BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN & THE E STREET BAND IN PHILLY
MY FIST IS IN THE AIR for the man who played 2 hours and 40 minutes for his second performance at the home of the Philadelphia Phillie’s on Labor Day, and word of mouth says that The Boss played for nearly 4 hours the previous night. The Culture Whore scored free tickets thanks to WXPN, and although we sat in the nosebleeds, what was most shocking even from that distance is Bruce Springsteen’s sheer stamina and bravado. Watching him perform with the E Street Band, the cart that Bruce-the-Ox pulls, it became apparent that at any moment the man could leap downstage into the crowd, pull up the first woman he sees for a dance, or as happened twice this night, pull up very young children to relieve him of singing his own songs to let them take over the verses, welling up the eyes of thousands who can’t help but cry at the sight of their kin singing away the sentiments of their parents and their parent’s parents who that come before them. At a point, Bruce even stopped the show for one woman’s sign near the front that read in thick letters, “Play THE RIVER for my Husband,” framed by flashing Christmas lights. Bruce leaned the poster against his mic stand center stage for the cameras to fix on, but from their point of view, the foot of the stage blocked the next line of text, leaving me to imagine that the husband in question wasn’t there, and because of the amount of national pride that comes with a show like Springsteen’s, that he must be an US Armed Forces soldier either on deployment or even, god forbid, dead. No doubt I choked on my emotions at the cameras’ close up of the poster maker’s teary gaze, belting every line while Bruce seared with an a capella solo.
I know now why the Boss really is in charge; at his whim, or on his signal, all powers in the space will converge just right, so to produce the feelings of grandeur and awe that make the event become a sort of rite. In this way, Bruce Springsteen keeps the soul of rock n’ roll alive, and because of the context his music brings, our American values too. At about the 2 hour mark, Bruce gave the band a break and just spoke to us, we Philadelphians and Jersey Folk, about the nature of work. Work, he says, is our bread and butter, and in these economic times, it’s a blessing. And as tough as it is out there for some of us, it’s amazing that we made it out to the show. Having some fun too, Bruce called himself something of an anomaly…
“ I wanna talk about the people that make the world go ‘round, the police, the firemen, businessmen… I’m thankful for work… But I didn’t do what my daddy told me. We’re musicians, and that’s why they call it playing.”
Having never seen a Springsteen show, I walked away admiring this man whose legacy thrives after three decades, and because of it, the music. You could see how much he and especially the E Street Band have put in the work (Watching Max Weinberg was like a lesson book of professionalism. Amazing!). And you can see that their kind of performance is both still relevant and a relic of the past. At the 2012 SXSW, Bruce Springsteen’s keynote address observed the power of creativity. What seemed authentic to one generation might seem trite to the next, but ultimately what gets across is the why, not the how:
“Purity of human expression and experience is not confined to guitars, to tubes, to turntables, to microchips… there is no pure way, of doing it. There’s just doing it. …Today authenticity is a house of mirrors. It’s all just what you’re bringing when the lights go down. It’s your teachers, your influences, your personal history. And at the end of the day, it’s the power and purpose of your music that still matters.”
The field lights came on long before the show was over, and this is why people pay $80 two nights in a row, because he’s still got something to give. As witness to this, I began to imagine what seeing Johnny Cash or Woody Guthrie must have been like. But then again, it’s just rock n’ roll. Goddamn, I wish he had played “Streets of Philadelphia.”