If I had to rank the Bruce concerts I’ve been to, the best would include the second (1976), all three in 1978, the Tunnel of Love show in 1988, any one of the 1999 Reunion shows, and either of the 2008 shows. It’s the last of those that I find remarkable. The young Bruce was building his rep, 1978 is generally thought to be his best-ever tour, the Tunnel show was one of the last high points of the first period of the E Street Band, and the Reunion shows eleven years later were, well, the Reunion shows, only they didn’t suck like most such affairs.
But by 2008, Bruce was almost 60, Danny Federici was no longer with the band (he was dead within two weeks), the E Street Band had been playing shows with Bruce for a decade after they returned for E Street 2.0. The album behind which he was touring, Magic, was decent enough, but … well, it’s only five years later and he’s only played one song from Magic on the current tour. And yet … Bruce still gives his all, and yes, part of it is “whoa, look how athletic he is for a geezer”, but what’s important is that he still gives himself emotionally, still believes that every person in the crowd should go home happy. The professionalism of the band means performances are generally tighter than ever, and they’ve got a gazillion songs to pick from (not even counting oldies) … they’ve only done 15 or so shows on the current tour so far, and have already played something like 65 different songs.
And in 2008, everything clicked. I couldn’t tell you why, and there’s no guarantee it’ll happen again … in 2009, we saw a good, solid show that would have thrilled anyone who had never seen him, but which was a lesser show in my eyes. The point is, 2009 is where expectations should lie … a bunch of sexagenarian rockers have no business being inspired, we should just be grateful they are professionals who care. But 2008 demonstrated that in this, as in so many things, Bruce Springsteen isn’t like everyone else.
Which is why I am looking forward to this week’s show even more than usual. Because the early reports of this tour approach the ecstatic, and not in the “I love to relive my youth, and boy is Bruce athletic for a geezer” way, but in the “holy shit, these are great concerts” way. If anyone can do it at age 62, it’s Bruce.
Here he is at the end of yet another three-hour show from 2008. Despite the wiggly cell-phone camera work (or perhaps because of it), you get a good feel for the goofy religious fervor of these shows. I love the way Bruce tries to get the song back from the crowd just short of the five-minute mark, only to give up when he sees they’ve made it their own. (When he says they aren’t supposed to play “Twist and Shout” because it’s a “stadium breaker”, he isn’t just indulging in hyperbole … as Wikipedia tells us about Bruce playing the song at that same Ullevi Stadium in 1985, “Springsteen – with the help of a very enthusiastic audience – almost rocked the stadium to pieces, literally. As the city rests on a layer of clay, the rhythmic movement of tens of thousands of people was close to causing a structural collapse.”)