Confession time: For years and years I loathed Bruce Springsteen. It wasn’t a personal thing, really, but in the late ‘70s when I was in my early teens and really getting into Album Rock radio, I was a bit narrow-minded (blame Ted Nugent) and wasn’t real impressed with The Boss and his music. I also chafed at how Rock magazines like Creem and Rolling Stone seemingly kept force-feeding this guy to me, making him out to be the greatest thing since Elvis and how he could simply do no wrong in their eyes. It also didn’t help that he was from New Jersey, which might as well have been New York City to me, because I copped an attitude during that time about anything even remotely connected with the Big Apple (except Kiss and "Saturday Night Live"). However, as time passed, I began warming up to Brucie, thanks in big part to 1980’s "Cadillac Ranch", as well as a song he wrote for my man Dave Edmunds in 1982 called "From Small Things (Big Things One Day Come)". By the time Born In The U.S.A. emerged in 1984, Springsteen was impossible to ignore on MTV, and I was especially drawn to the concert video of "Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)" that featured Bruce's legendary band intros and I realized that this is what a band that's having fun on stage looked like. So I figured if you can’t beat him, join him. I STILL think he’s a tad overrated at times even today, but over the years, I’ve embraced his overall body of work, and since I’d always heard what a crowd-pleaser Bruce Springsteen was, I decided it was finally time to get out and see The Boss in concert. I deeply regret waiting too long and missing out on seeing the "Big Man" Clarence Clemons, but apparently the rumors were true—Boss Man puts on one helluva show.
The show began about 40 minutes late and there was no opening act. As I scanned the stage with my binoculars before things got underway, I noted an array of musical instruments scattered about—there were enough violins, guitars, percussion instruments, horns (even a tuba!) and keyboards to open up a music store. Turns out the E Street Band has expanded a bit to 17 members, including a five-piece horn section, three back-up singers and an extra percussionist in addition to Bruce and the usual suspects. This dynamic kinda reminded me of The Who’s 1989 reunion tour ("The Who on ice" as Pete Townshend later deemed it), but instead of being an exercise in overkill as with The Who, the additional deck hands blended right in to the presentation and weren’t a distraction. The sound mix was a bit iffy at first, and it sounded like Bruce was singing into a CB radio early on, but things improved as the night progressed. The name of the venue, Sprint Center, was a misnomer on this night because this was no sprint—this was a marathon!
Bruce kicked things off with an extended rendition of "Kansas City" (a morphing of both the Wilbert Harrison and Little Richard versions) that I might’ve saved for the encore, but hey, he’s The Boss, so what do I know? "Prove It All Night" was next and after that, the E Street band lived up to that title. Over the next three-plus hours, we were treated to 28 songs (29 if you count Buddy Holly’s "Not Fade Away", which Bruce sang the first verse from leading into "She’s The One") and a very energetic performance from a man in his early ‘60s. Apart from the receding hairline, Springsteen looked and acted like he was still 30-something. I was most impressed with the entire band’s stamina, especially that of drummer Max Weinberg, who never wavered once in playing for over three hours straight with no intermission and very short breaks between songs. Their next tour stop after us was Denver—good luck in that altitude! It was fun to watch the interplay between Bruce and the band, and it was obvious they were having fun up there and were feeding off the energy of the crowd as well. Speaking of the crowd, Brucie spent a fair amount of time in it, as he meandered through the audience several times to a platform at mid-floor, and even body-surfed back to the main stage during "Hungry Heart". The man is a trusting soul—I thought for sure they were going to drop him on his head...
I also liked how Springsteen doesn’t mind sharing the spotlight with his bandmates throughout the show. He knows it doesn’t always have to be about him, and it’s cool that he throws a bone to the other E Streeters and allows them do their thing for a bit. This was the first time I got to really watch Mr. Weinberg operate, and the "Mighty Max" was rock-solid with plenty of thump throughout on his Charlie Watts-esque drum kit. I also learned a new respect for long-time guitarist "Miami" Steve Van Zandt on this night. "Little Steven" always appeared to me to be a drunken idiot in the old videos (maybe he was), stumbling around and making faces, but in this show, he remained upright throughout and actually looked like a Rock star, and played well too. "Professor" Roy Bittan sounded phenomenal on the piano, but I really couldn’t hear much from his counterpart, ex-Pat Benatar keyboardist Charlie Giordano on stage right, who replaced the late "Phantom Dan" Federici. You also can never replace the late Clarence Clemons with just one person, so now Bruce employs a phalanx of horn players, led by the "Big Man"’s nephew Jake (Little Big Man?), who acquitted himself quite well on sax.
The show did seem to drag in places, but that had more to do with me, because I wasn’t totally familiar with some of the songs they played. Some tunes got stretched out a bit too, which I tended to lose patience with, but the crowd didn’t seem to mind, and at least Bruce didn’t pull a Led Zeppelin and take 25 minutes to play just one song. As I expected, Bruce played several songs from his latest CD, Wrecking Ball, and they were all quite good, especially "We Take Care Of Our Own", the title track, "Death To My Hometown" and "Land Of Hopes And Dreams". "Shackled And Drawn" was also from the new one, but it got stretched out into this pseudo church revival bit that I personally could’ve done without, but I was pleased that Bruce, to his credit, didn’t go off on any political tangents during the show—that’s not what I attend Rock concerts for. From what I understand, the Neolithic dipshit Phelpsians from Topeka were outside picketing the show, but they must have been on the main entrance side on Grand Blvd., because we entered from the east side and never saw them. Too bad—I’ve always wanted to flip these turds the bird in person. Come to think of it, "Shackled And Drawn" is a damn good idea for these losers, but I digress…
Springsteen’s core audience almost reminds me of Trekkies because of their fanaticism and utter devotion to The Boss, and many folks were jumping up and down and dancing like it was a Saturday night barn dance and hootenanny. I was also unaware of the Springsteenian custom of fans bringing placards and signs for to place song requests for the set list. This led to the obscure "Incident On 57th Street" getting a spin, as did "Fire" (the big 1979 Pointer Sisters hit), and I longed to hear Elmer Fudd singing it, but no such luck. Oddly enough, in addition to "Fire", Bruce’s songs that other people had big hits with were highlights of the show, namely "Because The Night" (Patti Smith Group) and especially "Light Of Day" (Joan Jett), which rocked the house to end the set. They did omit some of his biggies like "Glory Days", "Rosalita", "My Hometown", "Pink Cadillac" and "Born In The USA", as well as my personal Springsteen faves "Cadillac Ranch", "Human Touch", "Tunnel Of Love" and "Working On The Highway", but then again, Bruce could’ve played another full-length concert the next night and not repeat a single song from this show (apart from the obligatory "Born To Run") and it would’ve been just as well-received—that’s how deep this guy’s catalog goes.
During the lengthy encore, when the band kicked in to "Born To Run", the house lights came up and remained on the rest of the way, which looked kinda weird. I generally don’t approve of Yuletide songs before Thanksgiving, but I’ll make an exception this time for Bruce and Co. doing "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town", which the crowd just ate up. "Dancing In The Dark", which preceded it, sounded way better live than it does on record—punchier and grittier—and not only did Bruce re-create the video bit of pulling a dance partner out of the crowd, he rounded up one for young master Clemons and another for guitarist Nils Lofgren and a mother-daughter combo for himself. I also noticed a woman on the video screen in the front row who made herself up to look like Courteney Cox in that video—right down to the short brown haircut and same t-shirt. "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out" closed out the proceedings and Bruce made one last trek through the crowd and proclaimed, "Now this is the important part…" when he got to the line "When the change was made uptown and the Big Man joined the band" and the music stopped for a video salute to the dearly-departed Mr. Clemons and Mr. Federici and the crowd reacted appropriately.
I wisely chose not to imbibe during this concert. I knew it was going to be a long night and I didn’t want to peak too soon, nor did I want to be running to the can every 20 minutes. However, I did invent the Bruce Springsteen Drinking Game during the show. It’s pretty simple, really: Before or during any song, every time The Boss does a "1-2-3..." count-in, take one drink. If he does "1-2-3-4...", take two drinks. You’ll be fucked-up in no time flat! Seriously, this was a most impressive concert. I’ve never seen a guy work so hard to please a crowd like Springsteen does, even though he really doesn’t need to anymore. Several times I kept thinking he and the band was on its last song of the night, and they’d still come back for another. If I were in a hurry to leave, I would’ve been as bewildered as Apollo Creed was in Round 15 against Rocky Balboa, but the longer the show went on the more I was astonished at the E Street Band’s staying power. Bruce left it all on the stage and won me over for good. Not too shabby for a guy from Jersey whose initials are B.S….
SET LIST: Kansas City; Prove It All Night; Candy’s Room; She’s The One; Hungry Heart; We Take Care Of Our Own; Wrecking Ball; Death To My Hometown; My City Of Ruins; The E Street Shuffle; Fire; Incident On 57th Street; Because The Night; Cover Me; Downbound Train; I’m On Fire; Shackled And Drawn; Waitin’ On A Sunny Day; Raise Your Hand; The Rising; Badlands; Land Of Hopes and Dreams; Light of Day. ENCORE: My Beautiful Reward; Born To Run; Dancing In the Dark; Santa Claus Is Coming To Town; Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out.