In the late 2000s I saw my first Bruce Springsteen concert, at the Meadowlands, and one of the guys I was with remarked “I’ve seen Springsteen 34 times and that was by far the worst show I’ve ever seen him do.” Even without that basis for comparison, I knew what he meant. The show started late and was strangely flat, with a set list that was uninspiring across its wide middle. Bad Springsteen shows were not supposed to exist, and yet here I had found one—in New Jersey, no less. (Sports aside: For a while I had a similar problem with Steph Curry, I would go out of my way to watch him and somehow always catch him on an off night). I had been a big Springsteen fan in the 80s without ever making it to a concert. By the 2000s he was fading out of my musical rotation already, and after that show he dropped out completely.
A couple months ago, as a surprise, my fiance bought us tickets to see Springsteen on his current tour, featuring songs of The River. It turned out to be a perfect gift. The performance at the Wells Fargo Center on Friday was the Springsteen show I’d always hoped to see. It was big and fun, and featuring an all-world performer at the controls.
My observations from the show:
—Both Springsteen and his fans have aged a bunch since he first sang, “I had a wife and kids and Baltimore, jack/I went out for a ride and I never went back.” Which didn’t stop a room full of couples in their 40s, 50s, and 60s from belting those lines with Bruce, who was on stage with a band that includes the wife. That moment was the night in a nutshell: the meaning of the songs is what they used to mean. Also, it’s fun to sing along to the oldies.
—I had been a Springsteen fan long enough to have counted many different songs as my “favorite” over the years. The last “favorite,” before I stopped tracking, was Drive All Night. The song is on The River, so I knew I would hear it, but he went big on it, and that was good.
—After Springsteen had played all the songs on The River he went, without intermission, into a general concert, and the second song in that section was Prove it All Night, and Nils Lofgren ripped off a massive guitar solo, the only one of the night. It was great, and I found myself imagining an alternate universe in which the various keyboard and saxophone solos in Springsteen compositions were replaced by guitar solos like this one. I have to say, that alternate universe felt pretty good.
—Random aside: our seats were in the upper level at Wells Fargo, to the side of the stage, and during those I could look across the arena and see silhouetted figures standing the entry halls to the seating. In one of those halls a larger man stood alone. I became fixated on the idea that it was, or should be, Chris Christie.
—The show ended with a ridiculous barrage of hits, each of which could have closed the show on their own. The sequence went Jungleland-The Rising—Thunder Road—Born to Run—Dancing in the Dark—Rosalita. And then, for good measure, Springsteen covered Shout, introduced the band, and goofed around some. If you didn’t enjoy yourself, it wasn’t because he didn’t try. The show was the longest of this tour, at three hours and twenty-seven minutes. I appreciated the effort.