Tony and me outside the Xcel Center, March 16, 2008, St. Paul, Minnesota
This is a post about the last time I saw Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band live in concert. Okay, not the last time, but the most recent time. It was just over a year ago: Sunday, March 16, 2008. I’m thinking a lot about that concert today probably because I am heading out to see Springsteen and the band for my 27th time tonight!
The title for this post comes from the last words Springsteen said as he excited the stage after that concert on 3/16/2008: “Long live happiness!” It is fitting because his concerts have been such a source of joy in my life. That show last March was no exception. Indeed, it was one of the most fantastic nights of my life, one of those nights that will flash before your eyes and bring a smile to your face when you’re on your deathbed.
It was a cold spring night in St. Paul, Minnesota, and I was seeing Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band with my spiritual brother, Tony Cloyd. There were many things that made this night special. First, it would be the first time Tony ever saw Springsteen live! There’s nothing like the excitement of taking someone to there first E Street Band show. Will they “get it”? Keyboardist Danny Federici wasn’t playing with the band since November, 2007 due to illness. Would his replacement Charlie Giordano make this not as good? Second, I was able to fly out to Minnesota by myself to spend time with my friend. Tony and I have bookend birthdays: his is March 1 and mine is March 31. This trip was right in the middle. Third, it was my 26th Bruce show, but my first time seeing him outside of California. That was a novelty. Would there be a different vibe in this part of the country? I was excited.
Tony and I had made a day of this. We played around the Twin Cities all day. As Chrisy had been generous to give me this trip as a birthday present, Tony’s wife, Julie, was kind enough to let us play all weekend! We had general admission (GAs) tickets on the floor and decided to go down to the venue, The Xcel Energy Center, way early to try our luck with the wristband lottery to be among the lucky few hundred to get into the pit at the front of the stage. That was a long ordeal that involved lots of standing, lining up in sequential order, and waiting for a number to be called. Alas, we just missed the cut off and ended up not getting into the pit. However, we were let into the venue early and were able to get as close as possible without actually being in the pit: right up against the pit barrier. As witnessed by the below photo that Tony took with his iPhone, it was really close!
This is a picture Tony took with his phone.
The tickets listed a 7:30 show time, but by the time 7:30 rolled around we had actually been standing for something like five hours! I remember thinking, “Man, these sore feet just to get into the pit and we didn’t do it. I will never get GAs again.” Bruce took the stage at 8:33 p.m. and the second he broke into the first song, NIGHT, all that tiredness and soreness was gone! Totally gone! My thoughts immediately changed to “This is so worth it! I have dancing room! GAs are the only way to go!” (In fact, for tomorrow night’s show, night #2 in L.A. I have GAs and am trying the pit lottery again).
Let me back up. I know many of you will in no way relate to this, but one of my very favorite feelings in life is the feeling I get right when the house lights go out and the E Street Band takes the stage. There are few things like it in the world: the anticipation, the excitement, knowing what is to come! I love watching the silhouettes come out, two-by-two usually, maybe Garry and Roy, Max and Nils, Patti and Steve, and then the Big Man, and then the man himself, the Boss, Bruce Springsteen and he screams, “Is anybody alive out there?” There are few times in my life I feel so alive so I scream back with a resounding, “Yes!” Tonight they open with NIGHT from the 1975 classic album, “Born to Run.” The euphoria begins!
Here was the set list for Tony’s first E Street Band show:
2. RADIO NOWHERE
3. LONESOME DAY
4. DARKNESS ON THE EDGE OF TOWN
5. GYPSY BIKER
7. REASON TO BELIEVE
8. PROVE IT ALL NIGHT
9. SHE’S THE ONE
10. LIVIN’ IN THE FUTURE
11. THE PROMISED LAND
12. WAITIN’ ON A SUNNY DAY
14. DEVIL’S ARCADE
15. THE RISING
16. LAST TO DIE
17. LONG WALK HOME
19. GIRLS IN THEIR SUMMER CLOTHES
21. BORN TO RUN
22. DANCING IN THE DARK
23. AMERICAN LAND
There was not a bad moment in the show, pure bliss from 8:33 to 10:52! However, there were moments so fantastic that they are etched in my memory the way they engrave words like “July 24, 1993 – Our Wedding Day” into the glass on a pair of Champaign glasses. Here are a few of them from the concert of 3/16/08:
The first and second songs rocked, really rocked, but true magic didn’t come until the third song, LONESOME DAY, it was like a beautiful symphony the way everybody came together and it gave me a great feeling of pure joy. It was the opening track of my favorite album, “The Rising,” and it never sounded better. As always, Bruce shined on guitar.
A professional shot of our concert in St. Paul that night.
There was a moment during the fifth song, GYPSY BIKER that summarizes why I love the E Street Band, they are more than a band; they are family. Steve and Bruce share a mike for a minute and do a duet on the part that says, “my love for you brother, lying still and unchanged” and I got goose bumps. I remember thinking about the history these to men share, what they’ve been through. “This is the guy Bruce wrote BOBBY JEAN about.” I started thinking about my friend next to me and how he’s my brother too. This is not to mention that Steven’s guitar solo during this song knocked my head off it was so good.
REASON TO BELIEVE, the seventh song of the night was a trip! Bruce did this song in an entirely different way this tour, using the bullet mic, a total bluesy version! Great stuff. Also, this was a song in which Nils shined on guitar.
Right after that came PROVE IT ALL NIGHT and all three main guitar players, Bruce, Steve, and Nils, shared this one. It was like a three-way solo if there is such a thing. This song was pure relationships working off each other in a way that I have literally never seen at any of the 250 or so concerts I have seen in my lifetime. When they got to the chorus and sang, “Prove it all night for your love” it seemed like a little bit of heaven.
On SHE’S THE ONE it was Professor Roy who shined on his keyboards! Amazing work! The song DEVIL’S ARCADE was all musically perfect, the entire big band blended into musical perfection. It is hard to explain, but it was simply because of the instrumentation work that at this moment during the 14th song I hit the pure euphoric stage of the show.
Then, a few songs later it really got emotional for me. For some reason during the new song LONG WALK HOME, I began to tear up. It was the first verse when Bruce sang, “I could smell the same deep green of summer, above me the night sky was glowing, in the distance I could see the town where I was born.” Honestly, I think it might have been something about being in the heartland there in Minnesota, but the belonging of this song laid me flat. Consider these lyrics that echoed out over the Xcel center:
My father said, “Son we’re lucky in this town
It’s a beautiful place to be born
It just wraps its arms around you
Nobody crowds you, nobody goes it alone.
You know that flag flying over the courthouse
Means certain things are set in stone
Who we are, what we’ll do and what we won’t.”
It was weird, I thought of Tony moving to Minnesota and his longing for that state and it actually made sense to me. I thought of “nobody goes it alone” and how Tony hasn’t let me go it alone for so long. Maybe it was the lovely backing vocals by Nils, I don’t know, but it all felt more than comforting, more than perfect. And, I may be crazy, but it did have a different feel than a California show.
The main set ended one song later at 10:15 with a great version of BADLANDS. They came out for an encore that lasted almost 40 minutes!
Another professional shot from that evening: Mighty Max, The Big Man, and The Boss.
Without a doubt the most amazing moment of the encore was the classic story JUNGLELAND from the “Born to Run” album. I know most of you will think this next statement is hyperbole, but it is not to me: I honestly don’t think you have truly lived until you have seen this song live. You have to experience the masterful sax solo by the Big Man Clarence Clemons at least once in your life. The sax solo is as long as it is hauntingly lovely. The song is the story of a dreamer named Magic Rat. In the end after the sax solo has pulled your heart out Bruce closes the song with an amazing final verse that includes perhaps my favorite lyrics in the history of rock ‘n’ roll. This line reiterates my belief that art matters, this line explains why Rat get shot, Bruce delivers it in a concerned tone, a whisper of desperation if you will . . . .
“. . . And the poets down here don’t write nothing at all,
they just stand back and let it all be . . .”
Heartbreaking. I’m done. That line alone was worth the price of admission.
But, it’s not over, full house lights come on for the final three: BORN TO RUN, DANCING IN THE DARK, and AMERICAN LAND. The entire place is jumping, literally. There is much dancing. Even Tony and I lock elbows and swing as if doing some Irish gig. It is all the very definition of fun!
After the long line of band members, arms locked, take their bow, and before exiting the stage Bruce walks over to the mic one last time and tells us all: “Long live happiness!” It’s a line I have tried to hold on to between the 11 months that have passed between that last Springsteen show in St. Paul and the one I will see tonight with my wife and two boys.
It’s over and then it’s the moment of truth. Did Tony like it? Before I could ask, our new friends, all those folks around us that we got to know through hours of standing together want to know also. A lady from California asks first: “So did you like your first show?” Tony beams and replies: “I am a true believer. I have been converted!” That’s not enough for me so I ask: “What did you really think?” I will never forget Tony’s response: “I wish someone could find a way to harness that man’s energy. You could plug him in and have enough energy to power the Twin Cities!”
Tony indeed “gets it.”
Tony and I outside of Mickey's Diner after the show.
Afterwards, we walked through the chilly streets of St. Paul to the famous diner called Mickey's and had a very memorial meal of homemade stew. We sat and talked and let Sunday night turn into Monday morning. It was an evening I will never forget.
Long live happiness indeed!