If I had a bucket list for concerts I would certainly be crossing out Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band after being a part of the 3-hour show last week. Seeing Clarence Clemmons, Max Winberg, and Steven Van Zandt in person in addition to Springsteen was to be in the presence of musical royalty.
The concert experience is always so interesting. To be a part of something—something shared like the experience almost always is—reminds me so much of our need to belong. The Springsteen community is in fact a special one, one that remembers and draws deep from life’s many twists and turns, and I was so glad that Bruce and the band opted to retrace the steps that got us here instead of pushing tracks from the more recent Magic and Working on a Dream. Highlights of the night included the entire Born to Run record from 1975. Bruce introduced the set by saying that, at the time, their third record was for the most part a do or die. After “two stiffs,” according to the Boss, Born To Run had to be a hit or he was done.
The Born to Run set was magic for me not necessarily for the songs themselves, but more due to the feelings of pathos surrounding the entire set. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band had three shows left after Nashville and at each one they were including a set from one of their most critical records: Greetings from Asbury Park, Born in the USA, The River, and Born to Run. It was evident that the band was aware that they were playing these songs, perhaps, together for the last time. With all due respect to the performance of “Backstreets”, the finale “Jungleland” left a tone of sadness hanging in the air above all of us at Sommet that night—especially the last few lines:
And the poets down here don’t write nothing at all. They just stand back and let it all be, and in the quick of the night they reach for their moment and try to make an honest stand. But they wind up wounded; not even dead—Tonight in Jungleland.
Which brings me to another revelation. If you think about it, American popular music is relatively young. We really began with the Elvis/Beatles generation that gave way to the music of the 1970s and 1980s. When MTV hit the scene in the early to mid 1980s we began what I see as a third generation. As the concert drew towards its close last week I sensed a generation going with him. Simultaneously there was celebration and lament as those final words of “Jungleland” signaled the end.
That shift in popular music that began with MTV and most likely completed itself around the end of the 1980s began a trend in popular music more toward the carnal and away from the heart. As I enjoyed the last chords of an era, it hit me that the sadness I was feeling was the result of something lost. And even though we knew it wouldn’t last forever—we still held on to the notion that it might. I may be crazy, but when Bruce told the crowd that the E Street Band was going away “for at least a little while,” I can’t help but think that everyone on the stage was thinking the same thing.
There will always be good songwriters and good music, but I tend to think the era of the songwriters that wrote not to stimulate our basest desire, but touch our souls, is coming to an end. The good news, of course, is that we have recordings—in Springsteen’s case a lot—as proof that we were a people at one time that felt with our hearts instead of carnality and superficiality.
Here is the setlist from November 18 at the Sommet Center, Nashville TN.
Wrecking Ball (with Curt Ramm)
Something in the Night
Working on a Dream
Tenth Avenue Freeze-out (with Curt Ramm)
Born to Run
She’s the One
Meeting Across the River (with Curt Ramm)
Waitin’ on a Sunny Day
Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town
You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)
Ring of Fire (with Curt Ramm)
American Land (with Curt Ramm)
Dancing in the Dark
Rosalita (with Curt Ramm)
Higher and Higher (with Curt Ramm)