Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band = Pure Unadulterated JOY

Sunday night, my ex, mother of my child, treated me to Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band at Phillips Arena. Pretty damn cool considering we’re still in the middle of a custody fight, but we still get along very well, overall…even though we’re still in the middle of a custody fight.

We were standing on the floor, about sixty feet in front of Bruce, and the show was phenomenal. I’ve seen him four times with the E Streeters, once with the Seeger Sessions Band a couple years ago (we actually drove up to Jersey for that one), and once solo acoustic on the Ghost of Tom Joad tour, and there is simply no one who puts on a better show.

Aside from being a volcano of energy and charisma, Bruce gives you a hell of a lot of rock and roll for your money. Back in the day, he would sometimes play over four hours a night (as he did the first time I saw him, on the Tunnel of Love tour), and Sunday he played for right around three hours. That’s with no intermission, too. The man clearly loves his job, and every minute is turbo-charged.

Also, no Springsteen show is ever the same. He changes the set list every night, and you never know what he’s going to play next. This tour, he’s taken this a step further: at one point in the show, he paced around the stage, reaching into the crowd and taking the signs people had made requesting songs, and he played those requests. Not only is the set-list ever-changing, it’s now dynamic. Even Bruce and the band don’t know everything they’re going to play in a show.

This led to one of the (many) highlights of the show. Someone requested “96 Tears,” the classic ? and the Mysterians tune. “96 Tears?” Bruce crowed. “You think the greatest bar band in the land doesn’t know ‘96 fuckin’ Tears?” There followed a very engaging discussion between him and his bandmates about what key they needed to be in, then a rousing cover of the song:

I just found a review of the Boston show last Tuesday, and the writer gave an account of a similar moment: “Even when the group didn’t know where they were going they kept the car on the road. When Springsteen plucked a request sign from the pile he’d collected that read ‘I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide’ by ZZ Top, he said, ‘The band doesn’t know this song. The band has never played this song’ and then he showed them the sign and away they went like the happy gang of musicians they obviously still are.”

The crowd at the show was truly an all-ages mix, with kids as young as five or six all the way up to people in their sixties or older. Bruce played with the kids at the edge of the stage, letting them sing into his mike and strum his guitar, and late in the show, one rugrat took it upon himself to try to replicate Courtney Cox’s role in the “Dancing in the Dark” video, leaping onstage to dance around Bruce and the others (who took it cheerfully in stride) for several minutes, until a security guy managed to coax him off the stage.

Bruce and the E Streeters have always been one of the most phenomenal bands in the history of popular music, just a symphony of ungodly talent, and they’re all still cooking with supreme gas. Just one of many Olympian bits of music in the show was Nils Lofgren’s virtuoso guitar work in “The Ghost of Tom Joad”:

My previous “Best Ever” concert was the Tunnel of Love show I saw many years ago. This show topped it. It was pure Bruce in classic mode, rocking and rolling and full of life most vital and revitalizing. Watching Springsteen at the top of his game (and I think he’s been at his peak for thirty-five or forty years now) isn’t just fun, it’s inspiring. He shows you the sheer potential coiled in human brain and muscle and bone and reminds you how wonderful living can be. It ain’t no sin to be glad you’re alive…

As Jon Stewart said a couple of years ago, “If you like joy, go see Bruce Springsteen.”

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