It is Bruce Springsteen’s 60th birthday, so it seemed somehow fitting to save my musings on Monday night’s concert in Chicago for today. I never cease to be amazed by the energy he and the E Street Band bring to the stage and, if I hadn’t heard it twice in the radio this morning and read it several times online, I’m not sure I’d believe he’s actually 60. Happy Birthday, Mr. Springsteen — and many thanks for sharing your talent with us all these years. Please don’t retire, even though you now are eligible to do so.
To say that Brian and I had a certain amount of trepidation about Monday’s Springsteen concert is a bit of an understatement. Because our last experience had been the front-row, elbows-on-the-stage one that every hard-core fan dreams of one day having, we were concerned that we’d never enjoy another show as much. Complicating matters was the fact that we were dealing with the issue in opposite ways — he wanted the best-possible seats, in order to get as close to the same experience again, whereas I had already decided that nothing would ever live up to it, so merely being there was enough. This led to some stress and disagreement about ticket procurement that culminated in us arriving empty-handed at the United Center a few hours before showtime.
A bit more dithering ensued as we weighed the option of buying what was still available (upper level, behind the stage) or waiting at the back of the “drop line” in the hopes that more of the coveted general-admission or lower-level seats would appear. Brian finally said “your decision,” which I knew really meant “I don’t want those crappy seats that you’re fine with buying, but I know you’ll be pissed if I say no, and I don’t want to deal with that. It’s your fault if we have a bad time.” (He’s a man of few words, but voluminous subtext.)
I hesitated for a split-second and then turned to the ticket window and made the buy. Tickets for section 330 in hand, we watched the end of the Bears game through a sports bar window, and then the doors finally opened two hours before showtime. We scoped out our seats and then headed back downstairs to the very same bar, and put back a couple of beers while watching an eclectic mix of giant, silent televisions: the Emmys, the Cubs, and finally, what Brian was after — the Giants vs. Cowboys.
We headed back up to our seats around 8:00, unsure of what to expect. The draw of this particular show was that Bruce & the ESB were going to be playing the entire “Born to Run” album, beginning to end. It was only the second time they had ever done this; the first was couple of decades months ago. Would it open the show? Or close it? Or be somewhere in the middle?
Before we had that question answered, Brian made the excellent suggestion that we move over one section, where it appeared that not a single seat had been sold. There would be no one in front or behind us, which meant we’d have a clear view of our own without blocking anyone else’s. (We like to stand for the entire show and engage in our uniquely-awful manner of dancing.) We were thus ensconced in our own almost-private section — a few others soon followed our lead — when the show began… with “Seeds.” So, BTR was not taking the lead-off position.
After a half-dozen or so songs (including “Hungry Heart” a favorite I’d never heard live before) and the best quote of the night (“I hear the sound… of the E Street Band fucking up!”), Bruce stepped up to the mic and announced the album. As the opening notes of “Thunder Road” began, the crowd went wild. Nearly everyone was on their feet, singing along — and that momentum didn’t fade throughout the entire BTR performance. It seemed that, for most of the audience, hearing that full record live from start to finish, was absolutely transendent.
If that sounds like hyperbole, it isn’t. Imagine this scenario: When you’re a kid, you see a painting in a book and you really love it, and come back to it time and again. Then, when you’re grown, you have a chance to see the painting in a museum — but when you get there, part of it is covered up and you can’t see the entire thing. The next time you go, same thing, only different parts are concealed. After this happens a bunch of times, you show up one day, and there it is — the full painting. Complete and right in front of you, this painting you’ve experienced in print and in pieces is transformed when you finally see it the way the artist intended. And you realize, in the truest sense of the expression, that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
It was like that.
I said to Brian on the ride home, “Why isn’t ‘Meeting Across the River’ my favorite Bruce song?” Tucked into its originally-intended spot between “She’s the One” and “Jungleland,” its simple brilliance shines in a way I had never before noticed.
After BTR was done, the band played another handful of songs before segueing — almost without any break at all — into the encore. The show clocked in at just a hair under three hours, longer than most I’ve seen recently. And from start to finish, it was another stellar performance.
We may have been closer to the gods than the stage, but this show was every bit the amazing experience as Charlottesville. Brian and I were, needless to say, relieved. I’m not sure what we would have done if we found that we couldn’t enjoy a show from the nosebleeds anymore — because it can’t be front row every time.