ALBANY: You Prove It to Me and I’ll Prove It to You

This post originally appeared on Backstreets.com, which you can read here.

As the now customary set-closer “Shout” was winding down at the end of Monday night’s concert in Albany, I was fully prepared simply to go home, slip into my PJs, and write a normal recap of the show…until Bruce took an uncustomary break near the end of the song to survey the crowd one final time while repeatedly saying “Now all I got to say is…” Random people shouted back equally random responses, to which Bruce said “That’s good…that’s good too…”

And then he looked right at me.

Back to Bruce:

“Alright…this one’s going out to my man in the checkered shirt.”

Wait, I thought to myself, I’m wearing a checkered shirt…and I’m a man! But no, I can’t be his man – since I’m very aware that Bruce has perfected the ability to stare/point/gesture at various spots in the crowd that make multiple people think he’s personally addressing them exclusively, I assume he must be talking about some other man in a checkered shirt. As such, I put on my best inquisitive face and tentatively point at myself, waiting for Bruce not to respond so that I can go back to my usual anonymity. Well…

“That’s right – you brother!”

The crowd’s eruption into cheers pale in comparison to the multiple nuclear bombs going off in every corner of my cranium.

“I see you every night…come backstage after the show! Let’s give him a round of applause…”

The crowd’s shockingly loud round of applause drowned out whatever Bruce said next on my mother’s recording of the moment, as did the bells of joy ringing in my ears in the moment. I guess now would be a good time for some brief backstory:

Since I recently quit my job to pursue a lifelong dream of becoming a writer, I was afforded the rare yet incredible opportunity to follow Bruce and the band around to as many shows as possible on this tour. Though I’m not going to every show, I’ve been to every one thus far, which explains Bruce’s “I see you every night.”

Regarding the checkered shirt: I happened to be wearing it when I “won” the very first GA lottery in Pittsburgh, and being a superstitious fella, I’ve worn it to every show since, quickly becoming a rather lucky shirt for yours truly. And to answer your inevitable question: yes, I promise I wash the shirt in between every show…[1]

But it wasn’t only the checkered shirt that got me noticed by the Boss in Albany (and the other shows before that): I have been told on countless occasions – by people standing next to me and by people sitting way up in the rafters – that I’m by far the most expressively enthusiastic audience member in the building. I sing all of the words,[2] I dance to all of the songs, I jump up and down, I cry, I fist-pump, I air guitar, I do things that no one has figured out how to describe in words yet. Basically, I’m a joyous ball of energy, and apparently Bruce has taken note over the course of the shows on this tour, which is why he singled me out at the end of the evening in Albany in front of 20,000 fellow fans.

I won’t go into detail as to what transpired during our backstage chat because that will stay between myself, Bruce, and my parents – who joined me backstage because I wouldn’t be here without them for so many reasons[3] – but I will say that everything you’ve heard about meeting Bruce in person is 100% true. It can’t be easy meeting so many people that consider you to be their hero, yet Bruce somehow exceeds all of our expectations of such meetings, as he does with almost everything else.

I will say that he thanked me for the nightly passionate energy, which I only want to share because I think it’s the moral of this story. I, more than most, have experienced this tour’s relatively static setlists night after night, yet I’ve made a point not to let it diminish my love of these shows. I refuse to lose sight of the reason that made me decide to spend far too great a percentage of my money on all of these shows – you don’t have to be Nostradamus to know that Bruce and the band have way more shows behind them than they do ahead of them, and I have reveled in the opportunity to see what may become some of the final concerts in the legendary reign of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. I focus on the fact that future generations will kill to be able to experience ANY of these shows in the same way that I would kill to be able to experience even the worst show on the Darkness tour.

I have these thoughts in the back of my mind during all of these shows. As such, it doesn’t matter if I’m in the front row[4] or the back of the floor, I dance and sing and rock out like there’s no tomorrow, because none of us really know how many tomorrows Bruce and the band have left. That’s why I will throw my hands up every single night to come on up for The Rising, because in the future, I know I will give anything to be able to go back and experience just one more of these shows, setlist be damned.

So that’s my plea to you: enjoy these shows as fully as humanly possible. I understand there’s a lot to nitpick – as there always is with everything in life – but trust me, you’re going to forget those nitpicks once Bruce and the band hang up their guitars for good. For now, dance until your body feels like it’s going to collapse, sing until your vocal chords go hoarse, and just rock out like you’ve never rocked out before. Bruce and the band clearly notice, and they will feed off that energy, making all of these already incredible shows that much more special and memorable. You’ll enjoy the shows more, Bruce and the band will enjoy the shows more, and we’ll all go through this tour singing and dancing and rocking out in beautiful harmony as the increasingly death-defying E Street Nation. And who knows, maybe Bruce will even notice you at the next show. As someone I met on Monday night once wrote, “faith will be rewarded.”

One final note about this whole ludicrous experience: the support that I felt from the E Street Nation both inside and outside of the Times Union Center in Albany on Monday night just made the evening that much more special. As I said before, the crowd’s response to Bruce calling me out was overwhelming, as was everyone who came up to me to give me high-fives, hug me, call me their hero, etc. etc. etc. both as I was heading backstage AND after the show as I was wandering around Albany in a complete daze of ecstasy. Instead of the expected jealousy, everyone seemed legitimately thrilled for me, and they all wanted to hear about what happened and to congratulate me; simply put, they just wanted to share in my special night. I’ve never felt more like a celebrity, and I think that’s what’s most unique and amazing about the community that Bruce’s music has created: it can make an average joe like me feel like a special member of an even more special community of like-minded fans of the Boss. In a time that feels like people are more divided than ever, it was an unbelievable experience to feel like I’m a part of something that transcends everyday petty differences: an ardent love of the gospel of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Nation. And that’s a love that nothing – not even the inevitable mortal hands of Father Time – can take away from us.

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And now, back to our regularly scheduled recap (I’ll try to be as objective as possible):

Throughout his career, one of Bruce’s calling cards has been writing songs about “little” people, everyday folk who struggle to get through their days on the peripherals of society and who very rarely have songs written about their daily existence. Though the capital of the great state of New York, Albany can be considered a “little” city that very few would mark as a must-visit destination on Bruce’s River Tour itinerary.

And yet, rather fittingly, Bruce has a tendency to play memorable, gangbuster shows in such oft-overlooked working class cities full of the type of people that become the everyday romantic characters permeating his music. Bruce and the band’s concert in Albany was yet another example of this uniquely Boss phenomenon, for they ripped through yet another outstanding outing at Albany’s Times Union Center on Monday night, one that may prove to be the first step towards Bruce working his way to really varying up the setlists from night to night.

This setlist diversity was hinted at even before anyone was allowed into the arena: “Murder Incorporated,” plus two River outtakes were soundchecked: “Loose Ends” and “Be True.” Though I was anxious to see which of these he was going to bust out for Albany, first came yet another marvelous full album River performance.

The most notable difference tonight: the absence of one Patti Scialfa who took the night off, allowing Garry to move down to occupy her space next to Steve on the front line.[5] Though Patti’s background vocals were definitely missed on multiple songs,[6] Bruce made up for it by adding a few new bits into his usual song introductions, most memorably during his trip down memory lane before “I Wanna Marry You” when he asked the audience, “Who remembers their first kiss?!” and then immediately responded to himself with a demonically chipper chuckle and, “Everyone remembers their first kiss…I remember ALL of my first kisses!”

Once they finished up “Wreck on the Highway,” I was fully expecting them to launch into one of the soundchecked River outtakes, thereby cementing that spot in the setlist as the place to now expect an outtake every night after premiering “Roulette” there in Boston on Thursday. And yet, Bruce ended up skipping over the set-listed “Loose Ends” in favor of heading right into “Badlands.” Though it was odd seeing such a landmark concert mainstay pop up in the middle of a set, Bruce had a very clear reason for making this quick decision: he sensed that side 3 and 4 of The River[7] – full of slow, beautiful ballads – had somewhat lost the Albany crowd, culminating in someone in the pit shouting, “If you want to talk, GO OUTSIDE!” to all those chatting their way through “Stolen Car.” Bruce had sensed the crowd’s detachment from the material even earlier, deciding against asking for audience sing-alongs during moments when he usually does just that.

Though the die-hard fans obviously wanted to hear those outtakes, Bruce recognized that he first needed to once again engage the vast majority of casual fans packed into the Times Union Center.[8] He followed up “Badlands” with “Wrecking Ball” and a soulful “Backstreets.” Finally, he was ready to premiere another outtake; this time, he chose “Be True,” introducing it as “a good one that got tossed in the trash, as many do” before dedicating it to “all our special friends.” A fantastic performance of this beloved outtake led into “Because the Night,” a great live song that felt a bit out of place here. Truthfully, this entire post-River song sequence felt oddly paced – full of strong songs, but played in a weird order.

And this brings me back to Bruce’s dedication before “Be True” to “our special friends.” I couldn’t help but think he was talking to the die-hards who bemoan this tour’s static setlists. He’s clearly playing the outtakes for them, but he hasn’t fully figured out how to best fit them in yet. As such, he directed “Be True” to all of us – if we be true to him and stick with him as he figures out the best way to vary up the post-River part of the show, he will be true to us by continuing to play more and more rarities.

Yet I don’t think anyone expected that he’d play another rarity SO SOON. Though I assumed “The Rising” would be the start of his same ol’ song sequence through “Shout” – a belief that was only bolstered when he didn’t replace the customary encore-starting “Badlands” with anything – Bruce yanked a sign from the crowd after “Born to Run” and launched into the tour premiere of a raucous and hard-rocking “Detroit Medley.” The die-hards loved it, the casual fans loved it, EVERYONE loved it. This simple diversification of the encores really added an extra oomph to the final songs of the night.

Another surprise was in store before the end of the show as well: the return of “Bobby Jean” after only previously being played on the first night of the tour. With another fresh jolt of energy behind him, Bruce had the whole arena throwing up their hands and “Shout”-ing before the night was through.

Though they may not have yet figured out the best way to diversify the setlist after their monumental performance of The River, they’re damn sure working on it, and my is it fun to watch them work every single night.

 

 

FOOTNOTES

[1] …for the most part! Also, it’s actually a button down – NOT a t-shirt – so there’s actually a normal t-shirt line of defense between the checkered button-down and my profuse sweat every night. Thus ends my note to all of you hygienists out there.

[2] Hopefully not too loudly for those standing around me.

[3] Shout out to Bill and Margie Strauss!

[4] Thanks to the lucky checkered shirt/button-down!

[5] For all you Tallent-watchers, never fear: the move did not change the W’s cool and collected shade-wearing energy one iota.

[6] Jake replacing her part in the callback section of “Out in the Street” was priceless.

[7] Disc 2 for you CD-owners out there.

[8] He didn’t seem to care about this with “Roulette” in Boston, which may have been the reason it didn’t really land with that crowd.

 

 

SETLIST

  1. Meet Me in the City
  2. The Ties That Bind
  3. Sherry Darling
  4. Jackson Cage
  5. Two Hearts
  6. Independence Day
  7. Hungry Heart
  8. Out in the Street
  9. Crush On You
  10. You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)
  11. I Wanna Marry You
  12. The River
  13. Point Blank
  14. Cadillac Ranch
  15. I’m a Rocker
  16. Fade Away
  17. Stolen Car
  18. Ramrod
  19. The Price You Pay
  20. Drive All Night
  21. Wreck on the Highway
  22. Badlands
  23. Wrecking Ball
  24. Backstreets
  25. Be True
  26. Because the Night
  27. The Rising
  28. Thunder Road
  29. Born to Run
  30. Detroit Medley
  31. Dancing in the Dark
  32. Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)
  33. Bobby Jean
  34. Shout
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