bruce springsteen has been around awhile. i mean, he's nearly 65 years old, after all. he's been doing this thing for close to 50 years now, starting in small clubs along the jersey shore, and going to a point where he could sell it out the same arena multiple nights in a row. he is, among other things, a professional entertainer, and he does it well.
i got Shannon tickets to see bruce for mother's day (as a surprise. if you didn't see the video, you can watch it at the bottom of this post), but it was one of those presents that was as much for me as it was for her. truthfully, she appreciated him before i ever did, but now i have become a big fan. still, when i saw that he was going to be in hershey, pa, i didn't know when this chance might come again. so i scooped up a couple of tickets, and got ready. that was in mid-february. i had three months to wait and sit on that secret.
finally, shannon saw the video, and the day arrived for us to head down to chocolate city, with a heavy cloud cover, to see bruce springsteen and his e street band. i immediately realized that i was a part of something bigger than just that night. there is a certain relationship between bruce and his fans, and people seem to know just what to do. it couldn't have been more than three or four songs in when bruce (at 64 years old!) was crowd surfing, trusting his fans to keep him aloft. while riding the wave, he gathered posters that fans had brought requesting certain songs from his catalog. i don't mean that they were requesting his big hits, like "born in the usa," "born to run," or "dancing in the dark." i mean that they were requesting any song from any of his past recordings. some were recording recent songs, others were going back to his first album. there was everything in between. he grabbed a handful of the posters, showed them to his band, one at a time, and then the band would play them. there was no chance for the band to put their heads together, or look at notes. bruce just held up the sign, counted off the tempo, and they were into a tight performance. this was amazing to me on multiple levels. first of all, that he and his band know their entire back catalog so well, that without music, without notes, without lyric sheets, they could launch into any song. wow. secondly, that he entrusts the crowd with a significant portion of his set list is stunning to me. i have never seen that before by any musician. maybe a request or two, but Bruce does 6 or 7 or 8 or more! He obviously trusts his band implicitly, and it pays off. they reward his trust with energetic performances that don't feel rote or staid, but pulse with joy and energy.
speaking of joy and energy, bruce just exudes it. he looks like he is having the time of his life. he jumps and runs and pumps his fists, and plays his guitar emphatically. he crowd surfed. he fell to his knees at one point, and leaned all the way backward, displaying a flexibility at age 64 that i can't even imagine for myself at age 38! he sweat through his button-up shirt, until he finally peeled it off, a soaking wet garment. his t-shirt underneath showed a bit more clearly that this man is in really good physical condition. but more than his exterior is what is inside: a passion that cannot be contained. he sings these songs with conviction and heart. after doing this so long, it would be easy for him to be jaded about it, to feel disconnected from the art, the crowd, the whole situation. but he very clearly doesn't. after watching him play for over three hours and do 29 songs, you would not be able to convince me that this man doesn't feel this deeply and enjoy doing it.
when you play a sold out stadium, you generally sacrifice the concept of audience interaction. but not bruce. a sold out arena seems to suit him just fine. he is constantly down with the fans, gathering requests, or just hanging out. he gave away guitar picks. after "prove it all night," he gave away his harmonica to a little child. during one song, he invited a little girl to come up and sing the chorus for him (so sweet). during "dancing in the dark" a couple of guys with a sign that said "can we jam with you?" were invited up to grab guitars and join the e street band. plus, at least judging by the people sitting around me, people know nearly every word to every song he did anyway, so there is a strong sense of audience participation. these songs have become part of the fabric of their lives. even for first-timers like shannon and i, we didn't feel very disconnected from him, despite the enormity of the crowd. somehow, he shrunk the venue and made it smaller. he sang "born to run," "dancing in the dark," "hungry heart," and even the oldie "shout." you can see the whole set list here.
but he also made it spiritual, in a way. for those who refuse to see springsteen because of his politics, too bad for you. the only preaching he did from the stage was to encourage us to support the harrisburg area habitat for humanity, whom he had granted permission to be at the exits after the show, passing out information and collecting donations. rather than spewing politics, he sang powerful songs of hope. "i've got high hopes," goes the title track from his most recent album, a song that was played with power and relentless energy. when he got to "the rising" the entire audience sang along "come on up for the rising, come on up, put your hand in mine..." and there was a sense in which we were all admitting that we are aching for resurrection. we were singing a scripture song, along with a man who has highlighted and written, like david, so well of the human condition. we sang along with him, with the veins popping from his neck as he belted it out: come on up for the rising! then, on the very next song, "lonesome day," we joined him for the refrain, over and over, "it's alright, it's alright, it's alright.'
and it was. it was all very right.
one more thing: for our family video to shannon for mother's day, we used the song, "waitin' on a sunny day." it was a song he wasn't singing all that much on the tour, especially at recent shows, so i figured we weren't going to get to hear it, but when i heard the first few notes, i started jumping up and down like a little kid. he sang the song! it was the icing on the cake of what was a spectacular show, a little bit church, a little bit party, and a lot of rock and roll.