The Boss has aged like a barrel of whiskey.
It started slow. The houselights were still on when he came out, illuminating the stadium, crowd, and roadies wearing black jeans and cut off shirts like blemishes on an actress in an overlit scene without makeup.
He opened with newer songs. From my original nosebleed seats, it sounded as if only the vocals, bass and Max Weinberg’s drum set worked. Treble notes ended with a weird zing, like a high-end version of feedback that you had to listen hard to find. It wasn’t until the fourth song that the houselights came down and Bruce Springsteen chucked his 40-year-old Fender Telecaster to a roadie, grabbed the microphone and walked into the audience for the first verse of “Hungry Heart.”
The show finally started.
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, after playing two sold out shows at Fenway Park, rolled into Gillette Stadium on August 18 for another packed concert. Born in 1949, a 63-year-old man played three and a half hours of iconic live music that has spanned generations.
He came with no opening act and some of the original members of the E Street Band (Steve Van Zandt and Max Weinberg). The late Clarence Clemons’ nephew Jake was also a focal point and led a litany of backup musicians.
The overall stage was modest, comparatively speaking. Just lights, space and massive projectors so the hardworking Americans in the back rows of Gillette, thousands of feet in the air, could see Bruce as well as anyone else.
When I finally hopped into seats closer to sea level, I got a good glimpse of the man.
He was wearing blue jeans, a black shirt and a charcoal vest. By the time I made it down there, about an hour in, all of it was soaked in sweat and it would later get drenched in water by Steve Van Zandt during the second encore – one of the few gimmicks in the show that consisted of Springsteen comically lying down on stage and pretending to sleep, as if he was so tired from playing for two hours and 45 minutes.
Bruce and the band played through most of this century’s songs, supporting his newest album, Wrecking Ball, and hop-skotching from classic to classic. He played with a manic energy and devotion that seemed surreal from someone over the age of 60. If anything, regardless of the music, the fact that he was able to perform with such energy, intensity and passion at this age is remarkable.
Where Dylan has wrinkled liked a dry rose, Springsteen has aged like a barrel of whiskey.
Max Weinberg was one of the more impressive performers at the show. There’s a stark difference between the Weinberg on Conan O’Brien and the one that’s in the E Street Band. His intensity and focus is almost intimidating. When his close ups got blown up on the projectors I felt as if I was looking at a 60-year-old man who can probably kick my ass. It’s clear that he’s the balls of the band, the rock that leads the rhythm section, maintains pace and reels it in when things get a little too … Springsteen-y. Kinda like during “Shackled and Drawn” when Bruce started shuffling across the stage as if his feet actually had shackles on them.
When you have 17 albums, it’s much easier to play over three hours than if you have only seven albums. While some bands, like the Foo Fighters, may have to drag out three hours with guitar solo contests and epic versions of each song, nearly every song Springsteen played was remarkably close to the recorded version--
Except they were live and, therefore, that much better.
Jake Clemons held his own. Only time will show how he deals with his uncle’s massive shadow. During “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out,” Springsteen was on a raised platform out in the field seats singing. The song got to a verse where Bruce stopped the band and said, “Listen, this is where it gets important,” and then hollered out solo, “We made the change of town and the big man joined the band.”
After that a silent tribute to Clarence Clemons came on the massive projectors – images and videos of a thirty-plus year partnership that produced the majority of the new American musical canon. For two minutes no one said a word. I think this happened during the first encore.
Without getting too purple, the amount of religious influence prevalent in the Boss’s music gets exemplified when he’s live. The amount of epic, choral sing-alongs of simple vowels and consonants strung together in a melody are like childhood Sundays sitting in a Catholic church and mumbling loudly. In addition, the way he addresses the crowd and pontificates is rather preacher-y. He raises his hand to the sky (clear and velveteen black with only the Big Dipper visible) and uses two fingers in a constant confirming and denying manner, like a reverend in the middle of an intense sermon.
Springsteen has brilliantly taken folk and rock and infused it with the communal aspects of gospel, thus creating music with a dynamic simplicity that allows everyone to not only understand it, but also feel it.
Sure, he gained his attention by making blue-collar and simple music, like a Hemingway of modern rock and folk, but his true success has come from incredibly well-rehearsed, tight knit and epic live shows. I can’t speak for that legendary, five-night run at New York City’s Bottom Line in August of 1975 that got his name on the board,
but at Gillette in August of 2012 he played with a preternatural passion for performing that rivals the intensity of acts half his age.