Indulging once again would appear to some a questionable act, especially after he had spent all that time running around and attempting to get a particular guy reelected who I wanted gone from politics in the best way. But I dove in once more -- something I have been doing since he performed at a club on Sunset Blvd. in 1975. I can state without equivocation that if you have not seen Bruce Springsteen you are missing the premier performing act of any era.
I can speak with some authority as I have seen just about every act of consequence during my lifetime. You name it -- from the Liverpool guys to the woman with the best voice ever -Ella Fitzgerald. I missed the King (Elvis), but I saw the Chairman of the Board (Frank) numerous times. I’ve been dragged to Opera houses around the world. I’ve even Deadheaded about twenty times partaking of the unique joy of seeing Jerry Garcia and the gang live. My favorite band is the Who, but as great as they may be (and have been) in concert, no one -- but no one -- can touch the sheer joy of seeing Bruce live.
At 63 years old, Bruce (that is what everyone refers to him as when not calling him The Boss) is at a point in his career that was matched only by Frank Sinatra when he was at his peak during the 1960’s. If you are a fan of Frank’s, you know there was a Rat Pack concert recorded in 1966, one of the first video broadcasts of a live show. It is special because the host of the show was flown in to replace Rat Pack member, Joey Bishop, who had a back problem. That host was a young Johnny Carson. Dean and Sammy are terrific, but it captures Frank at his peak. He is in full command as he is backed by the Count Basie orchestra led by Quincy Jones. He knows he is the King of the World and he gives you a performance that matches that inner confidence. Bruce is now at that point as he traverses the stage knowing that what he delivers night after night cannot be matched by mere mortals.
This show was particularly special for many reasons. I went with a friend who is not really a Bruce fan. My friend enjoys Bruce, but does not think of him as a God of music particularly while in live performance) like we true fans. I had taken him to a show about ten years ago that turned out to be the only time I have seen Bruce where it was a stinky show. This time Bruce came through to full redemption with one of the best performances of the many I have seen.
It started with forty minutes of uninterrupted music as they weaved from song to song while the E Street band was in its full glory. One special moment occurred when the band laid down the beginning chords to a popular, but not stellar, Springsteen song – Hungry Heart. In something I have never seen before, the audience of about 19,000, with no aid from Bruce or any singers on stage, delivered the first four stanzas of the song before the professionals took over. It was truly spiritual.
He then ran through song after song with little break and full force for three and one half hours. There were no rambling political statements or breaks of any kind except for about three minutes before the five-song encore. You could hear jazz, blues, gospel, country, and Irish and Scottish undertones to his music along the way. You heard the full force of Badlands live and the revival elements of Waitin’ on a Sunny Day followed by the gospel elements of Eddie Floyd’s Raise Your Hand.
But mostly you heard Springsteen’s perfection of Phil Spector’s wall of sound. This is the first time I could remember the E Street band having a full horn section and what a difference. With 18 members I looked at their performance and it brought thoughts of Duke Ellington at his finest. It was a full-throated joyful celebration of rock and roll. That is what Bruce brings to a show – an uninhibited, deeply felt, joy of not just his music, but of Rock ‘n’ Roll and its now sixty-plus years of existence.
He also brings a family element. Twice he brought up young girls to sing with him. I did not blanch and the reason why is -- believe it or not -- this is fun for all ages. There was not one questionable utterance from Bruce or the band. I had been to a Green Day concert with a friend where we saw hundreds of mothers tethered to teenage daughters. Once the lead singer, Billie Joe Armstrong, opened his mouth every other word either began with F or had the word mother in front of it. Not here – Bruce is as clean as the Beach Boys and just as wholesome as any show at the Grand Ole Opry.
As Bruce finished his perfect encore of Jungleland, Born to Run, Dancing in the Dark, Santa Claus is Coming to Town and Tenth Avenue Freeze Out, you saw him amongst the crowd drenched in sweat still dancing with a smile of joy after 210 minutes of total effort. As someone a little younger than he, you only wonder where he gets the energy to do this at this age; but, as I said, he knows he is at the top of his game and at the top of anyone’s game.
My friend is convinced Bruce should come out with a recording of the Great Rock and Roll songbook. Rod Stewart has celebrated the Great American songbook in four CDs, some produced by Steve Tyrell who himself has celebrated our long history of Pop music. Others like the Band and David Bowie have tried to bring us the Rock and Roll songbook, but Bruce would do it best. I saw him do a cover of the 1961 hit, A Quarter to Three by Gary U.S. Bonds that would knock the socks off of any living person. I have seen him in the middle of one of his songs lurch into a fabulous rendition of Surfin U.S.A. by the Beach Boys. No one could bring back some of the great songs of the era like Bruce and the E Street Band.
Bruce revels in the joy of his music and he shares that with his audience. As this year winds down and the challenges of it are over, I wish you only one thing -- that every day of 2013 is as joyful as a Bruce Springsteen and the E Street band concert. Many blessings for you and your family in 2013.