How does a 62 year old man play guitar, sing, dance, and corral a crowd of thousands for three hours and 45 minutes?
Or maybe I should ask the more important question: Is Bruce Springsteen just a man or a god?
He’s both. Flesh and spirit and all that jazz.
Last month, I wrote about how on my sick day, I read the David Remnick profile of Bruce Springsteen from The New Yorker and promptly decided I needed tickets to his Philadelphia show. (By the way, if you ever want me to read something, just put it in The New Yorker.) On the same day, I downloaded three of Springsteen’s albums, hoping to brush up on many of the songs I didn’t know before seeing him.
But some bands are just meant to be experienced live. (I barely listened to those albums.) From the moment Bruce and his crew pulled up in their vans in the baseball stadium and his first words, “My people!” I was in awe.
The baseball stadium was full, but it felt like we were in his backyard. Bruce has the ability to make a large crowd feel like close friends. And we all were. In the many concerts I’ve been to, the thing I hate most is the crowds. The people sucking face in front of you, the stupid girls jumping up in the air, the guys who growl unwittingly into the air after too many beers. Usually, a concert is the kind of thing that makes me go into survival mode; I flex my hands like a tiger and get ready to scratch. But the Bruce Springsteen crowd was full of nice people in all shapes, ages and sizes who just wanted to admire and have fun. He showed us not only a good time, but that he could outlast us all.
The Boss is at retirement age, but he’s built. And stylish. And maybe even better looking than he was in previous decades. (He has all his hair! Or at least really expensive hair plugs. But I think it’s really all his hair!) He and the band played the first few songs with the stadium lights at full blast, and then the stadium darkened for some of his newer work. While he had a lot of fun singing his old songs—hits like “Hungry Heart” and “Badlands”—it was the newer songs that seemed to pull at him emotionally and represent where he is right now. Then there was his little speech on ghosts, the ones he sees everywhere that remind him of who he was, where he was, what’s missing and what still remains.
There’s a reason David Remnick titled that New Yorker piece “We Are Alive.” Not only is it the name of a song on Springsteen’s latest album, Wrecking Ball, a ballad about the working men who have passed on—”Let your mind rest easy / sleep well my friend / it’s only our bodies / that betray us in the end”—but a reminder of the heart and spirit that his music is about. As far as anyone can tell, Springsteen’s body has not betrayed him. His show is about death and passing and life and jubilation. About sex and rock-and-roll. About everything.
Bruce Springsteen is poet and preacher, performer and brooder, colonel and lover. He leads that band through the trenches of an almost four-hour concert and doesn’t seem to need to come up for air. He doesn’t even seem to need a bathroom break.
I was tired from standing for two hours, but I don’t think Bruce Springsteen ever wants to stop playing music.
Oh, Christ. I’m getting all sentimental and idealistic and romantic. I’m thinking things like, Bruce Sprinsteen is America. Bruce Springsteen is my childhood, he’s where I come from, he’s my people.
His voice—filled with equal measure of strength and ache—brings me right back to sitting in the backseat of my parents’ car when I was seven and they sang along to the story about crazy Janey and her birthday song.
That’s the thing about music. It cuts right to your soul so that when you hear the familiar strings, you’re weightless and timeless, the very person you were when you first heard it. And the artist who brings that to you is a magic-maker.
Not only does Bruce Springsteen seem to represent the very definition of the American man, but he’s a magician whose art is on the cusp of hubris, managing to step back just in time before going over the edge. “Are you hot? Are you having fun? Are you feeling a little uncomfortable? Well, that’s rock-n-roll!”
I’ll go ahead and say it was the best concert I’ve ever been to.