"For the ones who had a notion, a notion deep inside
That it ain’t no sin to be glad you’re alive”
- Bruce Springsteen, “Badlands,” 1978
I went to see Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band last Tuesday, April 8th, 2014, in Cincinnati, Ohio, and it was an all-timer – the best rock & roll show I’ve seen in more years than I can remember and the second-best Springsteen show I’ve ever witnessed, coming in right behind the September 5th, 1978 show at Vet’s Memorial in Columbus. (Wait, have I said that about EVERY Springsteen show I’ve seen after 1978? Is the one I just saw and been left in open-mouthed wonder by, and the one that is freshest in my memory, the second-best Springsteen show I ever saw? No, this time I mean it.) (At least until tomorrow night in Columbus.)
I attended this show with my oldest & dearest friend Jodie and our friend Chris Clinton – whom we met exactly thirty years ago this year, in 1984 in the overnight camp-out line for the Born In The U.S.A. tour at the Buzzard’s Nest Records store on Morse Road. We met back in the days when ticket-buying was still a communal experience, when you could hang out from Friday afternoon to Saturday morning to try to score great seats, before buying tickets became soulless & computerized like everything else. Chris is from Ireland, was working on some kind of exchange program for a computer company, and we just started talking because he was immediately in front of us in line. He retains a great Irish brogue to this day, thirty years down the line, but back then, that night, his accent was so thick that when he got excited and started talking fast we couldn’t understand a single fucking word he said. Jodie & I would just nod and smile and try to hang on and catch the gist of what was flying out of that gifted Dublin mouth of Mr. Clinton’s. Jodie and I have known each other most of our lives. We dated briefly in our teens, remain forever friends to this day, all these years later. There are no two people on the planet I would rather see a Bruce Springsteen show with.
Okay, just some scattershot observations before I get into the heart of the piece:
1) It somehow had not occurred to me before the start of this show, that with Clarence Clemons and Danny Federici gone from the E Street Band line-up, bass player Gary W. Tallent is the LAST remaining member of the original Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. and The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle era band. I’m simultaneously enormously saddened by the fact that he is The Last Man Standing and immensely heartened by the fact that he has weathered all of the changes of the last 41 years. Can you imagine how many vans, RV’s, tour buses, clubs, theaters, arenas, stadiums, gas stations, telephone poles, farm fields, full moons, hotel rooms, towns, cities, countries, stages and faces he's seen since 1973?
2) Little Steven Van Zandt is off filming Lilyhammer or some other extracurricular activity, so this is the first time since the Born In The U.S.A. tour I’m not seeing his Ultimate Badass Presence on a Bruce stage, and I REALLY, REALLY miss him. So does The E Street Band. There is a telling moment in “Promised Land” where substitute guitarists Tom Morello and Nils Lofgren – and yeah, I still consider Nils Lofgren just a sub lo these 30 years on – strain to recreate one Little Steven guitar figure BETWEEN THE TWO OF THEM and they STILL can’t/don’t get it right.
3) Speaking of substitutes: THERE ARE JUST TOO MANY GODDAMN MUSICIANS & SINGERS onstage at these shows. With four extra horn players PLUS Jake Clemons (ably) standing in for his late, lamented Uncle Clarence (and HOW LUCKY is Bruce Springsteen that a nephew of The Big Man is this good a tenor sax player?), three back-up singers, a totally-superfluous percussionist (you’ve got MAX FUCKING WEINBERG in the band, Bruce!), plus Soozie Tyrell and (on this night, at least) Patti Scialfa augmenting the core E Street Band of Tallent, Weinberg, Roy Bittan and new guy Charlie Giordano, there are 17 musicians & singers onstage. This is at least 10 too many. They’re all great, mind you, and I realize that Bruce wanted to expand the range of the band after the Wrecking Ball album to include gospel & soul elements into the mix, but there are times in the show I find myself longing for the lean, mean, streamlined, superfine seven-man band I saw in 1978.
I NEEDED this concert.
It was a long, cold, snowy, tough winter and I had my fourth (minor) cardiac surgery exactly one week before the show, on April 1st. (And what better day to have heart surgery than April Fool’s Day?) In his introductory remarks to “Growin’ Up” – during which Bruce brought a guy celebrating his birthday down to sing (see video below) – Springsteen said, "First thing you do, before you write a decent song, before you pick up a guitar, before you play your first gig, you lay in bed at night and you dream yourself up.” As I alluded to in my "Why I Hate Kiss" pencilstorm piece, I was a painfully shy child & teenager until I got the idea in my head that I could pick up a guitar and be a whole other person, a completely new human being, I could “dream myself up.” It’s times like those in Bruce shows where I’m just totally astounded that Springsteen can take concepts & thoughts that have been rattling around in my head for 50 years or so – without my ever being able to articulate them – and send them back to me from a rock & roll stage in two or three perfect, succinct sentences.
So there’s a lot of things I could say here: I could say Bruce Springsteen is my absolute favorite rock & roll performer of all time, and that would be true; I could say there is no other arena-rock act performing today who comes anywhere NEAR Bruce’s commitment to artistic merit and continuing integrity – let’s face facts, The Rolling Stones may still be cool, but they haven’t made a great album since maybe 1982, and while they may pay lip service to performing new material, you KNOW it’s gonna be an oldies show with Mick & Keith and the boys; I could – in the words of Elliott Murphy, my other all-time favorite rock & roll performer, who began his career as a fellow “New Dylan” with Bruce back in 1973 – “analyze each and every song, but that’s what took all the fun out of chemistry class.”
So let me just say this – Bruce Springsteen has the most instinctive and complete command of the power, passion and promise of rock & roll music of any performer I have ever seen, and he knows exactly where the heart & soul of songs as disparate as “High Hopes,” “Badlands,” “Lost In The Flood,” “The Ghost Of Tom Joad,” and the Isley Brothers’ partytime soul-smasher “Shout” all meet.
They meet right in our hearts.
Go to the show in Columbus tomorrow night. I guarantee you won’t regret it. – Ricki C. / April 13th, 2014
(editor’s note: We expect Ricki C. might have 1000 or so words to say about the Columbus show later
in the week. So might Colin. So might you. Send ‘em in and we’ll run the best in Pencilstorm.)
(ps. You can't really see it in the video but the crowd DID NOT CATCH birthday boy (and how cool would it be to get to sing with Bruce Springsteen ON YOUR BIRTHDAY?!? ) when he stage-dove at the end. He picked a place with a bunch of little girls and a definite shortage of guys and the girls just kinda parted and let him fall. A couple of guys made a last-minute grab for him and kept him from hitting the floor square on his head and killing himself, but he hit the arena floor HARD. It's too grainy to see, but the look on Bruce and the band's faces was priceless, they were like, "WHAT THE FUCK WAS THAT???!!!??? Did that guy just dive off the stage?" Classic.)