I’ve debated all day today if I should try to write a review of the Bruce Springsteen concert I attended last night at Philips Arena, whether I can even come close to doing justice to last night’s personal fulfillment of a dream. The Boss has played a prominent figure in my musical life over the years, from a nine year-old dancing to his Greatest Hits in my parent’s living room to the first time I listened to and connected with the raw and powerful Nebraska as a lonely college sophomore. Growing into adulthood, in later years, I came to appreciate the realism that he depicts in his songs.
As a once pretentious English major, I have always considered the Boss the Raymond Carver of songwriting, one who sings vivid portraits of those who Thoreau once described as “living lives of quiet desperation.” Even though a fair number of his songs can highlight the unfairness, the sadness, and the emptiness of struggling and being stuck in the working-class, an even greater number of his songs manage to transcend mere desolate complaining and explode into epic metaphorical fireworks. It’s no great surprise that so many of his greatest hits contain emotionally charged themes of action, escape, and driving. Take him or leave him, but the Boss’ greatest trait, I believe, is to give hope and inspire optimism to the down-and-out listener—whatever its source. Whether one’s lot is conditional on being poor, being lonely, being wealthy, or being angry, it’s easy to take solace in the emotional identification and catharsis certain songs provide.
I was a bit sad that I was just now seeing Bruce Springsteen, as I’d have killed to have seen him perform as a young man at the Hammersmith Odeon in 1975 London. As soon as he came on stage, though, my earlier dreams of time travelling vanished with the first chords of the song. He played a lot of his new album, Wrecking Ball, which is definitely decent and borrows heavily from raucous Irish folk songs—the most recent Rolling Stone issue features an interview by John Stewart in he which states to Bruce, “It seems like you and the Chieftains went out for drinks and then you recorded a song.” These songs transferred well live, though, and were full of energy. I was excited, even by seeing him pull out his trademarked battered and blonde Fender telecaster–one which I have purchased, in the past year, precisely because he has one.
I absolutely lost it, though, when he broke into the chords for “Waiting on a Sunny Day,” a track from 2002’s The Rising. This song has been a constant companion of mine since I was a freshman in college, and seeing it performed live was absolutely amazing. The song, if you haven’t heard it, is essentially a more gruff, rock-n-roll translation of “Gray Skies Are Gonna Clear Up,” but sometimes this kind of optimism is essential in life. Lord knows I’ve listened to it hundreds of times over the years:
Another highlight was seeing “Dancing in the Dark” performed live. I think the first twenty times I heard this song as a kid growing up was on MTV—the live version with Bruce in shirtsleeves and in which he pulls up a very young Courtney Cox to effortlessly white-people dance on stage. Last night, the Boss recreated this iconic scene by pulling onto the stage a 10 year old girl, who was shy at first but after a few spins got into it, and started dancin’ like a pro. As he lowered her back down, he had the hugest, kindest grin on his face and the crowd went wild. I always say that I love for musicians to at least act like they’re having a good time on stage, but not only was Bruce having a good time, he appears at all times like, a kind, honest person. I am pretty sure that he is, too. I would vote for him for President.
Overall, I’m not sure that I could convince anyone to go see him live if they’re not already a fan. They would be impressed, to be sure, by his consummate professionalism and musicianship, but to truly enjoy a Boss show requires a lengthy history and relationship, but this is probably true of most long-standing musical acts and groups. For me, though, this was first time I’ve had such an opportunity. And it was wonderful.