(Note from Josh: 35 years ago, my cousin Glen took me to the Brendan Byrne Arena somewhere in the swamps of Jersey to see Bruce Springsteen in concert on his tour supporting The River. I had heard about the experience of a Springsteen concert--the energy, the ferver of the fans, the way Bruce left it all on stage. And I left the Meadowlands in awe. This winter and spring, Springsteen has been on the road again, now 67 years old, still playing The River--and so much more. When my son Joe, who's almost 17, was infuriated that my wife and I got tickets to a show without him, we figured out a way to get him a ticket to another concert. We went last night. Here's his report.)
You can only hope to make so many people happy and on such a large scale. On Monday night, I caught Bruce Springsteen on the final stop of his The River tour, in which he and the E Street Band played the entirety of the 1980 double album followed by an hour and a half of bonus goodies. I was accompanied by my dad and some friends from our synagogue who were courteous enough to invite us. Barclays Center was packed to the gills with men and women of all ages (including Chris Christie, apparently), setting an attendance record for the venue. Aside from The River, it was nothing but crowd-pleasing classics and covers. Aside from the ones from The River, there were no bummer tracks to be found - nothing from The Rising, no “Born in the U.S.A.” The Boss came to please, and boy did he.
Before I proceed with the review itself, let me just add that this was something of a coming-of-age experience for me. It felt almost ceremonial having my father take me: he was a Bruce Springsteen fan years before I was even born, and he was ready to make sure this budding music enthusiast could share in that experience with him. Getting to discuss music with Dad has helped us bond a lot, so getting to share music with as big a venue as this was an experience I’ll never forget.
In short, this was a classic rock fan’s dream come true. Nothing but the hits - “Born to Run,” “Rosalita,” “Thunder Road,” “10th Avenue Freeze-Out,” and lord knows how many others. There were moments of Bruce grabbing his sidemen by the shoulders and having them belt into the microphone with him. He thrust the mic into the crowd, knowing full well that he’d be greeted with a thousand voices knowing each song by heart. Crowd-surfing! Selfie-taking! Covers of The Isley Brothers and John Lee Hooker! Even a transcendent Purple Rain. Inviting fans onstage to dance and sing along. If he was tired, he didn’t show it: it was his last U.S. tour stop and he aimed to please.
Truth be told, I only heard The River for the first time right before the show. In his opening remarks, Bruce said it was his attempt at being more mature and introspective following his grittier early records - an album encompassing a thousand emotions and styles at once. Honestly, hearing it live helped me appreciate this a lot more than I did just listening to it. His melody skills evolved, incorporating his earlier Phil Spector-influenced sound while also taking some clear influence from the changing musical trends at the time (Songs like “I’m a Rocker” or “You Can Look [But You Better Not Touch]” would fit in well with the slowly emerging garage rock of the ‘80s). Certainly, it’s got a pretty wide range of styles: slow ballads (“Independence Day”), down-home honky-tonk (“Cadillac Ranch”), gospel (“Fade Away”), and, of course, the tales of troubadours in love/dealing with life that are so very Bruce Springsteen (“The Ties That Bind, “Jackson Cage”). Not every song is created equal - the slower ones tend to drag (note from Josh: One day you'll like them more...)- but with the way the Barclays crowd shouted along with all of them, you’d figure every they were all standards by now.
Bruce just feels like a guy who's so happy to be doing what he’s doing. For the roughly three and a half hours of non-stop performing, he always had a huge grin on his face, playing his tracks with gusto and palling around with the band and the audience. One especially adorable moment came when, during the requests, he brought up a 10-year-old girl whose sign declared she knew every word to “Blinded by the Light” and put her to the test. Everyone sang along and cheered in encouragement, and it was capped off with her getting her poster signed and the Boss admitting she knew the words better than him. After a while, it felt less like a concert and more like a family reunion. All of us were united by a love for Bruce and his music, so whether we came from New York or New Jersey or Mars, we all shouted along and screamed our lungs out because you can only experience something like this once in a while. He’s a Kennedy Center Honoree and inductee into both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame, but most importantly, Bruce Springsteen is a happy, nice guy who wants to put on a show for us. As long as he has that ability, I say we let him and I hope you can all have an experience like this (with Bruce or otherwise) at some point in your life. Sometimes, the idols are idols for a reason.
 For he is Bruce (or The Boss), not Springsteen. Doesn’t matter if you’ve met him or not; it feels like he’s on a first-name basis with everybody.