Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band will play the Moda Center in Portland on March 22, but I won't be there. It's a troubling notion, kind of like breaking it off with a significant other after a 38-year relationship. It's not you, Bruce, it's me.
It's not a permanent breakup--the timing just wasn't right this time around. This will be the first time since my first Springsteen concert in June, 1978, that I won't be attending his show within a day's driving distance. I still have the ticket stub from that concert in '78. It was a balmy Friday night, and the venue, Memorial Hall in Kansas City, Kansas, was about the size of a high school gym. For $7.50, that night forever redefined my rock 'n' roll world.
The energy, stamina and rock 'n' roll fever on display rolled off the stage in waves, washing over the crowd in a fiery undertow, taking us all along for the ride. Encore after encore, the band just kept playing for two sets and three and one-half hours of solid rock.
Since that show, Bruce and the E Street Band became the yardstick against which I measured every other rock 'n' roll concert. Only the Stones and the Who came close, but even they could not match the passion and soul worked up by the boys from New Jersey. Since my rock 'n' roll baptism at that 1978 Darkness On the Edge of Town tour stop, I've been fortunate to see Bruce and the band somewhere north of 20 times. I would gladly go see them 20 more times if I could.
For me, attending a Springsteen concert is like going to church--like a fire and brimstone hybrid between a tent revival exorcism and a full-tilt gospel explosion. It's like a religious experience, and after each show I've walked out into the night air refreshed and rejuvenated and with my faith in the healing powers of rock 'n' roll restored.
For this reason, I've always gone and still do insist on going to the shows stone cold sober, so that I soak it all in and not miss a beat. Every cymbal crash by Max Weinberg, piano fill by the Professor, Roy Bittan, guitar solo and vocal howl by Little Steven Van Zandt, rumbling bass line by Garry Talent, and whirling dervish guitar solo by Nils Lofgren awaited. Many other concerts invite or may encourage a pre-show buzz, but not this band of brothers (and sisters, now that Patti Scialfa and Soozie Tyrell often join the band).
During many of the shows I attended, most of the fun was the interplay between Bruce and The Big Man, Clarence Clemons, who left us in 2011. Clemons now has been ably replaced by his nephew, Jake Clemons, who can also instill goosebumps with his arena-shaking saxophone solos. The late, great Danny Federici, who we lost in 2008, is missed on organ and accordion.
And then there's the bandleader. Yeah, I know, dude is 66 years old, but he still works as hard or harder than any so-called rockers one-third his age. I was always amazed that by the fourth or fifth song, Bruce would be sweating through his dress shirt and vest. On the drum riser he keeps a tub of water with a car wash sponge with which he occasionally douses himself to cool off.
On this tour, set to wrap up in Brooklyn in late April before heading to Europe for the summer, the band is performing the epic 1980 double album, "The River," in its entirety. The band has been opening each night with a rollicking outtake from that album, "Meet Me In the City," which it rocked on Saturday Night Live back in December. A recent show in St. Paul, Minn., saw 34 songs clocking in at nearly three-and-a-half hours.
I'm not crazy about the $150 ticket price, but I'd venture that no one has ever left a Springsteen show feeling shortchanged. Near the end of every concert, Bruce issues a plea to the fans to donate to the local food bank volunteers waiting out in the lobby.
Meanwhile, my dream show would be the E Street Band at our own Les Schwab Amphitheater. If Phish played here, why not?!
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
Tuesday, March 22, 7:30 pm
Moda Center, Portland
$65, $105, $150