Thursday, March 06, 2008

Appointment listening

I'm sorry, but I can't get together with you Friday night. An old friend is in town.

I always try to get together with my pal, Bruce Springsteen, when he's around. I've been doing it for more than 30 years. Many of my favorite bands have broken up, or lost members to illness, but Springsteen and the E Street Band go on and on. The music still sounds good, too.

The Boss and I first got together back in 1977, when I was a young punk in college. Our hair was longer then. I had seen the Time and Newsweek cover articles before that, and heard a certain buzz about his latest record album. A few friends of mine on campus who knew their music told me "Born to Run" was worth an investment. I think it cost me $4.50. It got played, a lot.

Some dorm friends were headed to Utica for a concert sometime in 1977, when they asked if I wanted a ticket and a ride. OK, I'll tag along. It may have been Springsteen's shortest show ever. It also was the best show any of us had ever seen. He only played for about 90 minutes (no idea why), but at the end everyone in the auditorium was yelling and screaming for more. Our group, which had floor seats about 25 rows back, was standing on those seats by the end of the show.

Then came one of those great moments that happens only once in a while. The house lights came up, and virtually no one left. The applause for another encore went on and on. The clapping was starting to die out a bit after five minutes when one of the roadies, who had been on stage for only a minute or two, looked off stage behind the curtain and obviously saw the band. He turned to the crowd, gave the "more applause" gesture with his hands, and the place exploded.

The house lights went back down, the band came back, and one more song was heard. Clarence Clemons slapped hands with the front row on his way out this time. I still haven't seen anything like it.

A year later I saw Springsteen in Olean, and he was just getting warmed up after 90 minutes. After a break, he played for another 90. He was in the stage of his career where he couldn't stop playing until he was totally exhausted. The reputation as rock's best live act followed Springsteen for the next several years, as he stopped in Buffalo for the next few tours.

When the band went its separate ways in the late 1980's, I figured the 1984 show was the last I had seen of Springsteen and the E Street Band. Luckily I was wrong, as they got back together in 1999. It was like a friend had re-entered my life. When someone asked me what the show was like afterwards. I replied, "Well, the sound was a little muddy, and Springsteen didn't have that same level of connection with the rest of the band that he did in the old days. On the other hand, I felt like crying when I heard 'Born to Run' again."

Now after another stop in Buffalo a few years ago, Springsteen is back in town with an excellent new CD and his tremendous old band. I remember reading in a Rolling Stone article once upon a time that when Springsteen was in full flight in a concert, there was no place on earth you'd rather be than that exact spot.

That's still true, 31 years after Utica.

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