I’m slightly stubborn. So even after I failed to score tickets, even after I read about how few Springsteen tickets were released to the public, I still comtemplated heading to Jersey and hoping for the best. It was a rare holiday weekend for me and a beautiful day for a drive. I had my parents’ house in which to spend the night, and my uncle as a willing co-conspirator. I had nothing to lose but a tank of gas and an afternoon.
But, of course, I had to endure some friends’ ribbing. A lot of my friends have interests I don’t understand, like collecting crystal figurines, or classic toys, or band memorabilia. Others travel around the country to see baseball games or visit campsites. I don’t get it, but I’ll help track down those figurines or toys or memorabilia if it will make them happy. I thought that’s what friendship was all about. As for me – I’m not athletic, not a big risk-taker, can’t even stomach amusement parks. It’s music that makes me happy. For me, adventure sometimes takes the form of going to great lengths to hear music that moves me.
So as a last-ditch effort, I e-mailed a guy from Craigslist yesterday morning who was selling two tickets for a reasonable price. Much to my surprise, he responded and within half an hour I had packed a bag and hit the road. We exchanged cell numbers, and planned to meet in a commuter park ‘n’ ride 20 minutes west of the Meadowlands; I was to call when I hit the George Washington Bridge. It was very “last night I met this guy and I’m gonna do a little favor for him.” You know, without the favor.
It was the all-time quickest ride to Jersey – 3.5 hours. I’m usually pretty cranky when I drive to my fam in NY, but that probably has something to do with making the trip late Friday nights after a long day’s work. It’s surprisingly pleasant on a beautiful Saturday afternoon after a good night’s sleep. I got there first and decided to return a phone call while I waited - if I was on the phone when the guy in the red pick-up truck arrived, he’d realize someone would notice if I suddenly stopped talking. He said earlier that he had to skip the show due to some injuries, and I noticed some crutches when he pulled in. I got out of the car, still on the phone, and handed him the cash as he got out of his truck. He wasn’t smiling or showing any emotion. I walked back to my car after he counted the money and handed me the tickets, but then I heard him call, “Hey…” I turned around and he was reaching back into his car. I wondered if he was pulling out the gun with which he was going to kill me (I really am from NY). Instead, he pulled out a bootleg CD from Bruce’s Philly show last August. “Here.”
Our seats were on opposite ends of the arena, but whenever I go to shows with my uncle, we “upgrade.” We went for broke and helped ourselves to empty seats in the first row off the floor, close to the stage. We saw an older couple across the aisle that was apparently in the wrong seats. They were asked to move, and as they turned to walk up the stairs, my uncle – who constantly, inexplicably runs into celebrities – had one of those “Is that…?” looks on his face. As they passed our seats my uncle asked, and yes, it was Tom Brokaw, who went pretty much unnoticed. I guess no one watches news either. Brokaw got a wry smile on his face, caught between wanting to be friendly and not blowing his plain-site cover. He smiled back at us and surreptitiously stuck his hand into my uncle’s as he continued walking. Then all the young girls began swooning when Max’s son, Jay Weinberg, came out. He signed a few autographs a few feet from us, the last of which was on some guy’s forehead and cheek. But his dad played the entire show.
“Badlands” opened the three-hour show, and then Bruce uttered those magic words: ”Do you feel the spirit?” Second song and it was already one of my all-time favs, “Spirit in the Night.” He hit the floor to feign exhaustion, already, resting against the mic stand – and it looked like he actually slipped. He was OK, though, and the song was amazing, as always. Then we got booted from our prime location and ended up just a dozen rows back.
“Outlaw Pete” came next, without the smoke machines this time, and then - the tour premiere of “Something in the Night.” Unexpected treat and it sounded so good. The music was awe-inspiring all night, though Bruce’s voice sounded a little hoarse.
Throughout the Working on a Dream tour I’ve been trying to understand the point of the “Stump the Band” game. Sure, it’s fun (OK, I guess that is the point) but why would you go to the man’s show and request he play someone else’s songs? Are you bored with his music? Is he? But, hey – “Good Lovin” and “Mony, Mony,” which was requested at a previous show and made it back into last night’s encore, were hilariously fun breaks from his more tense songs. Other requests were thankfully more focused on his own music this time, and gave us ”The E Street Shuffle” and “Cover Me,” both great choices. But the holy shit-moment of the night came more than halfway through the show: “Incident on 57th Street.” Un-freakin-believable. Totally knocked us on our asses.
Nils rocked around the stage like a maniac and I loved it. I used to somehow underestimate him, but I’m amazed by him at every show I see these days. He’s been showing off his new hips lately, dancing around like a man possessed by the power of his own music. Beautiful.
Patti was MIA again. This is the second consecutive show I’ve seen without her and I’m a bit surprised that her absence is so noticeable. I always wondered how much she really added to the band, instrumentally, but her vocals are so …interesting. Bruce said his daughter, Jessica, was also on tour and Patti was with her this time. Apparently, she did pretty well.
Bruce was definitely having fun playing with the audience. He shook his head during the encore, saying he wouldn’t play anymore. Finally, he asked whether the audience was testing him and grabbed a guitar. “The Turnpike is closed – no one goes home!” I love it! I’m such a sucker for stage banter.
My uncle was just shaking his head, laughing at the spectacle. He had tickets to see the band in New York a few weeks ago, but got sick and missed it. I was surprised he had tickets at all, given he’s not that big a fan these days. He’d seen Bruce play Bottom Line four decades ago, and a million places since. Somehow – I can’t imagine how – the shows lost their luster for him over the years. But he repeatedly thanked me for instigating our adventure, calling it the best setlist he’d seen in decades. I could tell – he’d squeeze my shoulder in excitement as he identified each intro. If I hadn’t gone to the show and read the setlist online, I’d have cried.
I left the show feeling completely energized. When it comes to Springsteen shows, I find myself using words I don’t ordinarily use, descriptions I’d find silly and cheesy coming from someone else, or about someone else. Energized. Inspired. Optimistic. I come for the lyrics, which even on his uber-wordy first two albums (my favs), can conjure incredibly vivid, active images that would take me pages to do, if I could accomplish it at all. And I come for the music. Oh, the music. You can’t get that sense of euphoria from anything else. (And OK, maybe I also go to gawk at Bruce’s arms, which I pointed out to my uncle while I struck big muscle-man poses - all night.)
After a late-night snack stop my uncle drove me back to my car, which I’d left at a nearby TGI Fridays. While we were gushing earlier about all the Wild, Innocent and E Street Shuffle songs of the night, I suggested he give Pete Yorn’s cover of “New York City Serenade,” (I know, I’ve posted it before) a listen. So he hopped into my car and we plugged in the mp3 player to listen, then compared it to the original. It was almost 1 a.m. and he was about to get out of my car, but as we said our goodnights, “Incident” started playing and he had to hear it through.