I'm talking, of course, about Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. They played the first of a 2-night stint in St. Paul Sunday night. The day it was announced was, for me, like a kid waiting for Christmas. And even before it was announced, I knew I wanted my kids to be there, to have a chance to experience what I consider to be the greatest rock and roll showman ever born, experience him and his band in person, to be in the room when all the lights come on for "Born to Run" and 18,000 Springsteen disciples sing the entire song right along with him. Going to my first Springsteen show changed my life, and I just really wanted them to see this.
It's sort of like, when you see the Rocky Mountains for the first time, or the ocean. Something inside you just knows that this is a piece of the universe that everyone needs to experience. I really believe that. And I wanted my kids to see this, too.
But, like I said, I was a little worried. I realize Bruce isn't for everyone. And while both my kids appreciate music, it was never a given -- nor was it required -- that they enjoy the show. To each their own, right? Having said that, I was sincerely, seriously hoping they'd love it. And I wasn't disappointed.
Bruce played for exactly three hours. And while he threw in a few of his slower songs, the vast majority of the night was filled with him running around the stage, singing, playing, preaching, cussing, orchestrating, laughing, leading, sweating, crowd surfing, unifying -- in short, squeezing an entire life's worth of positive human energy into the short time we spent with him.
This was a very unique Bruce show, one that included songs I'd never heard him play. He even played a song most of his band hadn't played. For the casual Bruce fan who came to Sunday's concert because it was a fun night out, there weren't a lot of radio hits. (There were a few -- he always plays "Born to Run," and whenever he comes to St. Paul he plays "Dancing in the Dark," which is kind of a nod to history; his iconic video for that song featuring Courtney Cox as a front-row fan who gets pulled onstage to dance with Bruce was shot at the old St. Paul Civic Center.)
But, by and large, the highlights of the night came on songs the casual fan may have seen as reason to grab a beer or visit the restroom. "It's Hard to Be a Saint in the City," ended with the kind of guitar shredding many of us would like to see more of from Bruce. "Spirit in the Night" got turned into a reminder that a key piece of the E Street puzzle was no longer with us. "Open All Night" off Bruce's Nebraska album was transformed from a nifty acoustic diddy to a jaw-dropping, roof-raising affair that featured the stunning work of a horn section that, to a man, seemed to have as much command over their instruments as any other member of the E Street Band. It was a transcendent moment in a night full of transcendent moments.
Among the most impressive moments, however, came on a song that was a first for a Bruce and the Band concert. Clarence Clemons, Bruce's saxophonist who died last year, had a few solo albums, and Bruce contributed a few songs to those efforts. One of them was a song called "Savin' Up," off Clemons' 1983 solo album. I'd never heard of it. And obviously, many of the 17 musicians on stage with Bruce hadn't either, but the song came via a crowd request (it has become custom at Bruce concerts for fans to bring quaintly decorated request signs, and Bruce occasionally obliges) and when Bruce starts grabbing signs out of the audience, things can get interesting. That's where "Savin' Up" came from. But before he could play the song, he had to figure out for himself what key the song should be played in, which resulted in a comical series of fits and starts and grunts with him and his guitar and his right-hand man, Steven Van Zandt. Once he figured out the key, he had to instruct the singers what to sing. After that, he had to instruct the horn section what to play and how to play it. Five minutes after pulling that sign out of the crowd, they ripped into a song that, unless you were there and saw all the preparations that went into it, you'd swear it had been rehearsed for weeks. It was a brilliant moment, and one that reminded me and anyone else there that no two Bruce concerts are alike.
The deep tracks were amazing. But no Bruce show would be complete without those songs that unify us all in the Springsteen nation. As we waited for the show to start, a woman a few rows away was already waving her sign that said "Thunder Road." That's my song. My favorite song. I used to sing that song every night to my son when I was laying down in his crib. As I was looking at it he said to me, "They better play that one!"
And they did. But this version was different, bolstered by the horn section and the trio of gospel-esque background singers that made the trip this tour. The song soared. I got a little misty. I'm not ashamed to admit it. I get that way at Bruce shows.
That was the end of the regular set. The encore began almost immediately with another request. Bruce pulled a sign out of the crowd and played a solo version of "If I Should Fall Behind," one of his most beautiful songs and the official song of married couples everywhere.
After "Rocky Ground," the show erupted in a series of songs that can only really be described as insanity. "Born to Run" led into "Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)" which led into "Dancing in the Dark" where he brought and 88-year-old woman on stage to dance with Van Zandt, which led into the finale, a grab-you-by-the-balls raucous-as-hell version of "Tenth Avenue Freeze Out" -- which included the touching tribute to Clemons that Bruce has done all tour long.
I left exhausted. And exhilarated. I don't know what I was ever worried about. The kids loved it. And in the end they saw the Bruce I wanted them to see: An incomparable performer who isn't afraid to take chances, an artist who continues to produce and perform new music, a showman who understands his audience. Above all else, I wanted them to see a performer who, even after all these years of making and performing music, still clearly, obviously, whole-heartedly loves what he's doing, loves his fans.
I checked in with Twitter a few times to let followers know how it was going. So was daughter. Here's her tweet from right after "Hungry Heart," where Bruce crowd surfed: "Wow!! Great concert!! Bruce totally crowd surfed