I have always loved the music of “The Boss,” although I cannot take credit for being one of those fans. The die hards who know every album, can argue song lyrics and set lists and tour dates and such. But I am a born-and-bred Jersey Girl, and when our most famous native plays his premier gig in the largest city in the state, (not to mention in our own Essex County backyard,) ... well, attention must be paid. On Wednesday night, Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band played for the first time at the Prudential Center in Newark. And I was there.
My invitation to the show came via my well-connected friend Kathy. Her late night text message asking, “What are you doing tomorrow night?” set into motion one of the Top Ten All Time Greatest Nights of My Entire Life. The pre-married, pre-kid, pre-home-owning me worked in the music business and pretty much got to see, well, everyone. But, God Bless Kathy, on Wednesday night I learned an entirely new meaning to the expression “Going to the Show.”
I picked Kathy up at 6 p.m., and there but for the grace of a backstage parking pass, soon slithered my car in between a couple of limos 20 feet from the loading dock at the back of the Rock. Gripping a shiny silvery laminate to my heart and trying not to resemble a 43-year-old female Dwayne Wayne, I followed her into the bowels of the arena. In the first composure-breaking moment of the evening I brush past The Boss himself, who is in the midst of an animated conversation with a crew member. I pull it together enough to continue down a dressing room-lined hallway, into a “green room.” I’m shaking, but they have a pretty sweet open bar back there, so that helps. It’s a small crowd of management, label people & family members, so no one except for yours truly was knocked nonsensical when in walked Bruce with a birthday cake for a colleague. We sing, and someone slices it up. HE hands me a plate and, at that moment, I die a little inside.
From there it’s off to catering for a quick pre-show dinner. On the way, Kathy stops for handshakes and hellos with security guys, band members, and one very tall, very handsome Pat Riley, introducing me along the way. Slowly I’m starting to feel less like a dork and more like I actually belong here. (It bears mentioning that these are seriously all some of the nicest people I’ve ever met.) Dinner is a mack daddy affair ... slightly akin to a fancy hotel buffet with linen tablecloths and uniformed chefs at carving stations. As we sit down to lobster tails, filet and lively cross-table chat I keep expecting someone to hand me a check. They don’t. Phew.
At 8:15, it’s almost showtime. We are now heavily armed with credentials up the wazoo. The aforementioned laminates, sticky passes for a private bar area called the E-Street Lounge, wristbands (green for the floor, hot pink for the section of the floor closest to the stage known as “The Pit”), and of course, good old fashioned hard tickets. Our seats are about 10 rows from the side of the stage.
Bruce’s mother Adele is seated a few rows below us. Can you imagine how proud SHE must be? Anyone who has been to a Bruce show recently knows that the median age of concertgoer is around 45. Our little corner of section 17 is shaping up to be a fun crowd. There are four guys next to us, all decked out in button downs, baseball caps and wedding bands. They are each about 3.5-Buds deep with cell phones in hand. I give them the best piece of advice I can: “Look, this is your big night out. Take advantage of the fact that you can tell your wives there is no cell service in the Rock.” One of them high-fives me and hands me a beer, the other motions me to his plate of fries. Look at me! I’m making friends!
From my vantage point in the “good seats” I can make out a few fellow Montclair Moms. There's Kim, who has made a well-played move for a choice position midway into the Pit. She’s traveled the world to see Springsteen and is the rumored veteran of over 100 shows. (What? I’ll be in the family doghouse for a least a week after this outing!!) Facebook updates tell me that there are at least 20 more of “my people” in the crowd. I’ve documented my adventures thus far in iPhotos and blithely send the Bruce/cake picture across the arena to my Friend-and-Bruce’s-Number-One-Fan Katie K. She responds with a jealousy infused expletive. I love it.
Whether it's a venue of 200 or 20,000, my favorite part of a live show has always been that moment when the room is filled, the lights go down, and there is just that excited mass intake of breath. Last night, the lights stayed up as the theme from “The Magnificent Seven” began to play, but as the E Street Band take the stage, it takes only seconds for the collective rumble to become a roar. There are alot of E-Streeters ... I think I counted 16. The Missus (Patti Scialfa) is missing in action. At one point Bruce jokes that she is home keeping the kids out of the drug stash. Hmmmm. Really? (Even more noticeably absent is the late Clarence Clemons, who passed away last year. His nephew Jake, along with the incredible “E-Street Horns,” do a stand-up job filling in.)
The show begins with “No Surrender” (yes, I know this one!) which is really, really good and just steamrolls through from there. An apparent highlight is the first live performance of “Bishop Danced” since sometime in the '70s. (No, I didn’t know that one but I’m pretty sure half of the crowd didn’t either) But I’ll admit to loving a lil’ bit of country twang mixed in with my rock 'n’ roll and this hit the spot. (If you have any idea what the lyrics mean, though, do enlighten me.) About 10 songs in is “Jack of All Trades.” Okay, I get that this is a really politically charged song. But to me, the the whole idea of the working man doing what he must to keep his promise...that “We’ll be all right,” just gets to me. I’m a mother, we eat that stuff up. On the other hand, Katie informs me that this song is when the Real Bruce Fans take their Refill and Restroom Breaks. What do I know?
Somewhere around “Shackled and Drawn” I decide to take my fancy passes out for a test spin. It’s pretty magical when you walk up to a security guard the size of a car, point to where you want to go and he just waves you there with a flick of his uniformed arm. I find some friends in the Pit, where there is just enough beer spillage on the floor to create a sort of slippery frat floor goo that could easily end in disaster for me, so I don’t stay long.
There are plenty more really great moments. During “Waiting on a Sunny Day” Bruce pulls up a kid from the audience to sing with him and do a knee bruiser of a stage slide. It’s so perfectly executed that I’m pretty sure this kid has been hand selected and pre-screened, yet it's still cool enough to make all the other kids’ parents’ jealous. You can’t not love “Apollo Medley” (The Way You Do The Things You Do”-into-”634-5789”). In one of the most special and most talked about surprises of the night, Bruce begins his encores by taking a cue from a fan holding up a sign requesting “Play One for Levon”. In a gorgeous nod to recently passed Levon Helm, he begins a solo acoustic cover of “The Weight”. Shortly after he’s joined by his band members and soon the whole roomful of us singing along. Pretty moving. Really cool. Might I add we all have really good voices.
“Born to Run” never fails. If you claim not to like it you’re either lying or a complete jerk. The lights were up for this and for a second I take in the sight of 18,000 singing, smiling, fist pumping fans. Pure, unadulterated joy. It’s fantastic and in that moment, I’ve suddenly become a die hard. I'll need to study up a bit, but when he comes back in the fall I vow to be at EVERY SINGLE SHOW. For “Rosalita” one of our newly minted friends in Row 11 pulls me out into the aisle to dance. By now these guys are already into tomorrow's 6-pack and have surely convinced their wives their phone batteries are dead. Not my problem. This is fun.
Three hours and 26 songs later Bruce wraps it up and takes it home with “10 Avenue Freeze Out.” In a touching, poignant tribute, as he sings “and the Big Man joined the band” the remaining E-Streeters freeze into position mime like as video images of Clarence Clemons filled the screens above the stage. I’m a bigger sap than most but I’d have dared you to have found a dry eye in the joint.
We sat in our seats and watched as the crowd cleared out then headed back through the huge black drapes to the backstage area. As I strolled through a small crowd including but not limited to Bruce, Steven Van Zandt and his wife Maureen, Jake Clemons, various backup singers, family and friends I’m still pretty overwhelmed but I’m keeping it cool and going along for the ride. Back in the green room I find Kathy, settle into a cushy chair as a hero of a fellow hands me a cold glass of wine. At this point we’re all pretty much pals enjoying the post show gloaming together. But it’s late, so Kathy and I and a few others eventually make our way to the loading dock where a Rock Cop yells at me while pointing to my Explorer. “Hey! Is that you? You gotta move it. Gotta get these trucks outta here.” Without hesitation I’m slapped back into reality, and I don't like it here.
I woke up the next day, makeup still on, wristbands in tact, and so exhausted that I was in literal physical pain. As Katie put it ..."Bruce Springsteen is 63 years old and he tears it up for three straight hours. We’re wiped beyond recognition, and all we had to do is show up.” Despite a sore throat from cheering and the ringing in my ears from standing next to a speaker cabinet the size of my kitchen, I begin gushing to my daughters about the night, for which I am informed that I Am Weird. Well, that may be true.
But I have a backstage pass.
Items of Note:
The Montclair Film Festival will be offering “The Promise: The Making of Darkness on The Edge of Town”, directed by Thom Zimny on Saturday, May 5 at 9:15 p.m. and Sunday, May 6 at 9:30 p.m. at the Bellevue Theatre.
If you would like to enjoy an experience similar to the one I described, please support the Kristen Ann Carr Fund which funds research in childhood sarcoma and Musicians on Call which improves the lives of patients by providing live music for enjoyment and therapy by bidding on auction packages at www.charitybuzz.com/KACF2012.
Bruce Springtsteen, Prudential Center, May 2, 2012 Setlist
"We Take Care of Our Own"
"Death to My Hometown"
"My City of Ruins"
"It's Hard to Be a Saint in the City"
"Jack of All Trades"
"She's the One"
"Shackled and Drawn"
"Waitin' on a Sunny Day"
"The Promised Land"
"Talk to Me"
"Apollo Medley" ("The Way You Do the Things You Do" and "634-5789")
"We Are Alive"
"Land of Hope and Dreams"
"Born to Run"
"Dancing in the Dark"
"Tenth Avenue Freeze-out"