There are a few memorable life-milestones that people experience as they grow older through their late teens-early twenties. Graduation, the workforce, possibly marriage. I’ve experienced the first two. Last night, I added another milestone to the list: My first concert.
Now, before you freak out about how ludicrous it could be that a 22 ½ year-old music journalist could be just now going to his first concert, let me clarify. I’ve been to shows in the past. Plenty. I’ve seen hometown bands play to a thousand kids for their final show, and pop-punk co-headliners play to a packed club. But to put those in the same category as the concert I experienced last night would be a disservice. All the previous experience you have with something similar just doesn’t stand up. Last night I saw Bruce Springsteen play a 2 hour and 45 minute set at the Tampa Bay Times Forum in Tampa, Florida. Most shows with a full bill will last that amount of time, if you’re lucky, with three to four bands. This was one band. One band led by one man.
I’m not a religious man and I find believing in most things to be a pretty difficult task. Last night, I believed in The Boss. As he marched up and down the stage, preaching his sermon with his booming voice and Fender Telecaster, I felt more of a connection then anything I felt the times I was dragged begrudgingly to church as a child.
After playing two extremely similar sets for the previous dates of the tour, I was a little wary. Wary, but excited. While I knew the night would be a great one being that it was the first time I was seeing one of my all-time favorite artists, I was a little skeptical since the set relied heavily on new songs and left out some of the classics that I remember listening to as a child in the backseat of my father’s old Buick that has since been replaced by several cars.
However, Bruce did not disappoint. As if that could even be possible. While the opening two songs were both from his new record, Wrecking Ball, they were followed by “Prove It All Night,” which made its debut on the tour, replacing “Badlands” from the previous two shows. Seeing Springsteen, who is only a few years younger than my grandparents, perform a searing solo during the middle of the song was a breath-taking moment. It was also the first that clued me in to the fact that this would be a night I would never forget. After a few more new songs, the E Street Band also dusted off “Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street?” and “Atlantic City.” The former was written by Springsteen when he was only a few years older than I am now. Seeing him perform it with the same vigor 40 years after its creation speaks to the timelessness that he so effortlessly captures and that others struggle to ever get a taste of. The latter, well, it’s one of my top 10 songs of all-time. A list that is half-comprised of the band’s songs.
Listening to The Boss and the E Street Band perform a medley of songs performed by legends of the Apollo Theater also brought back memories, this time of my grandparents. They grew up on Motown and those Apollo artists who the E Street Band covered, like Smokey Robinson and Wilson Pickett. I was familiar with those tracks, maybe even more so then some of Springsteen’s originals, after hearing them countless times during the summers I would spend in my grandparent’s old house when I was a child.
The set was brought to the encore by five fantastic songs: “American Skin (41 Shots),” which one would assume was in tribute to the recently-killed Trayvon Martin; “Radio Nowhere,” which convinced me that all other drummers don’t drum, they merely imitate E Street band drummer Max Weinberg; “The Rising,” the title track from the first Springsteen record that I bought with my own money and didn’t inherit from my parents, and also featuring a still-great solo by long-time E Street Band lead guitarist, Nils Lofgren; “We Are Alive,” the closing track of the newly released Wrecking Ball; and “Thunder Road,” the greatest song of all-time. I say greatest because, while it may not be everyone’s favorite song (it isn’t mine), I feel it is indisputable that the song will go down as one of the greatest musical creations of all-time. From the story-teller lyrics, delivered with the same fire that Bruce had when he wrote the track thirty-four and a half years ago, to the amazing saxophone solo, performed phenomenally by the late “Big Man” Clarence Clemon’s own nephew, Jake, the song’s magnitude is simply undeniable.
The encore featured a few songs similar to the previous two sets. For good reason. They’re all great songs and perfect ways to end the experience of the show. “Born to Run.” Do I need to say anything else? If you haven’t heard this song before, are you a human being? There was also “Dancing in the Dark,” complete with Springsteen’s now-signature move of pulling a young girl on stage to dance, like Courtney Cox 30 years ago, and making a memory she surely won’t ever forget. And closing the show, there was “Tenth Avenue Freeze-out,” with both Jake and Jared Clemons, Clarence’s son, on stage as tribute was performed to the Big Man by way of a two-minute thunderous applause.
With these big moments, you would be hard-pressed to hear a better encore. Well, Bruce also decided he would throw in “Glory Days,” which was conspicuously left off the set-list and must have been a last minute addition. It was almost as if The Boss read my mind and saw the memories of me going to t-ball, little league, and high school baseball games listening to “Glory Days,” and getting pumped up for the upcoming game, first in my Dad’s Buick and later in my own car by myself. I’m not ashamed to admit that I got choked up while I called my Dad to leave him a voicemail of the performance, or rather, that those feelings are returning while I’m typing this now and remembering the experience.
My life has been shaped or changed by a handful moments so far in the last two and one-fifth decades. Last night was one of them. That’s the thing about Springsteen, I guess. Whenever you begin to doubt something or feel like something won’t live up to expectations, he picks you up by the shirt-collar, shakes you up a bit, and sends you off to your next destination with a fire in your heart and a smile on your face. Thanks Boss. For everything.