. The other guy was wearing a reversed baseball cap, and I'd mistakenly thought he'd been flipping off the back section of standees during one song--he wasn't, he had more fingers up and I'd only had a side view. He, too, was howling along. At one point, he went up to a fan in front of him who'd been holding a poster-sized sign with a song title request on it so hopefully Bruce would see it and grant the wish. But this guy shamed her into lowering the sign for the rest of the evening. At one point, muscle shirt guy and backward baseball cap guy found each other to be two peas in a pod, and they were suddenly dancing around with each other like leprechauns, utterly entranced in the song. I love to see people get so far into the music they're listening to that they lose every ounce of self-consciousness like these folks.
At the end of the night, after Bruce told us "You can't TAKE any more!" we left exhilirated, lifted, charmed, hoarse from shouting, sore from clapping, happy we came but sad we were done. Maybe we couldn't have taken any more, but I doubt I'm the only one there last night who wouldn't have wanted to try.