Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band rocked Houston last night. It was my fourth Springsteen concert and my first time at the Toyota Center. Man, I have to tell you: this senior citizen can rock!
Backstreets.com has a complete rundown of last night's setlist. A quick perusal will reveal something: Except for two songs from 1980 and 1982, every song was from the 70s or the 00s. Interesting. I'm a late comer to the Boss's discography. As late as 1987, I didn't like him. At all. I thought Born in the USA was horrible, especially since the video was of liver performances while the music was the studio and the sync was off. But then "Tunnel of Love" came out and "Brilliant Disguise" was the lead single. Hey, I thought. Not bad. And I was given the cassette of ToL to listen to...and I liked it. Around that time, I first discovered Stephen King (yes, another late bloomer, me) and he referenced a lot of Springsteen. I liked King's novels and then I listened to more Springsteen. Slowly, a deep love for both things emerged.
So, I missed all the hoopla back in the day with Springsteen. I have since stocked up on, ahem, alternative recordings, and I marvel at the sheer power of a Springsteen concert back in the day when he did 4-hour concerts. But the thing is: he still puts on a fantastic show. Sure, it took an hour to start (grumble) and the show was just shy of 3 hours, but, hey, the guy is 58.
There's a theme that is evident is Bruce's later work, starting, ironically, around Tunnel of Love. It's a redemptive quality. He went through a public marriage/divorce/marriage and wrote about it. That's where I started so, not coincidentally, the late 80s/early 90s material is my favorite. There's a man, aging, seeing how the world really is, and coping with it as best he can.
It's not surprising that his first CD of new material with the E Streeters was 2002's The Rising. Many of the firefighters who died on 9/11 loved Springsteen. And he payed homage to their sacrifice. That's what he does: he mirrors our time. Cut to his 2007 CD, "Magic," and you see the same thing. I'll challenge anyone to sum up this first decade of the 2000s more succinctly than Springsteen in this verse from "Long Walk Home":
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.
That you know flag flying over the courthouse
Means certain things are set in stone
Who we are, what we'll do and what we won't."
Back to the show, Bruce is a showman and, more than thirty years on, he still knows to whom he owes his success. The best part of the show was when he talked to a kid standing in the front row. We couldn't see him but I'm guessing he was a teen. He had a neon pink piece of paper with a song request. Bruce walked over, talked to him, got his name, and took the paper. He read it and then walked, back to the audience, and told the band the song. Slowly, he turned toward the audience and the cameras and opened the paper. It read "E Street Shuffle Please!!" We all cheered, the band killed, and Bruce returned the paper to the boy.
It's the intimate moments like that, amid 16,000 family members, that reminds us that there are more things that bring us together than tear us apart. It was nice. It was genuine. It was a thank you by Bruce to that boy and to the legions of fans who have supported him throughout the years.