AD’s Marty Garner, an unrepentant Bruuuuuce fanatic, having left L.A. for the Summer, made his way east to New Jersey to catch Bruce and E Street Band at Giants Stadium earlier this week. Here’s how it went down.
I am not from New Jersey. I do have a friend from New Jersey, though, who moved down to my home state of Louisiana to attend LSU for no reason other than to experience the thundering weirdness that is LSU football. Sure, there are probably other, less romantic reasons that he chose to attend LSU, but the reason that he gives is LSU football. And it’s a pretty good reason, too; I grew up going to LSU games and, like any good southerner, I have wiped tears from my cheeks at the sound of the first four notes of the school’s fight song. People – fans, interested journalists, and even the rare roadside gawker – come down south to see the carnival of colors, to hear the revving engine of the bourbon crowd when the Tigers run onto the field; they see it and in so doing become a part of it. For nine months of the year, the south lives with a chip on its shoulder; for three, it is validated. And so, Saturdays in the fall are a sort of worship experience, cathartic and communal and weirdly glorious. For many people, they are something of a secondary Sabbath.
In much the same way, I went to New Jersey to see Bruce Springsteen. I had seen Bruce and the boys twice before – once in Houston on The Rising tour in 2003 and once last fall in Cleveland. Both shows – like any Bruce show – were more experiences than rock concerts; it’s no coincidence that people used to call E Street shows the Church of Rock ‘n’ Roll. But if that term still applies, then the show last night at Giants Stadium was something akin to seeing the Pope say Mass at St. Peter’s, and not only because a sticky Jersey mist hung over the crowd like a blanket of incense: this is the Garden State’s answer to college football.
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The lights darkened to the sound of 50,000-plus voices booming “Bruuuce!,” his by-now traditional introductory bellow of “Is there anybody alive out there?” (the tag line of his recent hit “Radio Nowhere”) and the snare-cracks and piano runs of The River’s “Out in the Street.” Bruce stalked the stage like a TV preacher, pumping his fists and sweating through his shirt, with Little Steven Van Zandt filling in the spaces between hype man and deacon, prodding the gathered as he served it. Along with the E Street Band – who continue to be the tightest, most dynamic band in America – Springsteen led the crowd through hits (“Hungry Heart,” a furious and celebratory “Glory Days,” “Born to Run,” the latter of which featured Max Weinberg’s son Jay on drums), fan favorites (“No Surrender,” “Drive All Night”) and the ultra-rare (the third-ever performance of “Held Up Without a Gun,” “Sherry Darling,” “Saint in the City”). “Because the Night” belonged to guitarist Nils Lofgren, who literally cut a front-flip while tearing that song’s solo apart, and Clarence “The Big Man” Clemons contributed profound bass vocals in a blistering cover of Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues.” By the time the Boss finished his encore with a ten-minute version of “Twist and Shout” that somehow morphed into “La Bamba” and found his daughter on stage, there wasn’t a dry shirt in the house.
But while the music was untouchable, blemished only by Giants Stadium’s muddy acoustics, it was secondary to the experience of seeing Bruce play to his home state; no words can really do justice to what he means to the people of New Jersey. This is the audience who knows – knows – what he’s singing about in “The Promised Land” when he’s groping to get out; these are the people who hear weekly that they are the armpit of the nation, a stain on the back of Manhattan Island. And for three hours, one of the most beloved, respected musicians in the world made all of that invalid – if only for a little while – just by playing rock music for them alone. We may have all paid to be there, but there was no doubting that Bruce was serving the people in the very same way that our southern football teams serve us. The rest of the country may not believe, but for just a sliver of time on Monday night, Jersey mattered.