Bruce Springsteen earned his nickname with me Friday night in Washington DC. I will always refer to him as The Boss from now on, because he showed me who really is The Boss. So let’s get this out of the way right now. I am a fan, but not a student of Bruce Springsteen. However, I will likely be finding his entire canon and learning it cover to cover. This was my first time seeing The Boss, and I have to be perfectly honest, the bar has been re-set. I have been to a number of large and small concerts in my day, but this was by far the most awe inspiring concert I have ever had the good fortune to witness, and it may spoil me for any future performance by other artists. That’s what it felt like, bearing witness to a true spectacle. It actually borders on religious. The Boss led the band for four jam packed hours that breezed by like the cool wind that refreshed me in National’s Ballpark all night. This was also my first time in this stadium, and it is a lovely place for a concert, and probably for a baseball game as well. I doubt there was visually a bad seat in the house. Our seats, even though we didn’t sit, were right behind second base looking into center field about 50 feet from the stage. Couldn’t ask for anything more. The sound was pristine and clean, and not overly loud. I could imagine that people in the nose bleeds likely had some echoes as is the case with most stadium shows. The lighting and video screens were a great addition, even from our close vantage point, they added to the whole experience, zooming in on The Boss and his sweat drenched clothing or on the enthusiastic E Street Band.
The band itself was passionate and energetic throughout the night, smiling and laughing with one another. However, Steven Van Zandt will forever be Silvio Dante from The Sopranos and I was half expecting someone to get whacked every time the camera landed on him, especially when he was playing mandolin on American Land during the encore. The guitars were perfectly blended and every solo felt like an old friend, much like The Boss’s guitars themselves. The back up singers and horn section were balanced and fare. Every note Jake Clemons played on the saxophone channeled his uncle Clarence’s ghost. They even did a beautiful retrospective of Clarence during Tenth Avenue Freeze Out, the sixth song during the encore. Besides The Boss, Max Weinberg is the heart, soul and conductor of the band. He looms directly behind and above The Boss stage center and communicates with glances and smiles with The Boss to start and end and break each song. Max holds it all together as any good drummer should, and he looks at The Boss like he is reprimanding him kindly, a musical accountant, warning Bruce not to be like Willy Nelson. But The Boss is not Willy. He pays his taxes and he dances on his mic pole and goes non-stop. There was barely room to breathe, let alone go to the bathroom in between songs as The Boss would count off the next song like DeeDee Ramone would, “1, 2, 3, 4”.
The show started right with Prove it all Night. The Boss then hit a number of old classic songs and new favorites from the new album Wrecking Ball, including We Take Care of our Own, which has such an old Springsteen feel and is quickly replacing Born in the USA as his patriotic anthem. People were singing along with the new songs just as much as the old ones, and the red, white and blue clothing was abound, but without the left/right politics that usually accompany Old Glory. Other highlights of the night included a very moving Spirit in the Night and The Boss bringing a toddler up on to stage was endearing during Waiting on a Sunny Day. The Boss is known for bringing kids and ladies on stage, no exception for this show as four young ladies made it on stage for Dancing in the Dark. It makes me wonder though, does he ever let guys on stage to dance? If he doesn’t, then that crushes one of my new dreams in life. One particularly interesting inclusion in the set was Blinded by the Light, which I guess Bruce is trying to take back from Manfred Mann’s Earth Band and make it is his own again. Hungry Heart from distant platforms in the audience that he had to run to through a gauntlet of groping hands was also pretty cool. I just wish I had been close enough to get some Boss sweat. The highlight song for me was Johnny 99, as the entire horn section joined The Boss at the front of the stage and moved the earth. The encore was eight songs and over an hour of dancing with the lights of the stadium on, punctuated with a 20 minute version of Twist and Shout to close the show.
My only questions about the evening have to do with pointing and fist pumping and guttural “Brucing”. The chants of “Bruuuuuuuuce” between songs, sounds an awful lot like booing to me. I have never understood that. We used to have a tight end here in Baltimore playing for the Ravens, Todd Heap, and whenever he made a catch over the middle, the fans would cheer “Heeeeeeeap”. This monotone sign of affection is lost on me, especially considering “Bruce” sounds strikingly like “Boo” when thousands of people are doing it at once. Then there’s the pointing. Bruce is a prolific pointer and a lot of the people in the audience will point back and point at one another and into the sky. Very strange. I’ve seen hands in the air, clapping, making devil horns, or flicking lighters, put the pointing was prodigious and peculiar. Maybe it’s a Jersey thing. Speaking of which, the fist pumping from The Boss and the audience, also leaves me a little bewildered. I actually like to think that because of the geographic history back to Jersey, maybe there is a connection between The Boss, Pauly D, Snookie and the rest of the Jersey Shore gang. Multiple generations of New Jersey natives all unified by fist pumping. If so, Snookie and gang just got a little more credibility in my book.
The Boss and the band really seemed to love doing this and that is a rare thing after playing these songs so many times over the last 40 years. The Boss’s relationship with every member of the band, especially Max, and with every member of the audience was evident and heartfelt. In all, truly the best concert going experience of my life. Well worth writing home about. Click this link to find out when you can become one of the many converts to the Boss and The E Street Band. I am a convert to the cult of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. I will see The Boss, and Max Weinberg, again soon. I hope you do too.