It was a blustery, raw night in South Philly. The kind of night where, under any other circumstances, you would have found me in Prohibition Tap Room, sipping on a brew and eating a golden-crusted gourmet grilled cheese. But this night was different. On this night, me and 20,000 other employees had a meeting with our Boss. So we braved the piercing, late March gusts and blasted our radio machines to drawn out the rumble of passing cars on I-95. Bruce Springsteen was calling us. “Where are you headed? A concert?” a scraggly gentleman asked me as I meandered through the narrow streets of Philadelphia. “No,” I replied with a spice of determination in my voice, “I’m heading to Church.”
You see, a Bruce Springsteen show is not merely a set of twenty-four songs, but a quasi-fanatical religious experience that features stories, worship, and yes, music. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band gather their flock every so often in celebration of Rock N’ Roll. With hundreds of millions of albums sold, countless number #1 records, and the most ardent fan-base known to musical history, the Boss could lethargically run down his list of greatest hits night in and night out and he would still sell out every arena he placed his bill on. Yet, that is not Springsteen…that is not Rock N’ Roll. He speaks for the common man; the Lorax of the middle class. And when you need comfort, when you are hanging on by just a spider’s web, the Boss is there for you. I assume that is why a Springsteen concert is not merely a performance, but rather a musical pilgrimage.
As I took my seat high up in section 203 of the Wells Fargo Center, closer to the Philadelphia Flyers’ and 76ers’ banners hanging in adoration of Philly’s greatest athletes than the stage, I noticed in the opposing corner of the arena a simple banner: “Bruce Springsteen – 51 Sellouts.” It is time for a new banner. Seated to my right were my younger brother, mother, and father; to my left was a 20-something couple. In front of me were a troupe of middle age women drinking wine from flimsy plastic Wells Fargo Center cups and behind me a man who’s one and only interaction with me ended in “…well, I’m drunk, so it’s okay.” Demographically speaking, there is no one classification that can describe this congregation. Generations of Springsteen fans were present to hear the gospel of Rock N’ Roll and Springsteen did not disappoint.
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band rumbled through a nearly three-hour set, playing plenty of new material from Wrecking Ball while sprinkling in old favorites such as “Born to Run,” “Thunder Road,” and “Dancing In The Dark.” With the energy that illuminates from Springsteen, you would be hard pressed to assert that he is one day older than thirty let alone nearly 63 years old. The E Street Band, now sporting a full-time five-piece horn section and two backup singers the Boss dubs “the E Street Choir,” has certainly grown over these past thirty years. Yet, despite the evolution of the ensemble, one could not help but feel a massive hole on stage. “Do I need to say his name?” Springsteen crooned near the end of introducing his long-time band, “DO I NEED TO SAY HIS NAME?!” No, you do not. “If you’re all here, and we’re all here, then He’s here!”
The passing of legendary saxophonist, Clarence “Big Man” Clemons, has left a void no one will ever be able to fill. Springsteen’s long time accomplice and best friend, Clemons was the embodiment of cool. And although his absence from the stage was noticeable, his presence was felt by everyone in the crowd who experienced butterflies in anticipation of the first sax solo of the evening on “Night,” or an overwhelming sense of relief when Clemons’ nephew, Jake, absolutely nailed it (as he did throughout the entire show). And boy did the entire band sound righteous. No iPods, no computers, no predetermined sound effects….just a group of seventeen individuals who are masters of their instruments playing straight up Rock music. What a concept? Simple but powerful, elegant but extravagant, in other words: perfect. The evening came to a close with a rousing rendition of “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out,” Springsteen’s fifth and final encore, featuring a three minute standing ovation mid-song in celebration of when “the Big Man joined the band.” It was a fitting conclusion to a night worth a thousand memories.
I raced out of the arena, hoping to catch one of the last trains of the night up the Broad Street line to my apartment on Spring Garden Street. I had no time to collect my thoughts as I ran through the exiting crowd; no time to decompress. I still have yet to decompress. Yet, as I sit here penning this essay ad perpetuam memoriam, I cannot help but yearn for Springsteen’s next stop in Philly; my next chance to attend the Church of Rock N’ Roll.
Written by Michael Meeze (follow him on Twitter)