A couple weeks ago I was invited to go see Bruce Springsteen play at the Los Angeles Sports Arena. I'd followed the Grateful Dead around, but I'd never made it to a Springsteen show. Which is strange when I consider it because one of my favorite friends Nanette, the girl who introduced me to Rod Stewart and the Faces and Led Zepplin, is a HUGE Bruce fan - like the biggest. When she got married she and her husband did their first dance to Dancin' in the Dark. We went to see Rod Stewart and the Faces in 1974 at Anaheim Stadium and Led Zepplin at the Forum in 77, but we never did go to a Bruce show together.
At this point I would bet that she's been to about 300 Springsteen shows - she is one of his biggest fans.
Up until this point my only exposure to Bruce was at a fabulously boring party up in the Hollywood Hills in the 90s, thrown by Ted Field for U2 after a concert, when I forgot to lock the bathroom door and he walked in as I was pulling my pants up. That was the highlight of my evening.
This Springsteen concert was also the first show for my friends Mark and Lynn's 8 year old son Travis. We had great seats, just above the soundboard and if you've ever been to the Sports Arena then you know how important that is because the sound can be brutally bad in that building. Once we found our seats I texted Nanette and sure enough she was doing not only the California shows, but also heading to New Orleans to see him at Jazz Fest. She left her spot by the front of the stage to come give me a hug and it was so fun to catch up with her, albeit briefly. Turns out I had a lot of friends there that night and we were texting and waving and how did I ever go to a concert without a cell phone?
The show started with the lights up so I could see the Springsteen nation on their feet with their hands in
air, singing at the top of their lungs. My knowledge of the Springsteen songbook is limited to his greatest hits but all around me people sang the words to every song and I listened and really heard the meaning because it resonates. Those songs are for and about the 99% in this country, many of whom are struggling to survive day to day. The people who keep hold of their American dream and get up each day with the intention of finding work and taking care of their families. They are simple stories, but they are all great.
Bruce brings a level of energy and passion to performance that is unparalleled - truly. The lights went down as the show got under way but the crowd stayed on their feet. From where I was sitting, and without my glasses, it didn't appear that he'd aged in the last 30 years. Seriously, the dude slammed a beer and crowd surfed back to the stage and did not look like an old guy trying too hard. It seemed like the next natural thing amidst all the raucous love that was surging between the man, the band and the fans.
Tom Morello from RATM showed up and played a jaw dropping solo on Ghost of Tom Joad and brought the house down.
It was truly one of the best shows I've ever seen in my life and I have been to a lot of shows. This experience transcended the usual Los Angeles see and be seen blahs where audiences sit with butts in seats and text each other or plan the next move in their evenings. Everyone - all the way up to the rafters - was up and dancing the entire time. They were singing and smiling and being so nice to each other. It was more like being in the midwest with all the jocularity and earnest appreciation and participating.
The only one missing was Clarence...
In his place stood his nephew Jake, who did a great job and was loved mightily for it - on the jumbotron his face was filled with joy and he blew his horn and put his own stamp on the groove.
By the time we got to 10th Avenue Freeze Out the crowd was in a frenzy and standing out in the middle of the crowd Bruce sang, "this is the important part...When the change was made uptown and the big man joined the band...", and paused and the crowd went crazy, cheering and screaming and clapping for 2 minutes straight while up on the big screens images of Clarence from times past flashed by.
It was bittersweet and overwhelming and you could feel the big man there in the room.
I thought that this was an amazing gift for Mark and Lynn to give Travis (and me)- what a great first concert.
And then I texted Nanette and said, "I totally get it."
Springsteen is in Europe now but he'll be back east this summer. If he's playing near you - GO - it's like a tent revival with great music and a lot of love and dancing - doesn't get much better than that.