Seeing Bruce Springsteen is simultaneously familiar and novel for me now. His performance last week at Madison Square Garden was the eighth time I've seen him -- which is a lot for an artist like Springsteen, when you consider what seeing him consists of, exactly.
Aside from the obvious point that his shows are very long (he went for three and a half hours at MSG), each one is also significantly memorable, emotional, and something of a landmark in some ways; having such a detailed memory of each of those occasions makes each individual occasion feel even larger in your mind. So, yes, eight times does begin to feel like old hat in some ways, but each show still brings so much anticipation and excitement, then emotion, that I never really feel "ready" for one.
The show itself was predictably remarkable. Springsteen and the E Street Band wound their way through the entirety of The River before charging through 11 more songs to close the night. The River was really incredible to watch in this fashion; I've never been the biggest fan of that album (it's not in my top five Springsteen LPs), and I've always felt like it was long and dragged out as a 20-track double disc. But leaving The Garden, I immediately had a much larger appreciation for it as a full body of work, rather than thinking about it in terms of the 8-10 songs I really, really enjoy.
Hearing Springsteen tell stories behind some of the songs puts the album into a better frame of reference. Like many of his records, The River becomes easier to appreciate with some context, so I do kinda wish I'd watched the new documentary, The Ties That Bind, on HBO before I went to the concert. Springsteen delves into why it's so long and what he wanted to accomplish on the record during the documentary and it's the perfect accompaniment to seeing it played in full.
Aside from the typical highlights like "The River," "Hungry Heart" and "Out In the Street," I also thought "Jackson Cage," "Point Blank" and "Stolen Car" into "Ramrod" stood out. The final duo of "Drive All Night" and "Wreck On The Highway" was very emotional.
After The River, Springsteen elected to go pretty poppy with "She's The One," "Candy's Room" and "Because The Night" to start. The highlight here was very easily "Because The Night," during which Nils Lofgren went and lost his damn mind....
I bought the live recording of this album just so I could have this solo forever. It reminded me a bit of the solo Nils played on "Youngstown" throughout the 2000 tour.
From there, it was a sprint to the finish: "Brilliant Disguise," "Wrecking Ball," "The Rising," "Thunder Road," "Born To Run," "Dancing In The Dark," "Rosalita" and "Shout." The solidification of "Thunder Road" as the last song before the encore is a great thing (though the band didn't actually go away, then come back -- the encore in this case was really just a continuation of the set), and I love that Springsteen has brought "Brilliant Disguise" back into a consistent role on this tour. That was definitely a highlight from the evening, and it's a song that gets totally overlooked because of the era it's associated with.
On a larger scale, seeing Springsteen now serves multiple purposes for me. It's not just about watching him and the band perform anymore; it's as much about who I'm sharing the experience with. I was lucky enough to go to the MSG show with my dad (the fifth or sixth time we've seen Springsteen together) and Katie (her first time). Those are special instances in their own way. My dad and I have bonded over Springsteen's music for as long as I remember, and it's probably the main common interest we share outside of Florida Gators sports. Now that I don't live in Florida anymore, the occasions when we'll be able to see Springsteen together will be less and less common -- so I'll be grateful every time we do have a chance. Katie probably enjoyed the show way more than I imagined she would, which meant a lot to me and proved to me that I am dating a totally okay girl.
Opportunities to see the E Street Band will undoubtedly become more and more rare. But it was exceptionally clear, at least at Madison Square Garden last Wednesday, that age isn't slowing them down too much just yet.