Last night I went to my first arena concert in a very long time. I've pretty much sworn off big arena shows because they are overpriced and the prices charged for food and drink are insulting. The list of people I will pay over $50 to see live is very small and until last night Bruce Springsteen wasn't on that list. Last night I had two free tickets and the next time he comes around I will probably buy a ticket.
I won our tickets in a contest sponsored by a local news website called CLT Blog. You should give them a look if you get a chance. They do good professional work with original reporting. We were a few rows back from the front railing in section 204 in the upper deck. This was my first time in the new stadium, I had sworn this place off also because I am not happy with how it was pushed on the city. I made an exception for free Springsteen tickets. My boycott lasted four years, I think I made my point. Not that anyone noticed. I may even go see an NBA or hockey game now. I've sat in the same general area at the old coliseum and this felt like we were closer. I think the seats here are built at a steeper angle so you are more on top of the action. You can see our view here. It's a crummy picture taken with my camera phone but it shows you where we were.
He opened the show with the song Seeds. I had never heard it before. It opened with, I think, Nils Lofgren playing a groove by himself and then Bruce shows up and starts singing. Then the rest of the band kicked it in. It was a great rocker and the perfect way to start the show. The second second song is one of my favorites, Darlington County. I had forgotten how much I like that song and the chorus is perfect for several thousand people to sing along with. Hungry Heart was another scorcher. Bruce spent part of the song on a platform in the general admission area and, after asking if they were ready, he lowered himself into the crowd and road their hands back to the stage while continuing to sing the song into his wireless microphone. That stunt brought the roof down. After Working on a Dream, a song I'm not crazy about, we hit the portion of the show that a lot of people were excited about, the playing of the album, Born to Run from start to finish.
The only other time I've witnessed a band play a whole album in order was during Primus' Tour de Fromage in 2003. On that tour they played their album Sailing the Seas of Cheese. To me that was worth it knowing I'd get to hear Here Come the Bastards. A better song you've never heard. Last night I felt the same way about hearing this album in full. I ended up feeling a little let down because I love the song Born to Run and it's such an iconic high energy crowd pleaser that I would rather not know it's coming. Knowing it was right around the corner took a little of the specialness of it away for me. Why that was the case last night and not the case back in 2003 for Primus I will leave that for someone else to analyze. It's a small quibble. The opening song, Thunder Road, blew me away though. That piano opening gives me chills.
After the album he played Waiting on a Sunny Day. During that song we witnessed a classic piece of audience participation that really brought some intimacy to night. He pulled a boy onstage who must have been around 8 and let him sing the chorus. Watching that kid on the big screen go from scared to digging it was sweet. After he nailed the lines Bruce leaned over and said something and the kid looked across stage and said, "Take it, Big Guy!" and Clarence started his solo. Beautiful moments like that are why you go to live shows.
After that song Bruce spent a few minutes wandering the stage and grabbing signs that fans had decorated with song requests. Watching him interact with the serious fans at the front is interesting. I've never seen an act live before where such adoration is on display. It's beautiful. It's not a weird messianic devotion it's a true partnership between the crowd and the performer. He's going to lay it out there all night and all you have to do is make a lot of noise and prop him up. It's a celebration of being alive. It's no coincidence that late in the show his question to the crowd as a song was crescendoing behind him was, "Is there anybody alive out there!?" I was reminded more than once of the Iggy Pop show I saw at Tremont Music Hall in 2001. Both shows were celebrations of not being dead. As the Carl Sunny Leyland song goes, "...it's a short time to live and a long time in the ground" so we might as well have fun and howl at the moon while we can. And have fun he did. Not only did he remind me of Iggy Pop with his energy and desire to share it but his joy at playing music for people brought to my mind Patterson Hood of the Drive by Truckers. There is no place these two musicians would rather be than sweating in front a crowd. The desire to entertain and to live that exudes from Hood each time I see him and from Bruce last night is palpable and last night we responded.
During the stump the band segment the two obvious highlights were I Fought the Law and Van Morrison's Brown Eyed Girl. Hard to go wrong there. The last song before the encore was Badlands. Every time I hear that song now I always think of Bill Murray and Paul Shaffer version done with Murray as Nick the Lounge Singer during the 25th anniversary show of Saturday Night Live. Like Born to Run earlier, Bandlands was expected and, though not lacking for energy from Bruce or the crowd, didn't really grab me.
The encore was paced well. The first song, the classic Hard Times opened with a beautiful a cappella harmony that mesmermized. In a show full of great moments this really stood out. I was stunned. The last song, Higher and Higher was perfect. It allowed Bruce to feature his two backup singers, it was an obvious message to multitude that show is about to be over and it's a song the band could groove. It's nice to have a true closing song that a band can extend and the crowd and the performers can say goodbye. Nicely done.
Two and a half hours of great rock and roll. What more could you really ask for on a Tuesday night in November when you get to see one of the great showmen of our time fronting one of the greatest rock and roll bands ever in front of over 10,000 screaming fans? Good stuff. I think I will have an $8 Coors Light, thank you.
Pictures from the show available on the Charlotte Observer's website here.
November 3, 2009
Time Warner Cable Arena
Working On A Dream
Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
Born To Run
She's The One
Meeting Across The River
Waiting On A Sunny Day
I Fought The Law
So Young And In Love
Brown Eyed Girl
Dancing In The Dark
Higher & Higher