Monday, September 12, 2016

Ain't Nobody Like to Be Alone

I just looked up the setlist to Friday’s Springsteen concert in Philly, and I’m even more impressed by the scope of the thing now than I was that night. Thirty-three songs!

A few memories of the show:

First off, had a blast tailgating with brothers Ed and Jim, sister-in-law Lindsay, and cousins John and Suze. How’d I go through 46 years of life without ever doing this? By not being a sports fan and not seeing a lot of big-arena concerts, I guess. (And after the show? More tailgating. So much better than pointing the car into the endless scrum of escaping vehicles.)

For someone who’s not really a big Springsteen fan, I sure know a lot of his songs. Out of the 33 songs he played, I could have hummed 24 of them before heading into the show...and walked out amazed that he hadn’t even gotten to “Jungleland,” “Born in the USA,” or “Thunder Road.” (Not to mention “The River,” the title song of the album this tour is celebrating.) The man has a catalogue. 

My favorite stretch of the show came early on, a four-song stretch beginning with “Spirits in the Night,” and then moving on to “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy),” “Kitty’s Back,” and “Rosalita.” I like other Springsteen songs, but I’d be hard-pressed to name another four that I like better and go so well together.

Then again, there’s “American Skin (41 Shots),” inspired by the police shooting of Amadou Diallo and still so relevant today. It's a song that can't help but stand apart. Springsteen is a curious phenomenon, in that he’s so beloved, and yet more liberal than a significant portion of his fans. I’m trying to think of another artist who are similarly outspoken (in either direction) and still enjoy the broad swathe of fans that Bruce has. (On a much smaller stage, I’m a big fan of Bill Willingham’s comics, and Nick Searcy’s Deputy Art Mullen was always a joy to watch on Justified; two conservatives whose work this liberal can’t get enough of.) Anyway, back to “American Skin”: Absolutely haunting, marred only by my minor annoyance that the people next to me took the opportunity to step out to get a beer. (The conservative version of football players not standing for the National Anthem? Maybe so, judging by my irritation.) 

I was really impressed that Bruce would pull signs from the audience, show them to the cameras, and then play them with the band. They seemed prepared for anything, including inviting a college student to come up and jam with them on “No Surrender.” And then at another point, a handful of other fans came up to the stage, including a little girl with a guitar. Bruce tried to adjust her baseball cap to let the camera see her face a bit better; this’ll be a memory she’ll have a chance to look back on forever. Her ponytail wended through the hole in the back of the hat, so there’s was only so much he could do, but it was a thoughtful gesture that stood out for me. 

And then there was “Hungry Heart.” The band played, and we all sang the lyrics on our own, with Bruce urging us to continue between the lines. He wandered through the audience, found a woman with a sign that said she was a breast cancer survivor, on her 7th week of chemo. He held up the sign and we sang our hearts out -- a cascade of love going toward her, music and love rising into the sky. It’s a fanciful idea that something like that can help in any tangible way. And yet there are tears in the corner of my eyes as I type this. I’m some kinda romantic, I guess. 

Overall, Bruce played for nearly four hours, so there’s plenty I’m glossing over. (One silly moment worth a mention: When “Dancing in the Dark” started up, some fans began waving giant poster-size heads of Courtney Cox.) But it was a phenomenal show, made all the better by the time spent with family not as family, but as friends.