Sunday night I went to see The Boss at Wembley. It was about as nice a night as London allows, beautiful weather, easy access, and with 80 some odd thousand like-minded people (actually, many far more single-mindedly Bossy than I was) it was an excellent time. It helped I was with three of the Americarnage Gang of Four, Gnat Coombs and Hollywood Dan Louw (literally just in from the Stockholm marathon and proudly exposing his blisters to the crowd) and muchas gracias Senor Gnat for the tickets.
It was the third time I've seen Springsteen. The first was still the best, at Tanglewood in the Berkshires in August 1975, just before Born To Run broke, just before I moved to Montreal, and just before Annie's and my brief romance was over. I wrote about it last year (you can find that here) when I dug out an old poem to mark the 40th anniversary of Born To Run. It was the best not just because I thought I was madly in love, and we'd gone spur of the moment, and it was outdoors in the mountains; there was an intimacy among the 1,200 or so people there, who shared a knowledge of something great that most of the country didn't really know about. It's still special, and The Wild The Innocent and the E Street Shuffle may still be my favourite Springsteen album.
The second time I saw him was at Wembley in 1985, on July 3rd. I flew to America on the Fourth of July that year, and I suspect the Fourth would have been a bigger thing and better show, but it was still pretty good. Again, I felt it was far more intimate than a stadium show had the right to be, even though my company was nowhere near as compelling as Annie and Bryan, and the seats, high and to the side, meant you couldn't really see the stage, saw only one and a half screens, and heard everything echoing back as if on tape delay. I pretty much resolved then not to go to any more stadium shows, and for 30 years I didn't.
But this one was much better than 1985. The technology is, I suppose, better, and once you got used to the sound it was fine. We were on the field; lined up on our own 10 yard line with the stage in the opposite end zone, meaning you could see the little figures on stage, but you needed the three screens, like watching a TV in a showroom window from across the street.
What's different is the Boss, at 67, is more frenetic, and in better pumped-up shape (& perhaps a little bit scapel'd), than 30 years ago, and the band is, if anything tighter and more versatile. It's great to have Soozie Tyrell fiddling, though every time she got a closeup I thought of Beverly Sills! Violin has always added a lot of texture to the band; I recall Suki Lahav from the 1975 WMMR/Main Point concert which is one of my all-time favourite records, bootleg and all. And it was funny to see Nils and Steve each going for second place in a Keith Richards look alike contest! And I kept watching Max Weinberg, looking at lyrics on a IPad teleprompter as he pounds the skins, and thinking he doesn't need amplification. Interestingly, I read an interviw with Suki Lahav, who returned to Israel soon after leaving the band, and she said Max didn't like being behind Bruce while drumming, in the drummer's usual position, because he couldn't see/hear the words of the song, and he wanted to see what Bruce was singing because the words influenced the way he drums. So that was a problem solved by technology.
They sounded great, they interacted with the audience with a spontaneous quality, and they played through a huge catalogue of songs, all of which have a Springsteen similarity but which cover a lot of different textures. And changing contexts: 'Tougher Than The Rest' was played as a tribute to Muhammad Ali, and you can't do much better than that, great one to greatest.
Which is the interesting thing, because this crowd was not just people like me out to see a figure from their past. It was not like watching Duran Duran because you loved them when you were a teen and now you're old and they're old and you're both going through the paces. This crowd was made up of people from their teens to, I dunno, older than me, and they all had their favourites from different eras, and many of them could not have come to the Boss long before the previous decade. When I was 20, there weren't many recording stars from 40 years before we were listening to--people who were hot in 1931. But it's different, and has been since the Sixties, maybe even since the Fifties. Again, technology is part of that, but there is a sort of Golden Age of rock which seems to attract and open new ears in every new generation.
As well as turn the original old generation into kids again. Check out the S.E.G. on Iron Mike in the photo on the right. Do I look Born In The USA or what?
Of course, we have aged. I started to leave after the first encore ('Jungleland') because I had to get a train home, and it was Sunday in Britain, and the last train leaves earlier, and there was a replacement bus service one of whose drivers had nearly taken his bus into a low railway bridge was I was coming back from the BBC that morning. So I played safe and managed to get home before midnight and walk the dog. But the sax solo in 'Jungleland' started to take me back, maybe because I was out of the crowd, and there is a sense where I find the collective experience overkill, and Jake Clemons wasn't playing his uncle's stuff note for note, but the sense of continuity being the thing that mitigates against time passing struck me strongly.
Then people started coming up to me and shaking my hand, or congratulating me, and I thought they might be NFL fans, but they were saying things like 'Feel The Bern' and I realised it was because of my T-shirt (not my Terryville, Connecticut Lions Fair hat). Thanks folks.
I walked alongside the stadium as they played 'Born To Run', and again the sax solo launched me into reverie, and I stopped and listened. I went back 40 years and 2,600 miles and one old love and one best friend and I don't know how many scratched LPs and awkward record players and Lord knows what else. They started playing Dancing In The Dark and I walked away listening to that, which pushed me back to the 80s again. I missed some more encores, including Tenth Avenue Freeze Out, which I would have pleased Gnat by singing along to. When the changes came uptown, indeed.